Working as a woman in a male-dominated field often means walking a fine line: don’t draw attention to yourself, but prove yourself to be capable. Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, Lynsey Addario, addresses that in her memoir It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War.
Covering conflict zones in Afghanistan, Iraq, Darfur, Syria, the Republic of Congo, and Haiti, she has endured physical assault and been kidnapped twice. Controversially, she continued to go on assignments throughout the Middle East and Africa whilst pregnant.
Disparaged by the public for being an irresponsible mother and family provider, Addario wondered “But where are all the people screaming at all the men who leave their pregnant wives at home and go off to a war zone? Why is there no uproar about that?” More importantly, Addario wishes that people viewing her work will be more impacted by the women and children that are “victims of their birthplace.”
Addario credits her photo subjects as a source of strength during her kidnappings. She met with women who were victims of rape from Sudan and Congo, the assaults executed as acts of war by militants. Addario was impressed by the bravery of the women to not only allow themselves to be interviewed, but to enthusiastically volunteer to do so. Her photo subjects wanted their story told to help others move forward, and to prevent future injustices.
As a conflict journalist, Addario exemplifies what it means to educate the rest of the world on war brutality. Instead of going for shock value and blunt horror, she captures photos that tell a story and pique a viewer’s interest.
Photo subjects are humanized as opposed to being just victims of circumstance, something unpalatable that most viewers would want to turn their attention away from.
There are stark differences Addario had to face in her workplace compared to her male counterparts. While working in the Middle East, she had to be more conscious of the culture, such as wearing a veil or knowing how to respectfully communicate with male interviewees. The fear of sexual and physical assault was an ongoing risk she had to face regularly.
Even something as mundane as having a boyfriend posed harder complications than of her male coworkers. Typical conflict journalists have a wife or girlfriend waiting for them at home, having affairs abroad is hardly unheard of. Addario noted that most of her female coworkers, herself included, struggled to find a supportive and sustainable relationship throughout their careers.
Pregnancy while working was a matter entirely unheard of, as there are practically no mothers in the field of war journalism. Addario hid her pregnancy as long as she could, fearing that she we would be turned down from jobs. Covering war-torn countries poses risks such as foodborne illnesses, malaria, and other harsh living conditions.
Addario’s doctor even discouraged her from flying, arguing that the radiation from flight could harm her child. Taking antibiotics, malaria preventing medications, and eating most foods were off limits to Addario during her pregnancy. She stated that she lived on rice, bananas, and protein bars during her job stints.
Addario continues to photograph areas of conflict for New York Times, National Geographic, and other publications. While she tries to avoid the cliches of war reporting, she acknowledges that they’re impossible to avoid, and the job never gets easier. Despite all that she’s seen, Addario is optimistic that one day peace can truly be achieved.
For more, and to see some of her work, check out Addario’s official website.