Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Ability to Encourage Transgressive Dialogue on Diversity

Erica Mowry

We live in a country that hinges on diversity, yet within the journalism field there seems to be a lack of parallel. Our field is not only lacking in a diversity that fails to mirror the diverse makeup of the United States, but our field also appears to be more often than not helping purport negative stereotypes or reluctant to offer a different commentary.

Gender Diversity
Christine Haughney’s article “‘He’? ‘She’? News Media Are Encouraged To Change” on The New York Times’ website is a prime example of reluctance within the field to transcend stereotypical vantage points. Her article illustrates that there is a slow movement toward change, specifically relating to the discussion of the transgender community.

The quote from NPR spokeswoman Anna Bross that says that their organization will not use a female-related pronoun to refer to former Private Manning until “Bradley Manning’s desire to have his gender changed actually physically happens,” is problematic (Haughney). This quote is particularly troubling because it illustrates both a reluctance to respect the transgender community and ties into purporting a rigid Black and White gender binary system in our society. Instead of respecting former Private Manning’s wishes to be called Chelsea, this statement from NPR is further facilitating the marginalization of the transgender community.This statement from NPR illustrates that there is an expectation in our society that transgender individuals are expected to physically fit themselves into a rigid gender box and play into the expected perceptions and performances of gender identity.

Less Reluctance, More Change
The quote from the managing editor of The New York Times that says that their publication generally calls people by their preferred name when asked, “and when they actually begin new lives,” can also be viewed as problematic (Haughney). This illustrates that some publications are incapable of being respectful to the LGBTQ community without encouragement, and that it is not an automatic action. This also illustrates that transgender people are expected to physically “pass” and that there is the assumption that their identity will be “reworked,” or possibly surgically altered, which is not always the case.

The debate over respecting someone’s chosen identity versus what their physical appearance suggests is really not an issue at all. It merely boils down to the fact that journalists need to be respectful of the diversity within the transgender community and not place the public focus on a private, individualized matter. More organizations need to approach the conversation like New York Magazine and help break down the taboos and lack of positive acceptance for the transgender community in the media. If news outlets strive to respect the wishes of transgender individuals, then they hold the power to help take the conversation about this diverse section of our population toward a path of positivity and acceptance.  

All three of the articles for today's class address different aspects of diversity within journalism and share in the common theme that journalists possess the power to change the conversation, whether it is about gender, race or class diversity. Whether the news takes the form of a visual image or textual or verbal description, it all boils down to the simple fact that journalists are in the position to offer up a conversation about diversity that diverges from societal norms.

By occupying a space that caters to the masses, journalists need to embrace a new approach when discussing diversity and work to go against what is expected. Their decision to do so could aide in altering societally entrenched stereotypes for the better. Groups such as the LGBTQ community could start to receive less attention for their gender or sexual identity and receive more attention for their actions. The newsworthiness could move away from the private and more toward individual contributions, helping alleviate the novelty or shock value often affixed to this group in our media. By respecting the transgender and LGBTQ community we also can help broaden the masses' understanding of what it means for someone to identify as transgender.

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