Panelists from media organizations called for greater female participation in the traditionally male-dominated media industry in the “Women in New Media” panel during the OWN IT Summit Saturday.
The panel featured Founder and Editor-in-Chief of MuslimGirl.net Amani Alkhat, Editor-in-Chief of espnW and ESPN Magazine Alison Overholt, The New Yorker political cartoonist and Cultural Envoy for the U.S. State Department Liza Donnelly and Amel Monsur, creative director for VICE’s Broadly, the network’s women’s interest channel. The panel was moderated by The Wall Street Journal Executive Emerging Media Editor Carla Zanoni.
Overholt said being a woman can be an advantage in competitive industries..
“The thing that people often fear about being a woman is this idea of being other, that somehow being less represented is always a disadvantage,” Overholt said. “It can actually be a huge advantage. If you are a woman and you have ‘chutzpah’ and you jump in there, people are looking for you.”
According to Donnelly, gender affects a wider range of careers and on a deeper level.
“When I started cartooning, I didn’t realize it would be a gendered space, so I just kept drawing. But what the standards are for good tend to be male-based,” Donnelly said. “So I started to do more cartoons about what it’s like to be a woman. Men can write about women and women’s issues, but no one can do it like I can.”
Monsur said the first step toward greater representation, especially in a field like media, is speaking up.
“Sometimes it’s just about asserting or mentioning that you’re here. Don’t assume that people see you because many times they don’t,” Monsur said. “Media is an observation. I don’t know anyone who is a better orator or interpreter or observer than a woman. So we belong here.”
Alkhat said it is especially important to change the representation of Muslim women in the media.
“Once we get that, get that narrative out there, once we have that representation out there, that’s really what allows us to connect to one another. It humanizes everyone in each other’s eyes. It allows us an opportunity to just really get that message out there and to create change,” Alkhat said in an interview with The Hoya after the panel.
According to Alkhat, Muslim women are often characterized as being oppressed in the Western media.
“I think that Western media really likes to present us kind of in this box of being voiceless, of needing other people to do the talking for us, that we need to be liberated, that we’re oppressed, that we need to be saved from brown men,” Alkhat said. “It’s all these really racially embedded preconceptions of Muslim women that are perpetuated for very politicized agendas.”
While many careers and industries are currently male-dominated, each panelist stressed the importance of carving out women’s spaces within these fields.
“Once you’re in that space, continuing to have this dialogue, while it is exhausting, it will be valuable,” Monsur said. “Don’t ever back away.”
Alkhat said these spaces are a good starting point for furthering greater gender equity and female involvement, not only in media, but in business in general.
“Starting out with these women’s spaces is a good stepping stone,” Alkhat said.
Zanoni said she hopes gender becomes a non-issue.
“I don’t want to be a female leader. I just want to be a leader,” Zanoni said. “Hopefully the next generation will be able to just lead.”
Hoya Staff Writer Lisa Burgoa contributed reporting.