Effacing the male

Whenever I look back over the articles which I have submitted to AVFM, there is a recurring theme. It is the utterly gob smacking, gut-wrenching application of double standards.

Nothing ever stirred a roaring furnace in my heart more powerfully than my awareness of a deliberate, calculated preferential treatment of one group or individual over another, particularly when those perpetrating this outrage repeatedly insisted, they were nothing but just and consistent in their treatment of those who were under their control.

We all have memories of teachers who blatantly favored one student or one group in a class and it always caused burning resentment. It happens in families, schools, football teams and countries.

How often did I hear my football coaches make the same preseason speech, year after year?

Players will be selected on the basis of how often they train and their commitment to all of the preseason fitness camps and sessions. If you don’t put in the hard yards-no matter who you are- you won’t be selected.”

We always knew this was a lie, yet every year these words were spoken by coaches with such conviction and sincerity I would think:

” Perhaps this time….”

No. Every year, the most talented and irreplaceable players would roll up one week before the season began and invariably these same players would be named in the team one week later.

Burn and mutter about the hypocrisy and dishonesty but one simply sucked it up. It was the way of the world and would always be so.

I grew and slowly became aware of the most shocking double standard in our lifetime. The treatment of men when they are victims of any kind of violence or abuse as opposed to the treatment of women.

I have been aware of an incredibly powerful article titled, Effacing the Male by Adam Jones. I read it a number of years ago and remember being gutted by its contents. It verified and validated what had been more of a gut feeling than a provable fact. I cried when I read it. I kept a copy of it which I believe I lost a long time ago. It was Bev, one of our regular commenters and staunch supporter of men’s rights who reminded me about this article a couple of months ago.

I tracked it down and read it again.

I cannot do it justice in this article but I hope I will give you some insight into why it was so profoundly moving and disturbing. I would invite you to read the article in its entirety.

Adam Jones set out to demonstrate through the presentation of a broad sample of media coverage of the Kosovo War of 1999 that:

“unworthy” male victims tend to be marginalized or ignored entirely in mass-media coverage.”

Jones writes:

The concept of “worthy” versus “unworthy” victims seems a fertile one in analyzing the treatment of the victims of the gendercidal atrocities in Kosovo, and male victims of violence more generally.(5) In this section, I sketch some of the predictable, even ritualized, means by which “unworthy” male victims were excluded from the analysis, and “worthy” ones – notably children and women — privileged.(6)

“The effacing of male victims in mass media is generally accomplished by three interrelated strategies. The first might be called incidentalizing. Modern news, as noted, is a hierarchical creature. It generally “leads” with the dominant theme of the article, which the headline is also meant to convey. Many newspapers, printing or reprinting an article or wire-service report, will include only (a version of) the headline and the first several paragraphs of the story. Thus, to relegate an important theme to passing mention in the middle reaches of the article, or to introduce it only at the end, is effectively to render it incidental and inconspicuous, if not outright invisible.”

This sounds very familiar. I recall writing about the atrocities committed by the terrorist group Boko Haram in Nigeria and the absence of any reference to the gender of the boys and men massacred by these fanatics. Sometimes you might discover they were males ten paragraphs into the piece. Any harm inflicted upon females was reported with the gender of the victims as the very heart of the story. The fact that they were females was usually revealed in the headlines and then repeated continually throughout the article.

Adam Jones provides an example of this type of journalism.

The Death March of the Kosovo Refugees
MORINA, Albania, April 18 (AFP) — Among the thousands of refugees fleeing Kosovo, none suffer worse than those forced to travel for days and nights on end on foot. While many cross the border into Albania and Macedonia in cars or open trailers drawn by tractors, the rest have had to walk, harried by Serbian troops on what for some became a death march. Staggering up to the red barrier marking the frontier, carrying children and baggage, and supporting the elderly, they sob as they gulp down food offered by humanitarian organisations. Their accounts, consistent, precise and detailed, describe a Kosovo that has been turned into a hell, criss-crossed day and night by columns of refugees expelled from the Serbian province in ferocious “ethnic cleansing.” “We walked almost without stopping for four days and four nights,” groaned Hysnije Abazi, 22, from Kladernica in central Kosovo. “We were escorted all the time by Serbs in vehicles or on foot. We were not allowed to drink, stop, rest or shelter from the rain. Before we set off they set fire to our cars and tractors and ordered us to march in columns.” They also took away all the males aged 15 or over [!]. Crinkle-haired Afertita Kajtazi, 23, her eyes ringed with fatigue, said their [i.e., the refugees’] treatment was deliberately harsh. … (emphasis added)

Here the “genocidal cull of ethnic-Albanian males”(7) takes place in the blink of an eye, amidst a torrent of frankly lachrymose descriptions of the convoys of helpless “worthies.”

Jones presents an example of a second method used to make the male gender a non- issue in the report or so camouflaged as to make it inconsequential.

A second strategy is displacement. Here, the male is defined by some trait or label other than gender — even when gender obviously, or apparently, is decisive in shaping the experience or predicament being described. During the Kosovo war, typical displacement terminology included designations such as “Kosovars,” “ethnic Albanians,” “bodies,” “victims,” and “people.” In this context, consider Daniel Williams’ report in The Washington Post on the mass murder at Istok prison, a facility bombed by NATO planes in late May 1999. After the last of three bombing raids, the Serbs paraded 19 male corpses before western media, declaring that they were the bodies of prisoners killed by NATO. It now appears likely that many of these men, along with up to 100 others, were massacred by the Serbs in one of the war’s larger acts of gendercide. Here is how Williams reported the Serbs’ propaganda show:

Bodies of dead prisoners were shown to reporters lying around the prison courtyard Saturday [22 May], and on Monday [24 May] another group of corpses inside a foyer entrance to a cellblock. … Despite the presence of 1,000 mostly ethnic Albanian prisoners, [NATO] bombed it twice Saturday and once early Sunday. No one seemed to take into account the possible extra danger to the prisoners … 19 bodies of prisoners lay in and around the courtyard, and on Monday those bodies lay in the same spots … An inspecting magistrate said the bodies were left outside because he had not had time to carry out his work, what with all the bombing. … Then there was the new group of dead on display Monday … Twenty-five bodies in the foyer, some lined up on top of one another domino-style, many with streaks of blood on their bodies … These corpses were not dusty. … No one seemed to know why the 19 Saturday bodies were left outside, but … (Williams, 1999, emphasis added.)

There was precisely one reference to “men” in the story: to the “masked [Serb] men with rifles” hovering around the facility. Males as agents of violence were visible, and gendered; as victims, they were effaced from the discourse.

Adam’s presents a third method of effacement.

The third marginalization strategy is simply exclusion. The trope most commonly adopted here can be summarized in the little-examined phrase, “including women” — or, equally commonly, “including women and children.” The trend has been persistently evident in media coverage of the Bosnian war, as a report as recent as October 1999 makes plain (duly emphasized throughout):

Bosnian forensic teams have exhumed 251 bodies, mainly of Muslim civilians, in the Serb-run half of Bosnia in the last two weeks … The bodies, victims of the 1992-95 Bosnian war, were exhumed from more than 14 mass graves each containing up to 15 corpses, as well as individual graves … The majority, including 12 women and five children, were executed by Bosnian Serb forces who had captured these regions at the beginning of the war … Some 3,000 people, mainly Muslims, were still missing in northwestern Bosnia. (Agence France-Presse, 1999a.)

Ninety-three percent adult male casualties. But this fact passes unmentioned in the rush to draw attention to the “worthy” victims. Literally dozens of examples of this strategy could be cited from the wartime and postwar coverage of Kosovo:

In Velika Krusa, Dutch soldiers yesterday reported finding charred remains of around 20 ethnic Albanians, including women and children, and said they expect to find more nearby. (Dan, 1999.)

Splashes of blood are still visible on the lower portion of a door at a pizzeria in Suva Reka, where up to 50 people, including women and children, are believed to have been slaughtered. (Lynch, 1999.)

Since starting work on 18 June, the UK forensic team has exhumed over 260 bodies of Kosovar civilians from mass graves, including women and the remains of 21 children … (British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook). (Kirkland, 1999.)

Let it be stated plainly: “Including women” excludes men.

 The trope is particularly misleading when the phenomena described — such as the massacre at Velika Krusa and the campaign of mass killing in Kosovo as a whole — are so disproportionately and methodically slanted against males. In virtually all cases, the phrase “including women and children” can be translated as “including a majority of adult men and a minority of women and children.” But men remain the “absent subjects,” entering the narrative only indirectly and by inference, if at all.(8)

Jones examines the media’s fascination with the use of rape in this conflict. He asks the very important question: Is rape worse than death?

Another phenomenon in public discussion of the Kosovo war and the Balkans more generally has been the privileging of rape or mass rape of women over the slaughter or mass slaughter of (non-combatant) males.

The implicit prioritizing of sexually-assaulted women, often on ambiguous or scanty evidence, reflected both age-old biases and more recent feminist activism on the issue of mass rapes in Bosnia and elsewhere. While feminist research in this area is to be commended and learned from, it has also contributed to a one-sided depiction of the atrocities of war that tends to consign the male victim to oblivion. Consider the evaluation of the Bosnian war by Bogdan Denitch, otherwise one of the most clear-eyed appraisers of Yugoslavia’s collapse:

It is there [Bosnia] that by far the worst atrocities have taken place. Not only have there been vast and well-documented massacres of mostly Muslim civilians by Serbian militias, but concentration camps and massive forcible population transfers, known as “ethnic cleansing,” have also been used to change the demographic realities of Bosnia.

The worst of the horrors has been the systematic use of organized, repeated mass rape by Serbian militias of non-Serbian, mostly Muslim women as a part of “ethnic cleansing.” To be sure, there have been cases of rape by all sides, and the UN has documented that Croats and Muslims have committed massacres and run concentration camps. What was unprecedented was the organization of mass rape as a matter of policy in a manner that could not have been unknown to the highest military and political authorities of the so-called Serbian Republic of Bosnia. One obvious victim is the prospect of a tolerable and decent life together after the war. (Denitch, 1994: 124; emphasis added.)

The gendering of the massacre victims and concentration-camp inmates was fairly well established by this point (1994), but Denitch reserves the very “worst” designation for the mass rapes of women, rather than the “vast and well-documented massacres of mostly Muslim civilians,” overwhelmingly males.(14)

For an especially interesting example of the trend, we can turn to an article by Tommaso di Francesco and Giacomo Scotti, published in Le Monde diplomatique at the midpoint of the Kosovo war. The authors wrote that in the “process of vicious mutual ethnic cleansing” in Bosnia-Herzegovina,

physical and psychological terror stemmed largely from the barbaric treatment inflicted in the prison camps created by both Croats and Serbs — particularly, in the case of the Serbs, the notorious Omarska camp with its raping of women. (di Francesco and Scotti, 1999.)

This depiction of the horrors of Omarska — one of the three concentration camps closed after international protests in late 1992 — is a mind-bogglingly casual inversion of the gendered reality. Helsinki Watch gave the population of Omarska as 2,000 men and 33 to 38 women. In an article for International Affairs on “The Crime of Appeasement in Bosnia,” Ed Vulliamy, who witnessed the release of Omarska’s survivors, wrote:

Omarska had been a place where a prisoner was forced to bite the testicles off a fellow inmate who, as he died of pain, had a live pigeon stuffed into his mouth to stifle his screams. The guards responsible for this barbarism were described by one witness as “like a crowd at a sporting match.” Another man was forced to bark like a dog and lick at motor oil on the ground while a guard jumped up and down on his back until it snapped. Prisoners, who survived by drinking their own and each other’s urine, were constantly being called out of their cramped quarters, by name. Some would return caked in blood, bruised black-and-blue or slashed with knives; others would never be seen alive again. Special squads of inmates were ordered to load their corpses on to trucks. (Vulliamy, 1998: 74-75.)(16)

There is no evidence that any of the women at Omarska were killed.(17) The rape of the small number of women at the camp was certainly generalized and atrocious. But by what standard is Omarska “particularly … notorious” for the rape of its women detainees, when thousands of civilian males were viciously tortured, hundreds killed — and almost certainly a great many more raped and sexually abused than women, given the unbridled sexual sadism that pervaded the camp?

None of this is news to those who are regular visitors to AVFM or anyone with a modicum of intelligence who has been reading our own media coverage of victims of violence during the past forty years.  Adam Jones was hopeful that his powerful article would draw attention to this horrific practice of deliberately effacing men from the narrative whenever they are victims of violence or abuse of any kind.

Sadly, absolutely nothing has changed.

Let Adam Jones have the final say:

The conclusions that can and should be drawn from this body of evidence and argument depend very much on whether one views males as “natural” targets of victimization, and therefore irrelevant and unnewsworthy; or whether, on the other hand, one sees them as equally deserving of attention and protection in the face of violent assaults, up to and including genocidal mass killing.

My own preferences are no doubt apparent. In my opinion, no meaningful claim to humanity, fairness, or analytical accuracy can be advanced by those who, consciously or unconsciously, would consign half the human race to second-class status in the humanitarian and policy equation.

This article has argued that an alternative framework is possible, and needs to be adopted rapidly to ensure that all victims of violence receive the empathy, attention, and assistance they require.


*****All of the bolded type is my emphasis.

I would recommend a visit to this site.  This book is a collection of essays on gender and violence by Adam Jones.

See also: Recognizing Gender-Based Violence Against Civilian Men and Boys in Conflict Situations

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