Aarti Narsee tells how women journalists experience sexual harassment on a daily basis
“You are so beautiful, are you married?”
“I should have booked you into my hotel room.”
“I will rape you.”
These are just some of the utterances that I and other women journalists have encountered at some time in our careers.
The onlookers who see the work we do daily, whether on TV, radio or in newspaper, often say its “part of the job”.
My first question to them would be: “Would you be harrassing me or sexualising me if I was a male journalist?
The answer is NO.
But this happens to us almost everyday.
My first startling encounter took place when I was a young intern at a print media house. I was keen and eager to build up as many contacts in areas that were of interest to me.
I had made contact with a chief magistrate, who was quite outspoken with the media and useful to me on stories about challenges facing the judiciary. Along with some other journalists, I was invited to attend an annual general meeting. I took this opportunity to introduce myself to him in person, in an effort to continue building a better work relationship for future stories.
That night, after having briefly met him, I received a text message, saying: “Aarti, if I had known you were as beautiful in person as your name, I would have booked a hotel room here for the night.”
As I read the message I froze, I was shocked and confused. Was he implying anything sexual here? Experience has taught me that he was.
A few years later, the same person asked to meet for coffee, as he was on a trip to Cape Town. I made an excuse to avoid this at all costs. I didn’t feel like I would be safe if I met with him.
There have been other instances. Recently, while doing a live crossing, I had a man standing behind me, making a kissing gesture, directed at me. I didn’t notice this, because I was reporting on live TV. But I later had people on FB and instagram sending me screen grabs, with the captions saying “the things you experience on the job.”
Then of course there are always personal questions like: “Are you single or married?, Can I be your boyfriend?”
And let’s not forget the politicians who harass us and speak to us differently because we are women.
After speaking to the women journalists, I realised we all shared similar stories.
My one friend, who worked as a AFP video journalist, tells me how she felt “vulnerable and violated” during the xenophobia violence in 2014.
“One guy approaches me, and he comes right up to me and says he wants a kiss. If I hadn’t moved my face he would have kissed me….What annoyed me is that most of the camera people were guys and they all knew me and no one did anything. Everyone just stood there, laughed and said these guys are just so trashed,” she says.
She tells me that another encounter occurred later in the afternoon, during a flareup. “Another guy comes toward us and I was talking to another journalist who is a male. He says to me, “can we just have alone time?” I stood up and walked away.”
One of my journalist friends is one of the most fearless people I know. She always tend to find herself in the midst of protestors, petrol bombs or tear gas.
“I always considered myself to be a brave person…but last year something reminded me of my vulnerability as a female journalist,” she says.
She recounts that the incident happened while she was covering a protest in Hout Bay and accompanied by her colleague, a male multi-media journalist.
“During the protest things got so intense that at one point I used my phone to file my story. While doing this there were three protesters who told me ‘we will rape you if you don’t put your phone away.’”
“This was a threat they used a few times. They threatened me with the worst kind of sexual violence. It just really brought me back to the reality that I am a woman. They didn’t see me as someone doing a job because they didn’t say this to my male colleague. They didn’t say this to the other male photographers who were also doing their job just like I was,” she says.
She adds, “It reminded me that while I might have the ability to do everything that men do, I still need to be so much more aware of my safety, I need to be more vigilant than they need to be. They probably will never have to face the same kind of sexual threat that I would have to.”
We are the very same women that cover stories about rape, politics, the burning service delivery issues at protests, tracking legislation at Parliament.
We give a voice to those who want to speak out. But who speaks out for us?
Who defends us when we are on a story and someone sexualises us or threatens us?
No one else, but us!
We are Nasty Women and we fight this everyday.