Sister concerns

Ambika Shaligram
Monday, 8 October 2018

Journalist Rituparna Chatterjee, who writes on press freedom, gender rights, and social disparity, talks about initiating #sisterhood thread and its necessity.

To the tweeple, she is @masalabai, who speaks her mind bravely, calling out cavalier attitude of men, a staunch supporter for gender rights. In July, Rituparna Chatterjee started the #sisterhood thread on twitter so that women in the media can avail of job opportunities. Chatterjee, who is currently the India correspondent for international press freedom watchdog, Reporters Without Borders, is also keen to mentor the young recruits in media, hoping to prepare a generation of better journalists. Here she talks about #sisterhood and what it means to help women speak and voice their thoughts

In earlier interviews you have mentioned that men find new jobs because of the whisper network and that was one reason you started the #sisterhood thread, and also because whenever you had to discuss something or needed support, you turned to women. How was it when you were on the payroll of various media houses that you have worked with? Did you find a discrimination even then? And, did you try to bring about a change through the position you occupied?
For the longest time, representation was a huge problem for women in any industry, including the media. There just weren’t enough women. When women are locked out of top management positions, the trickle down effects of discrimination hit them harder. It’s not enough to hire women for media jobs. Visible and tangible empowerment comes from involving them in the decision making process and that in turn can empower other women. 

I started my career in the early 2000s. I have worked in several organisations in the past 15 years. The sexism at workplace in those early years was breathtaking. From being judged for what women wear to work, to expecting them to take on ‘lighter’ assignments that won’t require them to spend longer hours outside homes, the struggle for a seat at the table was real. 

I’ve seen a father accompany his daughter to an interview and requesting the editor to allow her to leave by 5 pm everyday, should she get the job. The whole point of representation is to be in a position to bring about change for other women, to convince them to carry on when society wants them to quit. I’ve benefited from the lived experience of other women. I’m hoping others do the same from mine.

What are your plans for #sisterhood? Are you hoping to be joined by more men and women to make this sustainable? 
So far the response has been quite overwhelming. Since this is running mostly on the word of mouth, it moves me to see how both men and women have now taken this forward. They alert me to new job postings at their workplaces. They step in to offer their time to mentor new people. There are over 150 job postings on the thread and I have close to 300 messages from women who have got in touch asking to be connected either to editors or to mentors. 

The biggest learning from this is how eager women are to fight the good fight for others in the community. It’s been a little over three months since I started the Twitter thread. I couldn’t have run it without the support of others. I’m planning to expand this into a safe platform for women to have regular discussions on work, life and everything else.

You also want to mentor young colleagues who plan to enter this field. What sort of mentoring is necessary for them? 
When we started our career, we had editors taking us through the basic grind of reporting and editing. Over the years, with journalism moving to the digital platforms, the time companies invested in the training of newcomers to the profession became minimal. They graduate out of their journalism colleges and are immediately expected to excel in all aspects of news reporting and production. 

I am hoping that starting a mentoring initiative, especially with senior women mentors, will be beneficial in two ways — one, it will prepare them for the realities of their profession and train them to be better journalists. Secondly, it will be first hand example-setting by seeing what women mentors have achieved in the profession. 

Mentoring will cover all aspects of preparing a generation of better journalists — through conversations on rights, ethics and importance of fact-check in these terrible times of degenerate media morals.          

You initiate conversation on many issues on Twitter, taking on trolls, teaching them a lesson in feminism. Is it making any difference to the trolls? People who are already sensitised will support you. How can we make this conversation more constructive?
I do social media callouts on a regular basis on a wide array of gender-based topics to create awareness. Let’s look at it this way. Ten years ago there wasn’t the conscious and consolidated women’s movement globally that we are experiencing today. 

Men would post without impunity casually sexist comments about women knowing that they would face no backlash. The unlearning of patriarchal constructs for both men and women has happened over time with focussed media interest. How does conditioning happen? Over centuries of repetition of the same misogynistic tropes with the help of women allies. 

Women are now trying to reverse that process, adopting the same method. Drill away daily the concepts of equality and representation and some of that is bound to seep into the collective consciousness. But theorising feminism is not enough unless ground realities change and you can see some of that change happening with the triple talaq bill and the Sabarimala verdict. 

How do you retain your sanity with all the abuses that come your way? 
As most women who get abused online, I normally mute trolls who are not there to debate and engage but to call names. I report and block those who issue serious threats and abuses. But I’ve found that women’s private groups are a safe haven for discussions. Often even just to vent. I am part of a few. It’s a reassuring feeling to know that there are other women, with the same lived experience as yours, there, listening to you, without judgement or mockery or being ready to mansplain every aspect of your life for you.     

With the thought process and beliefs that you are championing in public and in the private, do you feel that you are being alienated at some level? You know, when female journalists take up certain stand, write reports, articles and substantiate with facts, the response usually from male colleagues is very disparaging, casting aspersions on the lady’s character. 

I don’t feel alienated at all. Men have finally begun to feel the threat to their established power structures by women calling out sexual abuses, casual misogyny at work, and challenging them at home to establish parity in pay and other fundamental rights. 

The reason why there is always a backlash against women when they seek equality is because men know that equality will upset centuries of status quo. The objective is to educate new generations of men and women so they grow up understanding that it’s an equal world for all. There are always those who will drag in personal slurs to counter a woman’s narrative. Our job is to rise above that and continue doing our work and hope that it helps as many as possible.

Related News