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Manufacturing Concern (Summary)

J W Boyce

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Canadian Press recently reported on a study finding that more women are being charged with husband abuse.

Should this surprise us? Yes.

But not because men's victimization in the home, or in general, is a recent phenomenon. It isn't. It's surprising because the news media covered an issue it has traditionally ignored.

In their widely-cited book "Manufacturing Consent", Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman argue that the U.S. news media are biased. On one hand, they report on "worthy" victims -- those who have suffered violence in nations on hostile terms with the United States. They are "featured prominently and dramatically" with the detail and context needed to "generate reader interest and sympathetic emotion." In contrast, the "unworthy" victims of violence, in nations on friendly terms with the United States, "merit only slight detail, minimal humanization, and little context that will enrage or excite."

My study of Canadian newspapers found a similar phenomenon. But in this case, the worthy victims were women and the unworthy victims were men.

I examined coverage of gender and violence in 1242 headlines published in seven major Canadian dailies from 1989 to 1992. (I chose headlines since they summarize news articles and are the most read and remembered part of a newspaper.) Considering that statistics on violence typically show that men are at least as victimized as women, the contrast in the amount of coverage given to each was striking:

Of the 540 headlines which directly referred to the gender of victims, 525 (97.2%) focused on women and 15 (2.8%) focused on men, a ratio of 35 to 1.

A random sampling of the articles accompanying the rest of the headlines suggested the gap was even greater. I estimated that a total of 991 headlines focused on the gender of victims. Of these, 972 (98.1%) emphasized women and 19 ( 1.9%) emphasized men, a ratio of 51 to 1.


Our hypothesis is that worthy victims

will be featured prominently and dra-

matically, that they will be humanized,

and that their victimization will receive

the detail and context in story construc-

tion that will generate reader interest

and sympathetic emotion. In contrast,

unworthy victims will merit only slight

detail, minimal humanization, and little

context that will excite and enrage.

-- Herman and Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent (1988, p.35)


The contrast in the content of head-lines was as dramatic. The few headlines on male victims tended to give only raw data on the amount of violence they suffered. This suffering was not personalized or explained.

Headlines on women focused on the quality, rather than the quantity, of violence they experienced (the exceptions tended to use words like "epidemic" or "rampant"). They covered a wide range of subjects from individual cases of victimization to violence as a societal problem, the term "violence against women" expanding past sexual and domestic crime to encompass all violent acts.

Women's suffering was increasingly seen less in specific terms, such as by husbands against wives, and more in general terms, such as by men against women. These generalizations were especially evident in coverage of the Montreal Massacre. The actions of Marc Lepine were associated with all violence by men against women and his victims were associated with all women.

Why was violence against women an issue that launched a thousand headlines? And why was violence against men unable to set even a lifeboat of concern adrift? One evident reason is that men, being constantly portrayed as the perpetrators of violence, were easily ignored as victims in a simple dichotomy of good and evil.

The type of sources used by and available to the media were also a crucial factor. They were lobby groups, government departments, individuals, studies or programs overwhelmingly focused on women's issues. While they provided the media with a steady flow of information on women's suffering, there were no parallel sources to present such information on men.

Digging deeper, this coverage reflects some fundamental ways we think of women and men in our society. The absence of coverage of male victims is not surprising in a society that teaches males to be tough, hide their pain and "take it like a man." If "big boys don't cry" in the play-ground we can hardly expect men's victimization to be easily expressed in the media.

Many studies have found the media to have a significant impact on public policy and public perceptions. The portrayal of women's victimization in newspapers can reasonably be linked to actions like shelter funding and the creation of the National Panel on Violence Against Women.

Coverage of male victims, or rather the lack of it, can likewise be linked to inaction. Male victims need not apply.


This article summarizes the master's thesis Jim Boyce completed at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario. Copies of the research were available from the author, but the whereabouts of the author are now unknown. Fortunately, the complete thesis is now available at: boycecnt.html .



*The characters NP in the article indicate "....permission is already given for it to be reproduced elsewhere for non-profit purposes, provided that Balance and the author are duly credited and that no material changes are made in its contents." (inside of cover page of Balance)

The above quoted article was published in Balance (Spring 1995). Balance was published quarterly by the Movement for the Establishment of Real Gender Equality (MERGE). It is no longer in print. Balance is now available at: <http://www.agt.net/public/dolphin/>.




Peter Douglas Zohrab

Latest Update

2 August 2015