The media does (not really) feel sorry for trivializing violence against women
From Kanye to Serena Williams, it seems like everyone has been apologizing for inappropriate comments recently. But one apology you may have missed was that of Orange County Register columnist Mark Whicker.
Whicker wrote a seriously offensive column on September 7th that attempted to use the rescue of Jaycee Dugard as a hook for a story on a series of sports highlights.
Dugard’s rescue earlier this year after being kidnapped at age 11 was big news. She had spent 18 years held captive in her abductor’s backyard, where he repeatedly raped her and forced her to give birth to two children.
Apparently Whicker thought a totally appropriate response would be this:
[Dugard] never saw a highlight. Never got to the ballpark for Beach Towel Night. Probably hasn’t high-fived in a while. She was not allowed to spike a volleyball… Now, that’s deprivation.
By turning her story into an intro for sports trivia, Whicker downplayed the violence Dugard suffered. After a reaction by angry readers, Whicker and the OCR’s Deputy Editor of Sports were forced to apologize. Unfortunately, neither actually seemed to understand why.
The same day as his apology, Whicker defended himself to Michael David Smith of AOL Fanhouse, saying: “I am quite surprised by the angry tone of the reaction. I think the intent of the column was still valid.” After Smith said Whicker shouldn’t have been surprised at the backlash, Whicker responded, “Thanks for ripping me. I’m really happy I devoted part of this very hectic day responding to someone who had as little interest in my viewpoint as the crazies out there.”
Likewise, Whicker’s apology comes across as audience-blaming, implying he’s mostly apologetic that “this column appears to have disconnected that bond with at least part of our readers.”
Even the deputy editor’s apology seems to apologize more to Whicker — for “depriv[ing] Mark of what every writer needs: an attentive editor” — than to the audience.
The OCR’s handling of the situation is symptomatic of a society that is so desensitized by the media sensationalizing violence against women that the representation is dissociated from reality.
For example, many commentators argued George Sodini’s shooting of 12 women at a Pennsylvania gym wasn’t motivated by a hatred of women. New York Times columnist Bob Herbert responded to this incident and discussed our perception of violence against women:
“We profess to being shocked at one or another of these outlandish crimes, but the shock wears off quickly in an environment in which the rape, murder and humiliation of females is not only a staple of the news, but an important cornerstone of the nation’s entertainment.”
With rape simulations in video games becoming more common, crime dramas depicting violence against women with increasing explicitness, and mainstream “comedy” movies like Observe and Report treating rape as a joke, violence against women is glamorized and packaged for public consumption.
Whicker isn’t the only one in the media trivializing misogynist acts of violence and ignoring real women’s trauma, but he should definitely own up to his contribution.