A letter to the editor of The Hawick Paper. I’m nervous to post it, as I am with some of my blog posts, will people think I’m stirring up shit? Actually, would I even worry about getting accused of that if I were a man? I’ll send this (immediately before I publish it here) now and turn the internet off for the rest of the day. I’ve got other work to do too, you know.
I’m a digital subscriber to The Hawick Paper. It’s the only paper I subscribe to at the moment, and it’s been very informative while I’ve been writing for my blog, and working on my current video-based project, I’ve Only Been Here Half My Life. It’s about the Peter Scott Mill, and my experiences as a teenager growing up in Hawick in the mid-noughties.
Yesterday, I was looking through old issues for an article for another post (which I found, hurray!) and came across the article you published on the 3rd of July, titled:
“Female rescued from the Cauld”
This headline initially confused me – ‘A female what? A sheep? A parrot? An electrical socket?’
This headline, and the following wording around the swimmer’s rescuers, demonstrates a subconscious bias of the writer, and of yourself. As editor of a local paper, you have the power to change how the town of Hawick talks about her people. I don’t doubt that you want to do your best for Hawick and all the people of the town and outskirts, and I’m sure you and your journalists are not misogynists.
Immediately declaring the gender of the rescued party in the title of this story is, to start with, perpetuating the out-dated narrative of ‘Damsel in Distress saved by Brave Manly Knight’. A story about one swimmer who was in difficulty being assisted by two other people doesn’t even need to mention their gender. What purpose does mentioning it serve, especially when you didn’t have or didn’t publish any other details of their identities? The article’s purpose seems to be about safety at the Cauld, and local politicians’ efforts to address that. Reporting of the incident illustrates a point about safety, it does not need to be gendered.
Secondly, and more importantly, “Female” is commonly used as a derogatory term in Hawick; I wrote a blog post in April about its definition in the Hawick Word Book here: https://jgrowden.com/2020/04/03/3-4-20-female/. Do you really think it is appropriate at all to use the word to describe an individual in your paper? A word that much more closely relates to someone’s personhood, say girl or woman, would imply more empathy to their plight as the person in the incident at the cauld, rather than a sterile description of a living body’s sex with undertones of disgust.
I implore you to seriously consider how you write about women and girls in The Hawick Paper, and to take a look at how the rest of the world is beginning to adjust their wording towards a way that doesn’t de-humanise and patronise half our population.