J W Boyce
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
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/>.
2 August 2015