Today in our ongoing discussion of how the culture we live in says that violent crime is something that “just happens” to women, we have the second most important story on smh.com.au removing the criminal from his crime:
Here’s a close-up because, frankly, my eyes aren’t that good:
Second only to a story about a store offering cheap phones is this: Sleeping woman repeatedly slashed at home:
A woman has been woken by an armed intruder who slashed her head, face, arms and legs with a blade in her western Sydney home.
The intruder is the one who did the thing that is newsworthy. Yet the reporting almost completely removes him from his crime. When you read the first sentence, you notice the woman and her injuries, but the attacker is buried in the middle. It also makes it seem like the worst thing that happened was that she was woken up.
If you want to keep the details of her injuries in the first sentence, it should read something like this:
An armed intruder has broken into a woman’s home and slashed her head, face, arms and legs with a blade.
Or you might want to go with something like this:
An armed intruder has broken into a home and attacked a woman with a blade.
It might seem like a small thing, but it’s really important. And apologies to people who already know this, but we’ve had a few new readers lately. We live in a culture that believes it’s cool to say things like “I’ll make you my bitch” and “you totally raped my eyeballs with that picture”; a culture that uses the threat of being raped in prison as a deterrent (ignoring the fact that people in prison are already being punished for their crimes); a culture that says women should do a hundred things/show common sense/take responsibility for their actions so they don’t get raped; a culture in which journalists remove the perpetrator when they report violence against women. This is known as rape culture. Before you send in comments saying “bullshit, our culture does not say it’s ok to rape”, I suggest you read this first.
Back to why it’s important that journalists start thinking about the words they use. As Wahl-Jorgensen and Hanitzsch (2009, p. 3) write:
news shapes the way we see the world, ourselves and each other. It is the stories of journalists that construct and maintain our shared realities.
When every story about violence against women starts with “a woman was” (instead of “a man did”) then, as a society, we believe that violence is something that happens to women. Like periods. Many first sentences don’t even mention the perpetrator at all, giving the impression that violence is just this disembodied thing that will happen all over you if you step too close to it. (And then, of course, what were you doing stepping near it in the first place?)
Unless we personally witness it, everything that happens in our world that is considered newsworthy is filtered through the eyes – and the words – of journalists. But journalists, in general, don’t give a single thought to the words they use. They are just following the pattern, the structure, that they have been taught and that gets replicated over and over in newsrooms and journalism courses. I don’t believe that it’s intentional – they’re just writing the way that everyone else writes.
After I tweeted about it, I got this response from Stephanie Gardiner:
The headline was changed to “Intruder slashes sleeping woman in her home”. We call that a win. Of sorts. There is still the matter of the first sentence.
Wahl-Jorgensen, K. and Hanitzsch, T. (2009), ‘On why and how we should do journalism studies’, in The Handbook of Journalism Studies, Routledge, New York, p. 3.