By Sharanya Gopinathan
The way you report an issue matters. It matters in ways both insidious and obvious, and not just when you’re talking about rape. Everyday discussions in the media play a huge role in how we think of ourselves and the world, and this is of double interest to us when the subjects being reported on and framed in a certain ways are women.
This week, a lot of news outlets, from consistent rubbish like the DailyMail to established and respected outlets like Time Magazine, faced flak for the ridiculous way they reported on activist and world-renown human rights lawyer Amal Clooney giving a speech at the UN on the genocide ISIS is responsible for in Iraq and Syria. While Amal spoke about mass graves in Iraq, news outlets focused on the colour and cut of her dress, and the size of her heels and stomach. Their rubbish coverage faced so much flak online that Time later quietly changed its headline, but of course, Twitter wasn’t going to let them off that easily.
The Columbia Journalism Review took note of all the vaanthi reportage, and so decided to prescribe its own great guidelines for reporting on women bodies. They’re pretty simple: basically, unless there’s a specific and clear reason to, report on the activities a woman is undertaking, not her clothes or her body, and if you insist on doing it anyway, report on men and their bodies in the same way too.
By the way, this isn’t the first time Amal Clooney specifically has provoked debate on how the media covers women. In fact, she seems like the one person the media loves to use as a take-off point to make fun of themselves and each other about the sexist portrayal of women most media outlets are guilty of in some way or the other.
Back in 2014, when Amal married Hollywood actor George Clooney, a lot of news outlets covered her in a frighteningly irritating way, as though she had no identity other than being George Clooney’s wife, despite having advanced degrees from some of the most prestigious universities in the world and a professional track record that speaks volumes about her skills, ability and dedication to various human rights issues. After this first wave of reportage, people began noticing how ludicrous it was that the media seemed not to care at all about her accomplishments, and the realisation inspired a volley of editorial pieces, response articles and a truly hilarious joke at the Golden Globe awards.
Whether you’re reporting on someone with as many professional accomplishments as Amal Cooney or not, it’s a good idea for the media to avoid vaanthi coverage of women no matter who they’re reporting on or what their accomplishments may be. Women have lives and names, they’re not just the wives of their husbands. Remember when the Chicago Tribune referred to Olympic shooting medallist Corey Cogdell-Unrein as the ‘wife of a Bears’ lineman’ when reporting on her Rio Olympics win?