A year ago I wrote about the 10 headlines that most needed fixing in 2016. I wish I was here to write about how much better they were in 2017. I’m not.
The FixedIt project started three years ago. It’s about the noxious headlines over articles describing men’s violence against women and the media’s misrepresentation (or no representation) of women. Invisible perpetrators and blameable victims. Sexualised young women and erased older women. Ridiculous stereotypes and contemptuous dismissals.
Here’s another year of FixedIt.
The Daily Mail’s headline fail.
Do you think your achievements should be acknowledged regardless of gender? Aw. Cute. Trying to get the thinky thoughts of your little lady brain recognised. You can be the elected leader of an entire country but you’re still nothing but a collection of body parts that only matters if those parts are more desirable to men than another lady’s parts.
Is this news?
Alan Jones was so outraged when Gladys Berijiklian was chosen as the new NSW Premier, he rose up from his hospital bed to call 2GB and voice his outrage over the appointment. “Gladys Berijiklian is a nice person, (but) she is not across these issues,” he said.
Perhaps it was her two postgraduate qualifications, 14 years in parliament, 12 years in portfolio positions, three years as deputy leader of the NSW Liberal party, and nearly two years as NSW treasurer that led him to this conclusion. Or maybe he was just horrified at the idea of another woman coming in to destroy the joint. Who knows. Alan’s motivations are a mystery to many of us.
Dan Wooton may not have written this headline, but he deemed Judi Dench’s sexuality “bizarre” enough to write his column about it.
One of the most beautiful, talented and successful women in the acting profession said she still has feelings, sexual feelings, even though she doesn’t fit the young, slim, white and pretty template of male desire. BIZARRE! That should definitely make headlines all over the world.
It takes two to tango, so why is it always framed as the woman’s issue?
Hey! What if women aren’t the problem? What if men in long-term heterosexual relationships just become less desirable? What if women get fed up with all the work of the second shift and the unequal demands of raising children and don’t find the man who dumps all this in their lap very attractive? What if men are responsible for maintaining a relationship too?
So far we’ve just looked at the absurd. But not all headlines about women are so risible.
Who’s the victim again?
Aaron James pleaded guilty to “a swag of driving and domestic violence charges” along with drug trafficking. But the most important thing for you to know about this was that he was a footballer and he couldn’t go to the Grand Final.
How sad for him that assaulting, stalking and threatening to kill his ex-wife meant he couldn’t go to a football game. How tragic that dealing ice and assaulting a woman meant he had to go to jail. And look how glamorous and exciting his crimes were, just like a beloved hero of a TV show!
I can’t help but wonder how this story would have read if instead of being an ex-footballer Aaron James had been an Aboriginal man or a Muslim or an asylum seeker. Would he still have been the colourful sympathetic character described in this article? Would the Herald Sun have mentioned in passing that he was “in trouble for harassing his estranged wife”? Would there have been a touch of the cheeky in a description of him as “somewhat of a hoon”? Would we have heard the touching statement that he “begged the court to release him in time for his son’s birthday”?
Maybe. But then again, maybe not.
No excuses for sexual abuse.
Here’s a perfect demonstration of how NOT to report on a man convicted of rape, sexual abuse, incest and creating child pornography. Rape is not sex. Incest, sexual abuse, exploitation and creating child pornography do not constitute a “sexual relationship”.
Break ups, loneliness, and a need for comfort do not cause rape. Only one thing causes rape and that is the decision to rape someone.
Putting ‘Tinder date’ in the headline is a subtle form of victim-blaming.
If a man and a woman meet on Tinder and the man subsequently becomes violent you can guarantee the first word in any headline about it will be the word “Tinder”. If they met at a church group or a book shop or over cabbages in Coles, it wouldn’t even rate a mention at the bottom of the article.
But Tinder creates a frenzy because violence is the expected consequence for women who actively and confidently pursue sex. “Nice girls” wait passively for men to want them, they are the objects of desire. “Bad girls” feel desire and act on it. And we all know what happens to “bad girls”.
It’s an insidious form of victim blaming. What did she expect? Why was she putting herself in danger? She should have been more careful.
There is no ‘witch hunt’.
Countless allegations of rape, sexual harassment, intimidation and exploitation have finally been made public in the last few months. Women who have been subjected to revolting behaviour by men in positions of power have shared courage and tears to expose a toxic culture of male entitlement. The men who have directly or indirectly benefited from this culture are uncomfortable and resentful. Good. Deal with it.
You’d never guess from this headline that a man assaulted his partner, would you?
One of the most constant features of FixedIt is the invisible perpetrator. Men who commit violence against women don’t make headlines. If a man stabs a woman the headline will read “Woman stabbed”. If a man rapes a woman in her own home the headline will read “Woman assaulted in house”. The man either accused or convicted of the crime is almost never present in the headline.
If all the violent crimes committed by men were reported in the active voice with the perpetrators and their crime as the subject of every headline, it would be overwhelming. Because it is overwhelming.
But we are journalists and it is not our job to erase the truth so our audience is not made to feel uncomfortable. Our job is to describe what is happening in our society. And the sad truth is that around 90 per cent of violent crimes are committed by men. Avoiding this fact doesn’t make it less true but it does make it much more difficult to address the underlying cause.
Who’s missing from the headlines?
Finally, here are the women we don’t see. The invisible women. Transgender women. Lesbian women. Aboriginal women. Women with disabilities. Older women. Asian women. Black women. Women who are not a size six. Just women as they actually are when they are living their lives and being human.
There are no headlines to fix about these women because they rarely make headlines. They rarely even rate a mention in the footnote of an article.
There’s being misrepresented and then there’s not being represented at all. These women don’t fit the old white men’s narrative of womanhood so they are completely erased from public view. They’re dehumanised by not being allowed to exist. Before they can have their voices heard, they have to fight to have their very existence acknowledged. The debilitating exhaustion of that is unimaginable.