Late last year, the Herald and the Chronicle did a good job of showing the limitations of a gender mainstreaming in media discourse that regards the insertion of “women’s news” in newspapers as a sufficient means of challenging patriarchy in media and wider society.
Two articles covering GBV statistics indicated that men are also approaching the courts for protection from abusive partners, and a case of rape and robbery managed to not only trivialise the harms under discussion, but further entrenched familiar narratives surrounding the harm.
In the first piece, … In the second piece, ….
Trivialising important issues
You’d think that we were past the point of realising that rape, violence against women and Gender Based Violence (GBV) are not funny. But we still have a reporter calling a rapist “cheeky” for having broken into a home, raped a woman and fled with stolen goods. The article makes it seem as though rape is just a spot of unexpected sex – something funny and largely inevitable – as opposed to a gross violation of a person’s bodily autonomy. This woman was harmed and violated, and yet we are apparently being invited to partake in the spectacle of her harm.
In the same vein, men who have approached the courts for relief from their abusive partners are subjected to the reporter’s mockery being said to have “swallowed” their pride in order to ensure that they are safe. The reporter feminises the complainants in a move that reflects misogynistic attitudes that attribute GBV to the occasional excess of an otherwise wholesome masculinity. According to the patriarchal norm, these complainants must be feminine (where femininity is presented as necessarily weak, submissive and undesirable); therefore, anyone experiencing abuse, physical or otherwise, must be framed as woman-like in order to “make sense” of the harm.
A further element of triviality is inserted through the implication that GBV statistics are a new frontier of a “battle of the sexes” and men are finally making their mark. The nature of the harm is missed, and there are worrying assumptions made about the prevalence of GBV in society based on the number of cases reported in the courts when so many don’t make it to the court stages and so many others are not reported in the first place.
Why personal politics matter
The reporters’ lack of political grounding is made apparent in the framing choices made, and in the running arguments of the articles. And through this, it is evident that we are in need of reporting that critically engages and challenges oppressive patriarchal norms. We need feminist reporters, feminist lawyers and feminist judges as it is insufficient to raise the flag about the marginalities that affect women without having the political framework to challenge the norms that underpin what it is that is being reported on.
The current mainstream framing of issues does not challenge the assumption that harm is something that women must constantly anticipate, mitigate or put up with. Therefore, men being victims of physical abuse is not only a source of humour but a punishment they are almost deserving of for failure to assert themselves against their abusers in the manner regarded as appropriate by patriarchy.
These articles do not come with discussions around misogyny, toxic masculinities and ownership of women and women’s bodies or even a nuanced conversation that attempts to understand that men can also experience GBV.
What is also problematic is the complete lack of critical engagement on the part of the reporter with these comments – the fact that the statements were not regarded as problematic, and therefore the commodification of women continues unchallenged in the courts, in newsrooms and in public conversations. It is easy to attempt to absolve reporters and indeed reporting on the basis that hard news is supposed to be devoid of personal sentiments – the story is just meant to be told as is.
However, it is clear that in both articles there is the insertion of personal sentiments in word choice that betrays patriarchal framing. For example, a choice was made to use the word “cheeky” to describe a rapist, feeding into the patriarchal idea that rape is but a spot of otherwise harmless, unexpected sex as opposed to the gross violation that it is. By choosing to soften the image of the rapist through this description and the insistence on creating a humourous tone, the reporter has told us what they think of what has happened – they have given their opinion. Here we are confronted by the myth of neutrality which posits firstly that there is an objective vantage point from which to write and that secondly this objective vantage point can be reached without actively seeking it out as though neutrality were an inherent human state which it is not. The myths of neutrality and objectivity work to not only legitimise the media as a source of knowledge, but they also serve to entrench patriarchal norms and narratives as truth. The status quo is maintained. In these articles we see reporters’ biases irresponsibly inserted into the pieces unchecked, without the pieces being recategorised as commentary or opinion and without critical engagement with at the very least the reporters’ own perceptions. We are thus receiving “factual” reporting that has already gone through the distortions of patriarchal perception.
It is clear that even in knowing the types of articles that need writing – even in recognising the need to report cases of rape in order to show that it is an epidemic and a big part of the war against women’s bodies – there is a continued failure to understand, and report on, the nature of certain forms of harm against women. There is also a failure to understand the subjectivity of writing and reporting, instead we continue to be force fed the myth of neutrality and objectivity that serves to entrench patriarchal discourses and perceptions.
Main image taken from www.publichealthwatch.wordpress.com