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Jul 05 2005

Women + Children = Pathos

Salad_pasta
Breakfast Of Philistines: leftover pasta salad eaten straight from the tupperware at the computer

The news came as reports emerged that 17 Afghan civilians, including women and children, had been killed in an American airstrike carried out during the search for the missing servicemen. –TimesOnline

Have I mentioned lately how fucking sick and tired I am of the equation of women with children in reportage on grievous tragedies? Need I point out the offensiveness of the implication that the unnecessary death of a woman is so much more terrible than that of anybody else that it requires special mention? I do? Good, because I was going to anyway.

In order to judge the untimely demise of any given creature as more tragic than that of a default (i.e. adult male) human, assumptions must be made. One must conclude that the victim in question is intrinsically pathetic in some way: helpless, hopeless, marginalized, and in possession of fewer of the faculties that are commonly associated with fully realized humanity. Into this category we place dogs, kittens, babies, the mentally retarded, the feeble, white Christian teenage cheerleaders who go missing, and, of course, women.

Notice that one of these things is not like the other. One of these things just doesn’t belong.

I would argue that the phrase “including women and children” is particularly unnecessary in the example above, since the report is about civilian casualties, and even a moron can deduce without the help of a reporter the statistical improbability that 17 civilians would contain only adult males. Including the phrase is a cloying attempt to evoke a rush of pity, which reinforces culturally-mandated paternalistic impulses to sentimentalize and infantilize women. I blame the patriarchy.

18 comments

  1. jenofiniquity

    oh, yes. that little bit of propaganda has irritated me for a long time…you know, we must protect the life-givers at all costs. this usage reduces women to their reproductive function.

  2. Tony Patti

    Turn it around, and it also clearly means that killing men is unremarkable and condoned, even. So it’s bad from any point of view – in addition to patronizing women, it makes all murder less important.

  3. Jim McCulloch

    I suppose I’m getting too conspiracy-minded, but maybe our government _prefers_ that only two categories of Afghan (or Iraqi) casualties get reported, “terrorists” and “women-and-children.” Everyone knows we don’t kill women-and-children deliberately, so if women-and-children died, it follows that we didn’t do it on purpose. Thus, patriots can deduce that all casualties are either justified, or unavoidable accidents.
    Or am I reading too much into it?

  4. cadence

    Hi I Blame the Patriarchy, Just came across your blog, I’m looking forward to reading more in the future.

    And of course you are being callus, and shame on you for not seeing the tragedy in the lose of innocent life. A guilt trip for which the patriarchy is also to blame.

    I have to admit though I am concerned about children imparticular in general, especially as far as the war is concerned. I do not agree with this war, and I do not mean to suggest that any death is more tragic than another, but rather that the people who are kids now will be the ones who rebuild Iraq.

  5. Anonymous

    Myself, I’m always annoyed when anyone is compared to children, because it’s always an offence to children. If white dudes are the default fodder, children are always the default tragic loss.

    Don’t get me started on the grownupiarchy.

  6. Josh Narins

    Just so I can keep things straight, the children part was fine, but the women was not? Or were both offensive?

    Would you prefer “children under 5″ mentioned separately, and those over 5 not?

    I ask because it’s obvious there are no three year old suspected terrorists. Most any woman or 12 year old can pick up a gun and fire at soldiers.

  7. Tony Patti

    “Just so I can keep things straight, the children part was fine, but the women was not? Or were both offensive?”

    I find this question offensively stupid.

    You can say to someone that lumping together women and children makes women seem as helpless and innocent as children, yet they will, after years of indoctrination by talk radio and other worthless forms of pseudo-debate, caome back with a question that has ABSOLUTELY NO BEARING ON THIS SIMPLE POINT.

    I weep for the world.

  8. frobisher

    What about the film “Titanic” where it was women and children in the lifeboats first?

  9. Twisty

    I’m not sure, Cadence, how you came to make the deduction, based on this post, that I am somehow oblivious to the horror of pointless murder. So, just to clear up any confusion, I assure you that I am against pointless murder. This post is not about pointless murder, though. It is about our culture’s tiresome habit of putting adult women on a par with helpless little kids.

  10. Twisty

    Josh Narins, I do not understand your question as it relates to this post, which is not about child terrorists, but rather, as I recently pointed out to young Cadence, about our culture’s tiresome habit of putting adult women on a par with helpless little kids.

  11. Twisty

    Jim McCulloch piques the interest of this conspiracy theorist. I have to say, though, that the phrase “women and children” is used extensively regarding disasters of any kind, not just those that occur in illegal wars. The fire at the old mill, the crazed gunman at the supermarket, the volcanic eruption, and, as Frobisher suggests, the turn-of-the-century shipwreck.

    All of which is not to say that the infantilization of women is not a great asset to any patriarchy in wartime.

  12. cadence

    “I’m not sure, Cadence, how you came to make the deduction, based on this post, that I am somehow oblivious to the horror of pointless murder. So, just to clear up any confusion, I assure you that I am against pointless murder. This post is not about pointless murder, though. It is about our culture’s tiresome habit of putting adult women on a par with helpless little kids.”

    Oh no Twisty I did not mean to imply that. I went about that very badly I am sorry. I only meant to illustrate what seems to be the standard rebuttle to the line of thought you illustrated in your post. I agree with you. I did not find your post apathetic, at all, actually quite the opposite. I meant only to say that no death is necessarily more tragic than another, but that the effect that this war has on the children of Iraq is unique, which is somewhat off the topic. I did not mean to offend, and I will try to be more articulate in commenting. Horrible introduction, I aplogize.

  13. nicky

    “Women and children first” is an age-old cry of faux gallantry. I suppose it originates from eons ago when a society’s breeders and offspring were of paramount importance to the survival of humanity, whereas the inseminators were considered a dime a dozen, so to speak. Another unintended irony of patriarchy, in which true equality cannot exist, so long as some members are considered of more values than others.

  14. Josh Narins

    Thanks for setting me straight, Cadence.

    Perhaps it was too late in the evening when I read and responded to the post.

  15. cadence

    I read back over my comment, and it really was poorly worded. I’m still trying to get the hang of blogging. Live and learn. :)

  16. Twisty

    Think nothing of it, Cadence. I myself have found that the mechanics of blogging taxes my intellect to the utmost. I only recently found out what a “blogroll” is, and HTML boggles me completely.

  17. Emma

    Whenever an idiot patriarcher promotes the argument that “women don’t really want to be treated as equal” because of the women-and-children thing, I always reply that I would rather take my chances in the boys’ queue on the Titanic after a life with no fear of gender based violence, superior pay, not being patronised by car salesmen/mechanics, not having my goodies oogled by random strangers, and having an entire society designed around me and my wants. I would gladly surrender any patronisingly delivered preferential treatment in times of emergency in return for genuine equality.

  18. Kate

    It’s constant reference to children as being more important than anyone else that gets on my nerves. The death of a child is terrible, but no more so than anyone else, surely? And let’s face it, it’s quicker to replace a child than adult.

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