Dean Geeta Anand on Women’s History Month

March 29, 2021

Dear Berkeley Journalism Community,

It is ironic that as we celebrate Women’s History Month, there are so many examples around the world of how those of us who are women are still so very unsafe.

Just days after the murder early in March of marketing executive Sarah Everard in London, the shooting deaths in Georgia of eight people, seven of them women, most of Asian heritage, brought home painfully the carnage that violent men inflict on women.

What was particularly resonant in Britain, where 33-year-old Everard was killed as she walked home at night, was protestors’ outrage at reports of law enforcement going door to door urging women to stay indoors as they searched for the culprit in the neighborhood where she went missing. Her body was found a week later, yet another victim of gender-based violence.

As a society, our response is often to urge women to change their behavior in order to protect themselves against dangerous men. I’ve done it myself in urging my daughters more times than I can remember to leave a party early, not to travel home alone, and not to consume that second or third alcoholic beverage in order to protect themselves against predatory men.

During the decade I worked as a journalist in India, I insisted my young female colleagues take along a male companion when they went on reporting trips to remote parts of the country. For many years, I presumed I was safe because I was close to 50 years old, until I took a reporting trip on my own where I myself was sexually harassed. Because I had many more days of reporting left to do on that trip, I felt compelled to call my bureau chief to ask him to rush a male colleague to accompany me so I could finish my work. 

It is because I have so often modified my own behavior and demanded young women around me do the same that I find the message of the British protestors to be deeply empowering. It is so different from the voices of many of our mothers—and yet it also makes so much sense. What the protestors are essentially demanding is that our society stop asking women to curb their activities and limit their lives in order to protect themselves from out-of-control men.

Indeed, the protestors went on to argue that a fairer, and indeed perhaps more effective law enforcement response would have been to issue a curfew restricting men in Ms. Everard’s neighborhood from wandering around at night until the culprit was caught. 

There are moments in history when it’s possible to change the lens through which many in a society view themselves or others. George Floyd’s killing was such a moment when white America finally understood how dangerous it was to be a Black man in the United States. When the depths of systemic racism in policing were once again viscerally and unforgettably revealed and understood. That in turn has helped reveal other types of systemic racism.

Journalists will now relentlessly question police officers when they take the lives of people of color. 

My hope is that the women protestors in Britain will similarly wake up the world of journalism to the ways in which society fails to address systemic violence against women. This past November, the United Nations said Covid-19 was overshadowing a, “pandemic of femicides and gender-based violence against women and girls.” A total of 87,000 women and girls were intentionally killed in 2017, the UN reports, the majority by their intimate partners. About 80 percent of the victims in intimate partner killings are women.

In 2021, the time has come for journalists to listen to the too-often unheard voices that identify and call out male violence and systemic sexism and to unyieldingly investigate these stories. Only if we cover the problem and those who have solutions with focus and ferocity do we have a prayer of holding those in power to account. Only then can we see the deep and meaningful changes in our institutions and our thinking that are necessary to stop the brutalizing of women here and around the world.

Geeta Anand
Dean and Professor
Robert A. Peck Chair
she/her
@GOAnand

 

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