ISTANBUL—For most of the 19th and 20th centuries, women war correspondents were rare creatures—considered intellectual oddities, more likely to be fetishized than taken seriously as news gatherers.
Even as recently as 2002, Vanity Fair was delighting in the exoticism of such women in its story “Girls at the Front,” which profiled the battle-hardened correspondents Christiane Amanpour, Janine di Giovanni, and Marie Colvin. They had sex appeal and well-furnished London homes, and they made up a small brigade of female journalists jetting off to “whatever hellhole leads the news.”
These days, there are so many “girls at the front” that it’s not a story anymore. The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Associated Press all have female bureau chiefs reporting on ISIS, Syria, Yemen, Egypt, and Libya. In Istanbul, a jumping-off point for covering the region, there seem to be more women freelance correspondents than men. This month’s new film Whisky Tango Foxtrot, in which Tina Fey plays an adrenaline-addicted reporter in Afghanistan, captures how women have broken into the tightly knit, elite foreign-correspondents’ club.
Yet the landscape hasn’t entirely changed. When it comes to winning prizes for their work, for example, female foreign correspondents are stuck in the last century. Ample research moreover points to persistent gender bias across television and print media. In 2011, men penned nearly 80 percent of the op-eds published in most major U.S. newspapers; during America’s 2012 elections, male reporters had more than twice as many front-page bylines in major newspapers as women did. In 2015, men also made up around three-fourths of the guests booked to discuss foreign policy and national security on prime-time cable and top Sunday news shows. Even in articles about birth control, abortion, and other topics relating to women’s bodies, men are quoted more frequently.