Media Matters

An open letter to male colleagues in the media from the Khabar Lahariya editors

‘Listen hard. The world is in the churning of a revolution. Women are saying, “No more.” We are part of this revolution.’

Today, May 3, is World Press Freedom Day, a day to celebrate freedom of thought across media platforms.

For the past 16 years, at Khabar Lahariya, we’ve been putting forth our reports, opinions, commentaries, and analyses in a completely independent manner, right through our print and digital forms. A lot has changed in these 16 years, and a lot hasn’t – our male colleagues in the field and their unending well of wisdom has been unchanging. And honestly, we’re so sick of listening to them give us advice, always unasked for, that we thought on this day we’d give them some advice of our own.

So, here’s our open letter to all the male colleagues we’ve ever worked with, will work with in the future, across our districts, and indeed, even outside.

First off, please stop telling us how we must cover “women’s issues”. “There’s been a rape case, you must go and report on it at once”, or “Oh, did you hear about that girl who’s abducted her boyfriend from his wedding? Where have you been all day?” We want to ask you, is this not a news report for you? And if it is, then may we suggest reporting on it in an unbiased style, free of all your prejudices? Not try and make it into a sensationalist piece of news, for once. We’re quite sick of reading your “Mother of three runs off with boyfriend” kind of news stories. It’s high time you put an end to this.

Demarcating boundaries

We know very well that you all have friends in high places, and perhaps it’s good to have some contacts being reporters. But it would do you good to demarcate the boundaries between your professional duties and your personal relationships. Your first line of responsibility should be towards your work. So, imagine our fury when all you male reporters laugh along with netaji as he cracks sexist jokes about having two wives – “gharwali” and “baharwali”. Isn’t this something that tarnishes your reputation as a professional journalist?

Please stop interfering in our personal lives, it’s really not part of your job description. So, stop asking us questions along the lines of “Are you married?”, “How come you don’t wear sindoor, mangalsutra, et cetera?”, “Why are you wearing a suit today, no sari?” Et cetera et cetera.

Do us a big favour and keep your fake concern about our safety to yourself. “Sister, it’s midnight and you’re outdoors! All well?” is a question we never wish to hear again. We’re responsible for our own safety and if we feel the need for support, we know to rally around our sisterhood – we gain courage from it. None of you have ever stepped forward to help us here, in any case. If we’ve ever told you about men harassing us over the phone, you’ve asked us, unblinkingly, to “change your number, madam”. We ask of you today, is that something you would do? Tell us, why are all these expectations only our burdens?

Plenty among you are editors and senior members of large media organisations. We still recall how you all responded during a research we conducted on the role of local, rural women being potential field reporters. You all said how women are liabilities, how they can’t go into the field alone, how they need maternity leave, and how they really can’t be expected to report on important issues. At the time of this research, we came to a big conclusion, dear men and that was this: The women reporters we did meet expressed to us the instances of sexual harassment they all face inside the office, from their own colleagues. They told us they prefer to go out and report, because they feel safer! Food for thought?

No more

We love working on digital platforms and using technology, but you’re all here too, your disgusting, regressive attitudes in tow. If you see us online on What’s App in the late night hours, we’re sure to get texts from you. “Nice DP”, “How come you’re online at this time?”, “Who’re you chatting with?” Many of you think nothing of video-calling us. We’ve lost count of how many numbers we’ve had to block because of sleazy, unprofessional men like you. But today, we’re really wondering about this: Why must we leave a What’s App group because you men have no control? Because you can’t help yourself from sharing sexist jokes, using swear words, putting up obscene photographs and video clips?

The world is in the churning of a revolution. Women are saying “No More”, they’re sharing their pain and distress with movements such as #MeToo, through lists on social media. We are part of this revolution, and this open letter is our contribution to it. Listen hard.

And read it once more, we suggest. You might just be the all-knowing male colleague we want to reach out to today.

The article first appeared on Khabar Lahariya, India’s only multi-lingual, multi-media, news network that is run by a collective of rural women journalists.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.