(The gender sympathy gap)
The Conservative MP David Amess was stabbed to death at his constituency surgery in Essex and a 25 year old man of Somali extraction has be been arrested. It is believed that it was a terrorist attack and the perpetrator Ali Harbi Ali is being investigated by counter-terrorism police.
There was a brief outpouring of emotion on mainstream news channels but what was remarkable was how quickly it faded from the headlines compared to other recent murders. For example, the murder of the Labour MP Jo Cox by a right-wing extremist and the murder of Sarah Everard in London. Not only that, some of the accounts of David Amess’s killing were accompanied by a picture of Jo Cox and the accompanying stories seemed to be mostly about Jo Cox. While it was reasonable to draw some parallels between the two murders it felt at times as though some (mostly female) journalists were not prepared to let go of female victimhood and the story of David Amess could only be framed through that perspective.
For example, this story on the BBC website by Lauren Turner (here) was as much about Jo Cox as it was about David Amess. Half the article was given over to Brendan Cox reminiscing about the horrific murder of Jo Cox.
Similarly, in the Guardian here the story seemed to be more about Brendan Cox reminiscing about the murder of Jo Cox.
Jess Phillips, writing in the Independent, got onto Jo Cox within two paragraphs and then onto her favourite subject, herself (here). Jess does correctly observe that there has been a dehumanising influence in politics. However, Ali Harbi Ali has yet to face trial and we know little about his motives and the process of radicalisation that led him to this barbaric act.
There is a general feeling that the murder of David Amess has faded from the headlines more quickly than occurred with the murder of Jo Cox or Sarah Everard. There have been no Twitter hashtags, no candlelit vigils and the newspapers are back to foregrounding female victimhood. Sarah Everard has returned to the front pages of daily newspapers.
Writing in Unherd, Paul Embery attributes this bias to the tribalism of left-leaning media outlets. Click here or the image below to read the article. C
David Amess, according to Paul Embery, was a right-leaning, pro-Brexit, Tory and a committed catholic who opposed abortion. That is not to say that made his killing defensible in the eyes of progressive outlets but it seemed to merit fewer column inches and fewer displays of performative grief.
While I am sure his political views were a factor in the imbalanced coverage, another was gender. The murders and suicides of men receive fewer column inches than those of women. When a middle-aged man was stabbed in the chest with a screwdriver in a provincial town in broad daylight, it didn’t even make it out of local news. The murder of women, particularly if they are drawn from the same demographic as many activist journalists, receives vastly more coverage.
I wonder if this bias has two roots. One may stem from evolutionary biology; for a tribe to remain viable it can’t afford to lose too many women whereas men are relatively more expendable. I have to admit I feel this way, my initial feeling is to be more shocked at the death of young women than I am by men of the same age. Another factor is that publishing at all levels is dominated by a politically active, young and female demographic (see post – Toxic Feminity and Publishing). Consciously or subconsciously these journalists see to it that female victimhood is foregrounded at all times. For example, by inserting images of Jo Cox in articles ostensibly about David Amess.
There is a gender sympathy gap operating in parts of the media.