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Manufacturing Concern:

Chapter Six: Consequences of the Findings

Jim Boyce

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This thesis has examined the amount and type of headline coverage given to the violent victimization of men and women. Using conservative estimates, it suggests women receive 35 to 51 times more headline coverage than men. This is inconsistent with statistics reporting that men and women are victimized at roughly equal rates (traditionally finding that men are victimized more). The vast majority of headlines emphasizing women do not quantify their victimization and do not place it in the context of male victimization. They are qualitative headlines which cover a range of issues from personal stories of victimization to violence as a social problem as, over the four years studied, “violence against women” comes to refer to an ever-widening range of acts. I have suggested that the coverage found in these headlines may be the result of (i) a predisposition in the media, before 1989, to report domestic and sexual violence specifically in terms of women, (ii) the media’s portrayal of the Montreal murders as symbolic of violence against women and (iii) the media’s use of sources which focus on women’s issues.

I will conclude this thesis by considering some of the possible consequences of these trends in headline coverage. I begin by examining the relationship between media and reality from a “social construction” point of view. I then turn to the media’s effect in two areas: public perceptions and public policy. Finally, I consider two reasons that might be given to justify a focus on women, rather than men, as victims of violence, namely, that the perpetrators of violence against women tend to be members of the opposite sex (men, in contrast, tend to be victimized by other men), and that women tend to be victimized because of their gender.


The Media and Reality

News media’s ability both to reflect and create reality is widely acknowledged. Ericson et al. write that “what is at stake in news production is the meaning attributed to events, processes or states of affairs” (1989:377). Reports serve to “frame” an issue and “both produce and limit meaning,” writes Tuchman (1978:209), and in doing so, news “transforms mere happenings into publicly discussable events” (23) providing “a basis for social action” (12). According to Surette, “People use knowledge they obtain from the media to construct a picture of the world, an image of reality on which they base their actions” (1992:2). This is particularly so in the case of crime for “though the mass media are only one source of citizens’ knowledge about crime and justice, they have been singled out as the most common and pervasive source of shared information” (5).

The types of issues and events -- the “reality” -- upon which the construction is based are influenced by many factors. They include the biases of media workers, the search for and salability of “good stories,” and production constraints such as time, money and availability of sources. It is in view of this that academic commentators argue the media do not merely reflect reality but create it.  Ericson et al., for example, write that the “reality and nature of news is embedded in the nature and type of social and cultural relations that develop between journalists and their sources” (1989:377). This aspect of journalism is even more obvious when one considers that sources themselves are not absolute measures of reality -- in the case of violence, they include the imperfect measurements of crime rates or the biases of lobby groups, the government, etc. Fishman makes the point generally: “Were different methods used, different forms of news would result and publics would know the world outside their direct experience in a very different way” (1980:14). It is, therefore, “not useful to think of news as either distorting or reflecting reality, because ‘realities’ are made and news is part of the system that makes them” (12). This is not to deny accuracy as an important issue -- one can still argue that if the media cannot be absolutely accurate they can be more accurate -- but to recognize the ambiguity of objective truth in the news. In the case of headlines, we have found a particular construction of reality, one that overwhelmingly emphasizes women as victims. Since other constructions are possible, it is worthwhile to consider some possible consequences of our findings.


Background on the Consequences of Media Coverage

In describing media coverage of crimes against the elderly in New York, Fishman writes: “Even though one cannot be mugged by a crime wave, one can be frightened. And on the basis of this fear, one can put more police on the streets, enact new laws, and move away to the suburbs.  Crime waves may be ‘things of the mind,’ but they are real in their consequences.” (1980:11).  This suggests two types of effects of the crime wave: the effect on perceptions and the effect on actions.

Surette similarly distinguishes between the “shaping of public attitudes and beliefs” and the “shaping of public policies” (1992:89,96). In surveying the research on the relationship between the media and public perceptions, he concludes that “when effects do occur, the most common are increased belief in the prevalence and spread of crime, victimization, and violence, and cynical, distrustful social attitudes” (95-96).39  Effects are especially likely in a case like violence since “most people have little direct experience with crime [and] it follows that the media should be a significant force in the public’s formation of attitudes and perceptions” (81).

In discussing the media’s influence on public policy, Surette writes that researchers,

have been able to report clear, positive associations between the two.... The research indicates that among criminal justice officials, perhaps more than among the public, the media significantly influence both policy development and support for policies. Effects have been shown to range from policy crusades, shield laws, and criminal justice legislation to influences on individual discretionary decisions within the criminal justice system (100-101).40

It is in keeping with this that many of the studies surveyed in the opening chapter argue that the media have a significant impact on society (particularly notable in Fishman 1978; and Herman and Chomsky 1988).

Taken in conjunction with Surette’s literature survey, these studies suggest that the coverage we have found in this thesis may similarly have significant effects on public perceptions and public policy in Canada.


Effects on Public Perceptions 

To begin with, we might expect coverage of victims of violence in headlines to foster a disproportionate amount of fear in women and men. Headlines focus solely on women’s fear and primarily their fear of street violence at night. This seems ironic given that the statistics noted earlier suggest that while women and men are about as equally likely to be victimized, women are more likely to be victimized at home and men in the public realm. The fear reported by women and men, then, appears to be more consistent with the coverage we have found in headlines than with statistics on violence. This can be seen in the 1988 General Social Survey which found women were more than three-and-one half times more likely than men to report feeling unsafe in their neighborhoods at night while men were generally more likely to be victims of violence (Sacco and Johnson 1990:62, 13). A similar disparity is found in the 1993 General Social Survey (Gartner and Doob 1994:17) and is confirmed by Gallup polls (Gallup Canada 1994; Bozinoff and Turcotte 1992; Bozinoff and MacIntosh 1990, 1991).41  As Johnson states, “One of the ironies of crime in Canada is that those who express the greatest fear of crime are often the least victimized. While women and elderly people are the most likely to fear for their personal safety, they are not the groups at highest risk of victimization” (1988:27). In headlines, this point is recognized in the case of the elderly -- “Elderly fear crime more, but are less likely to become victims, StatsCan says” (92.08.27 WFP.A9) -- but not in the case of women.

This raises the question as to whether the media is creating an unhealthy amount of fear in both women (too much) and men (too little). It is particularly appropriate given that an intense focus on fear by women characterized the headlines in this thesis, some of which report fear as a “daily companion” that “stalks” women, the result being to “swell” martial arts classes and discourage “sports activity.” Such themes are typified in headlines such as “Living in fear: Women are afraid to go out alone: Why does half the population have to put up with a restricted life?” (90.04.28 GM.D1,8). On the other hand, men’s fears are nullified by headlines such as “‘Men cannot know the feeling of fear”’ (89.12.12 GM.A7). One must wonder why the victimization of men, at least equal overall and higher in the public realm, should not translate into levels of fear closer to those of women.

A second consequence of the headline coverage we have found is a greater emphasis on the types of violence seen to affect women. The two most obvious types are sexual and domestic violence, violence in which the perpetrator is often known to the victim. This is a point made in the final report of The National Panel on Violence Against Women, which states that “violence is often directed at [women] by those whom they have been encouraged to trust, those whom they are taught to respect, those whom they love” (Marshall and Vaillancourt 1993:3).

This suggests that an attack by an acquaintance is more traumatic than an attack by a stranger although, as we noted, most headlines about fear and/or safety deal with violence at night, presumably by strangers. A similar sentiment is evident in coverage of the Montreal murders -- a public attack that was neither an act of sexual nor domestic violence -- one headline stating that “Suddenly, no woman can feel safe” (89.12.10 CH.C2). In sum, headline coverage suggests that fear of random attack, especially at night, is a significant concern of women.

It is important, as well, to recognize that headlines tend to overlook that men are also victims of domestic and sexual violence. For example, we have already seen studies that suggest husband abuse is far more prevalent than is evident in the media. Even if we ignore such studies and common claims that men are less likely to report abuse than women (see Steinnietz and Lucca 1988:239), and accept the lower rates found in police reports, we still find a substantial underrepresentation of male victims in media coverage of male and female victims. Similarly, if we accept that being victimized by an acquaintance or family member is more traumatic than being victimized by a stranger and that, therefore, sexual and domestic violence deserve more attention, it is reasonable to ask whether it justifies the disparities we find in coverage of men’s and women’s victimization.

Focusing on the type of violence suffered by women may result in ignoring types of violence that may be particularly traumatic for men (other than sexual and domestic violence). Consider the case of the Rodney King beating which received widespread media attention in Canada. It was portrayed as a racial issue but not as a gender issue. As Jones writes: 

Has anyone seriously suggested that police officers, out to prove what tough customers they are, regularly drag away women (even Black women) and take turns beating them to bloody pulps at roadside, while fellow officers stand around and watch? During the flurry of media attention which followed the King beating, many other individual instances of similar assaults were mentioned and brought to light.... [T]he victims and survivors of this kind of police brutality are victimized by virtue of their being male (Jones 1992a:27; also see Farrell 1993:32) 

A more general case is the type of violence men suffer in public. Describing violence on a university campus, Jones writes:

If a man is attacked in a bar or cafeteria by a crowbar-wielding stranger, and if no masculine prestige or prowess would accrue to the assailant for hauling off and clobbering a woman instead, then... he is attacked by virtue of his being male (1992a:26-27).

More generally, men are particularly prone to violence at work (Jones 1 992a: 13-15). The concerns this type of violence suffered by men could raise may be minimized or ignored by a singular focus on the kinds of violence seen to victimize women in particular. 

By continually placing women in the role of victims and men in the role of victimizers, media coverage makes it difficult to recognize that men and women can be both. We have already examined statistics and studies that suggest men are at least equally as likely as women to be victims of violence and suffer from domestic violence perpetrated by women. Despite this, and the fact that CNI categories dealing with violent men, such as “Men who batter,” were omitted from our sample of headlines, men were more likely to be portrayed as victimizers. This coverage makes it difficult to see men as victims, since it is difficult to reconcile with our image of men as victimizers; moreover, it complicates the media’s more narrowly-focused portrayal of gender and violence. In the same way, it makes it difficult to perceive women as victimizers, although there is ample evidence of this (see Deimer 1992:32; Segal 1990:262-263, 268; and Lees 1992: 100). 

By ignoring the fact that men and women can both be victims and perpetrators, headlines may also legitimize a problematic notion that men cannot help but be violent. As Deimer continues:

When we throw around indiscriminate terms like “male violence” and give credence to theories that men are inherently violent, we are slandering men who are not violent and unthinkingly perpetuating the stereotype that to be a man is to be violent. We give an easy out to violent men, who can say “I can’t help it. I’m a man. All men are violent.  Men are violent by nature” (32).

Women’s violence can, in the process, be legitimized: it is simply ignored. In discussing domestic violence, Goldner writes that “by conceiving of women as the guardians of goodness... [we] deny the reality of female rage... [W]e often have much more trouble managing our feelings toward violent, angry and irresponsible women than toward their male counterparts” (1992:60).

Finally, we might note that an almost exclusive focus on women as victims may lead to negative attitudes among men. Typifying men as violent, writes Seidler, “can deeply challenge our sense of our masculinity. It can produce a sense of despair, guilt and a paralyzing self-hatred. It leaves no room for us as men to change” (1991:131; also see Lees 1992:45-47). This is particularly true if we consider, as Deimer writes, that most men are not violent: “The fact is that -- for me and for a majority of men -- violence against women is a thing which ‘other men’ do” (1992:32). By creating the impression that this is not the case, the generalizations about men and women we find in headlines attribute the negative characteristics of some men to men as a whole, failing to recognize Segal’s point that:

To say that men as a group are more violent than women is by no means to assert that all men are violent, violence-prone, or accepting of violence as a way of resolving conflicts and attaining power. It means only that a significantly higher percentage of men than women exhibit these tendencies (1991:5)42

Such generalizations are likely to be linked to other aspects of public perception and to consequences in the realm of public policy.


Effects on Public Policy

The portrayal of violence as found in this thesis has not led to calls for more accurate reporting but to calls for measures to deal with violence against women, from the funding of studies, projects and shelters to the restructuring of society. The most pronounced effect is seen in the case of the Montreal murders. Their portrayal as a symbol of violence against women and consequent calls by women’s groups and others for action on the issue can reasonably be seen as at least partly responsible for the establishment of the National Panel on Violence Against Women. If, as one headline claims, the Montreal murders “burst the issue of violence against women out of the closet,” then it can be said that the media helped open the door. By keeping violence against women high on their agenda -- as one headline reads, “Violence against women is the top issue” (92.05.24 TS.G3) -- the media set the stage for action. Here we might remember Tuchman’ s point that those topics “given the most coverage by the news media are likely to be the topics audiences identify as the most pressing issues of the day” (1978:2) and, serving this function, are likely to influence public policy.

The overwhelming coverage of violence against women could also be linked to less obvious effects. It is during the years being studied and afterwards that we see court and police personnel being specially trained to deal with battered women; a variety of conferences, studies and reports dealing solely with violence against women; the funding of projects such as women’s shelters; the establishment of a national day of mourning in memory of the Montreal murders; and even the creation of the category Violence Against Women by CNI. In covering a “culture of violence” against women, the media helped create a culture of concern for women. While this may be admirable, it has led to the ignoring of violence facing men with the ensuing impact, or, rather, lack of impact, on public policy.43

The role that I have assigned to the media in effecting policy does not deny that the public, government and lobby groups were significant but is meant to suggest that the media focused on and fostered the interests and beliefs of particular ideologies. Fishman’s study provides some useful insights on the role of sources. During the crime wave against the elderly, the media were in constant contact with the police, particularly a squad specializing in crime against the elderly, which felt “beleaguered, understaffed, and... fighting a battle that deserved more attention” (1980:9). Consider the following events, which occurred after a series of media stories on crimes against the elderly and a call by the mayor of New York for a “war” on those crimes:

One element of the mayor’s battle plan was the expansion of SCRU [Senior Citizens Robbery Unit] and its plainclothes operations. This probably increased the number of offenses the police knew about and thus could report to the press. Moreover, the war on crime included the creation of a new accounting procedure inside the police department which suddenly made a large number of fairly common occurrences visible to the press. In effect, police in precincts were ordered to consider victimizations of the elderly as “unusual incidents” to be reported directly to headquarters, which, in turn, was to transmit these to the media via the police wire. (Before this order only the most bizarre or brutal incidents were considered unusual enough to tell headquarters about.) Thus, a week and a half after the coverage started, the police wire was steadily supplying the press with fresh incidents almost every day. And when there was an occasional lack of crimes, there was plenty of activity among police, politicians, and community leaders to cover (1980:9-10).

The consequence appears to be that the crime wave was constructed based not so much on the prevalence of violence as on the ideology of the sources. Fishman concludes that “New York’s crime wave was a public event produced through newswork” (10). In essence, it was a public event based on particular sources who were key in molding how it was perceived and what its effect was on public policy.

Attention to gender and violence can be seen to embody the same tendencies. For example, Jones makes the point in terms of the attention given to women’s victimization:

In an achievement of truly historic proportions, the feminist movement has succeeded in bringing domestic victimization of women into the open. It now joins the other aspect of women’s physical and social victimization as a subject of intense public scrutiny, both in the mainstream media and at the highest levels of government. This is reflected not just in the articles we have examined here, but in the systematic gender-specific attention paid to women and women alone by Statistics Canada, the Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women, and other bodies (Jones 1992a:29).

More specifically, Hachey and Grenier, in studying the issues and coverage surrounding the Montreal murders, are very critical of tendencies to portray men as inherently misogynous:

such a generalization not only biologicizes power structure by implying that it is based in the implied biological predilections of one gender group, but also engenders hatred, suspicion and conflict between the two largest social groups in society, namely males and females. It may be marketable or fashionable nowadays for some social groups to place blame for major social problems up on the shoulders of males as a gender group, but it is more likely that such an explanatory approach does more service to ideology and hidden political agendas than to truth (192:233).

It is important to note that this focus on women’s victimization is encouraged not only by women’s groups or feminists. The White Ribbon Campaign, for example, was organized by men but dealt solely with violence against women.

In the final analysis, the main point is that, as van Dijk writes, the media become, in part, a “mouthpiece” of their sources, giving voice and often legitimacy to certain ideologies (1988:129).” This has a resulting impact on public policy and public perceptions. It is difficult to tell where cause and effect begin, although, as Surette points out, “the best hypothesis at this time is that the media, policy makers, and the public have a yet unspecified mutually reinforcing causal impact on one another” (1992:89).45  This being said, it is evident that consequences do occur and are occurring.


Men, Women and Violence

One way to highlight the problematic nature of the findings of this thesis is by considering what effect would result if the types of generalizations we find concerning men and women were applied to other social groups. Our headlines provide us with a case: coverage of crime statistics based on race. Such statistics became an issue in 1990, 1991 and 1992. More than 20 headlines from our sample deal with the topic, a greater number than those that deal with male victims. Rather than portraying the issue so that generalizations are made about race and violence, however, newspapers emphasize the moral controversy surrounding the issue. Consider the following: 

‘‘Classifying criminals by race sparks criticisms”

(90.07.16 HCH.C18);

“Crime statistics based on race promote hatred, board told” (9 1.08.23 GM.A7);

“Singling out offender’s race called dodge for discrimination” (92.10.22 VS.A 10).

In the case of gender and violence, there are no headlines which suggest keeping statistics based on gender might be discriminatory. Instead, headlines associate men in general with violence. The following are examples:

“It’s time for men to end the silence, stop the violence” (90.11.05 WFP.A8);

“Men must force themselves to change: violence toward women just not tolerable today” (90.11.12 MG.B3);

“Violence Against Women: Canadian men leave behind a trail of death” (91.11.30 CH.A5).

This kind of generalizing was particularly prominent in coverage of the Montreal murders and its anniversaries.

In News As Discourse, van Dijk warns of the effects of ethnic stereotyping:

If we want to prevent ethnic minorities from sharing our work, housing, or social services, it is both cognitively and socially effective to first form an ethnic prejudice schema involving opinions about our own priorities and privileges, about their abuses of such commodities, or about other negative characteristics that might preclude them from such forms of equal participation in society (1988:110).

One might similarly argue that if we want to prevent men from being considered victims, then it is effective to form prejudices about them as a group, and dwell on their perceived abuses or on negative characteristics (also see Deimer 1992:34). Such stereotyping underlies the effects on public perceptions and policy that we have already discussed.

It could be argued that stereotyping is, in the case of gender and violence, an unfortunate but justified result of the need to respond to violence against women. I will, therefore, consider two possible arguments that could be used to justify a greater focus on women rather than men. The first maintains that violence against women is vastly more significant than violence against men because women tend to be victimized by members of the opposite sex and men tend to be victimized by members of the same sex. The second maintains that women are victimized due to their gender and men are not.

One problematic implication of the first argument, that the violence suffered by women is more important because it is “intergendered,” is that the status of victims is necessarily dependent on the gender of the perpetrators. That is, the degree of concern we should have about a victim is determined not by the violence they suffer but by the person who victimizes them. We have already outlined some of the likely results of this type of coverage, such as an unhealthy amount of fear in women and men, the marginalization of male victims and female perpetrators, and generalizations about men and women that would likely be criticized if applied to other groups. Other consequences may also ensue, such as effects on the self-image of boys and girls.

The second argument for an overwhelming amount of coverage of female victims is that women are victims because of their gender while men are not. The National Panel report states that “all women, simply because of their gender, are potential victims of violence,” and uses a “feminist lens through which violence against women is seen as the consequence of social-economic and political inequality built into the structure of society...” (Marshall and Vaillancourt 1993:3). If one accepts this approach, it is natural to ask what is built into society’s structure that leads to the victimization of men?  This is not an issue that I can discuss in detail but there are some obvious points to be raised.

If we separate women from other victims, the most noticeable characteristic the remaining victims have in common is gender, namely, that they are men. This raises the obvious question of whether men are also attacked because of their gender, particularly in light of the evidence that men suffer those types of violence most associated with women (domestic and sexual), and that there are other types of violence which arguably affect men as men, whether cases such as the Rodney King beating or violence at work and in the public realm.

That men are victims due to their gender is consistent with studies on the nature and causes of violence. Males and females, from childhood, are treated differently in society. Boys, as part of learning to be “masculine,” are encouraged to be aggressive, particularly in sports where this aggression is almost always acted out against other boys. If this is considered an acceptable way of dealing with other males in childhood, one may reasonably wonder to what extent it is carried over into adulthood.

Such attitudes are also reinforced by teaching boys to tolerate aggression, to “take it like a man,” and endure pain: “big boys don’t cry.” If, as Seidler writes, masculinity is something you can never feel at ease with. It is always something you have to be ready to prove” (1991:132), then it should not surprise us that boys, and then men, should deny their pain, place great emphasis on appearing stoic and invulnerable, and, in turn, refuse to allow themselves to be seen as victims. They are, then, not only victims, but also deny themselves being seen as victims, because of gender expectations.46

In discussing socialization, one might also argue that women benefit from a degree of immunity from physical forms of violence due to their gender. As Crowley writes: ‘‘women are in fact protected by many prevailing social attitudes, including those much-despised ones of chivalry, honour and fair play” (1994:131). Male aversion to violence against females should not be surprising in a society that encourages aggression between males and, at the same time, teaches them to “never hit a girl” and to defend women. As Fasteau writes, “That’s most of the meaning to a ten-year-old of his father’s admonition, ‘Take care of your mother, son, until I get back”’ (1974:153; also see Farrell 1993:37). It is not surprising, given this, that those studying battered husbands cite pacifism as a reason why those men do not fight back (see Steinmetz 1988:507).

There are also biological reasons suggested for the higher rates of physical violence displayed by men. For example, Moir and Jessel argue: “The evidence is incontrovertible that the male brain pattern is tuned for potential aggression; that the action of male hormones acting upon a predisposed male brain network is the root of aggression. In the opposite direction, hormones play an important part in making woman the less aggressive sex” (1991:79). Although such theories might suggest that males tend to be more aggressive, they certainty do not disprove that other males are victims due to their gender. As Jessel and Moir continue, the biological argument holds that “part of the explanation for male aggression may lie in evolution, where it was a necessary reaction to safeguard vital resource, settle squabbles in the tribe, and defend the encampment” (82). Presumably, much of this aggression would be directed at other men. Like the sociological argument, the biological argument supports the idea that if women are victims because they are women, men, too, are victims because they are men.

This thesis has found a significant disparity between the coverage of male and female victims of violence and rates of male and female victimization. In this chapter, I examined the possible consequences of this situation. In discussing the latter, I have covered a great deal of ground that would benefit from more analysis. This being said, there is good reason to think that this coverage contributes to causing disproportionate amounts of fear in women and men, ignores violence which might particularly affect men and fails to recognize that men and women can be both victimizers and victims. In terms of public policy, this encourages a singular focus on women as victims in studies, media campaigns and the funding of projects and shelters, among other things.

The main consequence is that violence against men has been ignored, despite statistics showing that men are at least as likely as women to be victims of violence. In pointing out the lack of attention given to men’s suffering, I am not minimizing violence against women as an important and worthy issue. As Jones writes, “One of the central accomplishments of the women’s movement over the last two decades has been to draw increasing attention to the physical suffering and victimization of women in North American Society” (1992b:1). In the same breath, what this thesis suggests is that another form of violence should be recognized and reduced, namely, violence against men, what Jones calls “the other side of suffering” (1). In essence, this thesis shows that in the headlines of seven major Canadian daily newspapers, from the years 1989 and 1992, this “other side” has gone virtually unnoticed.




Peter Douglas Zohrab

Latest Update

2 August 2015