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  • Gender Issues in canada , An Analysis

    By panasia1234

    by: Zia-ur -Rehman Ahmed (panasia1234)

    In the present state of society it appears necessary to go back to first principles in search of the most simple truths, and to dispute with some prevailing prejudice every inch of ground. To clear my way, I must be allowed to ask some plain questions … Such deeply rooted prejudices have clouded reason, and such spurious qualities have assumed the name of virtues, that it is necessary to pursue the course of reason as it has been perplexed and involved in error, by various adventitious circumstances …
    Ref:— Mary Wollstonecraft
    Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792).

    One of the central accomplishments of the women’s movement over the last two decades has been to draw media attention to the physical suffering and institutionalized victimization of women in North American society. In Canada, the aftermath of Marc Lepine’s terrorist rampage at the University of Montreal accelerated the nationwide flurry of analysis concerning the issue of violence against women, which was generally held to be the relevant context for Lepine’s actions.
    The other side of human suffering and victimization in Canadian society has, unfortunately, passed almost unnoticed by mainstream media. Aspects of suffering which could be considered largely or specifically “male” have tended to be ignored, dismissed, or distorted. This has served to highlight the broad range of female victimization experiences — an important and worthy subject. But it has also denigrated or de-emphasized the male side, which in any humane and objective value system ought to be accorded every bit as much consideration and concern.

    This phenomenon does not seem to be the result of a “boomerang” effect in media coverage. We are not dealing here with matters which have been male preserves in the past — something which might justify greater attention to the female side to help redress the balance. Rather, in this respect, the male experience has never been a matter for social concern as such, for reasons that will be examined later.

    All this suggests an anti-male bias, unfashionable though such a concept may be to progressive minds. To clarify some essential features of this bias, I propose to examine a series of articles from Canada’s self-proclaimed “National Newspaper,” the Toronto Globe and Mail. The articles were published between March 10 and June 15 1990. They constitute part (but only part) of the Globe’s wide-ranging analysis of social issues, including “women’s issues” — that is, issues and social problems which are allegedly indicative (predominantly or exclusively) of the female experience in our society.

    It is important to mention that the examples of anti-male bias dealt with here are not necessarily representative of the Globe’s overall coverage of social issues, or women’s issues, during the sample period. In fact, much of this overall coverage is solid, informative, and unbiased. Focusing on women’s experiences performs the vitally important function of bringing women’s concerns to wider public attention. These positive elements are sometimes to be found even in articles which we will otherwise criticize for their anti-male bias.

    A few comments on methodology may be in order. The articles were selected, over a roughly three-month period, on the basis of their perceived bias. Although they may well be suggestive of a wider trend of anti-male bias in media coverage, I have chosen to limit the present inquiry to the subject of physical victimization (or depicted physical brutalization in films, TV, and cartoons). In a few cases, I refer to other examples of coverage which reflect biased, insensitive, or dismissive mindsets. Such mindsets, in my view, could well account for the woefully inadequate treatment of male victimization, and I discuss them at greater length in the concluding sections of the paper.

    I also devoted some time to follow-up research. Here, I examined the microfilmed version of the Globe and Mail for the period March 1 - June 30 1990. I wanted to reread Globe coverage more systematically, in the light of the patterns of bias I had detected during the original compilation process. I also wanted to see whether these patterns of bias were mitigated or offset by any other Globe coverage during, or shortly before or after, the sample period. (Hence the decision to examine coverage from a point two weeks prior to the first article selected, and continuing two weeks after the last article selected. The overall sample period was therefore four months.) This follow-up research turned up no evidence that the patterns of bias were offset by other Globe coverage. In several instances, in fact, further evidence for these patterns came to light. I have incorporated this supplementary evidence at various points in the text. [Footnote 1]

    Of course, the argument here will not by itself demonstrate clear trends in the Globe’s coverage over time. Nor does the evidence here serve as proof of bias in the media as a whole. It seems to me, though, that a broader bias does exist, and that it should be easily perceptible to anyone who can be provided with the analytical tools to recognize it. Thus I hope that by isolating some of the features and strategies of Globe coverage, the average reader will be able to test my propositions for himself or herself. Researchers, moreover, might find the present work useful in formulating hypotheses for more systematic content analysis: if a clear pattern of sexist bias is apparent in a diverse selection of articles culled from just four months of coverage in Canada’s most prestigious newspaper, the topic may well warrant further attention and exploration.

    With one minor exception (to be noted), all articles cited here are Globe editorials or feature pieces by staff writers, whether bylined or uncredited. None is the work of a Globe columnist, whose contribution could be seen as reflecting the views of an individual, rather than overall Globe standards and editorial strategies.

    II. Comments on the Findings
    The Globe and Mail articles considered here each employ, consciously or unconsciously, one or more strategies for denigrating, de-emphasizing, or ignoring male suffering and victimization. A brief outline of these strategies is as follows:

    Concepts of gender discrimination which logically apply to both women and men are limited, in their practical application, to women only. In particular, gender-specific discussion of violent victimization in the Globe is limited to discussion of violence against women alone. Logic suggests that if human violence is to be subdivided into categories of victims (rather than of perpetrators), then all such violence which is not “against women” must be “against men.” In practice, the concept of “violence against men” does not exist, although this category represents the majority (in its most extreme manifestations, the large majority) of acts of violent victimization in Canadian society.

    Statistics which provide newsworthy, sometimes shocking data regarding both sexes’ physical suffering are liable to be either misrepresented or discussed in highly selective fashion. Both of these sub-strategies serve to emphasize women’s suffering and de-emphasize men’s, while focusing attention on the stereotype of the male as perpetrator (rather than the victim or survivor) of violence. [Footnote 2] Often, some of the available data suggest a significant and even predominant level of male suffering. But once again, this suffering is dismissed or downplayed. Its nature and implications are rarely rendered explicit.

    In cases where the victims of violence cited in statistical data are overwhelmingly male (for example, suicide and on-the-job homicide) — where, therefore, a gender component is both obvious and relevant — the victims are likely to be categorized not by gender, but by some other gender-neutral classification variable (e.g., age, occupation). When classification by gender does take place, the language used will tend to be bland, perfunctory, and colourless. There will be no inquiry into the broader social and cultural context of the physical suffering. Where the victims or survivors are women, on the other hand, the gender variable will tend to assume primary significance. The social context, moreover, will be explicitly or implicitly conveyed, often in language with real emotional resonance.

    In cases where the general “culture of violence” is under discussion (for instance, levels of violence in mainstream or pornographic films), and where gender is used as a classification variable, the gender-focus will be on depictions of violence against women in the context of a culture which promotes such violence. It will rarely (in fact, never in the sample period) be on violence against men, in the context of a culture which also promotes such violence.

    Let us turn now to the articles themselves.
    [Webmaster’s note: Only the final paragraph(s) of Sections III thru X are printed here. See below for information on ordering the entire document.]

    III. Violence Against Women, Violence Against Men

    It is no surprise to discover that the Globe, for its part, did not commission a special feature on the violent victimization of men (“Living At Risk”?).

    IV. Conjugal Violence: Eliminating the Male Minority

    Returning to our criticisms of Globe reporting, though, a legitimate question does arise. Given that a huge disparity exists in the degree of suffering borne by female versus male victims and survivors of conjugal violence, could it not be argued that the editorial strategy and language of the Globe is justified? Is it legitimate, in other words, to equate the general phenomenon (here, severe victimization in a conjugal setting) with the large majority of victims?

    If this strategy is to be employed, and impartially, one will want to see whether the Globe’s treatment of situations in which men constitute the overwhelming majority of victims will employ similar strategies of identification and equivalence. If this proves to be the case, then the Globe’s overall reporting strategy could in some sense be viewed as non-sexist, even if individual cases taken in isolation might suggest anti-male (or for that matter anti-female) bias.

    Let us consider, then, the Globe’s coverage of two phenomena which are every bit as “male” as conjugal violence is “female,” according to the Globe’s implicit criteria.

    V. Occupational Homicide: Covering (Up) The Story

    In the case of women victims of on-the-job homicide, then, a full two paragraphs are devoted to explaining why the reader should not dismiss the small minority of women victims, even though the proportion for women is — by the Globe’s implicit criteria — as statistically insignificant as the figures for male victims of conjugal assault. As we have seen, the strategy could not be more different when it comes to the minority of male victims of conjugal violence. It is not only that they are dismissed in the space of a single paragraph in the May 14 story on “domestic abuse.” What is much more egregious, the Globe in its editorials simply refuses to construct a vocabulary which would permit the conceptual expression of male victimization; it refuses to concede the possibility of men being victims and survivors.

    It is, I would argue, almost inconceivable that an editorial line equating the majority category of victims with an exclusive category of victims could have been constructed, had the Globe chosen to devote an editorial to on-the-job homicides. How obvious would the bias have been, if such homicides had been treated as an exclusively male concern, with a vocabulary (extending beyond mere choice of pronouns) which absolutely barred consideration of the minority of female victims?

    VI. Suicide Solution

    We might also speculate as to what the focus of a Globe article on suicide would be if 80 percent of suicide victims were female. Would a feature tend to concentrate on the general issue of suicide, or would it likely address itself to the phenomenon of female suicide, with attempts to discover what deep-set insecurities and patterns of socialization could possibly account for such a striking statistical disparity?

    VII. The “Culture of Violence” I: Men Need Not Apply

    [Globe film reviewer Jay] Scott is able to isolate some of the basic contradictions in the cultural context which allow a film like Blue Steel to flourish unchallenged. To some extent, though, he ends up typifying the double standard he discusses. What, after all, is the most obvious characteristic of the exceptionally violent films that he mentions as precedents (Scorsese, Friedkin, Peckinpah)? Surely, that the victims of explicit violence in these blood-and-guts extravaganzas are overwhelmingly male. Since depicted violence against men is culturally acceptable — since, to use Scott’s terms, the “good guys” and “bad guys” are guys — the works of these filmmakers can constitute a legitimate cinema genre, and Scott’s language can be casual, dismissive, and breezy (“Fair enough”; “a well-nigh endless history”). It’s hard to imagine him being similarly cool about a genre which featured the explicit slaughter of women as the overwhelming majority of its victims. This must remain a speculation, however, since such a genre does not exist. Nor, if it did exist, would it likely find acceptance in mainstream society.

    VIII. The “Culture of Violence” II: A Comic Aside

    Discussion of the comics carries us beyond the sample period employed elsewhere in this paper, and indeed beyond the parameters of The Globe and Mail, which does not carry the strips (Beetle Bailey, Andy Capp, Hagar) featuring the greatest depicted violence against men. I move beyond the narrower framework here for a simple reason: of all the assertions made in this paper concerning the cultural acceptability (and banality) of violence against men, this critique of the comics can perhaps be investigated most easily by any reader with access to a daily newspaper and a few minutes to spare.

    IX. Sins of Omission, Sins of Commission

    A more subtle example from the sample period is Michelle Lalonde’s article, “Women hailed as better suited for role in environmental issues” (May 25, p. A14[M]). Writes Lalonde: “Women are more involved in and better suited to solving the environmental crisis than men, a conference on women and the environment was told yesterday.” Again, imagine the genders reversed, and picture the Globe dispatching a reporter to cover a conference on “Men and the Environment” (assuming the reporter could fight his or her way through the tangle of feminist pickets). It is just conceivable that the Globe would print a report on such a conference, mentioning statements by a key speaker to the effect that men are innately better suited to dealing with the issue at hand. It’s hard to conceive, though, that such a report could be written without an immediate attempt to seek balance from other sources — for example, a representative of a women’s organization who would denounce the dinosaur mentality and sexist bias of the conference proceedings.

    X. A Polemic and A Paradigm

    The type of change I am arguing for has a simple normative foundation. I contend that a human being experiencing discrimination, victimization, or suffering is inherently worthy of sympathy and support — regardless of gender. Few, I am sure, would contest this basic premise. Next, I would point out (again uncontroversially) that particular forms of suffering or victimization are intimately related to the “role obligations and institutional constraints” of a particular social group — whether the group is delimited by age, gender, ethnicity, or some other variable. [Footnote 40] Where this is the case, analysis and discussion should be sensitive to the specific vulnerabilities, liabilities, and adverse experiences which accrue disproportionately to members of one or more of these social groups.

    The paradigm I propose is objective enough, but it is also partisan — and rightly so. In the context of the mass media, what is required is open-minded investigation and balanced reporting, of the kind that has been so sorely lacking in the Globe and Mail coverage analyzed here. At the same time, the proposed paradigm places itself firmly on the side of the individual experiencing suffering and victimization. No one, for example, is to be excluded from this commitment because he or she happens to share some characteristic (such as age, race, class, or gender) with his or her assailant. Transparent strategies — even unconscious ones — which blame the victim for the victimization are to be weeded out.

    XI. Conclusion
    One might be tempted to let the present situation rest. After all, at least half the population — the female half — is beginning to receive its due in terms of mainstream discussion of its victimization experiences. Issues, as we all know, do not necessarily arise in the media at the same time as their complements. Instead, media processes reflect brief cycles of intense interest in particular aspects of social problems.
    The drawback to such a wait-and-see attitude is that analysis of the female experience in the coverage we have considered often seems closely linked to an inaccurate and insidious depiction of the male experience. It is not that male suffering is eliminated from the equation simply because its time for media treatment has not yet come. Rather, it seems that giving the male side of the equation the attention it deserves would threaten the prevailing trend of analysis, which (explicitly or implicitly) equates masculinity with the violent and repressive forces loose in North American society.

    One of the results of this framework is a pervasive ignorance of basic facts about physical suffering and violent victimization in our society. Out of curiosity, I recently asked a feminist friend who writes regularly and prominently on violence against women whether she thought males or females, statistically, were more likely to be murdered. She answered, “Why, women of course,” as though the question were too ridiculous to contemplate. In other situations, when I cite this most elementary homicide statistic, I encounter a particular response. First, there is a reflexive launching into some familiar line of reasoning. Then — sometimes after further prodding and cajoling — there is often a welcome pause as the significance of the data sinks in, apparently for the first time. With respect and affection, I suggest this may signify a deeper weakness in the consistency and accuracy of feminist formulations of the violence-against-women problem.

    The intention of this paper has been to shake up pat assumptions. I readily acknowledge that this task has been undertaken at the expense of constructing a balanced analysis. Certainly, if we stir up the standard equation with a solid polemical gust, many of the standard elements will settle back to earth. Perhaps, though, we will find the more groundless assumptions called into question, along with the biased and stereotypical mindsets that underlie them. It may then be possible for some important and little-noticed elements of the debate to insinuate themselves, and claim the recognition due to them.

    Ref:Adam Jones is a Ph.D. candidate in Political Science at the University of British Columbia, Canada


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