20 Dec 2018

Swiss cartoon called out as most sexist of 2018

A caricature that downplays stalking was awarded the 2018 Golden Tampon for the most sexist Swiss media reporting of the year.

Johanna Wild
Johanna Wild Wafana, Germany
Swiss cartoon called out as most sexist of 2018 - NewsMavens
Golden Tampon Award, aktivistin.ch

On December 17, the feminist collective aktivistin.ch awarded the "golden tampon" for the most sexist Swiss reporting of the year. The prize went to the daily newspaper Schaffhauser Nachrichten for a caricature which downplays stalking and sexual violence. Before the award ceremony we talked with aktivistin.ch member Anna-Béatrice Schmaltz about the winning entry and sexism in Swiss media.

Joanna Wild: What is the purpose of the "golden tampon“ award?

Anna-Béatrice Schmaltz: The golden tampon is an award for the most sexist media reporting of the year. It is awarded by the feminist collective aktivistin.ch, based in Zurich to which I have belonged for nearly three years now.

Our collective promotes gender equality and implements different campaigns around this topic. One of our main issues is wage equality. Women in Switzerland still earn around 20% less than men. This is why some time ago we created an action that rained paper money from a hotel to the Paradeplatz in Zurich to symbolically return to women the money to which they are entitled. Another time we colored fountains in Zurich red to draw attention to the tabooing of menstruation and the high taxation on tampons, sanitary towels and menstrual cups. Our topics are quite diverse. When somebody of the collective has an idea we check whether somebody feels like doing it and has [the] time.

JW: How did you come up with the idea to award a "golden tampon“ to Swiss newsrooms?  

In 2016, we started the Medienpranger ("media pillory“), a website on which we collect examples of sexist Swiss media coverage in German. We do not conduct professional monitoring, but whenever we see something problematic or if somebody sends us a link to an article, we describe what is sexist about it and make suggestions on how it could be made better, fairer or less stereotypical.

This resulted in the idea to award a prize for the most sexist media piece of the year in the form of a surprise action for which we all line up in front of the building of the newsroom which has published this piece and hand over a self-crafted “golden tampon”.

The prize was awarded for the first time in 2016. The “winner” was the newspaper Blick with an interview conducted with the sports presenter Steffi Buchli who had just gone back to work after a pregnancy. By asking her questions like “Isn’t that a bit early?” she was reduced to her motherhood and confronted with normative expectations. Since there is plenty of material after all, this year it was time for the second golden tampon award.

JW: Which newsroom receives the award for the most sexist text of 2018?

It’s not a text but a caricature about  Young Socialists President Tamara Funiciello which was published in the newspaper Schaffhauser Nachrichten.

The context of the caricature is the following: On a day in August, several young women in Geneva were violently attacked and gravely injured by men. Funiciello took this as an opportunity to give a seven minute speech about violence against women. She pointed out that structural aspects should be addressed when talking about that topic, that discussing violence against women is often tabooed and that in some cases even it is not taken seriously .

On a side note, she also criticized a Swiss summer hit. The pop song is about a man who asks another person -- most likely a woman, but that is not completely clear -- [for] her phone number. Since his request is denied, he tries to find out the number himself by calling  information and by trying different number combinations. In a humourous way the song trivializes stalking.

The Swiss media made a big issue about Funiciello’s side note regarding the song. Everything else that the politician had said about violence against women was completely ignored. Her speech was reduced to “Tamara Funiciello thinks this summer hit is sexist.“ As a consequence, a shitstorm against Funiciello was started and the politician received rape threats.

JW: Which role did the caricature that you selected for the “golden tampon” 2018 play in this case?

The caricature in the Schaffhauser Nachrichten shows Funiciello oversized, enraged, ugly, [and] fat with a naked torso and with her bra in one hand while she is decrying the musicians of the summer hit: “You are sexist. If a woman refuses to give out her number, do not insist on it.” Then she adds: “My number is ….Why don’t you call me?” The caricature included her actual phone number. Despite the number being openly accessible via her website, the fact that it was circulated in the Swiss media fueled the wave of hatred against her even more. (A version of the caricature without the phone number here).

We chose this caricature for the golden tampon 2018 because it is symptomatic of how violence against women is presented in the public. The caricature gives the impression that it is not necessary to make violence against women a subject of discussion and implies that Funiciello’s speech was completely over the top.

Presenting a female politician as an ugly, shouting woman reproduces an old, hackneyed stereotype. A caricature is an important political form of expression and is allowed to do way more than a media article but if it reproduces so many stereotypes in a highly problematic way, this is just going too far and is nothing than sexist.

JW: Which other texts were shortlisted for the "golden tampon“?

Another strong candidate was definitely a text on the former racing cyclist Jan Ullrich. Ullrich is said to have choked a sex worker and the newspaper Blick headlined: “Was she choked because she talked on the phone?”.The text implies that she is partly to blame for the crime.

Another finalist was the SRF broadcast Glanz & Gloria that conducted a style check for politicians Karin Keller-Sutter and Viola Amherd after the federal Council elections. A jury of styling experts evaluated their appearance and outfits by describing them for example as “motherly and round”, an absurd and sexist description of a politician.

JW: How would you generally assess  Swiss media in terms of sexism?

It is of course not possible to make generalizations but there is definitely an issue regarding media coverage of women in Switzerland. Some media report in a nuanced way. Others reproduce stereotypes, often because they do less background research or because interview questions are asked without much consideration.

We often observe that women are reduced to their appearance in media pieces. Moral questions are also pointed out quite often. Questions like “What does a woman wear?” and "What is appropriate for her?” are quite common. What is more, women are still frequently pictured in the domestic field. They are more likely to be asked about their families and it happens more often that they are defined via a man by indicating that she is “the wife of xy”. In an interview, the new Federal Councillor Karin Keller-Sutter mentioned “My husband said I should do that now.”, and this statement was chosen as the headline for the whole article about her.

And of course there is the trivialization of sexual assaults. Instead of addressing structural issues, media reports on violence against women often put the blame on the woman. If a husband kills his wife and children, it is called a “family drama” and not a murder. This suggests that the case was not so bad at all. Also, due to sensation mongering the progression of events in sex crimes is often described in a very detailed way.

JW: You have observed the media coverage in Switzerland for quite some time now. Do you have the impression the number of sexist media articles has decreased during the last few years?

After #Metoo the public awareness towards sexism has definitely increased. For instance, there was a public outcry when the Swiss television conducted its style check on two female politicians. In the media and in social networks it was repeatedly pointed out why something like that should not be done. To date, there is however, no big change of the Swiss media coverage in general.

JW: Why does sexism often find its way into the media coverage?

The media are not the root cause of sexism but they represent perceptions that are still common in our society. Switzerland did not give  women the right to vote until 1971. Before that, women were considered not to have the temperament and the character [neccessary] to participate in politics. This was less than 50 years ago, [it's] completely absurd and of course, [yet] such things continue to live on in many people’s minds.

We are taught early on that there are boys and girls and that boys prefer playing with one toy and girls with the other and that they are better at different things. Many still think that women bear a greater responsibility for the family. Such gender roles severely restrict us and I think that many people -- including journalists-- do not yet question them. And there are of course also media that like to provoke. Since they are also under financial pressure they often do not have time to conduct high-quality research. The media nevertheless bears the responsibility not to reproduce such gender roles.

JW: Do you award the „golden tampon“ to remind Swiss newsrooms of that responsibility?

Exactly. We want to remind the winner of the golden tampon that there is a responsibility that should be assumed. News outlets often have a big audience, their reporting is a radiant power for the entire society. And this is the reason why newsrooms should report in a fair and balanced way instead of reproducing stereotypes.

JW: What tips do you have for journalists to prevent sexism in their reporting?

It is helpful to ask yourself the following questions: Would I write the same if my piece was about a man? Would I ask the same question when conducting an interview with a male interviewee? In addition you can check how you would report on any given case if one of your female friends were involved.

The media is allowed and even supposed to criticize others. They should criticize women just as they criticize men. But they just shouldn’t do it in a sexist way.


Project #Femfacts co-financed by European Commission Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology as part of the Pilot Project – Media Literacy For All

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