It’s up to news media to curb sexist language in reporting

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Despite holding the position of Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, Ottawa Centre Liberal MP Catherine McKenna has been given the name “Climate Barbie” on social media by other government officials and news organizations. Last Friday, she took a moment to address a Rebel Media reporter during a news conference on the grounds that the nickname he and his organization calls her is sexist. 

The reason why it’s unacceptable comes down to the nickname’s roots in sexism. Rather than pursue her character or policies, “Climate Barbie” attacks her gender and appearance. It trivializes her right to exist in a political space as a woman. 

McKenna had a right to call out the Rebel reporter at the press meeting. She wasn’t sidestepping a question because when criticized, McKenna confronted someone who was perpetuating discrimination against women in media and politics.

A news organization perpetuating this name isn’t only tactless, it’s irresponsible. All of the connotations a Barbie doll carries are presented when they use the name as a preface for the articles they write about McKenna. When “Climate Barbie” is continually perpetuated by Rebel Media, it’s very clear they’re pushing an opinion on their readers. 

Rebel Media is a right-wing news organization not known for their impartial reporting. But for every person who believes that Rebel is a less— than— legitimate news source, there’s another who thinks they are. Perhaps now more than ever, language matters in news media. If Rebel Media is esteemed enough to continue to get into environmental ministers press conferences, they need to be held to a higher standard of reporting. 

News media organizations need to hold each other accountable for irresponsible reporting like this in order to see any positive change. In the aftermath of the press conference we’ve seen many of them stepping up to the challenge. Now, search results for “Climate Barbie” yield a great number of reports on McKenna speaking back on why the name is unacceptable. 

It’s not McKenna’s responsibility to combat sexism at a news conference, nor should it be. Reporters are responsible for holding politicians accountable for their actions, not the other way around. Journalists have the right to ask questions, but need to be held accountable by their peers when they don’t meet the standards of journalistic integrity. 

It takes more effort to perpetuate the misnomer than it does to simply call an elected official by her name. It’s not a mere sign of disrespect towards McKenna based on her politics, it’s a display of the inequity women still face in the public sphere. 

— Journal Editorial Board

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