Every job comes with its challenges—but when you’re a female news reporter today, those challenges can be daunting. Incidents involving the sexual harassment of female reporters during live news broadcasts appear to be on the rise.
It began last year, when a video-bombing prankster interrupted a live news report in Cincinnati to grab the microphone from a female reporters hand and yell the now infamous line “Fuck her right in the pussy.” Although this incident was later revealed to be a well-orchestrated hoax, planned and executed by a professional filmmaker, that didn’t stop it from becoming a viral sensation. Less than four months after its release, over 2.4 million people had viewed the YouTube video and imitators began to pop up.
Unfortunately, the FHRITP trend seems to have become a cross-Canada sensation, with incidents occurring in nearly all corners of our country.
In May, during the NHL play-off season, the harassment of both female fans and reporters became so bad on Calgary’s notorious Red Mile, that Calgary Flames executives spoke out against such behavior. In an official statement, they asked for people to refrain from engaging in such sexist and unacceptable behavior.
The same month, a CityNews reporter was interviewing soccer fans in Toronto when she was suddenly interrupted by a group of male hecklers, who began yelling the obscene line in her direction. Clearly frustrated by the incident, the reporter confronted the group. She stopped the interview and approached the males, asking them why they thought it was so funny. What unfolded thereafter was rather uncomfortable to say the least...
...but it was also important.
It was important because the reporter took control of the situation by taking action and talking back to her harassers. In that way, it effectively—and boldly—highlighted the issue of workplace harassment. Viewers could no longer ignore the fact that they were witnessing an individual being publicly humiliated and sexually harassed by strangers while simply trying to do her job.
Following this incident, Crown corporation CBC released a statement asking their reporters to refrain from engaging with or confronting public abusers. Citing concerns over safety, the media juggernaut asked reporters to remain passive, and suggested that reporters try to stand next to someone in a uniform to act as a pre-emptive deterrent while doing their job. If harassment still happened, CBC asked reporters to inform management and other authorities.
While it may be extremely cautious advice, it also embodies a very paternal and condescending tone—one that assumes that women are not capable of confronting their own challenges head-on.
The most recent incident of reporter harassment to hit the mainstream media demonstrated what happens all too often when the victims of harassment make formal complaints. This incident also went further than words. It occurred earlier this month, in Squamish, when a CBC journalist was approached from behind by a stranger and unwillingly kissed on the face during a live television broadcast. The journalist was noticeably jarred and subsequently filed a complaint with the RCMP. This led to a swift and forceful backlash online as commentators called her "uptight" and suggested that either she quit complaining or quit her job.
This does not bode well for the state of gender equality in our country.
Canadian women are regularly subject to unwanted attention and the workplace is no exception. It has been a site of struggle for women since they were first permitted to gain employment and enter the public realm at all.
According to the Human Rights Legal Support Centre, sexual harassment in the workplace continues to be a problem all across the country. However, studies also indicate that a large number of instances involving workplace harassment go unreported. This is perhaps due, at least in part, to the fact that they often occur in private or semi-private situations, well away from the peering eyes of the public.
What is unique about these particular instances of harassment is that they are happening in public and being broadcast to a wide audience. They are documented. They are undeniable—but there are those who do not want to admit that the plight uniquely faced by female reporters is real. By denying their struggle, they are ostensibly denying the struggle of all women and highlighting the misogynistic undertones that continue to run through our society.
If anything, this "trend" should shine a light on the very real issue of workplace harassment—and on harassment in general—and we should all stand united in the position that it will no longer be tolerated.