Killing the Messenger a modern meaning for women

by Nancy Cohen-koan

At no time has Plutarch’s story of the execution of a messenger in Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans had more meaning than the present. What with whistle blowers being punished for telling the truth and journalists and civilians being threatened and sometimes punished for breaking news stories, this is a dangerous moment for the USA’s media and our first amendment .

Even some of the citizens who have bravely stepped onto the #metoo stage have received threats for revealing their own sufferings at the hands of the power brokers. Does this mean that we must run away from our greatest duty as writers and media folk? Or can we consider the imperativeness of what must be relayed, load up our quiver and send that arrow of truth out faster and with more urgency than ever before?

It is our historical duty as women to tell stories; to bear witness and to report in ways that only we who have experienced the multi-layered existence of a woman can do.

Women are essential to fully understanding history, as family & tradition teachers, cultural witnesses and storytellers.

In early Greece, people would climb Delphi to have their questions answered by Pythia the Priestess. She had to be at least fifty years of age, so she had lived and was called upon to give advice. Her stories could be interpreted in different ways;

was she using second sight to inform her audience or a reasoned mind that understood the complexities of existence and could proffer counsel?

Whichever, the civilized world at that time depended greatly on her narratives.

In our own country, Nelly Blye as she was known, born in 1864, was a pioneering journalist, who exposed the horrid conditions of patients at Blackwell Island’s asylum and reported on her 72-day trip around the world.

Ida B. Wells, born 1862, was an African-American journalist and activist who led an anti-lynching crusade in the U.S in 1892 Her exposé enraged locals, who burned her press and drove her out of Memphis. She became an active part of the suffrage movement while still disagreeing with the white members about their lack of interest in condemning lynching.

clockwise: founding member of Canadian Women's press club, Martha Gellhorn, Ida B Wells,Ethel L. Payne (Library of Congress, and Wikkimedia Commons)

Martha Gellhorn, born in 1908, covered dozens of major conflicts over six decades and was the first woman to report D Day and the liberation of Dachau.The list is extensive: US women journalists and writers from Ethel L. Payne who stood up to police in Chicago and bravely covered the Civil War to Gloria Steinem who went underground as a Playboy bunny to expose the sexism of the industry. These are women who needed to tell the truth and took the risks that truth telling requires.

We’ve all been concerned of late with trolling and threats to women journalists. The assassination of Russian journalist and activist Anna Stepanovna Politkovskaya in 2006 speaks to this. According to Global Citizen, the number of journalists killed this year has gone down from 2015; this year, so far, 42 journalists were killed, but 19% were women, more than double the annual average of 7% and the highest number since 2009.

Horrible as these statistics are, the real problem is the lack of powerful women in companies.

We must run the media along with men and employ more women into the ranks. At a time when women head fewer major US newspapers than they did in 2007, there is a compelling need for women to run what still exists of our leading papers as well as our public and private TV stations and radio stations.

Statistics are not useful unless they evoke action. When one considers that in the US in 2004, there were seven female top editors at the 25 biggest US dailies, compared to 3 in 2014, there should be a reaction that leads to action.

And what is this action? Journalist Gill Kent speaks “to the idea of communal demand”; that those already in the company, coalesce and demand more gender equality for positions in the top brass. The attitude for change can start from those already in the inside, no matter what their position. They need to write and petition for better jobs for women without worrying that they are causing a stink.

Interesting to note that when Charlie Rose was outed from his prime spot on PBS, the fantastic Christiane Amanpour was brought in. Did women in charge at PBS insist on a woman replacing Rose?

How do we fight the “clubhouse chemistry’ that has put so many white men in key positions in new media? By setting up seminars for those women who have some power and encouraging them to mentor, both inside and outside the company. By conferring on them both respect and honor for having achieved the position and making them aware of what is at stake if they don’t step out of their bubble to open the field to other women. Melissa Bell at Vox knows only too well how easy it can be to have her female’s staffs’ efforts overlooked…it’s time to speak out and be counted, just as #me too has stepped out.

The age of competition amongst women must be a thing of the past. As sisters, we can help ourselves only if we help each other gain more professional and personal power in our lives.

Women’s perspectives are so much more diverse than men…when men cover drug stories they are interested in body count, while women writers take the effect these crimes have on the family, the children and the future of the community. We see the bigger picture.

Besides putting pressure on the present media leaders, both women and men, we must celebrate the woman-lead stories that are out there already;

rejoice in their approach and ask for more stories from these writers. We can do that as writers as well as readers.

This must be the age of ‘we are good enough’.

Women suffer insecurity and lack of confidence that impairs their ability to believe in themselves, despite how many times they have proved themselves otherwise. We don’t have the old boy network; but we do have each other.

We can help build confidence through assertion groups, awareness training and most importantly, deep self- reflection. Because if we first recognize how hard we have been on ourselves, we can see begin to understand how that message has permeated our world, from our daughters to our colleagues. We can’t expect men to give us the internal approval…we must give it to ourselves and to one another. We can learn to accept that we are powerful, intuitive, courageous, insightful, and so many other traits that we have always been if we don’t first grant that recognition to ourselves.

And we can use all parts of ourselves as we are regaining our wholeness, to report and reflect the world back to itself. In some ways, we can see the world more clearly than men, because we have never owned it.

Women see and spin the stories that the world so desperately calls out for. We are naturally the weavers of tales. In the Native Cherokee tradition, Grandmother Spider, the greatest weaver of all, brought light into the world by capturing the sun.

That is our job, too.

Plutarch's 'Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans' is though to be the first example of the saying 'Don’t shoot the messenger' "The first messenger, that gave notice of Lucullus' coming was so far from pleasing Tigranes that he had his head cut off for his pains; and no man dared to bring further information. Without any intelligence at all, Tigranes sat while war was already blazing around him, giving ear only to those who flattered him".

Created By
Nancy Cohen-koan (text and photos) Nonee Walsh


Created by Nonee Walsh text by Nancy Cohen-koan with images by Nancy Cohen-koan, rawpixel - "untitled image" • michael podger - "untitled image" & Wilkkimendi commons

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