[Trigger warning for violence and sexual assault.] You may have read/heard by now that CBS chief foreign correspondent Lara Logan was attacked in Cairo last week. More specifically, she was separated from her crew while filming the celebration in Tahrir Square, then endured “a brutal and sustained sexual assault and beating” before a group of Egyptian women and soldiers rescued her.
It is not up for debate that what happened to Logan is horrific. There is no question that she did not deserve or tempt such a degrading, malicious crime, or that her experience is indicative of mistreatment of women on a pandemic scale. The poisonous mindset that spurred on Logan’s attackers exists not just in Cairo, and certainly not just in the Middle East – it lurks on street corners in San Francisco, in alleyways in Seoul and along boardwalks in Cape Town.
While even the most strictly anti-women factions are tripping all over their docksiders to wish Logan a speedy recovery, those unctuous opportunists are really interested in one thing: teasing out fabricated narratives that support their particular worldview, namely, the righteousness of a world in which women and non-white, non-Christian people are categorically monitored and ensured second-class citizen status.
Writing about what happened to Lara Logan is hard because I believe that her story should not be wantonly extrapolated, nor manipulated. To treat her assault as a neatly packaged “teaching moment” while ignoring greater context is to a) shut one’s eyes to global rape culture, b) show disrespect to Logan’s privacy, and c) exploit her very personal pain. So it’s a thin line I’m trying to walk here, but I’d like to share three reactions I’ve had to news coverage of Logan’s assault.
1) Islamophobes Need to Realize Not Everything Is About Them
It’s tedious and ulcer-inducing to rake Sean Hannity and Michelle Malkin’s garbage-spewing coverage for non sequiturs, poor journalism, and general buggery, but friends: we have to do it. These cardboard people (literally, I don’t think there’s anything inside them – no soul, no heart, no liver, nothing but sawdust and poached pulp from the trees in Fern Gully) exact such sway over millions of Americans that we’d be foolish to think dinner tables aren’t abuzz with play-by-play analyses of their brain-melting programs right now.
So here’s part of a transcript of Malkin’s guest appearance on Hannity’s Fox News program:
MALKIN: I think if CBS News and the rest of the mainstream media want to do right by [Logan] and right by all the other journalists who were attacked last week and over the course of the last two weeks, what they will do is finally find some spine and refuse to whitewash the truth about who these assailants were, what they were motivated by.
It is always interesting, of course, Sean, when many of the same people who are always talking about root causes of this, root cause of that. If it scores political points against conservatives, have nothing to say about the root causes of anti-Americanism in particular, in these festering places in the Middle East.
HANNITY: What do you make of the comment, “Jew, Jew”? I mean, going over the polls, in Egypt there’s a very strong anti-Semitic component there, anti-American component. Many support the Sharia law and that Islam should be part of the government. Except for the New York Post, I didn’t see that reported anywhere.
MALKIN: Exactly. That’s what I mean by the whitewashing of radical Islam and the way things are done, and the way people are treated there…
First, CBS’s news release does not mention anyone crying “Jew.” As a matter of fact, that tidbit (which has spread like the most insidious kind of gossipy virus across the blogosphere) originated in a New York Post article, courtesy of a “network source.” Until Logan confirms or denies that hate speech was involved in her assault (if she ever does), I’ll play Skeptical Sally.
Second, it’s rather bold to equate the actions of a hepped-up, riotous, days-old mob to the work-a-day practices of Muslims in Egypt. And it bears repeating that the sick workings of one extremist group (Westboro Baptist, anyone?) do not accurately reflect the moderate majority.
Lastly, and for fuck’s sake, everything is not about America. Malkin/Hannity act like anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism are one and the same, which is just beyond reductionist and simplistic. Also, gee, I can’t imagine why Egyptians might be hostile towards countries which supported dictator Hosni Mubarak before and during the current rebellion (here’s lookin’ at you, Israel).
2) Women Can Do Anything Men Can Do, Full-Stop
This age-old debate is like the cold sore that keeps on giving. You know, the one that just pops up and sits on your lip forever and ever and makes every aspect of life difficult and awkward.
While I haven’t come across any op-eds (from reputable news sources anyway) calling for editors to bar women journalists from dangerous reporting gigs, the sentiment is all over the comments section of every article about Logan. Imagine any misguided, sick judgment about her looks or her ability to defend herself or the “natural disadvantages” of female anatomy, and it’s probably already been voiced a thousand times over.
In welcome contrast, ProPublica’s Kim Barker has a beautifully written piece co-posted in The Huffington Post and the New York Times about the “code of silence” women journalists have adapted to ensure that sexual harassment on the job doesn’t interfere with their ability to work. Essentially, they don’t report incidents to bosses or male colleagues, because they don’t want to mess with yet another perceived handicap. Like so many other occupations, journalism is the type of job where a male getting assaulted or even killed is a “senseless tragedy,” but if the same thing befalls a woman, it’s labeled “preventable.” Barker applauds Logan’s decision to make her name public, as it hopefully sounds at least a partial death knell for the code of silence.
Whether it’s women in combat or in comedy, the time has come to relinquish faux-concern and unbalanced comparisons and pure prejudice cloaked as personal preference. Women are just as capable, motivated and talented as men. The way to beat back rape culture is by facing it head-on and eroding it bit by bit, not by bundling women away from it.
3. The World Needs Strong Women
There is no substitute for the work that women do, whether they be journalists or stay-at-home mothers or construction workers or [fill in the blank]. Barker makes a hugely relevant point in her HuffPo/NYT piece – women journalists tell the stories, particularly human interest pieces about women and children, that men can’t or won’t or don’t know how to write.
I don’t believe women are preternaturally better at certain jobs than men, but, to continue with the journalism example, we’ve been trained to observe and value different things. We still live in such a gender-segregated world that, without women story-tellers, we would never hear a good deal of relevant news.
Even outside of professional roles, women often stand up for women when men won’t do so. When Logan was assaulted, soldiers (no word on how many were male or female) came to her defense, and in doing so fulfilled a professional obligation. However, the only civilians who were cited as helping Logan were women. Somehow, that important detail keeps getting glossed over in all the ballyhoo about Muslim extremism.
In summary, it’s difficult to proscribe specific implications to Lara Logan’s assault, mainly because tragedies in and of themselves don’t always warrant wider implications.
But it’s easier to delineate what should not be drawn from this tragedy. Namely, this should not serve as a catalyst for removing women from dangerous jobs (what a slippery slope that would be!), this assault should not be hastily assigned monikers like “anti-American” or “born of extreme Islam,” and what happened to Lara Logan should definitely not be interpreted as a sign that women are weak or insensitive to the needs of fellow women.