Read this now. It’s a brilliant, powerful, shocking piece by Italian freelance journalist Francesca Borri under the somewhat misleading title, “Woman’s Work.” She briefly addresses her gender head-on, but it’s the media establishment at large that is truly damned.
See, it’s not just Aleppo that’s “all gunpowder and testosterone.” It’s the newsrooms.
Earlier this year, I strongly considered going into journalism. I already spent a year in Afghanistan and speak one local language fluently, the other enough to break the ice. I thought perhaps I could use that to build connections and bring their stories to the world. When I started pitching story ideas to traditional outlets, I realized that my background was more interesting only if I were willing to throw my former employer under the bus or use my skills to uncover some sort of scandal. Apparently, where people put themselves at risk to do good, there’s no “story.”
I admire those who put their lives at risk, as Borri does, regularly, for almost no pay. But for every much-lauded story of a journalist (male, almost always) who grows a beard and embeds with an Afghan National Army unit or dresses up like the Taliban or rides a motorcycle across the desert, there are dozens of positive stories that are intentionally overlooked by newsrooms consumed by bloodlust, like the editor who asked Borri to live-Tweet her captivity. We need to make space for thoughtful young Afghan men and women telling their own stories. We need to make space for other truths.
My Afghan friends are frustrated by the stories foreign journalists empower. Those stories feed back into the local media and influence the way people think. If the Taliban are just going to win anyway, why should any Afghan stick around? If the only stories you read are of terror and failure, then it is hard to picture any other reality. In describing only suffering, we in fact perpetuate it.
That is not to knock what Borri and others do. Millions of people are huddled there, in that “dark, rancid corner,” begging the world to do something. Here’s one thing we can do: Instead of empowering only narratives of death and destruction, we can hold hands with a Syrian refugee, buy soccer balls from a Pakistani child, choose to read stories about people making a difference.
We can dare to live and love and speak our truth, even in a world that is “no place for a woman.”