After the sexual attack on Lara Logan, a CBS News Chief Foreign Correspondent in Egypt, most of the media attention was given to questions such as why a “mother of two young children”, “a charming blonde journalist”, and “a beautiful rising star” had subjected herself and her family to the potential dangers that may arise at any given moment in conflict zones. Her explanations that it is her job and that this is what she felt passionate about were not worthy justification in the eyes of the media and the public. Interestingly enough, we rarely come across these types of comments when it comes to male journalists, who submit themselves to the same, if not worse, dangers as women. While Ms. Logan was praised and compared to Dan Rather and Mike Wallace for her uncanny resourcefulness and ability to gain access to information, her male rivals compared her to Mata Hari, who exploited her “God-given looks and charm” to gain access to restricted information or interviews. It is interesting how no one ever questions a male reporter on how he gained access to exclusive information, and that he is instead praised for his resourcefulness, bravery, and wisdom. Another aspect of Ms. Logan that marked her image as a charming rather than skilled reporter was the fact that during her college years she worked as a swimsuit model. This fact is further used to diminish her credibility as a world-class reporter and insinuate that she should stick to what she is good at; that is, standing there and looking pretty rather than playing a dangerous boy’s game.
Another relevant incident that took place last March in Libya was the capture and mistreatment of four New York Times journalists by Qaddafi loyalist soldiers. The only woman on that team, photographer Lynsey Addario, described how she was sexually taunted and groped by Libyan soldiers. Despite her own ordeal, she felt that her male coworkers were treated much worse than her, being hit on the back of the head with rifle butts and smashed in the face. She was perplexed and at the same time amused by the negative public reaction as to why she exposed herself, as a woman, to such a dangerous situation. She poses the question, how we can quantify trauma? Just because she is a woman, she was automatically labeled a victim, while the public and the media did not give her male counterparts the same criticism or compassion.
Rarely do we react with horror at how male journalists are beaten, tortured, or even killed in conflict zones, but when a woman is subjected to similar circumstances, the media and society immediately criticize her as being reckless, provoking her own demise, being an irresponsible mother. They turn her into a victim, but definitely not a hero, or should we say, heroine.
Women give a unique perspective on conflict. Apart from reporting on the political changes, they address the condition and status of women and the underprivileged populace caught in the crossfire. It is interesting that our society is fighting to position women in the frontlines of combat zones, but at the same time is critical of women journalists in conflict zones. To overcome this double standard, it is imperative to include women in all forms of social roles, be it in combat, social activism, or media coverage. We must encourage women journalists, rather than stigmatizing them for pursuing their passion.