Perspectives | Media

We are barely scratching the surface of sexism in the media

By - 16.04.2021

Three high profile incidents in a week are part of a deeper-rooted problem.

Three men walk into a bar: A sports trainer, a religious leader and a media owner, reads the script. With pretentious smiles and flamboyant steps they make their way to a free table.  

The waiter approaches them and asks what they would like to drink.

They notice the bar has the drink from the TV ad that features the text: “For men, not for boys.” 

“Shweppes,” they answer uniformly.

The waiter brings them the requested beverage and with straws in their mouths they look around and move their heads to the rhythm of the background music. Soon, they begin a coordinated lip sync, half whispering a verse of a song by the hip-hop trio Lyrical Son, Mc Kresha dhe Ledri Vula:

Ti menon që munesh ndamas (You think you can make it on your own)
Po s’munesh as tanga me ble pa mu (But you cannot even buy your underwear)
Le mo Louis e ksi gjana (Let alone Louis [Vuitton] and such things)
Për ty janë tema t’randa me i bo (They are heavy topics for you)

Their attention to the music is interrupted by laughter from a group of three women on the table opposite them. The three men try to make eye contact, but their attempts to flirt are ignored. 

Unperturbed, they make a second attempt to get attention, shouting some inexplicable words, Johnny Bravo style. Still, they are completely ignored by the three women. 

Suddenly the sports trainer says: “These women are only good for stacking empty bottles and cleaning things in the kitchen.”

The religious leader nods his approval: “You’re totally right, dude! A woman’s place is in the kitchen.”

The media owner raises his eyebrows and smiles:

“Come on guys, don’t be like that. I can find prettier women than them and bring them as a gift to you at this table.”

The script ends with a note: Based on true events, inspired by the Albanian language media. 

* * *

The scene painted above might seem like some kind of cheap joke. But it is far too close to everyday reality to be funny.

In recent days, three prominent names — football coach, Tahir Batatina, one of the leaders of Kosovo’s Muslim community, Shefqet Krasniqi, and media veteran Baton Haxhiu — have become the latest protagonists of blatant, deliberate, misogynistic slurs, with two of them taking place on prime time TV. 

The reactions of some individual journalists, activists and other citizens have ensured their words have been met with a fierce backlash. Many have also criticized the media moderators, journalists and owners for enabling the space to guests such as Krasniqi, who is known for spreading gender intolerance and sexist remarks. 

But, even if all media outlets took editorial decisions to never again invite men into their studios who had previously contributed to misogynistic narratives in the press toward women, it would only scratch the surface of a deeply rooted problem: The power of patriarchy in the heart of media culture. 

Prime time discrimination

Let’s look at the real TV script from the past week.

On April 11, on KTV sports show “Sporti Total,” the RTK journalist Qendresa Krelani criticized football manager and current coach of Llapi, Batatina, suggesting that supporters had lost trust in him as a coach and asking where he was heading with his team’s recent poor results.

“In journalism, you can stack newspapers, or clean something, but not analyze football in this way,” Batatina replied. “Your level is not that of a journalist, starting from your appearance…” 

The sexist and offensive remarks were denounced by the Association of Journalists of Kosovo, and also by the Association of Sports Journalists, while the Football Federation of Kosovo’s Disciplinary Committee has opened a disciplinary procedure against the coach.

It wasn’t long before they were forced to move on with their critique to the third high profile incident of the week.

But Batatina had already become old news by the following day when the Imam Shefqet Krasniqi decided to share his own views on women. Invited onto one of the most watched evening shows, RTV Dukagjini’s “Debat Plus me Ermal Pandurin,” to talk about solidarity during Ramadan, he instead used the space provided to him to do what sexist and homophobic pundits do best: He fed into the narrative of segregated gender roles and the dominance of a patriarchal order.

“Religion shows everybody their place: Men belong in the oda — the oda is for men. One should make another oda for women,” he suggested. “Men can learn from men and women from women. When they are mixed together, one cannot tell anymore who is a man and who is a woman … a woman goes to war but she cannot fight as a man. A woman has the tools, but she cannot use them as men do.”

Krasniqi faced strong criticism, particularly from various circles. But, in exhaustion, it wasn’t long before they were forced to move on with their critique to the third high profile incident of the week. 

While the Imam was talking about how the world needs to exist in a segregated, gendered composition, veteran journalist Baton Haxhiu — who now owns the Albanian Post and is a frequent political analyst in Albania — was doing environmental analysis. 

The former director of KLAN TV in Kosovo said that Albania does not have to listen to the calls of foreigners, including Leonardo di Caprio, who have appealed to the government to declare the Vjosa River and its surroundings a “National Park.” Instead, he suggested other actions.

“Find a gorgeous girl for Leonardo di Caprio and offer her to him [on the table], and tell him this is a gift, but do not bring other topics to the table.”

Media reinforcing a patriarchal narrative

The sentences so easily rolled out by Batatina, Krasniqi and Haxhiu form an objectifying and oppressive lense toward women and are exactly the dominant ideas that are reproduced and maintained as standard with the aid of the daily media production.

One has to be a football expert in order to assess the words of the sports journalist, but Batatina didn’t patronize her for her lack of expertise but for her gender, just as Krasniqi does with all women. 

Furthermore the hegemonic masculinity of sports and religion traditionally sees women sports journalists, or any women, as unwanted newcomers in the male realm who should have stayed in the kitchen. And the media reproduces exactly that deformed reality within a patriarchal ideology.

How media organizations participate in the culture of oppression is best seen through the immediate reaction — or lack of it — from journalists, editors and media owners toward the sexism by Batatina and Krasniqi. One might expect their comments to instantly backfire, but there was minimal reaction from journalists in the studio, or their superiors.

Have you ever stopped to consider: From whose perspective is the story?

And their action and lack of it sends a message: Here we provide a platform for outright gender discrimination. That galling message is strengthened by media that do not filter hate speech from comments on their websites, helping to stoke the fire of misogynistic scorn aimed at Krelani, the sports journalist, and other women.

Even when gendered jobs and roles are challenged by women themselves, the stereotypes remain and are reinforced in editorial decisions.  

Women’s voices, or those of anybody who is not an Albanian, heterosexual man, are widely lacking from core positions in media settings and organizations, which continue to depict public life as a male domain. For example the vast majority of political scientists and commentators are men, while women are more often invited to talk about social issues, health and education that are marginalized from front pages or prime time shows. 

Patriarchy dominates the news. Such discrimination against women and their experiences is manifested not only in the use of language, but also in the angle of stories. Have you ever stopped to consider: From whose perspective is the story? Who is included and who is excluded? How many of those I’m seeing or hearing from are women? 

Now, with this in mind, let’s look again at Krasniqi’s suggestion that women are not for war. It is hardly the first time we have come across such an assertion in recent years. Since the end of the war in Kosovo, in a media landscape dominated by men, we have continuously replicated Krasniqi’s words with women’s portrayal as passive victims. This excludes them from their agency and contributes to reinforcing the narrative of war and liberation written and led by men.

Gender representation in media reflects a constructed reality that is the result of various thoughts and decisions made by media workers who articulate similar messages to those of Batatina, Krasniqi and Haxhiu.

While the script has long become old, we cannot afford to simply turn the channel.

The latter’s comments are particularly deplorable, because as a man who has long held an influential role in the Albanian language media landscape, he sent a public message that institutionalized sexism is here to dominate. 

With his casual inference toward sex trafficking, Haxhiu normalized the objectification of women, suggesting that they exist simply to be subordinated and oppressed — but not as agents of social change. It was a stark reminder that we are still a long way from seeing serious discussion of public policies to tackle gender-based violence, discrimination or social injustice in such prime time slots. 

But while the script has long become old, we cannot afford to simply turn the channel. The majority of clickbait media may do their best to uphold the patriarchal reality, but until news organizations represent a feminist perspective we must continue to speak out.

Feature image: Arrita Katona / K2.0.