Reading between the lines

The Queen's Journal
30 September 2016
My experience reading The Globe and Mail through a feminist lens
Last Saturday, I had a revelation. Sometimes, sexism doesn’t manifest itself as words but rather a lack thereof.As I sat in on the Agnes’ Globe and Mail Feminist Book Reading, I came to be more familiar with the inherent biases that reveal themselves in mainstream media.

The Globe and Mail Feminist Reading Group is a spinoff of the ongoing series, The New York Times Feminist Reading Group – a series that gathers together people to read newspapers from a feminist perspective.

Upon arriving at the Agnes, my first observation was that there was a rather impressive, if not somewhat mismatched turnout.

There were some women in their sixties, a few younger artists from the Kingston area, two men (one who brought his young daughter), and around six female students — only one of whom wasn’t studying arts.

We first began by introducing ourselves and sharing our personal relationship to feminism.

One woman introduced herself, and then declared that she was disappointed in today’s feminists for dressing too revealingly.

There was silence, and then someone close to me mumbled “That’s stupid,” under their breath. I stifled a laugh into my free copy of The Globe and Mail, as another attendee replied: “I’m really interested in intersectional feminism and also cut-offs.”

Off to a lively start, we found discussion fuelled within the first few pages.

The late Indigenous artist, Annie Pootoogook, whose body was discovered in a river, earned a “tribute” on page A3 which seemed to focus solely on her “troubled existence” and the details surrounding her death.

The leaders of the discussion, artists Liz Linden and Jen Kennedy, who run a website called Contemporary Feminism, expressed their belief that the article wasn’t paying homage to her work in a respectful manner, touching only briefly upon her artistic successes, and describing some of her paintings as depictions of men beating their wives and watching television porn.

I silently disagreed, because while her art deserves recognition, her death is still under investigation and was written as a prominent news piece for the News section. To me, the placement of the tribute spoke volumes about how important it was.

The newspaper reading was reminiscent of book club without the judgment and time commitment, through the lens of modern day feminism. As we tore apart The Globe and Mail, all the things I hadn’t noticed about mainstream media writing suddenly became blaringly obvious.

When we flipped to the Globe Focus  section we looked at the visual layout instead of content for an article on Canadian prisoners not being granted parole.

I noticed that the photos included in the article were close-ups of the prisoner’s neck tattoos, which seemed to only perpetuate the stereotype they aimed to counteract. The article followed the struggles of several men serving despairingly long sentences and how it had affected their family lives and professional lives. There was no mention of Canadian women in prison.

The focus of the group was to point out how coverage favoured men and their achievements; when the achievements of women often stood in the shadows when compared to those of their male counterparts.

Similarly, inherent biases against other groups were pointed out during the discussion, for instance, an article about an Aboriginal Grand Chief, Alvin Fiddler receiving an honorary degree largely focused in the first three paragraphs on Gord Downie who was a silent attendee at the ceremony.

As we examined the sections, we barely went so much as a page before someone pointed out another subtle bias.

While many excellent  and often overlooked issues were brought up at the event, the opinions being shared were overwhelmingly negative towards The Globe. I found myself frowning at the paper I’d once worshipped.

However, I was glad to have been enlightened to what most of us skim over every day, without a thought. The overriding conclusion was there’s room for media outlets to improve and to avoid perpetuating harmful biases.

As a student journalist, this experience has made me more aware of the inherent prejudice in writing, and it’s not always blaringly obvious.

I’m fortunate to be in a position that allows me to have a certain amount of control over how my writing is presented, right down to the accompanying photo choice.

As with any major media publication, The Globe and Mail has a responsibility to be free from racist, sexist and ableist content, and we have a responsibility to read between the lines.

Go to article.

Image Credits

Subscribe to our “This Week at Agnes” e-newsletter to stay abreast of events, news and opportunities at the art museum.