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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 8/16/15

Recent NY Times Glorifies Violence Against Women and Girls

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Is this Jill Abramson's Sunday New York Times? No.

The Sunday, August 2 paper, now being led by Executive Editor Dean Baquet, contained shocking depictions of gender violence and harassment.

The front page of the "Arts&Leisure" section had an almost 12"x7 " picture of a woman clad only in a skimpy yellow T-shirt, with major amounts of what appeared to be fresh coagulated blood around her mouth, on her chin, her shoulder, and her arms. A knife protruded from her chest. In the background, which is faded, lies a dead man with much smaller amounts of blood. The gruesome photo covers almost 1/3 of the cover page.

Five days later, Donald Trump came under heavy criticism for describing Fox News debate anchor Megyn Kelly as having "blood coming out of her whereever" during the debate. But the description could have as easily applied to the Times photo.

Where's the harm, some may ask, of the accompanying photo to "To Live And Not Die in L.A."? "For decades, media critics such as pioneering advertising theorist Jean Kilbourne have argued that ad imagery equating gruesome violence against women with beauty and glamour works to dehumanize women, making such acts in real life not only more palatable and less shocking, but even aspirational." Regarding the "titillation and the pornification of female victims", Laura Bates, founder of the Everyday Sexism Project said, "[t]he portrayal of them as sex objects prevents people from seeing this as a crime against a human being."

Why would the New York Times choose to dehumanize women and promote violence against them, instead of questioning it? This is particularly important question in a nation where 1 in 6 women are sexually assaulted.

A sign from the Men Against Violence Against Women (MAVAW) project at the Live and Learn Offices.
A sign from the Men Against Violence Against Women (MAVAW) project at the Live and Learn Offices.
(Image by DFAT photo library)
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The other "Arts&Leisure" front page article was entitled "Birds, Bees, and Growing Pains at 15." It contained an accompanying photo of youthful looking, pouty Bel Powley. The article discusses the movie "The Diary of a Teenage Girl" about "a 15-year-old girl living the druggy, sexually freewheeling San Francisco of the '70's who has an affair with her mother's 30-something boyfriend" (fifth paragraph). But it purposefully shies away from addressing issues of consent, statutory rape, or incest. Again, from the first page, "Far from cleaving to a tired Lolita narrative or making its heroine a victim," it cites positive takes: "an honest story" (the director), and "wildly provocative," "wonderfully amoral" and "honest and magnificent" (various critics). Virtually the only negativity comes eight paragraphs after the jump to page AR12. It mentions the movie and play are "less dark than the book" although she experiences "some grueling times" in all three.

In a nation with increased sexualization of young girls to their detriment, teenagers comprising a significant percentage of rape victims, and incest remaining a problem, why would the Times offer such a laudatory take on this movie?

The "Sunday Styles" section front page from that same day included "Cursed With a Death Stare," an article about the hashtag RBF or "resting b*tch face." Five celebrities' photographs were included with three -- Kristen Stewart, January Jones, and Victoria Beckham -- on the first page. The article after the jump was ironically placed above an ad for serious looking Louis Vuitton model that covers almost 40 percent of the double page. The model is one of the mostly non-smiling women in the ads in this section. So is not smiling the height of glamour, or grossly unattractive?

The text for the article is not much better. The front page story starts with a first person account by the author being shocked by her appearance on TV (first four paragraphs). Thereafter it discusses four women who also want to avoid a severe look. It discusses women dealing with it through Botox and photos, and how it is a natural result of aging. Next it describes specific uses of "The Face," before briefly discussing its tyranny, but it goes on to discuss how plastic surgery can fix rbf, and how it is a natural result of aging. It's not until late in the article that is there a major discussion of men expecting pretty women, even those unknown to them, to look socially and sexually available (my words). The last quarter of the article on its third page more deeply examines the fact that there's no male equivalent, that frequent smiling might result from females' lower social status, and the tie to movement against sexual harassment with its call to "Stop Telling Women to Smile." The second to last paragraph has a young woman saying she likes looking "serious, pensive, and reserved."

The article is strongly biased towards validating an objectifying, harassing cultural phenomenon, vs. deeply examining it. But in a society where half of harassed women have been so by age 17, and a large minority experience sexual assault, might women want to avoid attention? And why, despite their rising economic status, are women increasingly being told to change everything from their head (hair, eyebrows, facial hair, teeth color and straightness, and features through makeup) to their toes, to conform to increasingly strict societal ideals? And what, in detail, to make of this oppressive double standard?

Ironically though the article included photos of five women with rbf, that section of the paper contained an estimated six men with #rbf. Or is would it be #raf?

The New York Times no longer feels like a paper with a woman at its helm. And it's isn't. Jill Abramson was fired as executive editor last May in what appeared to be a gendered dimension to her evaluation. Dean Baquet, who has replaced her, has run positive depictions of athletes, coaches, and businesswomen, even since this article. He has also led with groundbreaking work on prison reform, international crises and many other topics.

But The New York Times fails to effectively serve the public when it does not look hard and critically at cultural entertainment which increasingly glorifies violence against women, sexualizes young females, and harasses them. The New York Times -- Sunday and every day -- must do much better.

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Veena Trehan is a DC-based journalist and activist. She has written for NPR, Reuters, Bloomberg News, and local papers.
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