The empathy gap is shockingly real

When will it end?

There are times when I think perhaps I have overstated the level of misandry in our mainstream media. Then I open the morning paper or watch a program like The Project and my doubts are fiercely shredded and my resolve to keep speaking out with words or my pen is strengthened.

We have all witnessed the coverage of the kidnapping of 200 Nigerian schoolgirls by the terrorist jihadists Boko Haram. This coverage is appropriate and warranted. No one could suggest otherwise. It is the gobsmacking, gut-wrenching, breathtaking double standards that so appall and anger me.

The following is a quote from one of the only articles I have been able to locate on an incident that occurred in February of this year.

Islamic militants set fire to a locked dormitory at a school in northern Nigeria, then shot and slit the throats of students who tried to escape through windows. At least 58 students were killed, including many who were burned alive. They slaughtered them like sheep with machetes and gunned down those who ran away, said one teacher, Adamu Garba.

The headline of the article from which I have quoted the above extract is: “Dozens killed in attack on Nigerian school.”

It is at the end of the fifth paragraph that we discover that:

all of the dead were teenage boys or young men

All of the schoolgirls were told to go home and were unharmed.

This was clearly a gender-based massacre. The fact that many schoolgirls were present but were deliberately left untouched by these killers while the boys were butchered underlines this fact in a most compelling manner.

You will note that there was no reference to gender in the headline or opening paragraph. It spoke of “students.”

There were no demands for intervention by the United States. There were no statements from the United Nations calling this atrocity a crime against humanity. There were no statements from Nigeria’s president or his wife. There were no “selfies” by self-important, arrogant celebrities and politicians holding up placards saying, “Stop butchering our boys!” or “Boys are human too!’ There was no publicity shot of Michelle Obama holding her own message. There was no segment on The Project or editorials from David Penberthy, Natasha Stott Despoja, or Julia Gillard.

But when the girls were kidnapped, the outpouring of grief and compassion was stunning and powerful. Action is now being taken. Tears have been shed by Nigeria’s first lady. Promises have been made by politicians. Celebrities have demonstrated their outrage and compassion with the push-button aplomb that is so prevalent in this age of posturing and moral grandstanding.

But what really burned me was the fact that the three aforementioned people—Penberthy, Stott Despoja, and Gillard—all spoke or wrote about this recent incident and used it to promote the sick, bigoted notion that this is yet another example of the danger and oppression girls and women face the world over. Not one of them even mentioned the massacre of the schoolboys who died horrifically for the same reason the girls were kidnapped: they were receiving a Western education.

Here is a sample of Stott Despoja’s work:

The horrific mass kidnapping of girls in Nigeria has drawn attention to the dangers with which women and girls around the world live on a daily basis….

Boko Haram means “Western education is sinful”, and is modelled on the Taliban movement in Afghanistan. It has little time for the education of women and girls, nor their other rights.

Nigeria may be the current focus for such horrific actions, but for some parts of the world, these are the dangers with which women and girls live on a daily basis….

These are just some of the acts of cruelty and injustice that girls face.

The United Nations has indicated that the threat to sell the Nigerian girls may constitute a crime against humanity….

[Hollywood actor and human rights activist Angelina] Jolie has condemned the Nigerian kidnappings as “unthinkable cruelty and evil”….

I have been to Nigeria twice, including in 2011 to observe the presidential elections. It can be beautiful place and I’ve met some extraordinary people. However, like many countries, it can be dangerous for women…. [Emphasis mine]

As Angelina Jolie has demonstrated, the combination of political will and international attention can change the position of women and girls around the world.

Enough! Who would not agree with every word but for the fact that we know even greater horrors were perpetrated upon young boys by the same terrorists for the same reason? Yet, there is not one reference to the plight of those boys.

If a mother lost her son and daughter in a terrible accident and only spoke of her grief at losing her daughter, our community would be quite horrified. Yet time and again this is what we do when discussing the issues of domestic violence, slavery, the sex trade, rape, or oppression in various parts of this world.

My genuine and unanswered question is, Why?

How can someone in a position of such authority as a former prime minister or newly appointed ambassador for women and girls be unaware of the facts with regard to Boko Haram and the misery they have inflicted upon people of both genders? How can any truly compassionate person not feel outrage over any cruelty perpetrated upon children, male or female?

Perhaps Stott Despoja’s new role as ambassador for women and girls has a clause expressing explicitly that no compassion or concern is to be extended to male suffering. If true, she is doing a remarkably good job.


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