Thursday, March 10, 2011

Mean, nasty narrative politics

On February 25, 2011, the New York Times published an editorial titled The War on Women, warning readers that Republicans in Congress are waging a harsh, legislative war against women and urging President Obama to oppose their agenda. Two days ago, on International Women's Day, the same newspaper, which many people consider the most responsible daily newspaper in the US, published an article, Vicious Assault Shakes Texas Town, depicting the gang-rape of an eleven year-old-girl by 18 young men and teenaged boys. The gang-rape was exposed by the circulation of a "lurid cellphone video" at the victim's middle school. (Just think about that.) The article's chief concern was not the crime, however, but the question of how the child's "alleged" rapists "could have been drawn into such an act" and how having participated in a gang-rape will be harmful to the perpetrators:
“It’s just destroyed our community,” said Sheila Harrison, 48, a hospital worker who says she knows several of the defendants. “These boys have to live with this the rest of their lives.”

The article goes on to characterize the eleven-year old as dressing "older than her age" and asking "Where was her mother? What was her mother thinking"-- implying that the girl and her mother are to blame for bringing harm to the suspects who were somehow "drawn in" to committing the assault. "The arrests have left many wondering who will be taken into custody next," the article asserts. It ends with a quote from Stacey Gatlin, a spokeswoman for the Cleveland Independent School District: "“I really wish that this could end in a better light.”

Could someone explain to me why a newspaper that prides itself on being the model of professional journalism was unable to do better than this? What the hell does "dressing older than her age" have to do with a terrible, prolonged assault against an eleven year-old? This is an old, indeed ancient narrative that should have been retired to the misogyny farm a long, long time ago. The New York Times clearly think this old, viciously misogynistic narrative has great explanatory power for its readers, or it wouldn't have provided such hearsay "information" (in an article that is fairly sparse with information).

The irony of publishing such an article on International Women's Day and not long after warning that the GOP is waging war against women is bitter indeed.

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