Harassed and humiliated, France’s female sports journalists take on a bastion of sexism

Sports journalism has long been a macho citadel in a still largely sexist profession. This week, the citadel was attacked on several fronts, with French women journalists shouting nasty discrimination and harassment in an area where “men hire men to talk about men”.

The fight against sexism came a long time ago, but when it finally struck, it did so on television, online and in print.

It involved an angry open letter signed by more than a hundred female sports journalists, a TV documentary revealing decades of sexism in the profession and a poorly judged “editorial cut” that struck spectacularly – forcing one of France’s most famous football specialists to a rare and compelling excuse.

“Female sports journalists have been proclaiming sexism for several years, but it takes an event for society to put pressure on the industry,” said Sandy Montañola, a researcher on gender differences in the media at the University of Rennes 1.

“Now we have one.”

The “event” started on Sunday night with the broadcast of “I’m not a slut, I’m a journalist”, a documentary by sports journalist Marie Portolano where several more female colleagues spoke candidly about the derogatory comments, scary progress and lurid abuse that they are routinely exposed to for at work, in the field or on social media. Broadcast by the French channel Canal +, it highlighted how some female sports actors are still heard in insignificant roles where they are usually asked to look good.

Even when the documentary was broadcast, the news that Canal + had censored a segment focusing on its star football specialist Pierre Ménès quickly went viral. The clip, first reported by news site Les Jours, included a scene in which Portolano confronted an unreliable Ménès over a 2016 incident in which he lifted his skirt, out of the air but with a full view of the staff and audience in the studio.

The hashtag #PierreMenesOut soon penetrated social media along with clips of the pundit’s infamous pranks, including videos of him forcibly kissing two female colleagues. By then, a group of female sports journalists had fired a new salvo and condemned the “discrimination, harassment and marginalization” that they routinely endure in an open letter published by the French newspaper Le Monde.

“It is time for us, female sports journalists, to unite and put pressure” on the industry, they wrote in the letter signed by 150 journalists. “We intend to keep the ground,” they added. “It’s starting now.”

‘No sanction. No excuse. Never’

The open letter called on women to “be better represented, better protected and better valued” in sports media. It pointed to figures from France’s media watchdog, CSA, which showed that women’s votes accounted for only 13 percent of radio and television sports coverage in France last year.

While the total number of female journalists in France now corresponds to the number of men, the parity conceals huge discrepancies in terms of subject areas and status. Thus, women still account for only 13 percent of all sports journalists, with male colleagues at the helm.

In this context, it is very difficult to express feminist views, because it costs a career, says Montañola. “Female journalists need assurances that they will be protected if they dare to speak. Right now, that is still not the case. ”

Among the journalists who spoke in the Canal + documentary was Charlotte Namura-Guizonne, a former match in France’s most popular football show. In a series of tweets published during the broadcast, she reminded that she was “humiliated and insulted” during a commercial break, in full view of colleagues and the audience.

“No sanction. No excuse. Never. Traumatized and the feeling of not being protected, she wrote. She did not mention her addict but cited the incident as one of the reasons why she left the show in 2019.

As for Ménès, he was forced to an appreciated apology the next night when Canal + tried to limit the damage. Ménès appeared on the C8 sister channel and expressed “deep remorse” over the skirt event, although he blamed the times as much as his behavior. His gesture was “unacceptable in the climate of 2021”, he said, lamenting the fact that due to the MeToo movement, one can no longer say or do anything.

As Camille Chaize, a spokeswoman for the French Interior Ministry, pointed out in a tweet published earlier in the day, kissing someone without consent “is a sexual offense punishable by law” of up to five years in prison and a fine of 75,000 euros ($ 89 560), regardless of MeToo. The next day, Marlène Schiappa, a deputy interior minister, warned that the knowledge driver’s behavior may just be the tip of the iceberg.

“We are talking about Pierre Ménès because there are videos and women talking about him,” she told RMC radio. “But there are other Pierre Ménès in the TV world and I want them to know that their fame does not protect them.”

Meanwhile, Portolano has begged viewers not to let the Ménès furor overshadow the core message of her documentary: the women who speak out against sexism and harassment. Their voices were sent without filters, she insisted.

Just not sports

The everyday sexism that forms the basis of the iceberg comes in many forms. They range from the derogatory remarks that drive girls away from sports and sap journalists’ self-confidence to varying degrees of physical and mental harassment.

At the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, Kethevane Gorjestani in Jowharwas one of several female journalists who were sexually harassed by a fan during a live report. The sports editor had to shoot back the Lutheran banner when he talked about her report before kissing her on the neck.

“Unfortunately, this (and worse) happens to us female sports reporters on a regular basis, especially when we cover football,” Gorjestani tweeted after the incident. “Sing, dance and celebrate your team, but do not kiss me, do not let me do my job”, she wrote and added the hashtag #DeixaElaTrabalhar (“Let her do her job”) reference to a campaign launched by Brazilian sports companies earlier the same year.

Monday in St Peterburg. Unfortunately, this (and worse) happens regularly for us female sports reporters, especially when we cover football. Sing, dance and celebrate your team, but do not kiss me, do not let me do my job #letherwork #deixaelatrabalhar pic.twitter.com/FDFbsXRMk5

– Kethevane Gorjestani (@ketgorjestani) June 27, 2018

The day before, Julia Guimarães, a reporter for Brazil’s TV Globo, was hit by a similar attack when a fan tried to kiss her on the cheek. She immediately struck back and warned the attacker to “never do that to a woman”. After a third incident with one of its journalists, who was captivated by a fan, the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle wrote on Twitter: “Sexual harassment is not okay. It must stop. In football and elsewhere. ”

While social media platforms have sometimes made it possible for female journalists to condemn cases of harassment, they have also taken the abuse against them to a whole new level.

“Women are not the only victims of online harassment, but the abuse they are subjected to is particularly toxic,” said Montañola. “It is highly sexualized and often intrudes on their privacy.”

The hateful bile that female journalists are exposed to online was revealed in an award-winning video released in the US in 2016. It featured male fans spinning on their feces while reading actual tweets directed at female sports companies, face to face with the targeted women. . The tweets ranged from the nasty (“sounds like a gnawing wife”) to the utterly ominous (“I hope you are raped again”). One read: “That’s why we do not hire any women unless we need our cock sucked or our food cooked.”

“The abuse of women sports journalists is particularly vicious,” said Professor Suzanne Franks, of the Department of Journalism at City, University of London, for which it must be part of a broader conversation about online abuse.

“This is an issue for technology platforms to address, as are newsrooms and the general public,” she added. “You should not have to be particularly thick-skinned to do this job.”

“Sport does not belong to men”

Franks says that the complaints made by female sports journalists in France are both an “industry-wide problem” and a widespread sexism in sports. “There is a lot of harassment of female journalists in itself,” she explains. “In this respect, sport is a particularly bad example of a major problem.”

While other sexist bastions – such as business and political journalism – have gradually opened up, progress in the sport has been frustratingly slow. The same can be said about the media’s attention to women’s sports.

In the open letter published by Le Monde, the signatories signed an entrenched culture of “men hiring men to talk about men”. They pointed out that women’s sports account for only 18 percent of sports coverage on French television – a dismal figure even though many Western countries are doing much worse.

“We have seen some improvements in recent years in paying more attention to women’s sports,” says Franks. “But money is the real driving force. The amount of sponsorship money that goes to men’s and women’s sports is incomparable. Until we reach a better balance, progress can only be limited. ”

The lack of investment in women’s sports is known to discourage female journalists from covering them. While she credits women with tackling important issues that have not been reported for a long time, such as athletes’ experiences of pregnancy, Montañola emphasizes their reluctance to be embedded in a gender-specific category that is treated as a low priority and means that male and female journalists necessarily cover different topics.

In 2019, the Women’s World Cup, which was held on French soil, offered a rare opportunity to devote money and resources to women’s games – the kind that is normally only given to female athletes at the Olympics.

“There was money to be spent, so women journalists got involved. But they do not want to be limited to women’s sports the rest of the time, because that means missing the big male events that are considered more important, says Montañola. “They have to make career choices in a very competitive industry after completing very competitive studies. As long as the best sporting events are men, they will want to cover them. ”

While it bridges the huge economic gap between men’s and women’s sports, it will take years if not decades, but tackling the gender imbalance in news reports will offer a faster solution, says Montañola and suggests that women journalists will have more room to choose topics when they have strength in numbers.

“Because there are so few women, they are under pressure to adapt to how the newsrooms work,” she explains. “You have to reach a critical threshold to have an independent voice.”

The concept of strength in numbers forms the basis of the open letter signed by 150 female journalists, for whom “having more women in the newsrooms will help eradicate sexism”, at least in part. “In 2021, the subordination of women to sports editors is no longer acceptable,” they wrote, emphasizing that “sport does not belong to men.”

After researching the matter for a long time, Franks says that she is encouraged by the commitment and enthusiasm that female sports journalists express, despite the obstacles they face.

“We try to encourage young female journalists who are interested in sports to get started,” she says. “And we get plenty of feedback on how much they love it and the solidarity between them.”