Caution, The Mirror


Date: January 1, 1970
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While women should be protected from gender-based violence, especially sexual violence, the editorial asks who protects men from women who lie?
While women should be protected from gender-based violence, especially sexual violence, the editorial asks who protects men from women who lie?

This article may be used to:
  • Examine the media’s coverage of gender violence and portrayal of women in these stories about gender violence.
  • Highlight the importance of sub-editing.

Trainer’s notes

Violence against women

Violence takes place in the private sphere, the media ignores gender violence or when it is reported, the stories convey no sense that women’s human rights are abused. Stories on violence against women in the media usually take three prevailing forms:

  • The issue is trivialised.
     

  • Violence against women is sensationalised because the media highlights and plays prominently bizarre cases providing little context or sensitivity towards the survivors. (see the case study in this data base, ‘Abused Woman Forgives Abuser, The Voice, Botswana, September 27, 2002)

     

  • Blame and exoneration: Stories on abuse and rape frequently imply that the woman “asked for it to happen” through references such as “she was alone at night” or “she was wearing revealing clothing”. Another example of blame is the ‘woman scorn’ implied in the editorial ‘Caution’. There also is a tendency to highlight the experiences of men as perpetrators rather than as survivors. “Love” features with disturbing frequency in stories relating to violence against women. It is often cited as the motive of men who kill their partners (femicide). When men go on to commit suicide, the focus tends to be on the suicide, rather than on the fact that they killed their wives or partners.
Portrayal of women
 
The issue of sexual violence against women is trivialised in this editorial through the portrayal of women as ‘liars’, and the editorial also conveys the message that ‘women provoke’ men to attack them. A central message of the editorial is the stereotype of ‘the woman scorn’ who will ‘cry rape’ when she does not seek the attention she seeks.

This argument is justified in the editorial by the use of a passage from religious scriptures. This comment is an example of how religious texts are often interpreted and used as a justification for gender discrimination. These arguments are persuasive because the texts are considered sacred and hold divine authority for believers. Males writing on gender issues in columns or editorials often resort to the Bible to prove their point.

However these religious texts used in articles are often quoted out of context and give the selective views of the writer. Religion, like culture, is used to support the prevailing norms and values of a society and uphold the status quo.
 
The use of the scripture (which is not referenced) in the editorial conveys the writer’s own gender biases and prejudices on the issue of rape and other forms of sexual violence against women. The scripture also is used incorrectly to generalize about women’s integrity and truthfulness when reporting rape cases.
 
The focus of this editorial is on protecting men, and it is their integrity which is viewed as more important than that of women. The editorial totally ignores the fact that women of all ages are vulnerable to sexual violence without provocation.
 
Sub-editing
 
This editorial is filled with a number of spelling and grammatical errors. It also is a professional weak comment because it does make a coherent and informed argument, and comes across as a subjective view put haphazardly into an editorial.

Editorial and comment writing is the only form of the journalistic genres that provides for subjective opinions. But this form of writing must also be guided by the professional guidelines of accuracy, balance and fairness. Comments and editorial, especially when they are not on a current news event, should provide the reader with a relative amount of background(facts and figures) to situate the issue commented on in a context.

The writer does not argue the editorial from an informed position, and it has no data or facts on the level of sexual violence in Lesotho.

Training exercises
 
Exercise one: Read a copy of the case study, ‘Caution’ and discuss:
  1. How are women portrayed in the editorial?
     

  2. Does the editorial convey the message that sexual violence against women in a serious issue?
     

  3. Instead of writing about sexual violence as a human rights issue, what perspective is taken? Why do you think this approach has been used?
     

  4. What message is conveyed in the one word headline about women?
     

Exercise two: Read the article carefully and:
  1. Identify how many spelling and grammatical errors are in this small piece.
     

  2. Make a list of the errors found.
     

  3. Edit the piece to correct the errors.
     

  4. Identify the content weaknesses of the editorial.
     

  5. What information should be added to make it a better journalistic article?


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