Crimes against women buried in reporting of world news

So here is post #5 picking on the New York Times for its sexist reporting of the rape of Jyoti Singh Pandey.

Nicolas Kristof’s column made me think of the excellent book that he wrote with his wife, Sheryl Wudunn, Half the Sky. The thesis of that book is that “in the 19th century, the paramount moral challenge was slavery. In the 20th century, it was totalitarianism. In this century, it is the brutality inflicted on so many women and girls around the globe: sex trafficking, acid attacks, bride burnings and mass rape.”

So obviously and sadly, Kristof and Wudunn are two of the few to recognize that stopping violence against women needs to be the highest priority.

But here is what I was thinking of specifically: Wudunn and Kristof are Pulitzer prize winning journalists, and they wrote Half the Sky because they were shocked by how stories about men were consistently on the front page while stories about women were invisible:

A similar pattern emerged in other countries. In India, a “bride burning” takes place approximately once every two hours, to punish a woman for an inadequate dowry or to eliminate her so a man can remarry — but these rarely constitute news. When a prominent dissident was arrested in China, we would write a front-page article; when 100,000 girls were kidnapped and trafficked into brothels, we didn’t even consider it news.

And by the way, they are talking about front page news in the American publications that they worked for.

Refusing to print Jyoti Singh Pandey’s name is another way to keep her invisible.

I’ve got to ask, one more time: Why is it acceptable for the New York Times to follow India law in how it reports the facts about crimes against women?

Please read “The ‘Shame’ of Rape” a piece I wrote for Salon about the U.S. media’s sexist coverage of crimes against women.

Kristof writes column and my new comment gets posted underneath!

The bad news is the NYT still hasn’t posted my comment on its sexist coverage of the rape of Jyoti Singh Pandey in India. The good is that Nicolas Kristof, one of the world’s greatest modern feminists, wrote an amazing column for Sunday’s NYT: “Taking Violence Against Women Seriously:”

Gender violence is one of the world’s most common human rights abuses. Women worldwide ages 15 through 44 are more likely to die or be maimed because of male violence than because of cancer, malaria, war and traffic accidents combined. The World Health Organization has found that domestic and sexual violence affects 30 to 60 percent of women in most countries.

In some places, rape is endemic: in South Africa, a survey found that 37 percent of men reported that they had raped a woman. In others, rape is institutionalized as sex trafficking. Everywhere, rape often puts the victim on trial: in one poll, 68 percent of Indian judges said that “provocative attire” amounts to “an invitation to rape.”

Americans watched the events after the Delhi gang rape with a whiff of condescension at the barbarity there, but domestic violence and sex trafficking remain a vast problem across the United States.


That’s just a couple graphs. You should read the whole thing, its all so important.

No comments taken there, but Kristof invites you to go to his blog “On the Ground” to post comments. There, he writes a few graphs ending with:

Then on top of all that, I’ve been thinking of the events in Steubenville, Ohio, in which football players allegedly carted a comatose 16-year-girl around and raped her, possibly even urinated on her. We’ve got so much work to do right here at home — and Congress can’t even bother to renew the Violence Against Women Act or the Trafficking Victims Protection Act! Grrr. Read the column and post your thoughts.


In case you’re not familiar with the Violence Against Women Act, it was just stalled in congress, by the good old government of the USA, because violence against women isn’t a problem in America, right? Here are some stats from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence:

One in four women (25%) has experienced domestic violence in her lifetime.

85% of domestic violence victims are women.

Women ages 20-24 are at the greatest risk of nonfatal intimate partner violence.

Nearly three out of four (74%) of Americans personally know someone who is or has been a victim of domestic violence.

On average, more than three women are murdered by their intimate partners in this country every day.

Domestic violence is one of the most chronically under reported crimes.

I think it’s interesting that Kristof invites you to go to his blog if you want to comment. It looks the same as the NYT site in many ways, but I wonder if there’s a different procedure for comment approval? On the blog I posted this comment which got approved, basically the same as the first as best as I can recall:

Hi Mr. Kristof,

I was shocked to read in the NYT a post on this story from Jan 11 (… Jyoti Singh Pandey’s name is not printed. The NYT explains this:

“The daughter — whose name is being withheld because it is illegal to name a rape victim in India without permission from the victim or her next of kin — showed as a very young girl a love for school, her father remembered.”

Why would an American publication follow Indian law on how to report on rape? At what other time does a country’s laws dictate how its news is reported in The New York Times? Especially when the US media keeps calling India sexist, unlike us. Why would an American publication follow India law in how it reports a crime? If this law referred to political dissidents from India, would the New York Times refuse to print their names?

Not only that, but days earlier, Jyoti’s father told the Mirror: “We want the world to know her real name,” says Badri Singh Pandey…“My daughter didn’t do anything wrong, she died while protecting herself. I am proud of her. Revealing her name will give courage to other women who have survived these attacks. They will find strength from my daughter.”

I commented on the NYT piece but my comment has not yet been approved. I blogged about it here:


Why am I going on and on to you about one damn comment? Because so much of the issue here is that women don’t get a name, a voice, or space to tell their own stories, and that issue is what this blog, Reel Girl, is all about.

The NYT has posted my comments before and posted a similar comment to mine, from Ann, who I just found out, went to the NYT from Reel Girl. So what’s the big deal?

If one person makes the comment, its better than no one making it, but it would have more impact if people were allowed to see that many others responded in a similar way.

What the New York Times did– censoring the identity of a victim of a crime because India law requires that– is not only disgraceful but harmful to women. I am shocked that the NYT would not only capitulate to India law in its reporting of a crime, but to go ahead and state that it did, as if that were perfectly OK. It’s not OK. Can you imagine if American publications always followed the laws of the country they were reporting on when stating the facts of a crime? What kind of news would we have?

If crimes against women are treated this way, as if its acceptable, violence against women will never stop.

Please support courageous 14 yr old Malala Yousufzai

From Women in the World:

In honor of Malala Yousufzai, the 14 year-old Pakistani girl who was tragically shot [Wedensday] by the Taliban for exercising her fundamental right to an education, the Women in the World Foundation is launching a Woman of Impact Award for Girls Education to provide funds to women and girls fighting for girls education in Pakistan and Afghanistan. We are making an emergency appeal to our Women in the World Community to join Tina Brown and Angelina Jolie in this campaign. 100% of the proceeds will go towards girls education on the ground in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Ms. Jolie’s Education Partnership for Children of Conflict will contribute the first $50,000 to this effort.

Angelina Jolie writes:

Malala was just 11 years old when she began blogging for the BBC. She wrote of life under the Taliban, of trading in her school uniform for colorless plain clothes, of hiding books under her shawl, and eventually having to stop going to school entirely…The Taliban claimed that 14-year-old Malala Yousafzai “ignored their warnings, and she left them no choice.” They approached her school bus, asking for her by name, and shot her in the head for promoting girls’ education.

Nicolas Kristof writes in the NY Times:

Surgeons have removed a bullet from Malala, and she remains unconscious in critical condition in a hospital in Peshawar. A close family friend, Fazal Moula Zahid, told me that doctors are hopeful that there has been no brain damage and that she will ultimately return to school.

After recovery, she will continue to get an education,” Fazal said. “She will never, never drop out of school. She will go to the last.”

Women and girls around the world are supporting Malala.

If you can, please donate money now.

Women’s rights are not a “cultural issue”

Yesterday I blogged about a teacher at a Catholic school, Emily Herx, who was fired because she got IVF treatments. I received several comments that because of freedom of religion, the church can fire Herx if it wants to.

That argument doesn’t hold; it’s based on the idea that human rights for women are not important. Too many Americans believe that women’s rights are a “cultural” issue and not a political one.

If the Catholic Church “believed” that African-Americans could not be teachers or that adults should have sex with children, the American government would call that illegal. Freedom of religion does not give a religious institution the mandate to violate basic human rights.

As I wrote yesterday:

In 2010, Herx learned that she suffered from a medical condition that caused infertility. At that time, she told her principal she needed time off for IVF treatment. Her request was granted and the principal allegedly told Herx: “You are in my prayers.”…

Herx is claiming sex discrimination and disabilities discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act and requesting lost wages, punitive damages, attorney’s fees, and compensation for her mental anguish and emotional distress.

Just like infertility, pregnancy is also medical condition. Women have all kinds of serious health complications from ectoptic pregnancies to hemorrhaging. Contraception is preventative health care. Women’s bodies are different than men’s bodies and have different medical needs. To deny women health care based on those differences is to deny women a basic human right. It’s sex discrimination, and it is appalling that this kind of abuse is tolerated in America.

When I was in college, Apartheid was the government of South Africa. Every day, there were protests against South Africa’s racist government in our campus quad. At the same time, I was taking a sociology class where we learned that cliterodectomies were performed in some countries in Africa. I was taught in my class that to condemn that procedure was wrong; it was to enforce my Western beliefs on another country. It was in this way that I was taught the concept of “relative ethics.” It took me years after my “education” to recover from that kind of teaching, to be able to say that cliterodectomies are wrong, wherever and whenever they happen.

The Taliban is gender apartheid. But the first time I ever heard about the horrible gender crimes supported by that government was not in a campus quad or even a sociology class, but in the back pages of Newsweek, where the celebrity news is. In the Nineties, I read that Mavis Leno, Jay Leno’s wife, was trying to raise funds and awareness to help women under the Taliban rule. At that time, I was a producer for a talk radio station. I brought the article to the host of the show and asked him to talk about it on air. “Have you heard about this?” I said. He responded that our show was local, that no one in the Bay Area would care about the Taliban. “How is it relevant to our lives?” he asked.

Of course, the Taliban became relevant to Americans on 9/11. I don’t believe that a country, even ours, can isolate itself from that kind of hatred and violation of human rights, as much as we try our best to ignore them unless a celebrity happens to host a fundraiser.

In 2009, Pulitzer Prize winning journalists Nicolas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn published Half the Sky, a book that documented sex trafficking, acid burnings, poverty, and lack of access to healthcare for women all around the world. The thesis of Half the Sky is that the world is losing its most valuable resource: women. The writers argue that in the nineteenth century, the central moral challenge was slavery. In the twentieth century, it was the battle against totalitarianism. That in this century, our century, the paramount moral challenge will be the struggle for global gender equality.

I was certain that after the publication of Half the Sky and the media that the book initially received, Americans would finally get that demanding full human rights for women is essential to our survival as a human race, that human rights for women is not a cultural issue. But right now in America, in 2012, we’re fighting over contraception? In our Presidential election? For Americans not to allow all women access to contraception and to basic health care is a human rights violation. Until our government stops seeing women’s rights as a cultural issue, how can we ask the rest of the world to?

Maybe this all goes back to what my professor was trying to teach me in Sociology 101: Americans are hypocrites.