You can’t be a journalist, you’re a woman!

Published: April 19, 2013

Women are no longer choosing their occupational roles based on societal expectations.

“This is not the right field for a woman”, he said, with an impudence that seemed at odds with his otherwise timid appearance.

He offered his two cents, “advice” he called it, as if delivered with nothing but my best interest in mind.

“Why don’t you go into TV or reporting?”

Being a woman, with any kind of unique ambition in Pakistan, comes with the stigma of rebellion. Women, however, are no longer choosing their occupational roles based on societal expectations.

There are now female taxi-drivers, camera operators, police force employees and photojournalists — and while this shows the progress the country has made in terms of recognising skill, talent and ambition, irrespective of gender, the patriarchal empire of men has been caught off-guard.

Largely unwilling to acquiesce to changing trends, Pakistani men are threatened and, therefore, dismissive of women challenging new fields, constantly reminding them of their larger and eventual role as home-makers, who cannot afford to be on the 24/7 clock that is inimitable within journalism.

When I was studying abroad, I often defended the image of the Muslim woman, prompting that wearing a burqa did not mean that one was repressed. It was hard to explain that it was the patriarchal mindset that made it hard for women to pursue their ambitions, in my case, photojournalism.

It is psychologically daunting to fight this mentality each day, in hope that someday, it will change.

Sometimes this means becoming complacent to such discouraging remarks or to the inappropriate behaviour of male colleagues in order not to draw attention to the fact that one is female.  There is almost always the perception that a female in an uncomfortable situation needs protection, though sometimes it comes from a good place, most times, it is an effort to break boundaries and feel heroic.

A year later, I ran into the aforementioned man and while I responded to his greeting, it wasn’t until he said this that I recognised him: I am so sorry for what I said to you; you’ve proved yourself quite well.

Read more by Myra here.

Myra Iqbal

Myra Iqbal

The author is a photojournalist at The Express Tribune.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • ss

    not another feminist blog! *yawn*Recommend

  • Tahira Amjad

    When will our women break out their Stockholm Syndrome? They love,defend and praise that which demeans them,degrades them,relegates them to a life spent as inferior beings to men.They are so hopelessly dependent on the ideology that they will fight to protect that which oppresses them.

  • redi

    A woman will always be “Laaila”. A show piece; a tool of entertainment. Chained in an ivory tower. Waiting. What else is she good for?…. Oh, forgot raising kids. Does one need education for that? I don’t think so. You know, a weak being can be a tool of slavery, that’s all. A journalist, in today’s world, is the most powerful organ of the society. A woman will never be able to fit there. That is the world of “Masters”. Only man is the master of the world. For centuries, we are fighting this war of gender and sex. In jungle, they made the criteria for that, the physical strength, just to keep the woman under his knee. It was man who built up Greece, the Roman empire, France and all other nations. He has explored the world and invented the tools for its exploitation; he has governed it. Eve was not created for her own sake but as a companion for Adam. Ruth did no more than find herself a husband. Esther obtained favour for the Jews by kneeling before Ahasuerus. The goddesses of Pagan mythology are frivolous or capricious, and they all tremble before Jupiter. While Prometheus magnificantly steels fire from the sun, Pandora opens her box of evils upon the world; one long exaltation of man. The second sex will remain a stranger to the rest of the world, as she is to her self; high as she may raise herself, far as she may venture, there will always be a ceiling over her head, walls that will block her way.Recommend

  • ab

    ranting men’s perception everywhere will not take you anywhere. prove us wrong then!. start talking about what your gender can do instead of how you can’t . we men wouldn’t let the other gender do anything. it is up to the woman to make a move. they under estimate their prowess. it is their problem not ours. also please stop bringing pakistani society in the picture. woman has the ihsaas-e-kamtari problem everywhere in the world. you being foreign qualified can’t change your self image in your mind and start writing about this instead of some other topic means a foreign qualification also can’t change your positivity. it is very easy to blame others instead seeing what is wrong with you. Recommend

  • yunus

    erm, so you’re an editor ? cuz I’d still like to know what you did after that man told you not to do whatever you’re doing right now. Your piece could have had a little more narrative in it. Felt it’s too short.


  • Hassan

    Myra, I believe that what you are saying is correct. Reading the comments above, I can safely say that the mentality of men in our country hasn’t changed and will never change in the near future. Women will have to empower themselves

    On another note, I believe that a woman’s care and love is of utmost importance in running a house. Children need their mothers to teach them how to live. Daycare is an option but we all know how well that works. Some women will say that a man can stay in the house and the woman can work. I am afraid that this is something that will acceptable to only a minority of men. Allah has created man to fight for his family and earn for them. At the same time, if a woman can take care of the family while working, that would be awesome and she deserves all the respect that she can get.Recommend

  • Shah (Berlin)

    A total disagreement……..on all the levels…..

    The point which you are trying to eloborate is not good enough…..

    Women are good in some jobs and men are good in some jobs…according to the nature of the gender……
    Women are good in multitasking and thus makes a better manager on the other hand men are good in rough and tough jobs e.g construction etc.

    Even in the west for few jobs men are preferred and for few women are…….. E.g in Engineering work environment you dont find women ..I work in Germany in a multinational and in our whole factroy we have hardly 3 women who are engineers….now this makes life for these women difficult, obviously……
    I cannot speak about journalism but thats how it is……..on the other hand my friend work in E.on another big multinational and his office is full with women …….

    Therefore please look at the world with a different eye…..Recommend

  • Sane

    In fact now there are many female journalists in print and electronic media.Recommend

  • Az

    @ss it’s not about being a feminist !
    When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change it ourselves.Recommend

  • Nobody

    Respect to your opinion, but I disagree to some degree. I’ve seen plenty of working women who rely on daycare and those kids have turned out brilliant (same way I’ve seen stay at home moms with horrible children). I also don’t think the only involvement dads can have in a kid’s life is if they become stay at home dads. I know loads of young couples who opt for a balanced approach where they both work in the day and are home devoting their evenings to their kids. It’s not easy on either, but seems to work. Some of my own friends grew up in such a set-up and they’ve turned out wonderfully. It does indeed double the work for both mom and dad, but it’s not impossible. Recommend

  • Nobody

    @Shah (Berlin):
    I don’t think the author was arguing that there is no difference between men and women as much as she was arguing that men don’t need to meddle and tell women what occupations are “right” for them. Leave that up to women. If those 3 female engineers chose that field and are good at it, it’s not up to anyone to swoop in and save them. And being a journalist or a photojournalist is not a gender centered job from any angle. Eastern countries particular the subcontinent are eons behind when it comes to [some] men accepting women in certain fields. The main issue ought to be why don’t people let these women decide what job they want to do or not. I don’t go around telling men ‘hey you suck at multitasking, and you lack tact so you should quit this particular field and work in construction.’Recommend

  • Geek

    It always depend on the profession. Few profession which female opt for during study end up being wasted because they just sit at home after marriage. While even if they do work they create other issues. In most jobs they can’t stay late for work. There are many other issues which men do face if women are working with them. And men then need to act accordingly because you cant be tough on them.

    Rest it varies from women to women as well. Few which succeed in their desired profession proves themselves very good. It all depends on the intention. Rest no doubt that females have to struggle more than men in any profession not just to prove themselves as worthy but also to earn some money as well.

    So in my opinion proper polices should be drafted to facilitate females. Recommend

  • Shah (Berlin)


    I dont agree to it again on many levels. If I want a person in my team, I need to check alot stuff. E.g flexibility, hand work, chances that she gives birth to a child etc etc….

    These are general background check which you have to run before some one enters the team. In east and also in West…..

    Like if there is an accidnet at 3 oclk at night. To be honest can a female journalist in Pakistan or a male reach the spot easily…..I wont say that the woman cannot but I will still prefer a male…This doesnt make me againstt female, because in case of choosing a manager I will choose a women.Recommend

  • Shah (Berlin)


    the same goes for a Oil rig engineer. Without even a second though I will prefer male over female. Reasoning:

    around 200 working technicians are working on the rig. In the whole site you hardly have 1-2 females. The site is usually in remote area with no mobile connections. Some times no village is nearby as well.
    Now will you take that chance as a Project manager to have a female in your team??? You have to be careful that no harrasment etc etc takes place. I dont want to discuss here the security issues.But in Kindergarden..i would prefer a female as a teacher. Becaue a male colleague naturing nature will never be as good as that of a female…again there are male kindergarten teachers who are very good but ask yourself wht are the odds…..

    its not a fight between male and female…it about the profession itself and its requirements….Recommend

  • Shah (Berlin)


    but on the whole I understand your point as well.My point is that if you are on the otherside of the desk, you need to go through everything. At tht point men/female will point out which profession is good or bad for a certain gender. You can call it an advice or discrimination….i leave that up to you..

  • Parvez

    As you were talking of – women – journalism – photo journalism – strong male presence – I could not but think of the movie ‘ Hemingway & Gellhorn ‘ with Clive Owen and Nicole Kidman. Story of the legendary HE man Hemingway and the legendary female journalist Martha Gelhorn during WW II and then the Spanish Civil War.
    If Gelhorn could hold her own against Hemingway, for you the Pakistani male should be a piece of cake……….. and don’t think otherwise.Recommend

  • sabahat

    I appreciate your views and i think to make a difference in society, women need to stand up for their ambitions. Waiting for the time when this society would be ready to accept change. What matters most to pursue your career in a particular field is your talent not the norms and your gender.Recommend

  • Imad Uddin

    There is a tendency an inclination against women in d piece of land v live. first “Satti” n now “jahez” are just symbological representation of the fact. many men view them as different in kind…forgetting the socialization effect…not recognizing they are just modified men.
    men are more “sensitive” about making a woman accountable in our society, even if they themselves are involved in commiting much greater sins. This oversensitivity is irritating.
    I do believe that there are forces of nature which tend to pull a woman towards her role of home-making…but stuffing her in a predetermined role-as if a woman can mean nothing but this narrow role- is wrong.
    There z a percentage of women who is much stronger than most men n can do things many men cant. It should b seen as a probability distribution I guess….
    But in d end not at d cost of the rights of d children….those toys wont suffice for them. Mother is what they need. Recommend

  • Amar

    @Tahira Amjad:
    Solution: Be rational and resist from following your faith blindly.Recommend

  • Shehzore Khan

    women is a respectable gender in the East as she is a house wives. But they are not a respectable gender in west as they revived the concept of entertainment by women which was demolished by Prophet Muhammad (p.b.u.h) Recommend

  • http://-- Talha Saleem

    I am very much agree with Mr. Shah….,

    Allah has naturally given different fields to both male and female, both are fit and unfit in different area. Everyone has his own opinion, but you annd me cannot change the real facts.
    @Shah (Berlin): Recommend

  • Cluster Fly

    I work in a chemical plant. My work clothes include a hard hat, anti static steel-capped boots, safety specs and a fluorescent antistatic coat. I also wear a lab coat when working in the lab.

    I am female.

    The only response to “you can’t do xyz because you’re a woman” is: “Really? Watch me.” There is no point in being polite. These people need to be taught. Recommend

  • Shah (Berlin)

    @Cluster Fly:

    Again you didnt understand the point.

    Its nothing to do with you being a female…..Yes you can achieve any thing. I can also eat 300 rotten eggs..but the question is whts the point????? What do I want to prove, is the question.

    like I just said choose an oil rig of your choice, it should be in a remote area. Do you think a girl would feel safe to work there. The reason is not that you need technical skills or girls are not that capable , dont get me wrong, but its the the environment on the whole.
    200 men workers surrounding you, far from their families or the world in that case. Chances of harrasement, lonelyness, odd working times, no family etc etc increases if a female is working in that environment. Therefore as a Project manager why should I let my team memeber go through this….it makes no sense…And mind it, this happens in west as well. Because it has nothing to do with female as being less competant rather its the environment.
    Yes there are still female who can do this oil rig job. But whts the point….just to prove you can do some thing which a man can do???? I find it insulting for a woman figure itself, when they say tht they can do wht man can. Why do you use man as a reference point. You underestimate yourself.

    Woman are good and strong and dont need to prove any man in the world how strong they are.
    Yes in some environment its easy for them to work and in some not. Sames goes for the man.
    Why do women a make a deal out of it. If the Author would have written that the male manager told her not to become an editor or a manager or a doctor or a nuclear scientist etc etc, than I would have said that the person is gender biased.
    But a photo Journalist???….i dont know …if she has to cover a bomb blast in Quetta at 3 oclk at night…it wont be easy for her…and she will risk her whole teams reputation for just proving her to do wht man can do…..
    I hope you got the point….I respect female figure alot and its time female also start respecting themselves…..Recommend

  • Think again!!!

    This blog has a problem…..and people here are coming to a very different debate.

    The manager didnt tell her to stay at home.

    He said he thinks that photo journalism as certain risks and its better for him to hire a male.
    Its not that he is not offering her a job but to be honest many men are not taken for certain jobs as well. Does that mean Men should also start protesting that they are being isolated or gender racisim.

    “Satii” “Dowry” “harrasment”. They are totally different topics. You cant mix every thing in the same bowl.Recommend

  • Dante

    There are a lot of women in journalism in Pakistan, or maybe I guessed it that way. What is your complaint? Did someone force you out of journalism? Recommend

  • Citizen Khan

    When I read the headline, “You can’t be a journalist, you’re a woman!”, my gut reaction was, “where’s the like button?”.Recommend

  • humnah farooqui

    This is absolutely relevant to my situation right nw as I too am an aspiring journalist. The patriarchal customs cling tightly to my usually freedom loving father. I have been using the example of women like yourself in order to persuade him tht journalism isnt just meant for men. Thank you for not listening to tht man because women like you have helped pave a path for girls like me to follow. I applaud you.Recommend