Before I take a whack at the essay I’ve been wanting to write on Coping With the Surprisingly Daunting Scope of Patriarchy, I’ll just make a quick note of my dissatisfaction with the language used in a report I just heard on NPR. The report was on the trial of the soldiers accused of taking part in the massacre at Haditha (there have been a lot of massacres as a result of this current manifestation of patriarchy’s territorial pissings, so let me refresh your memory; Haditha’s the one with the taxicabful of innocent Iraqi students and the housefuls of innocent Iraqi civilians, all gunned down, possibly ‘in cold blood’ by bloodthirsty American Marines but most assuredly in cold blood by bloodthirsty American politicians).
My objection to the NPR report is this: that when describing the (alleged) re-staging of the murder scene to make it look like the housefuls of civilians had fired on the Americans when in fact they had been ducking for cover, the reporter sought to give credence to the innocent civilian theory by pointing out that only one AK-47 had been found, and besides, one of the houses contained only women and children. The reporter left the listener to draw the obvious conclusion: if there’s one thing you can depend on to express an entirely null value in a wartime shooting, it’s women-and-children.
Unless the story’s light on maudlin sentimentality; then women-and-children are invoked as pitiful innocent pawns to add pathos to the melodrama.
I’m not saying that these American troops didn’t just suddenly crack up and massacre without compunction unoffending townsfolk. I’m just taking issue — and no, it’s not the first time — with this “only women and children” trope so ubiquitous in reportage. It not only equates grown women with helpless babies, it more or less evokes imagery of huddled, defenseless, barely sentient beings towards whom our feelings cannot be substantially distinguished from those we might feel for a bagful of kittens clutched by a farmer heading for the pond.
You may think this a miniscule quibble, but you know, language means stuff.