'How Not To Be Sexist,' An Analysis of and Antidote for Misogynistic Language in News Media

The existence of overcritical, misogynistic headlines proves the need for official journalistic guidelines to help newsrooms better represent women and avoid sexist coverage. So, with the help of other journalists and editors, Roxanne Szal made some.
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Fullerton - California - US


FULLERTON, Calif. - Jan. 11, 2019 - PRLog -- An Associated Press headline circulated in August that read "Ariana Grande belts Aretha Franklin standard in tiny dress."

And in October The New York Times characterized the new Democratic female politicians of color as a "management headache."

From language used in print and digital publications to the demographic makeup of newsrooms across the country, journalism is still seemingly a boys' club.

How Not To Be Sexist (https://www.hownottobesexist.com/) (www.hownottobesexist.com) is a new website created by journalism graduate student Roxanne Szal. After researching misogynistic language in media, Szal offers guidelines for journalists who might not even recognize the problem and serves as a watchdog to call out transgressors.  Think of it as an AP Stylebook for wiping out sexism in media.

The guidelines, which aim to standardize the thoughtfulness and conversation that many editors, reporters and journalist trainers call for, come in the form of questions reporters can ask themselves before submitting an article or story pitch and range from, "Is the focus of this story fair and in good taste? Is it going to be important several years from now?" to "If I'm asking a question of a woman, would I ask this same question of a man?" and "How could this topic or my language be perceived? Am I writing with empathy?"

This is all necessary because, as it stands, there is currently no formal safeguard in place to ensure misogyny isn't making its way into news language: No chapter in the AP Style Guide, no specific website or booklet to which all journalists can turn, no one governing body to oversee this issue or train journalists on how to avoid it, no one particular person in the newsroom who can carry this burden.

After interviewing four editors, one socially-conscious reporter and an API employee, Szal realized that, while misogyny is a macro-level media problem.

"It comes down to individuals," she says. "One person's word choice, an individual decision, conversations and debates happening between one reporter and one editor, one person's inkling dissatisfaction about a story topic.

Yet, with journalist and editor positions being combined and eliminated industry-wide, the likelihood of this one person even being in the newsroom, let alone empowered or available enough, to keep an eye on the overall language and to question that of her peers is becoming less and less likely.

The full list of these questions can be found at the bottom of this pitch. Sub-descriptions and examples of each question can be found at How Not To Be Sexist: The Guidelines (https://www.hownottobesexist.com/the-guidelines/) (www.hownottobesexist.com/the-guidelines/), along with the live watchlist (https://www.hownottobesexist.com/the-watchlist/) (www.hownottobesexist.com/the-watchlist/) of sexist news media examples.

Roxanne Szal can be contacted at roxanneszal@gmail.com. Her inbox is open for those interested in speaking more with me about this work, especially its intention both to call out sexist language while also beginning to combat it at the root.  This content can be easily adapted into piece for a website or a webinar on the website and its aim.


• Have I fallen susceptible to a common gender trap, like an overfocus on family life, qualifying achievements by associating her with men, equating emotion with weakness, or a disproportionate focus on the way she looks or sounds?
• Is the focus of this story fair and in good taste? Is it going to be important several years from now?
• How could this topic or my language be perceived? Am I writing with empathy?
• Are the voices in my story balanced? If not, is there a particular reason why?
• If I'm asking a question of a woman, would I ask this same question of a man?
• Intersectionality: If I'm asking this question of a woman, would I ask it of all women, including those of a different race or sexual preference?
• Have I given thought to stereotypical portrayals?
• Have I used any gendered language? Can I find a way to add more gender-neutral language?

Roxanne Szal, How Not To Be Sexist
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