Self-Immolation and Sexism

Hi everyone! Sorry that my first post after a long break is a downer, but I just had to write about this.

Earlier today, this article popped up in my Google Reader. The title is “The Arab World’s Horrific New Trend: Self-immolation.” Apparently, this new trend is men self-immolating in protest of their governments. Six men have lit themselves on fire in recent weeks. This is news-worthy! It’s something important that should be commented on! This is new!

Unfortunately, it’s not. In Afghanistan alone, over 100 women self-immolated in 2010.  Several times the number of results appear when googling “self-immolation Arab” than when googling “self-immolation Arab women.” Even when adding “women” to the search, the first few results are about the “new” trend of men self-immolating. Because these are just women, right? Who cares about them! They’re just hysterical laydeez overreacting to some tiny problems, like women always do. No, until men are doing it, it’s not important!

This issue clearly illustrates that sexism still exists in the media. Self-immolation by women in Arab countries has been a known and studied problem for years, something committed by hundreds of women in response to abuse and a lack of control over their own lives, and yet the media still reports a series of six self-immolations by men as a horrific, serious, new, trend that we should be concerned about.

Just another example of women’s lives and experiences being invisible.


More on Journalistic “Ethics”

I just keep thinking of more things that are wrong with this story.

The FP writer relates how the photographer who watched the little girl die later comitted suicide, supposedly haunted by the things he saw. He then writes:

That’s why I can’t blame Gupta for helping out when he did. On the one hand, he crossed a journalistic line and became part of the story. On the other hand, he probably saved a few Haitians’ lives. Imagine how he’d feel if he had to report on CNN that he’d stay there to watch them die that night?

Apart from that “journalistic line” thing again, the writer is literally saying that it was okay that Gupta intervened and crossed that line because it would have been so hard on him if he had watched them die instead. The focus is not on the people who were dying and needed help – it’s on the journalist/photographer and their feelings. You should save people’s lives if you can, not because it’s the right thing to do, but because later you might get all depressed about letting them die and capturing their suffering to further your career. And wouldn’t that be a shame?


Journalistic Line?

I was going to write a post about a cool promotion that Wendy’s is running right now, but I am so disturbed by something I just read on Foreign Policy that I have to write about it.

Apparently CNN correspondent Sanjay Gupta used his medical training to treat some patients in Haiti, where he was reporting from a hospital after the Belgian staff had left due to safety concerns. The Foreign Policy piece argues that, even though it made people cringe to think that Gupta was being some kind of show-off, ultimately he did the right thing by helping out. You know, instead of letting those three patients he stabilized die. So that’s weird to start – how is there even a question that he did the right thing?

But then the article gets horrifying. They post this picture –

Image from Foreign Policy article

– fand tell the story behind it. The photographer discovered a starving little girl trying desperately to drag herself to a feeding tent. A vulture landed nearby to wait for the girl to die. The photographer, professional that he is, spent twenty minutes trying to get the best, most emotional shot. Then, after getting his Pulitzer Prize-winning shot, he chased the bird away and sat under a tree while the girl died.

Absolutely horrifying. But to top that, Foreign Policy says that this incident “raised uncomfortable questions about whether he should have helped the girl rather than simply watching her die.”


I’m speechless. How is that even a question? How is it that journalism is so tied to its code of ethics that says “don’t become part of the story” that journalists would feel its acceptable to muse in public about whether it would have been okay to break that code to save a dying child?

That’s messed up.

Roman Polanski

(Warning: this is a sad and angry post, not a fun and happy one.)

As most of you know, Roman Polanski was apprehended last week in Switzerland, and the US and Switzerland are currently working things out to extradite him to the US so he can serve the time he owes for both raping a child and skipping out before sentencing. This is good, right? Uncontroversial, right? Child rapists and runners should feel justice, right?

Apparently it’s not so clear as all that. Over the last week or so I have been absolutely appalled at how many people have spoken out to defend Polanski. It is shameful to live in a world where the rape of a child can be seen as a gray area. Some are saying it wasn’t “rape-rape” (Whoopi Goldberg), but that makes me afraid. Here’s why – there are three different and sufficient ways in which the act was rape. Three. Let me break them down for you:

1. The girl was drunk and drugged (from champagne and drugs Polanski gave her) and so could not have consented, even if the next two were not also true.

2. The girl was 13 years old. Three years under the age of consent in CA at the time, and five years under the age of consent now. She was thirteen, and so could not consent.

3. She said no. She said no repeatedly, pleadingly, and fearfully. She said no, so she explicitly did not consent.

There is no gray area here. And the French presses (and public?) are withdrawing their support of Polanski now that it has become clear that it was not just a consensual act that prudish Americans criminalized (which leads to the question of why they in France think a 43 year old having “consensual” sex with a 13 year old is no biggie, but anyway). In fact, if you were to try and create a scenario where the rape apologists who say things like “She asked for it!” and “She probably just regretted it the morning after” – if you tried to create a scenario where even they would admit “Yeah, that was definitely rape, no question!” you’d probably create one like this. The layers of non-consent are so thick, you’d think they’d make the issue very clear.

But no. To Hollywood, what’s more important it that Polanski is one of them. He makes great films! He’s an artiste! Read Melissa McEwan’s fantastic piece On Polanski for a brilliant take-down of this argument. Here’s a taste:

They make an exception for Polanski for the same reason exceptions have been for other famous, artistic men…: Because geniuses get special dispensation.

Because there’s only one Roman Polanski.

So goes the breathless defense of the artiste, while the flipside of that particular coin, because thirteen-year-old girls are a dime a dozen, goes unspoken.

One of my other favorite writers, Kate Harding, wrote a similarly fantastic piece for titled, simply enough, Reminder: Roman Polanski Raped a Child. It’s great. She exposes the arguments that say that Polanski has suffered enough for the ridiculous apologism they are. Did you know that people are saying that because Polanski’s wife was murdered by Manson we shouldn’t arrest him? As a commenter on Shakesville put it, you don’t get a “rape one child free” card if your wife is murdered! Or that his parents died in Auschwitz, so hasn’t he suffered enough? As if unspeakable tragedy in your life gives you free reign to victimize others! But even they don’t stoop so low as those (Anne Applebaum, I’m looking at you!) who claim that hes suffered enough already because he couldn’t pick up his Oscar in person!

I feel like the world has lost its mind, and all my worst fears about it have been confirmed. But then I learned that Harding’s piec has received hundreds of thousands of hits and re-tweets and links, and she’s been flooded with appreciative emails, and I think:

Maybe not the world. Maybe there’s still hope.