march 9, 2011 by camille hayes leave a comment
So there I was in the gym locker room, minding my own business for once, and in under a minute of watching CNN I saw the following headlines: 1) Jet-setting sociopath Joran van der Sloot, who came to prominence for allegedly-probably murdering Natalee Holloway in Aruba, is trying to plead down to manslaughter charges for totally-definitely murdering Stephany Flores in Peru. 2) In Texas, 18 men were arrested on suspicion of gang-raping an 11-year-old girl, though the suspects are black and it’s Texas, so I forbear further comment. 3) A judge upheld a statutory rape charge against one of the teens on trial in the Phoebe Prince suicide-bullying case.
My first thought was “Jesus, America, rough day, can we ease up on the ladies a little?” I was just bracing myself for the wave of outrage that would surely follow such dismal tidings, when I remembered that if you’re tracking violence against women, every day is a rough news day, so no outrage necessary! I popped in my earbuds with relief, and toddled off to the elliptical machine. But something about those three headlines gnawed at my conscience, and it wasn’t just that they bore generally crappy news; it was how they were being covered.
We know about Joran van der Sloot because Natalee Holloway was pretty and blond enough to attract Nancy Grace’s dubious attentions; the gang rape story is an outrage on many fronts, and is assured prime billing for weeks. But what about the literally dozens of assaults, rapes and intimate partner murders that happen daily in the US, but won’t make CNN because the people affected are poor, or un-photogenic, or otherwise too obscure for us to give a damn about their lives? If we’re lucky, the Department of Justicenotices them, so they can at least become a sad little data point in the terrible graph we’re collectively drawing, but they’ll never be national headlines.
In a news climate that only truly registers the sensational, the superlative, the unique, what’s necessarily left out of our picture of gender violence is its most insidious quality, which is that it is entirely commonplace. The kind of coverage violence against women gets often ends up making it seem like a plane crash—anomalous and rare—when in fact it’s more like the flu: eventually, almost everyone is affected by it in some way.
On a related note, today marks the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, an obscure and infrequently observed holiday that celebrates women’s contributions to society. In my sixty seconds of locker room viewing, CNN didn’t mention it. Make of that what you will.