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The Globe and Mail

Public editor: The gender trap journalists sometimes fall into

This July 13, 2011, photo made available on the International Security Assistance Force's Flickr website shows the former Commander of International Security Assistance Force and U.S. Forces-Afghanistan Gen. Davis Petraeus, left, shaking hands with Paula Broadwell, co-author of his biography All In: The Education of General David Petraeus.


Reader Kaaren Brown of Kingston asks a great question this morning in The Globe's letters page: "In your schematic presentation of the Petraeus scandal, only the women are listed as parents. Each is identified as a "mother of two." Why not the CIA director and the general? Is it because they: a) are older and any offspring are no longer children; b) have no offspring; or c) you cannot confidently say how many offspring they have? Or is it that a woman breaking her marriage bond is worse than a man breaking his?"

Managing Editor Elena Cherney agrees with the reader. She said The Globe "shouldn't give more personal or family information for women. We do so to give a sketch of a person, and shouldn't be gendered in our reporting, especially in such a circumstance."

It's a trap journalists can fall into – giving more personal information and family background details about women. You will see at times women's ages are included but not men's. Or a senior woman executive or politician's clothing and hairstyle is described where a man's wouldn't be.

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The same is true about descriptions of ethnic or religious groups. I received a letter this week about a description of an Orthodox Jewish restaurant where the patrons "talk between tables, about their grandchildren, about the cooking, about persistent medical conditions." The reader wondered what the intention was in painting this particular scene. Was it meant to stereotype?

It is always a good idea to ask yourself as a reporter "would I say this or add this detail for a different age, gender, religion etc.?" If not, you need to ask yourself, why?

This is not a question of using politically correct language, but rather of not reinforcing and playing into stereotypes.

If you would like to comment on this or any other issue, please e-mail me

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