A recent news story saw a shooter kill three individuals in Belgium while on temporary release from prison. So many terrible ramifications from this story, you wouldn’t think one of them was sexism in the media. Sadly, that’s exactly where I’m taking this. The reporting of this story by many major media outlets was not only sexist but also plays on the age old trope of the fact that women’s deaths are somehow more tragic. Don’t get me wrong, murder because of gender is certainly a story worth highlighting and exploring, but random acts of violence where gender is completely irrelevant need to stop being reported in this way, and fast.
The BBC led with “A man has shot dead two female police officers and a civilian in the eastern Belgian city of Liège”. The Telegraph ran this headline “A suspected terrorist on day release from prison executed two female police officers with their own guns and shot dead a trainee teacher”. CNN follow suit “Belgian authorities are investigating the killing of two policewomen and a passerby in the eastern city of Liege”.
What have I learned from these stories? What we already knew…that police officers are men, and therefore we absolutely MUST mention gender at all times if the officer in question is not male.
I also learned something else but I’m not sure which lesson it was so please help me figure this one out. Either passersby/citizens/teachers aren’t as important as police officers so we don’t need to comment on their gender. Or, anyone without a gender prefix is presumed to be male.
You know what, now that I’ve written it out in black and white I don’t think I’m going to need that help I requested.
Interestingly, the BBC article goes on to mention a female cleaner who was taken hostage, which is extremely odd because I would presume we all know that cleaners are women, no need to remind us of that,we know our place. Even more intriguing is the choice that CNN made, to not mention the gender of the passerby at all. The other two articles make clear that the third victim was male but CNN use ambiguous language and just identify him as “the driver”. I wish I could tell you why CNN believe the gender of the police officers is more important than that of the driver, but I was too busy cooking and getting the house ship shape to do any real journalistic work on this matter. On that note, I just did a quick search for male vs female journalists and it turns out that there are lots of news stories about female journalists, but hardly any regarding men.
Then I realised my mistake; I was searching for ‘male journalist’. Thankfully I noticed this error almost immediately and managed to find all the news stories on men in journalism simply by typing in the word ‘journalist’. What a silly female writer I am!
In a state of desperation on this matter, I turned to Canadian coverage; they couldn’t possibly fall into the same trap could they? I wish this answer was anything other than yes. The Globe and Mail are the worst offenders here, combining all of the above offences. Female police officers, check! Passerby of no discernible gender, check! Two female employees taken hostage, check! And there’s even some additional information. The escaped prisoner is also suspected of killing a ‘former associate’ who was found dead at his home. Now this ambiguous language is very misleading so we’re going to have to do some detective work. They didn’t specify that the former associate was male, they just say that this individual was found dead at his home, which could potentially mean the home of the shooter depending on how you choose to read the sentence. But let’s face it, we know the associate was a man. How do we know? Because remember people, unless the noun has ‘female’ in front of it, they’re male. It’s so easy!
Even more unbelievable (but also totally believable) is that women are some of the worst perpetrators of this. A friend of mine recently attended a networking event for women in business. With women representing only 3% of CEOs in Canada and the wage gap in Ontario at an astounding 31.5%, not only is it a great idea, but it’s a necessity. Except that it was littered with #girlboss and #bossbabe hashtags, because if you didn’t already know, as well as police officers, bosses are also men. And if they aren’t men, they’re apparently pre-pubescent children (aka girls) or babes. I’m no hashtag expert, in fact you might be better off describing me as a hashtag virgin, but surely something as straightforward as #boss says all it needs to say. I understand the desire to differentiate and promote women in powerful positions, but giving it the name of girlboss just adds fuel to the already out of control fire.
Would any man want to be known as a #boyboss or #bosshunk? (Actually, I take it back, I think I know at least one man who might like to be thought of as a #bosshunk but that’s a different story).
We’re somehow so obsessed with gender, yet so oblivious to it that we can’t even figure out the ways in which it’s relevant.
Is it important to look at gender when it comes to wages and opportunities in the workplace? 100% yes.
Is it important to look at the way we treat boys and girls so that they aren’t put under unnecessary pressure to conform to gender stereotypes? Most definitely.
But is it really necessary to mention it in news stories most of the time? Perhaps reporters should just ask themselves this simple question before writing an article “is gender an integral part of this story?” and if the answer is no, then maybe just don’t mention it. We don’t need constant reminders of the kinds of careers that men dominate, and we don’t need our heart strings being tugged at by making us believe female deaths are somehow more upsetting than male deaths.
This story was brought to you by a female woman.