In the project of Feminist Chapter “Feminism from A to Z”, Carlotta presents to us the letter J for journalism.
Why is journalism so important to me? Why is journalism so essential to the feminist movement? Here are the questions that I will try to answer in this article. I will show you my vision of this incredible occupation through the figure of the journalist/reporter as an archivist and then as a role model.
Women and activist movements have a common point: they have no history. For the former, they are ignored and totally absent (or invisibilized) from the public sphere because of the patriarchal structure of our society. For the latter, they are hated by the leaders of the current system who try to erase them completely and the others do not realize how important activists are.
“Nous, qui sommes sans passé, les femmes. Nous qui n’avons pas d’histoire” (“Us, who have no past, women. Us who have no history”) are even lyrics from the famous anthem of the French association MLF. Indeed, archives are modelled by the dominants, by the masters. They get to choose what is worth saving, collecting, keeping and women’s, or feminists’, history is not part of it. And, activists are too busy running and fighting to step back and take a picture, to cut and keep in a shoebox newspaper articles or to keep precious administrative documents from their previous associations. Activism is by essence only existing in the present moment.
Only a few of us were born with a passion for old documents and memories, and meticulously kept all the tiny pieces of history that we could gather. This winter, I discovered the incredible and immense work of Michel Chomarat, who has collected, for decades, statuses of associations, photos and videos of protests, sexist and homophobic pamphlets, lesbian magazines and feminist flyers. He created his own archives. He wrote about the history of feminist and LGBTQIA+ struggles. He made us a past.
However, Michel Chomarat is an exception so how could we keep archives of the feminist movements? The answer is: journalists are already on it! Last December, the French feminist podcast “La Poudre” (the powder) was celebrating its 6 years anniversary. The feminist journalist, Lauren Bastide, recorded and shared 129 episodes online since its creation in December 2017. She did not only create a very interesting and entertaining podcast, like Michel Chomarat, she gathered stories, and interviews of female artists, politicians, activists, and writers and she made an archive of contemporary feminist movements, fights, claims and progresses out of it. In a decade or two, we will be able to go back to these episodes and will have a clear knowledge of the rights that women had during our time, of what they did not have access to or of the main difficulties encountered by feminists. Thanks to journalists like Lauren Bastide, in thirty years, nobody will be able to sing that women have no past.
Moreover, female reporters do not only create archives, they reveal to their audience what was missing in the previous ones. They make both journalism and history improve. Still, very recently, French journalist Laurène Daycard published a book entitled Nos absentes (“Our missing ones”) and shed light on the stories of many women who were killed by their partner or ex-partner. In this essay, she shares many testimonies and analyses of this phenomenon, which is one of the terrible consequences of patriarchy. She gives a past to women who have disappeared without leaving any trace in our common history. Their beloved ones were not the only ones to miss them, our whole social group, us women without past nor history, too.
In the prologue of her memoir, In the dream house, the American writer Carmen Maria Machado wrote: “The abused woman has certainly been around as long as human beings have been capable of psychological manipulation and interpersonal violence, but as a generally understood concept it – and she – did not exist until about fifty years ago”. Those who do not have archives or books (or podcasts!) about them do not exist outside of their families, circles of friends or communities. Journalists, in the past few years, have worked very hard to make survivors (or non-survivors) of sexual and gender-based violence exist in the public sphere and in people’s minds.
On a more personal note, I also consider journalists as role models. When I was 8, I decided that I wanted to become a journalist and I learned many values that I still cherish thanks to them. For instance, I discovered what audacity, compassion and courage meant by reading books on the pioneer, Nellie Bly. She died at the age of 57 but managed to talk with a famous drug dealer dressed like a man, travel around the world and become the first female international reporter. She also wanted to share untold stories and to put light on marginalized and ignored populations. For example, in 1887, she got herself locked in an asylum to show the awful living conditions in these establishments.
Finally, feminist journalists are not only a source of inspiration through their own achievements, they are also, as we already saw at the beginning of this article, storytellers who share incredible testimonies of wonderful and inspiring women. They show us the diversity of what being a woman encompasses. Maybe your role model will be a farmer who only grows organic vegetables, it will perhaps be a surgeon, or a historian, or an old woman volunteering in a homeless shelter. However, you will probably hear (or read) her story thanks to a journalist.
My love letter for journalists, and more particularly feminist ones, ends here. Journalists are archivists, inspiring role models, soul keepers and spotlights who push stories out of the shadows and skeletons out of the closets.
By Carlotta Facchini