In the past month, two important stories about domestic violence and homicide or attempted homicide have made national headlines. One occurred in Kansas City, the other in Afghanistan. While they were both, at a basic level, about women being violently attacked by loved ones or family members, they were contextualized in a vastly different way by U.S. media, specifically in The New York Times.
In the Times story about an attempted “honor killing” in Afghanistan, a gruesome picture is painted for the reader of the difficult life an Afghan woman led. The article depicts how a young girl, Gul Meena, was attacked by someone who was most likely her brother, after attempting to run away from her husband with her lover. The author goes into great detail describing the morbid scene, even describing how the axe that struck her 15 times had gone so deep that doctors worked for 6 hours, “gently reinserting her brain.” The article also describes the negligent treatment of many patients like Gul Meena in the hospital she was taken to. While it is important to focus on the survivor in a compelling story like this, the author wrongfully slides into a story about how pitiful the victim is.
Honor killings are a very real and very terrible problem, but the reporter goes into unnecessary detail at times in order to gain sympathy from the American audience. She describes, for instance, Gul Meena laying in her own urine with no family or friends coming to visit her. It is important to acknowledge that problems exist beyond the oppression of women; the hospital where Gul Meena stayed was facing economic problems that were affecting the sanitation of its facilities and patients. Also, instead of working within Afghanistan to help Gul Meena, a U.S. agency came in and relocated her.
In the Times story about the murder and suicide committed by Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher, a much different picture is painted. Instead of focusing on the victim, girlfriend Kasandra Perkins, the story focuses on the killer. The reporter did not describe any brutality, nor the atrocity of Perkins’ death in context of our country’s extremely high domestic violence rates, but commented on how sad and mystifying it was that Belcher acted in this way, since he was thought to be a good person.
The article describes Belcher as a compassionate and loving family man. “What a pleasant kid [he was],” one friend explained in the Times article. “You would have to look long and hard to find somebody that didn’t speak glowingly about him.”
The article goes on to describe his athletic achievements and what a tragedy this is.
Yet, it seems that the tragedy is really just referring to the suicide of Belcher since his girlfriend is only mentioned once. The reader is told nothing about her life, unlike the Gul Meena article. There is no shocking photo to reveal her injustice. She gets one line with her name in it, while Belcher gets paragraphs, complete with photos. He is the one remembered and grieved, not her. The article also barely mentions this couple’s 3-month-old baby, as Belcher not only killed his partner but also orphaned his child.
The differences between these two articles is glaring. The New York Times is discussing the horrific atrocity that occurred in Afghanistan in a more rounded manner than the violence in America. Our newspapers are covered in shocking photos of the poor, helpless female victims from other countries who are murdered for choosing love. It seems that we speak of those abroad perpetrators as killers, as heartless people, and the victims will be the only focus and will be described as just that — victims.
The article about Gul Meena screams at us to look at the awful actions in Afghanistan. Then, when we read about our own horror stories, we see a focus on the killer not as a killer, but as a man — a good man. And we ponder what could have possibly gone wrong and pushed him over the edge. It is his face we see commemorated from our pages, not hers and not the baby’s whom he left behind. Her name is typed into print like an offhand side comment. We do not call Belcher the bad guy or think critically about the violent environment our own culture creates.
There were two women violently harmed here, one murdered. But by reading these two articles, it seems that there was one victimized girl in Afghanistan who was brutally, viciously attacked and one sad, messed up kid who killed himself, to the horror of many.
There is a problem when we are unwilling to think critically about problems that our own country has while we are so quick to discuss violence in other places.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writers Mira Winograd at Mira.email@example.com and Becky Powell at Becky.firstname.lastname@example.org.