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Apr 03 2014

The Persistent Sexist Stereotypes in Mass Media Department

From an article appearing in the Chicago Tribune about the latest shooting at Fort Hood:

“When confronted by a female military police officer, he shot himself with his semi-automatic weapon in the parking lot.”

This is an example of sexist bias in reporting. It reveals a couple of things.

Thing one: “male” is still the default human, no matter what you may have been told by “feminists” who insist that patriarchy is dead. The chromosomal makeup of the police officer is of absolutely no relevance whatsoever to the story, and indeed would not have been mentioned at all had she been a dude. But in 2014 “police officer” still means “male.” Whenever there’s a breach in the patriarchal continuum and a woman gets caught doing a dude-job that doesn’t involve children or being pretty, it’s perceived as weird.

Thing two: the Tribune writer has included the “female” detail to add a cheap frisson of extra pathos to a story that needs no extra pathos. In our sexist culture, women continue to be perceived as weaker, frailer, damsel-in-distressier, and incapable-ier. So how wild is it that oh my gosh a woman confronted this terrifying mass murderer?

fthoodPretty much any mainstream newspaper article you read contains a little blob of sexism.

As an aside, a weird photo accompanying this article depicts a woman clinging to the foot of a soldier sitting on the hood of a car. Photography lies, so it’s anyone’s guess what was really goin’ on there, but objectively, as an illustration accompanying an article on a mass shooting, the composition and body language suggest an affirming reinforcement of the patriarchal warrior narrative: anguished damsel in submissive pose literally kissing the foot of the detached and superior dudely hero on high.*

On the subject of the Fort Hood shooting itself: if it’s this terrible when bits of America’s wars escape their foreign boundaries and resurface back home in these isolated bursts, how unspeakable must it be “over there” where the bursts are nonstop?

UPDATE: The New York Times gets it right:

He got out of the vehicle, walked into another building and opened fire again, and then engaged with a military police officer before shooting himself.

He put his hands up, General Milley said, then reached under his jacket. The officer pulled out her weapon, and then Specialist Lopez put his weapon to his head and fired. General Milley described the officer’s actions as “clearly heroic,” adding: “She did her job. She did exactly what we would expect of U.S. Army military police.”

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* We know the soldier is a dude from the caption, which identifies him as the woman’s husband.

Photo nicked from (Deborah Cannon, McClatchy-Tribune /April 2, 2014)
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28 comments

  1. ew_nc

    There have been many “you go, girl!” reactions to this story from the fun feminism world. Because a woman doing her job well is just so unusual! It’s empowerfull, baby!

    Whaddaya wanna bet that news outlets do a back story on her that focuses on the ways she’s still a patriarchy-compliant woman?

  2. wondering

    Gah. Why did I click the “patriarchy is dead” link? I was chewing off my own arm before the end of the first page.

    Because working class women just really yearn for someone to look after them and pay all the bills. I propose that working class women just really hate their jobs and would prefer to be independently wealthy, but know that dream is completely impossible, while get out of the rat race because your husband makes enough money to pay all the bills is a dream that is both socially encouraged and slightly less implausible.

  3. tinfoil hattie

    Huh. I thought the article meant the shooter killed himself because he couldn’t bear the thought of having to be arrested by a “female.”

  4. Twisty

    “There have been many “you go, girl!” reactions to this story from the fun feminism world.”

    I am not surprised. Not that anyone who survives that Ft Hood situation doesn’t deserve a you go girl, regardless of genitals, but fun feminism does love the Buffy-esque.

  5. Twisty

    @wondering: I wrote a little response to Rosin’s article last fall. Here.

  6. gingerest

    That picture! I saw it this morning and part of me was all, “Aw, look how sad and scared that lady is for her Nigel, so sad she’ll hug whatever she can reach” and part was all, “HIS GROSS BOOT SHE IS PUTTING HER MOUTH ON HIS BOOT WHICH HAS BEEN GOD KNOWS WHERE” but I totally missed the obvious-now-you-point-it-out foot-kissing emperilled princess subtext.
    News media, go fuck yourselves!

  7. pheenobarbidoll

    Jesus. No words.

  8. quixote

    The BBC has taken to discussing farmers and workers in, say, India or Kenya or France or the US and then as you read further or get to the picture it turns out the person is female.The first couple of times it was a feeling like suddenly noticing I was on the edge of the Grand Canyon and realizing how much had always been missing. Being treated like an actual human being is so weird at first. And it’s so weird that it’s weird.

    It’s also really easy to get used to. So, like tinfoil hattie, when the report stressed the femaleness of the MP I assumed it was for a reason, that it had something to do with the suicide. Then the report went on and that little datum just drifted off into the Grand Canyon like a rose petal. Nothing. Not even an echo. Also weird. There is nothing about the P that is not weird.

    Like that bootkissing, too. If his wife is upset, why isn’t the headless wonder sitting on the bumper with her, being some use? Why didn’t that occur to the weirdo who decided it was a good picture to use?

  9. Twisty

    @ quixote: I know! The assumption that you’re human is totally disorienting. When it happens, which, as you point out, is rare, there’s always this little rush of exhilaration, like “wow, that’s what it feels like!” The NYTimes gave me hope, but yesterday on MSNBC it was still business as usual, with all the pundits going apeshit about the remarkable and unique femaleness of the hero.

    As for the photo, like I said in the post, photographs are not necessarily representative of reality. I saw a photo of this same scene credited to a different photographer — I guess this woman and her man’s legs happened to be posing at the spot where the press bus dropped off all the news hounds — and although it was obviously taken at or near the same moment, it suggested a totally different “truth,” if you will. The angle made it not so suggestive of subservience, and the woman’s expression was now contemplative rather than needy and dependent. I wish I’d bookmarked it, but I can’t seem to find it now. It would be interesting to see all the photos from that shoot that didn’t make it to press. Without context, every one would tell a different story.

    Viewers of photographs are totally dependent on the photographer for context. All you can do is hope they’re going to be reliable narrators.

  10. Kay

    Wouldn’t it be a fucking riot if they referred to all of these lunatics who go on murder benders as “the male shooter”? Just kidding, that would obviously be misandry!

  11. Kali

    That picture was the first thing I saw that day when I turned on the TV for the morning news. I switched channels immediately in disgust. Whatever that scene was in reality, the picture is clearly meant to tug at the heartstrings of the patriarchy addled – the glorification and worship of the dispassionate warrior male by the emotional, clingy female. Every culture has its own patriarchal scripts to enact to glorify warrior males. In India, it’s the wife falling to the ground and breaking her glass bangles, with the smudged sindoor in her hair parting, when her warrior husband dies. In the US it is the wife or girlfriend weeping and clinging to the departing or returning soldier.

  12. Wilted_Lettuce

    @Kay, I would love to see the shootings discussed that way. You can bet if there was an epidemic of female shooters we’d be hearing about the epidemic of “female shooters”.

    @Kali, I think you just captured why I find media coverage of soldiers so cringe-worthy. Sure I respect people doing their jobs but I hate the portrayal of the weak and grateful women-folk. There was a video making the rounds recently where a little girl of about 4 unwraps a giant birthday present and her returned-soldier-Dad pops out. What? Her dad is her present? Not only do we get the Returned Soldier meme, but our heartstrings are supposed to be tugged by the sight of a dad merely showing up in his family. Would we be celebrating a mom who had been on duty returning to her grateful young children? No, we’d be outraged that she left them in the first place.

  13. Cyberwulf

    Wilted_Lettuce, you’re right about the double standards about mothers with careers vs fathers with careers, but I think our heartstrings are supposed to be tugged by the sight of a little girl reunited with her dad, who’s safe and sound after being in, you know, a war zone. You know, because he could’ve come home in a coffin. Possibly in pieces.

  14. KatherineK

    The assumption that you’re human is totally disorienting.

    Damn straight. Recently I was discussing geekery with my 6 year old daughter and referred to myself as a “geek girl”. “So Daddy is a geek boy” she responded. “Yes absolutely”, I said in reply, as I inwardly kicked myself for ghettoizing my own damn existence and very nearly foisting that on my own daughter.

  15. KarenX

    I was curious about another version of the photograph, so went looking. I saw one on The Daily Mail, credited to Associated Press:

    http://i.dailymail.co.uk/i/pix/2014/04/03/article-2595587-1CC8ACE400000578-221_634x422.jpg

  16. Wilted_Lettuce

    @Cyberwulf, but if you see institutionalized violence as a destructive and unnecessary thing created by P, then it becomes kind of an outrage that women and children are supposed to valorize soldiers and be super-grateful when they survive a voluntary tour of duty. You might even notice that war serves to artificially inflate men’s value while putting women and children at risk physically *and* emotionally, no?

  17. shopstewardess

    There is today an extraordinary story on the BBC website about the human race splitting into an overclass species and an underclass species (the story is based on a “report” from an “evolutionary theory” academic at the London School of Economics). It goes by the heading “Human species may “split in two”", and is apparently one of the most read stories on the BBC News site today.

    The BBC has chosen to illustrate this “story” with a drawing of a man representing the overclass species and a woman representing the underclass species.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/6057734.stm

    The BBC’s assumption that women are human beings, as reported above by quixote, was obviously a momentary aberration.

    My complaint to the BBC will probably be dismissed by them as a rant. I’m not given to ranting, as a rule, but non-ranty words failed me on this one.

  18. Cyberwulf

    men will exhibit symmetrical facial features, look athletic, and have squarer jaws, deeper voices and bigger penises.

    Women, on the other hand, will develop lighter, smooth, hairless skin, large clear eyes, pert breasts, glossy hair, and even features, he adds.

    And a man came up with this theory you say? I think I shall die of not surprise.

    I was going to comment about him clearly cribbing from HG Wells but he actually references the Eloi and Morlocks in the article. FFS.

    @WiltedLettuce – I see your point and I agree with you in the broad sense, but I’m aware that for a lot of people, men and women, military service guarantees employment and educational opportunities, especially in the United States. I can’t fault individuals for making a choice like that when their options may be limited.

  19. Mildred

    @shopstewardess

    I read that article today! It was so blatantly fascist! The way that the ideal was a tall white male, the ‘underclass’ looked a lot like a female friend of mine.
    I guffawed so hard in that way that you do when you have to laugh something off because its just too disgusting to be actually real.
    I am at least glad they had a male ‘ideal’ in that illustration rather than the pornstar ideal they painted of the female of the species “Women, on the other hand, will develop lighter, smooth, hairless skin, large clear eyes, pert breasts, glossy hair, and even features, he adds.”

  20. Morag

    ‘I am at least glad they had a male ‘ideal’ in that illustration rather than the pornstar ideal they painted of the female of the species “Women, on the other hand, will develop lighter, smooth, hairless skin, large clear eyes, pert breasts, glossy hair, and even features, he adds.”‘

    I know, Mildred. He just described a silicone sex doll made in a factory and told us, more or less, that this is what nature wants to do–nothing personal! That human evolution will co-operate with cultural male fantasies, and will also ensure the existence of an underclass to exploit and to act as a foil for the natural supremacy of the others.

    I agree: this isn’t science, but fascist ideology. This is the male psyche telling us how he wants his world to be. And it’s nothing new–they’ve been at it with their misogynistic psychobiology, evolutionary psychology and neuro-sexism forever.

  21. Mildred

    You know what chaps my hide on this one…
    The fact that it equates attractiveness with success. The richest men in the world are not oil paintings, they might only make babies with the youngest most attractive women, but they themselves are supposedly muddying the gene pool with their inferior DNA. I only have to think of my friendly local millionaire Kim Dotcom and his sexay wife. Do attractive people always an necessarily produce attractive offspring – NO.
    Its not even accurate! That’s what bugs me. I never even took science in high school and I know his theory is a load of drivel. Wtf do fake tits and ombre hair extensions have to do with evolution?

  22. gingerest

    How did that article come to be back on the front page of the Beeb? It’s from October 2006.

  23. quixote

    re “evolution” article on Beeb: grrroannnn. And the BBC is generally hopeless, sexist, and pathetic in their ooh-sensational-science-about-men-and-their-appendages. I was just talking about some of their news reporters and/or editors and photo caption writers.

    About that evolutionary ideal, you know what’s funny? Men have evolved at least as much toward “female” characteristics as women have. Hairlessness, much reduced muscle mass for a primate male, comparatively non-aggressive and peacable (compared to, say, chimpanzee males). They actually had further to go, so they have to be evolving in that direction faster than women.

    So, by the Beeb’s logic of linear extrapolation, that means men will overtake women in the “gentle” charactistics department. Right?

    The Beeb’s logic also can’t explain how men got so far from the chimp ideal, but there is one obvious driver. Female choice. And if women are the ones selecting for brains over brawn, whereas men select for hair extensions, the implications of the P giving choice only to men are rather staggering.

  24. Cyberwulf

    Here’s what will happen next in human evolution. The Y-chromosome will degrade completely and cis men shall become extinct. Humans will reproduce via parthenogenesis.

  25. XY Feminist

    Generally, as soon as someone in the mainstream media uses the word ‘evolution’, you can pretty much stop reading. It’ll either be a godbag diatribe against science, or a dudely evolutionary* (evolutionary psychologist, evolutionary anthropologist, evolutionary biologist, etc.) ranting about how the Flintstones is reality, based on a shoddy-as-hell ‘statistical analysis’ with a sample size of his drinking buddies.

  26. ptittle

    Kay and Wilted Lettuce, I think we all should start doing that, in any context – just start affixing ‘male’ before we talk about any, um, male. Not that we do that much, mind you. Still. Maybe one or two of ‘em would get the point.

  27. KMTBERRY

    I think that dude has it all wrong: the UNDERCLASS won’t have all the gadgets and will have to still perform work and use their bodies, so THEY will be the tall strong gracile ones. The Overclass, sitting around having everything done for them, will be the dumb, inferior ones.

    Examples abound! Just look at W

  28. XX Feminist

    we should always qualify the title (blah) of a non-female person a “male” or “non-female”.

    there are people and there are male people.

    sex matters. and yeah I also thought he killed himself because as a male person, he couldn’t stand being arrested by a person, as she is supposed to be his subordinate.

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