Yesterday, Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, an international NPR reporter that covers South America, gives readers a well-written social commentary revolving around her question, “Which place is more sexist: the Middle East or Latin America?”
Her question arose from her recent observations and experiences originating from moving from being one of NPR’s Middle East correspondents to her current South American beat. Garcia-Navarro excels at offering quality news; her commentary here is thoughtful, observant, and, as a bonus, because it’s a commentary, personal. The stark contrast of what Middle Eastern women (primarily Muslim) wear and what Brazilian women don’t, together with blatantly sexist carnival ads on Brazilian TV appears to have really struck Garcia-Navarro.
For me, it was refreshing to read an NPR commentary even wondering about sexism. To have it be authored by an award-winning female journalist was a treat. And then, I remembered. “Ah, it’s women’s history month. No wonder, there’s actually something about sexism written by a female journalist.” Cynical? Yes. Accurate. Hmmm. Would they run this commentary in say, June or November? Doubt it.
That said, I urge you to read it. We need more women journalists asking these kind of questions even if they don’t see or don’t feel comfortable writing that the answer is patriarchy and the male gaze, which is part and parcel of, yes, blatant, unrelenting sexism. Garcia-Navarro is to be applauded for writing this commentary even if she doesn’t see that the Middle Eastern strictures on clothing follow the”chaste, passive, private woman” trope. The Brazilian glamor girl follows the “sexy (or slutty), public, nearly naked woman” trope. Both rigidly adhere to the two primary two patriarchal roles women are allowed; roles often referred to as the “madonna or whore” persona.
There is no answer on which one is more sexist. That’s actually the wrong question. But bringing up the contrast of how sexist our patriarchal cultures/societies are around the world is valuable simply because we need to have much higher awareness and more educated conversations about sexism and its ruinous effects on all women and girls. If Women’s History Month is what it takes for NPR to allow sexism to be part of the the news, then I give them a grudging “okay.” But, I wish for journalists like Garcia-Navarro to be able to freely write about sexism and patriarchal practices with gritty honesty, verve, and full editorial backing every single day of the year.