Tag Archives: mental illness

The media’s brazen bias against women

It doesn’t matter whether the paper or website is officially or unofficially conservative or liberal. It doesn’t matter who writes the articles. It doesn’t matter what tragic horror was experienced by the victim(s) in domestic violence reports. The media’s bias against women is out in the open for everyone to see, if they care to notice it. So naturally, few do.

Repetition is a key tactic in social engineering. The more you repeat a message, the more it seems true and inevitable. Tell stories from the perspective of the perpetrator over and over again and the public will learn to sympathize with them rather than with the victims. Since the people who beat and murder their partners are almost invariably men whose victims are women and children, the language used by the media to cast these men in a particular light is chillingly consistent across media platforms. It doesn’t take a conspiracy theorist to see that the problem is systemic.

The Daily Mail published an article today regarding the murder of Irish teacher Clodagh Hawe by her husband Alan, who after stabbing her went on to murder their three sons and then turned the knife on himself. Jilly Beattie reports:

The Irish Mirror reports tormented Mr Hawe stabbed Clodagh in the throat in a downstairs room before strangling and stabbing his sleeping boys to death. [emphasis added]

Immediately after describing how Alan Hawe slaughtered his family, the barbarity of his actions are tempered by the author as they call our attention to his mental state. He was suffering, you understand. Tormented. None of the immediate members of the Hawe family are able to speak for themselves and the person who saw to that is the one we’re meant to sympathize with.

Clodagh Hawe [Irish Mirror]

Clodagh Hawe [Irish Mirror]

The fact that the first photo of Clodagh that was published was accompanied by praise for her murderer is not shocking, but it is outrageous and telling. Alan is described in the article, in the words of his friend (who didn’t want to be named), as:

– a kind and decent person who felt an overriding need to look after the people around him

– devoted

– good

– supportive

These are not appropriate words to describe a murderer. The friend went so far as to state, “Alan never put a step wrong”. NEVER PUT A STEP WRONG! I find it very hard to believe that a man who kills his entire family and then himself has never had prior abusive tendencies or violent outbursts.

He loved his family with all is heart, we’re told. The narrative that men who commit violence against their loved ones do so despite love or out of love rationalizes male violence by obscuring how these men really look at the people they “love”. I believe that people who decide to build families together believe sincerely that they love each other and will love their children, and that this is the case for most people. But the reality is that there are people who enter into and stay in relationships for reasons other than love. There are people who have children out of a sense of duty or perceived emotional need. Much of what binds people together in relationships and families is financial necessity, social factors, emotional attachment, and co-dependency. The ‘happy family’ trope is damaging to the vulnerable, in a society where teens self-harm and become homeless as a result of violent or toxic family dynamics. Families tend to hide and deny these things, leaving children on their own to discern between normal family strife and actual abuse and toxicity. They often then internalize these problems, believing that it’s their fault or that there’s something wrong with them. We can’t afford to keep validating the idea that it’s normal to hurt, really hurt, the people we love.

A woman, particularly if she has children with a violent man, will stay for a variety of reasons, not least of which because she believes that he loves her, and that love and abuse are compatible. “He loves you” is gaslighting. It’s just another way of saying that his feelings matter, that they justify his actions, and that her feelings don’t matter. It tells us that it’s more important to understand what he’s supposedly going through than to ensure her safety and support her needs. Too many women have learned that compassion and patience in the face of an abusive man will get you hurt or killed. Women have lost access to their children and ended up in jail because of violent men.

People often tell female victims of abuse that the perpetrator can’t be that bad because he seems like such a nice guy. They don’t know what he does behind closed doors when no one is looking – something abusers make sure of and exploit. Calculation and manipulation are not the behaviours of a victim. Abusers do this so that when their actions are exposed, people who know them will make excuses for them and doubt those they’ve hurt. Extended family, friends, and co-workers often don’t witness him pitching a fit, threatening, breaking or throwing things, being emotionally abusive, pushing or hitting. And when they do, they often stay silent or minimize it.

The messaging on this issue is strong. Women are expected to fix men who are “broken” and put their own well-being second. They’re instructed to be a good woman/wife/mother and stand by their man. That it was just one little blow up. A mistake. He’ll change. He won’t do it again. He’s just under a lot of pressure. This is how society colludes to guarantee male violence against women and children. Children see this dynamic, they hear the rhetoric, and they internalize it too.

A man who abuses a woman doesn’t love her. Abuse and love are mutually exclusive. A man who abuses a woman views her as his property, a mere extension of his thoughts and feelings, as lesser to him. He wants to control her, make her doubt her own worth and sanity, make her suffer, and ultimately submit to him. And the ultimate way of forcing submission is to snuff a person’s life out. There’s no coming back from that. It’s the most raw assertion of power one human being can inflict on another.

The narrative of mental illness frames the issue in a way that distracts us from the recognition of male violence and misogyny. Women suffer from higher rates of mental illness than men, and yet most cases of battery and homicide are committed by men. We don’t see women who suffer from PTSD following rape or other forms of violence, or their time in the military, carrying out massacres or later killing their spouses or families. Again and again we conflate one problem with another, and the cycle repeats itself.

Mental illness can’t be the chief factor when the violent actions of people who exhibit mental instability aren’t shared evenly throughout that population (and this only increases the stigma of those suffering from mental illness). It can’t be the chief factor when violent men are extended sympathy while women and children are reduced to a footnote.

Not a single article I’ve read on the matter makes mention of an attempt to speak to Clodagh’s family or friends.* There’s no indication that investigators or journalists are considering a possible history of domestic violence and what life might have been like for Clodagh and the boys. The focus is on the murderer. As Linnea Dunne writes, Clodagh is rendered invisible in one media article after another, which tell the story from Alan’s point of view, describing other people in relation to him. The bias can’t be any clearer.

The Daily Mail Male also provides links to support groups which in most cases won’t address the problem because the problem isn’t being correctly identified.

The links provided in this article suggest that the only problem here is depression and suicide. It’s good to share resources with young people who may need to speak to someone about how they’re feeling or what’s going on in the home. But we don’t know whether Alan Hawe was depressed, and regardless, people aren’t inherently violent by virtue of their depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, etc. Many men commit murder-suicides because they don’t want to face the consequences of their actions. If Hawe simply didn’t want to live, he would have just killed himself, but he took his whole family with him, suggesting that he couldn’t accept the thought of them going on without him. That betrays a sense of entitlement and selfishness.

Not a single link to a support service for those suffering from domestic violence is provided in the article. Women are killed every day by their male partners and… silence. Unless one decides on one’s own to seek out further information, this skewed and incomplete treatment of the issue forms the basis of the public’s understanding. No wonder the problem keeps getting worse!

When these men snap, they externalize their problems onto women and children, who they know are attached to them, dependent on them, and not readily able to escape from or redress their violence. That’s the point. These men don’t pick on people who are equally matched in size, strength or social power. Their sense of ownership over the lives of women and children, coupled with their sense of superiority over them, means that no matter how much progress we make with respect to mental illness, men will continue to be violent as they have always been.

The media doesn’t try to hide it. Misogyny and male violence are staring us right in the face, and this problem won’t go away until we recognize it for what it is.


If you live in the UK, please take a moment to let people know about the resources Women’s Aid offers and/or donate if you can.

* A week after the incident was reported in the news, the Irish Mirror and Irish Sun finally published a response by a relative of Clodagh which paints a drastically different picture of Alan Hawe and urged the public sympathize with his victims instead.

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Feminism & Gender, Politics & Society

The lazy and the crazy

As news broke out about the Tuscon, Arizona shooting on Saturday, media outlets were busy deeming the event a result of US economic troubles instead of just reporting the facts as they became clear. Analysis doesn’t belong in headlines. But we were all on the alert because those who report the news have demonstrated their knee-jerk tendencies time and again, right? Right? There can now be no doubt that the incident was the direct result of mental illness which went untreated, but not unnoticed. According to many sources, several people have since come forward to describe shooter Jared Lee Loughner’s behaviour many months ago as having been unstable and frightening. He just happened to have certain political opinions. He could just as easily have believed that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was actually an alien masterminding a coup d’état of the US government.

While people continue to quibble over whether any responsibility lies with Sarah Palin for her ill-conceived campaign graphics (did you honestly expect anything intelligent coming from her camp?) or whether we should finally do something about the economy or gun control, I’m wondering why we need an assassination attempt on a politically significant individual to realize that people are suffering every day in numerous ways because of the policies of our governments. Like, now we’re supposed to sit bolt upright and pay attention, but last week the state of current affairs didn’t warrant intrusion into our daily thoughts? If there was no deep socio-economic unrest, would we still run the risk of something like this happening? Yes, for two reasons:

  1. Mental illness needs no motivation for violence – it’s an unfortunate fact that many people go untreated and are capable of harming themselves and others at any time, with or without social destitution or other catalysts;
  2. Gun laws are ridiculously lax because many Americans feel entitled to carry weapons, regardless of whether they face any reasonable risk of personal injury. This most recent tragedy, so highly publicized and bulging with rhetoric, will likely not result in a sobering of the US discourse on gun culture and laws. So as usual, people will feel shocked and then they’ll argue, none of which results in an improvement in the situation. News providers can’t be expected to provide this either, so it’s up to the rest of us.

Oh, and here’s a word you don’t see the media using in this situation that it would otherwise opportunistically flash: TERRORIST. Why? Because Loughner is white? American? Not Muslim or Arab? The omission is not lost on everyone (see An American Terrorist in Tucson Arizona by Paul I. Adujie) but unfortunately not obvious enough in the mainstream imagination.

What theme am I taking away from this? We don’t need massacres or events officially deemed ‘tragedies’ by officials or the media to give social causes meaning and urgency. I understand that information fatigue contributes to the fickleness of a public body that largely only pays attention to sensationalized events. But we run the risk of reinforcing in people’s minds the idea that we can go about our daily lives in a bubble unless and until something arbitrarily significant happens. A lot of people seem to feel that they can’t handle thinking about the terrible things that happen in the world every day. How many times have you heard people say, “I have my own problems to worry about”? Well, I’m not asking people to worry, cry or really even react to these things. If you’re the type of person who’s accepted that these things are a part of life for many people on a large and small scale, occurring in hospitals, boardrooms, schools and homes, to people who are public figures, members of the clergy, parking valets or the cashiers at your local grocery store, then you don’t feel compelled to react emotionally to every tragic event. The last thing we should do is freak out or tune out. Instead, we could empathize and reflect. We can’t prevent people from crumbling under the pressures of their lives. We can’t as individuals change guns laws, public perception or the media. As a collective, however, there’s always massive potential for change. But the answers to our problems are always more simple than they seem. Interestingly, a pivotal philosophy of both a militant revolutionary (Guevara) and a pacifist (Gandhi) was simply this: the first step to changing the world is changing ourselves. It’s all about perception.

Sources

Accused Arizona shooter’s lonely descent into instability and paranoia
Jared Lee Loughner: erratic, disturbed and prone to rightwing rants
Accused Arizona killer Jared Lee Loughner had others fearing for lives before shooting

1 Comment

Filed under Politics & Society