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Bird's Blog

Poetry, musings, observations, commentary, rants, confessions...and who knows what else!

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Location: San Francisco Bay Area

Teacher, writer, poet, grandmother, lover, wine-drinker, chocolate eater, beach comber, hiker, traveler, Giants fan, San Franciscan. All work on this blog is copyrighted material.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Where Are The Women?

Here's a curiosity I've been puzzling over for some time: the media'’s use of such words as "Iraqis,""“Palestinians," "Muslims," and "people." The use of plural explicitly conveys more than one, but these specific names or titles, and the generic "“people"” are also, theoretically, gender neutral - – or rather gender inclusive - implying that both women and men are included in the plural designations.

But it seems whenever a news report is about violence in the Middle East, and the reporters use such words, the accompanying pictures are of men only.

For example, Associated Press writer, Bushra Juhi reports today in his article, Iraqis Cheer Crash of British Helicopter” that

"British forces backed by armored vehicles rushed to the area but were met by a hail of stones from the crowd of at least 250 people [emphasis - mine], who jumped for joy and raised their fists as a plume of thick smoke rose into the air from the crash site."

The accompanying photos are of men. So, it'’s not really "Iraqis" that are cheering, but Iraqi men that are cheering. Where are the women? Not in the streets cheering. Perhaps at home, trying to tend to their families, trying to stay alive.

I am aware that cultural differences abound. In traditional Islamic culture, women are not as visible as in other cultures. But I am speaking of the Western (not Islamic press) and their reporting practices, and of Western culture and our language use.

Remember all the pictures of "Muslims" rioting over the Danish cartoons? Did you see any women? I didn't. Muslim men were rioting - – not Muslim women.

Is my concern simply political correctness run amok? I don't think so. Words are signifiers - they matter.

There's a big difference between people - men and women - and just men cheering violence. There's a big difference between Muslims - men and women - rioting in the streets and Muslim men rioting in the streets.

In western culture, beginning in the 70s (and continuing today), linguists, social activists, and rhetoricians began examining our use of language for gender bias and exclusion and we noted that women were actually excluded conceptually from the symbolic representation of such words as "“people"” and "mankind." Our awareness brought a shift - – we moved from "“mankind"” to "humankind,"” from the standard use of "“he" as a common pronoun denoting both male and female to the awareness that "“he," despite some linguistics claims of a historic denotation of both genders, is a pronoun which in a connotative capacity signifies a man. We began to use either gender-neutral, gender-inclusive and gender-specific terminology, to insure that women were INCLUDED in the symbolic representation of ideas - words. We - women - want and deserve to be signified in the texts of our culture.

Now women are included even when we are not really there.

I find fascinating and curious the way we, as readers and viewers in concert with the media, are socially-constructing the story through the use of images and words that are at odds with each other.

I think both the exclusion and inclusion matters. What do you think?

A few photos:

Iraqis throw stones at British troops. Reuters, May 6, 2006.

Where are the women?

Newsweek, July 1, 2004
See any women?

And follow this link to see Palestinians pelting an Israeli tank with stones (ain't no women doing that).


Blogger HanktheDog said...

I've never thought about this before. Perhaps using the gender-neutral term is more of a just-in-case-there's-a-woman-there-somewhere term. Or maybe it would simply sound strange to Western ears to talk strictly about "Iraqi men" doing things, which may be your point.

May 06, 2006 7:48 PM  
Blogger Death Warmed Over said...

Strangely enough I always thought as mankind as everyone not just men. Probably generational. As for the pictures, maybe women have more sense!? By the way, don't we see a lot of women in Western protests...cultural, religious...good posts never noticed the pics until now.

May 06, 2006 8:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you make a good point, but wats it mean?

I think the use of 'people' is actually more Muslim than Western. Because they are considered people - women are not visible, should not be visible and are automatically in support of their men. So technically they are there - acting in compliance with their men. Muslims claim the support of their women who are not there - whether it is freely given or not.

It is political correctness run amok. The only fault is that of westerners who can not clearly interpret or understand the Islamic situation.

May 06, 2006 8:15 PM  
Blogger Hellpig said...

What it means is the Liberal anti-Bush media only report on negative stories

Go abroad as I do for Iraqi news sorces,Iraq itself is host too many positive blog sites

Try using other news besides MSM for one week and I bet you will see things differently about the world


May 06, 2006 8:29 PM  
Blogger Bird said...

Yes Hank, it would be weird if we did idenitfy gender specifically. but it also might be rather enlightening. who is really doing what? and of more interest - why is who doing what?

It's been a while since you've stopped by my roost - nice to see you, even though, my dear little piggy - you assume too much.

I read: the Jerusalem Post, Al Jazeera, Guardian Unlimited, BBC, The Nation, The National Review, La Times, NY Times, Boston Globe, Christian Science Monitor, and many more. the photos are from reuters and ap - which of course is picked up by most other presses - whether they're liberal, conservative or inbetween.

The press is no more liberally biased than it is conservatively biased (examples of each abound). It is, however, structually biased and discussion of that bias is far more interesting than a discussion of conservative and liberal bias. Our fellow blogger, Bogs, is a master at elements of structural bias. Yet I enjoy his posts immensely.

This isn't about good or bad news - this is about our use of language in the west and the dichotomy of that language vs. the pictoral account of the tale. and how that language contributes to our interpretation of the tale.

you raise an interesting point about the cultural use of "people" in terms of a Islamic perspective- their women must be with them whether they are or not. i sense that there is truth in that perspective - that the menfolk think that way - but that shouldn't be reflected in the way the western press presents the story - unless it's stated explictly.

DWO- I am making a distinction between violent action and protest. We do indeed see plenty of women at Western protests and plenty of pics abound of Iraqi women at protests - protests that are not violent -though they may be spirted.

And that somehow leads me back to Fatty - we need to remember that Iraq didn't adhere to traditional Islam under Saddam H. In fact, many women put the burqa on AFTER we invaded - in fear of the religious fundamentalists that we have empowered in Iraq. Not saying things were better with Hussein - they weren't.

Back to you, DWO - about mankind. I don't know if it's generational (I teach plenty of 20-somethings who use "humankind," - how old are you? but mankind, by connation (sp?), excludes at least half the world's population. and standard useage (sp? again) or convention if you will,now requires us to use humankind - to ensure the inclusion of that other half. glad the other half is in your head though! :)

thanks to all for commenting - very nice to have this conversation tonight - i've been in essay grading mode all day and periodic breaks to cruise the blogosphere help keep me going.

May 06, 2006 10:07 PM  
Blogger native said...

hi bird,

i remember that one of the candidates for the hamas party was a woman? i believe her son was a suicide bomber. there were women holding up signs after the cartoon wars in denmark, but you are right, dont see any in these more violent protests....however, with a wider view who knows whats under all that fabric!

May 07, 2006 8:25 AM  
Blogger Hellpig said...

75% of US MSM is liberal controlled

NY Times,Wash.Post,LA Times,CNN,CBS,NBC,MSNBC,Newsweek all liberal Biased

Another reason no women present,women are chattle in the eyes of Islamic Radicals

May 07, 2006 4:08 PM  
Blogger Jack K. said...

Thank goodness for LIBERAL CONTROL OF EVERYTHING. tic sacrasm.

May 07, 2006 6:22 PM  
Blogger CROAK said...

It has always been this way especially in the Middle East. The women are busy at home preparing the food and cleaning the house and looking after the young and the old. To be out in public is a shame if you are not accompanied by your husband, brother, father or son. So MOre men then women?

May 07, 2006 7:32 PM  
Blogger K9 said...

/bark bark bark

are you kidding me boyed? look at the central figure in photo 1.
what? just back from a twyla tharp workshop? look at that girlie stance! and the drama! and that get up! who does she think she is?
L.A. Reid?


May 07, 2006 7:52 PM  
Blogger disguised said...

What is "liberal"? It doesn't compute.

May 07, 2006 11:58 PM  
Blogger lettuce said...

I enjoyed this post and the discussion in your comments. Its such an interesting area - and very important, I agree with you.

Did you know that the supposedly "inclusive" use of the male pronoun is relatively recent? and was imposed by an Act of parliament in this country? (Jane Austen is a good example of someone who didn't use it).I'm aware of studies some decades ago which showed how the male pronoun will always tend to have male, rather than inclusive, reference in peoples' minds and imagination. I've not seen recent studies (I'm sure there must be some) on the impact of more inclusive language.

I would guess some of these reports might not use male-specific language due to wariness about being taken as making some kind of point?

May 08, 2006 8:39 AM  
Blogger Blue said...

K9 - did you miss the facial hair?

I have noticed this also bird, but could not word it as well so didn't bother :-)

All media is biased, even if it is only in the words used by the reporter based on their individual paradigms, experience etc.

I suspect that the violence of the men, depicted in photographic and written media tends to be a result of impotence in changing a situation because it is disliked, without any clear understanding of what the alternatives may be.

May 13, 2006 4:48 AM  
Blogger Pete Bogs said...

you nailed my thoughts exactly! I think the news people should not say "Scores of Iraqis demonstrated today," but should instead say "Scores of Iraqi men demonstrated today..."

first off, that's more accurate... second, it's a bit of editorializing... as you say, where are the women? what do they think? and whatever they think, how about letting us hear it from THEM???

May 15, 2006 5:46 AM  

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