The prestigious Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) recently published an exposé on how women are treated in the field of photojournalism, and the results are stark. Women across the industry said that sexual harassment and misconduct are routine and broadly tolerated by those in power. At least two well-known male photographers are also well-known serial harassers, for example, and their company has long stonewalled complaints.
Industry leaders, ad agencies, professional associations and publications also turn a blind eye when female photojournalists complain of unlawful treatment. Women of color are especially vulnerable, the report points out, because they are more marginalized so speaking out costs them more. Ultimately, however, this culture of indifference allows men to engage in misconduct ranging from lewd comments on female colleagues’ appearance to unwanted sexual advances and even assaults.
The independent, nonprofit newsroom ProPublica noticed that the CJR’s report recapitulated a 2013 exposé by the International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF). That report found that, internationally, two-thirds of the female journalists who responded had experienced some form of harassment or a gender-based attack. Of those who had, 40 percent said it had been perpetrated by someone they worked with.
“Who would have thought that a female journalist is in greater peril at the hands of her colleagues and supervisors than she is in the field?” the executive director of the IWMF told ProPublica in a discussion about the two reports.
The reports cite several underlying factors that contribute to the problem:
- Historically male-dominated field with few women in positions of power
- Macho and hyper-masculine behavior being glorified in the field
- A culture of disbelief and indifference to the problem
- An increasing reliance on freelancers, who lack strong workplace protections and who must rely on good relationships in order to get work
- No mechanism to hold freelancers accountable for harassment and misconduct
- A pattern of successful retaliation by those accused
“Perpetrators have been excused, hired and promoted,” says the IWMF’s director. “They have won awards and risen to the highest ranks, even as their victims and colleagues looked the other way.”
Photojournalists say that any meaningful change would have to come from people in positions of power at gatekeeping institutions such as professional associations, agencies and publications. Some institutions have begun establishing codes of conduct — but insiders say those simply aren’t credible when the institutions continue to work with known abusers.
“The burden of this issue should fall on those who have power to fix it,” one photojournalist commented to the CJR. “For every gatekeeper that isn’t willing to be uncomfortable enough to make a change, there’s a woman who’s paying the price for that instead.”