Mahlatse Mahlase

To the women who defined my career

2017-06-08 10:05

The following random quote celebrating women’s tenacity has stayed with me, preparing me for today.

“Here’s to strong women. May we know them. May we be them. May we raise them.”

When I was asked to talk about the defining moments in my career as a woman journalist, the many crises that have been my journey in journalism came flooding in.

How does one pick one or a few from the many defining moments the rich world of journalism has to offer?

Should it be the sexism? Not only in the workplace but also from news makers, especially as a political reporter?

The politicians who hit on me first before I even requested an interview or when I arrived for the interview and who felt it was okay to say something about the size of my bum or comment on my legs...

Recently one man told me to come wearing a dress, and despite the current freezing temperature in Joburg, he said, "don’t wear stockings".

The only one I haven’t heard is a comment on my great cleavage ... I guess for obvious reasons...

South African journalists will recall that during the president’s first term, certain staff in his office actually asked management of the public broadcaster to “please not have any women in the presidential press corps”,  and I recall they argued that they wanted to avoid “potential” scandals. But the broadcaster complied.

Or should it be about the ageism in our industry?

"She is still too young to be a boss,” I was once told to my face. Nevermind that I had been acting in the position for months, managing men who define your ability to lead, with their starting premise being that you are a woman. 

Or, of course, if you are generally loud like I am (or passionate, as I choose to define it) and you are told halfway through making your point, "don’t be emotional”. 

There are of course the women who openly say male bosses are just better... nevermind that the one before hardly bothered to pitch for work and if he did his office smelled like a cheap bar.

Or should it be about the racism still in parts of our industry – not only in terms of who is leading the newsroom or own the media houses but who is chosen as thoughtleaders in our society?

Speaking of racism, I remember when I started at the SABC at the tender age of 18, I was asked if they should use my voice or get someone to do a voice over for my script. It went over my head then that because I am black, my accent might not be right for the precious SAfm listeners of the English news on SABC3.

There was also the waking up in sweat and panic, asking yourself if you should have gone on that dinner date instead of covering the earthquake in Haiti, or relocated to the Democratic Republic of Congo, ending a relationship.

And now that I have a relationship, I am battling to find balance between work and life, and I realise that being a wife, mother and journalist requires you to have some supernatural powers.

Was the defining moment during the last three years of working for the public broadcaster led by a narcissist (and I am not exaggerating - he spoke of himself in the third person, declared himself the alpha and omega and openly threatened that it was his way or the highway)?

His way of course was all about destroying the tenets of our founding Constitution that had declared the public broadcaster the pivot of our democracy.

Towards the 2014 elections, he wanted to silence the opposition, demanded we report a skewed reality of my beloved country …we were on opposite sides.

But ladies and gentlemen – all these are not the defining moments in my career. They are unfortunately the reality that is our life, whether in Africa or the so-called Western world, the difference might be degrees.

My defining moment came preparing for this talk. For all these hurdles I had to jump over there was a woman who held my hand, shone the light in what was a dark tunnel, challenged me to take the next step when I doubted my own abilities.

The woman who is always willing to read through my piece when I doubt my own thoughts, or the one who calls me out on the nonsense I am writing and the one who risked her own job when the narcissist wanted to fire me for daring to challenge him.

They have always been my pillars of strength through the hard times, the wings I needed as I tried to move up my career and the pearls of wisdom when life happened.

The industry is slowly changing, more women are entering senior roles but we would be naive to think sexism, racism and male chauvinism will end in our lifetime.

I was lucky to find the safety of sisterhood early on in my career and there are young journalists afraid to speak out because they fear losing their jobs.

So ladies and gentlemen, that is my defining moment.

“Here’s to strong women. May we know them. May we be them. May we raise them.”

- Mahlatse Gallens is News24's politics editor. This is the speech she delivered at the Women in News summit in Durban on 7 June 2017.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    women empowerment


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