Criticism. Essay. Fiction. Science. Weather.
News reports of violent conflict between nations or groups
often involve a caveat of sorts. It's a parenthetical that transcends the simple stating of fact and enters into opinion. Television newsreaders and reporters in the field intone the words with the kind of grave seriousness that implies a level of horror the audience could not possibly have grasped otherwise. It is a clause in written reports to the same effect: "including women and children
." In just three simple words, the history of Woman as infantile is extended into the present.
Whether it's ABC, CBS, CNN, NBC, Fox, the New York Times
, the Washington Post
, AP, Reuters, the BBC -- whatever the source, when civilians are affected by violence, two groups are almost invariably highlighted and united as one. For example, a January 2006 Reuters headline
reads: "U.S. Bomb Slaughters Villagers, Including Women and Children, in Pakistan." Would the bombing have been a less monstrous event were the victims only men?
A 2004 Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting online "Action Alert" article
about Al Jazeera's reporting on civilian deaths in Fallujah included several references to women and children. In that article, Military spokesman Mark Kimmitt stated, "The stations that are showing Americans intentionally killing women and children are not legitimate news sources. That is propaganda, and that is lies." The article concludes, "video footage of women and children killed by the U.S. military is evidence that needs to be seen." In a sense, both Kimmitt and the Fairness & Accuracy editorial are correct -- though for different reasons. Showing images of dead women and children may, in fact, outrage people more than images of dead young men.
During the Israel-Lebanon war, Israel attacked Qana, killing civilians. In both apologizing and defending the attack, Israeli Ambassador to the U.N., Dan Gillerman said
, "Those people, including women and children, who were killed in this horrible tragic incident may have been killed by Israeli fire, but they are the victims of the Hizbollah." If Ambassador Gillerman is correct, Hizbollah used women and children as human shields. The conclusion we are meant to draw is that our outrage should be directed at Hizbollah. Are we not to be quite as outraged by the deaths of the men in that event?
It is a curious thing when civilian casualties are noted, when the female and juvenile victims are not only singled out from other members of the civilian category for note, but also grouped together in a single sub-category: WomenAndChildren
. When civilians are killed, why do reporters not state that those killed included men and children? What about old men and infants? How about just men?
Part of the issue is the result of the structure of war. Generally, men are the active participants in armed conflicts between nations or groups. Women are excluded, often not by their own choice. So, violence involving men in such circumstances is to be expected. Highlighting effects of war on women and children, who are largely excluded from participating in combat, is seen as reflecting an unjust attack, a mistake on the part of military planning or execution. But this taxonomy is peculiar. There are civilian men who are just as affected as are women and children. Why is it that the two groups in question are collected under a single category separate from male civilians?
By and large, men have been the recorders of events in the world; they have historically viewed women as in need of physical protection. Women were considered physically weaker than men, and as such, were to be closeted away where they cannot be hurt. In addition, the view of women as intellectually and emotionally inferior to men fortified the view that they were defenseless -- very much like, or the same as, children and infants. These are the lenses through which the female of the species has been seen. What was it that she saw? Did she learn to see herself as others did?
I recall as a child and young person reading about "man," and having to remind myself that it meant
"humankind" -- except when it didn't. I might continue along until I realized, No the author means male of the species, not me
is the default; woman
, the afterthought. To be fully human is to be a man. So, when civilians are killed, the assumption is that humans have died -- oh, and the deaths included women and children.
Now, here we are in the 21st century. Do we still suppose women are the weak and vulnerable creatures documented in most cultures? If not, why do we use language that perpetuates these ideas? Perhaps we are confused or culturally schizophrenic. If nothing else, we are not careful with our words. We do not clearly understand the concepts we use. Whenever individuals are murdered -- whatever their age or sex -- there should be outrage. That the victims are male or female, old or young, arguably makes no difference at all. To suppose it does values one life more than another
But this brings us to something of an inconsistency. Can women be viewed both as infantile -- which many argue devalues them -- and as preeminently valuable
? Unless those who insist on separating out WomenAndChildren from all the other victims of violence can justify the inconsistency, they should refrain from perpetuating confused, manufactured ideas masquerading as reality.