Media Literacy

#Freefrombias: How to prevent stereotypes from rearing their ugly heads in fact-checks

It’s no news that the African culture is patriarchal and sexist. Typically, the culture deems male children better and more important than girls. In the earliest era, when a woman gives birth to a girl, she is a “failure” but when it is a boy, the village roars with joy, singing and dancing—killing cows and goats.

The father’s smile broadens, and he dances because he is overjoyed. “The son is seen as an heir to carry on his lineage.” Even though women give birth to children and carry them in their wombs for nine months, the lineage is still attributed to men. Patriarchy in its simplest form.

The stereotyped plot thickens as women are expected to devote their lives to serving men. As girls, they are expected not to prioritise education or even a career. They must learn to cook, clean, marry as early as possible and bear male children. Buchi Emecheta’s The Joy of Motherhood portrays the syndrome best.

Even as years have passed, this appears to be the fundamental notion many individuals hold dear. The idea is that women are inferior and beneath men, and women and girls are to use the better parts of their lives to serve men. People might use different terms for it, justify it, or dress the notion in fanciful colours, but it remains the ultimate basic sexist expectation.

These sentiments bleed through in fact-checks done by some journalists, particularly in Africa.

Sometimes, journalists do fact-checks on misogynistic narratives, such as whether women can wear a costume. These topical issues constantly debate women’s lives and what they can or cannot do, and writers sometimes choose those subjects – seemingly to put women in their place. Culture is dynamic and subject to change, But in Africa in the past, “culture” was regarded as static, the ultimate norm that must never be changed. Rather than journalists critiquing the stereotypes in “culture,” they sometimes use it as evidence for “fact.” 

In fact-checks that relate to male violence against women, journalists sometimes write using language that would obscure the perpetrators as male while emphasising the victims as women. Also, subjects of fact-checks relating to women often are ones whose verdicts are likely to be “false.” 

Researchers sometimes do not carefully investigate matters in fact-checks related to male violence against women. They are likely to reach a “false” verdict hastily. Also, expert opinions in fact-checks relating to gender are sometimes opinions of misogynists or arguable narratives that align with their bias.

These are a few of the many issues. Unfortunately, it is an issue that usually goes unseen, sometimes unaddressed, and often less talked about. While the world increasingly platforms diversity and gender equality, it appears not to be much of a concern in African newsrooms. 

This copy goes beyond highlighting the issues. It would be offering solutions, too, because, guess what, there is a way out!

To prevent African stereotypes, especially gender bias from rearing their ugly heads in fact-checks, every journalist needs to check their gender bias. There is no way to do better if you don’t know better. Educate yourself on sexism and patriarchy. Learn about using language in a non-sexist way and apply it!

Fact-checkers must also be conscious of the type of fact-check they choose to do. While you must discredit misinformation and disinformation irrespective of gender, be conscious not to do fact-checks on which verdicts could either be true or false for men while doing fact-checks that are only false for women.

Furthermore, fact-checkers should not be hasty to reach a false verdict when dealing with sensitive topics like child marriage or any subject matter. Opinions should not be presented as facts; a thorough investigation must be done.

Organisations in the selection of journalists must ensure the employees are of a progressive mindset, are trained in that regard, and the organisational values on progressiveness are constantly reaffirmed.

Organisations should also put women in leadership positions in the newsroom such that they can influence positive change. They should not constantly be at the mercy of their male colleagues when trying to address copies with gender bias.

An organisation must be particular about gender balance and diversity in the employment of journalists and in promoting journalists to management positions. These would foster a team of journalists free from bias who are particular about a progressive continent. 

In promoting copies, the female audience should also be consciously targeted to allow for a balance of both male and female readership.

It might appear that I am asking for more prominence for women. However, the word would be “intentionality.” Women have been othered in society for decades, with the propagation of damaging sexist stereotypes detrimental to them. Many women have also been directly and indirectly excluded from the workforce due to the grooming of women as being less. Here, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s famous quote comes to mind: 

“We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls; you can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful.”

It is time we repair the damage through intentionality in every sector of the nation, including the media. In producing fact-checks, we must ensure that no bias is implicit, including gender bias. These would aid in producing more quality and impactful fact-checks in Africa.

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