Some thoughts on sexism, xenophobia and the media

Tomorrow is International Women’s Day. And I’ve been thinking about the sexism that is still pervasive all around us. One of the most visible examples I’ve seen in recent news headlines is the way the media are covering the so called “jihadi brides” story. Which is both sexist and xenophobic. If you’re not familiar, here’s one particularly egregious example from the British press. “Desperate women” who are “besotted” with love for handsome jihadi fighters are flooding the internet with marriage proposals in their desire to marry a potential martyr. It’s nauseating.

When a young man goes off to fight for an ideological cause, we say he’s been “radicalized.” Which apparently equates to some form of brainwashing. But when a young woman goes off to fight for an ideological cause it’s clearly because she’s “desperate” for love and “besotted.” Which is code speak for saying it must be due to her raging girl-hormones. Naturally she couldn’t possibly have the same ideology as the young men, the same desire to fight for a cause (however misguided) that she believes in. No, if a teenage young lady is going off to join ISIS it must be that she wants to become a martyr by association, to give birth to little martyr babies and became a good jihadi housewife. To make sure her hubby has a sensible lunch and a nice clean pair of underwear when he goes off to battle the infidels.

According to census data, Islam is the 2nd largest religion in the United Kingdom, with a constituency of something more than 2.8 million people. But because a handful of impressionable young ladies have gone off to join the ISIS fight, the media are reacting as if the entire British Muslim populace is now following suit. According to the brain trust at Fox News there are parts of England and France that are “no-go zones” for non-Muslims. In fact, they aired the claim that the ENTIRE city of Birmingham is Muslim, where non-Muslims simply don’t enter. That’s not an exaggeration. The idiot really said that. Birmingham is England’s second largest city, with over a million residents. It’s home to the UK’s largest Sikh and Buddhist populations, and the 7th largest Jewish population in England, not to mention the nearly 50% of Birmingham residents who identify themselves as Christian.

There’s a very good reason why studies have shown that watching Fox News actually makes you stupid.  But it’s not just Fox. CNN is equally egregious, as are MSNBC and BBC and Sky News and dozens of other outlets. They all feed on the same stereotypes and misinformation like sharks driven to a frenzy by fresh blood. That’s why it’s important to not rely on only one source, and to treat everything with a healthy dose of skepticism until you see it confirmed elsewhere.

I don’t expect to see much media coverage of International Women’s Day, but remember that the female reporters who do cover the story are very likely only earning about 78% of what their male colleagues are. Which goes a long way toward explaining why this day will largely be ignored by the media.

Happy Women’s Day!

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