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What the Epstein Media Coverage Reveals About Societal Sexism and Misogyny

4 Min Read
Culture

While we continue to be shocked by the horrific abuse in the Epstein case, let's not overlook what the media coverage itself reveals about a pervasive sexism and misogyny that is deeply embedded in our society. From what is said and how it is said to what is conveniently left out, the coverage reflects and perpetuates long-held attitudes about male violence against women.

Much of the Epstein coverage refers to the victims as "underage women"; that would, of course, be girls. There is also reference to Epstein and other powerful men "having sex" with underage women; that would be rape. And the Epstein case is not singular.

There have been an astonishing number of recent cases of male violence against women—more than 30 involving celebrities since the start of the Me Too movement alone. This includes the likes of Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, Larry Nassar, Louis C. K., and Brock Turner, to name just a few. While individual circumstances may vary, they have much in common.

As with the Epstein case, the language in media coverage is striking. It sexualizes young girls. It minimizes what women and girls experience as well as the harm done. It wasn't rape, it was sex. It wasn't sexual violence, it was rough sex. It wasn't sexual harassment, it was lewd language. It wasn't sexual assault, it was locker room talk.

In looking at media content, the overwhelming pattern is one that neglects the voices of victims while giving a microphone to abusers.

Similarly, the language around "domestic violence" also serves to minimize women's experiences. It masks the true nature of the violence, as well as the dimensions of gender and power. It obscures the fact that men are predominantly the abusers (in 96-98% of the cases) and women the victims. Additionally, much of the media coverage romanticizes the stories—describing tales of love gone wrong.

It's not just the media coverage language that minimizes the harm that abused women experience, it's also the content. Independently or in giving a platform to abusers, the focus shifts from the harm women experience to that experienced by abusers (their careers, futures, and well-being), creating a narrative that turns abusers into victims and victims into perpetrators. For an example of this, one need look no further than the media coverage and public response to the stories of Louis C. K. and Matt Lauer. At the time, there was much discussion that men would no longer be able to flirt or even talk with women for fear of jeopardizing their careers.

In reality, many abusers didn't have to wait long before exploring a comeback. Epstein's initial sex crime convictions were incredibly lenient; he served only 13 months total, with 12 hours per day, 6 days per week spent at his office. Media coverage to the contrary, the reality is that many abusers experience relatively minimal harm to their lives and relationships. The reality for abused women, however, is that many suffer endless years both during and after the abuse, some with lives crushed and careers damaged or aborted.

In looking at media content, the overwhelming pattern is one that neglects the voices of victims while giving a microphone to abusers. This goes hand in hand with humanizing the perpetrators while dehumanizing the victims. So many abusers are identified not only by name but also by their accomplishments, even in media coverage after their criminal convictions. For example: Financier Jeffrey Epstein, the Stanford swimmer Brock Turner, and Hollywood movie mogul Harvey Weinstein. Women victims or accusers are rarely accorded that courtesy.

Additionally, much of the media coverage romanticizes the stories—describing tales of love gone wrong.

As media determine which stories should be told and readers determine which should be believed, greater weight seems to be accorded to men, celebrity or not. How many women had to speak out about Jeffrey Epstein before they were heard? 23, although the number of victims over the decades may exceed 100. How many had to speak out about Harvey Weinstein? More than 30. How many had to speak out against Bill Cosby? 60.

What we are seeing in the media and in society at large is a pervasive pattern that excuses men and blames women. In this pattern, women are held responsible for not getting raped or abused instead of men being held responsible for not raping or abusing.

In looking at the commonalities between the Epstein case and so many others, one thing becomes clear: this is not a coincidence. It is consistent, persistent, and pervasive. It reflects sexism and misogyny long embedded in our society, impacting not only predators, victims, and reporters, but each of us.

In light of this, what can be done to bring about change? What do women survivors need?

Women survivors need to be heard, to be given a microphone. This has already started. The presiding judge in the Nassar case allowed each of the victims, despite their number, to be heard through their victim statements in court and later online. Chanel Miller, artist and victim in the Stanford rape case, gave voice to her experiences—first online with her victim statement and later with her book, "Know My Name".

What we are seeing in the media and in society at large is a pervasive pattern that excuses men and blames women.

Women survivors need to be humanized. They need to be recognized in full—not just as accusers or victims, but as complete human beings, with all their accomplishments.

Women survivors need us to check our biases—explicit and implicit. In all circumstances.

Women survivors need understanding. They need us to understand the deeply embedded sexism and misogyny that supports and perpetuates all types of male violence against women. They need us to understand that it may take a long time for survivors to speak out and to heal.

Women survivors need support in their healing. This can come in many forms. I personally have seen that music and music therapy can be an incredible resource for women survivors. There are many instances of male violence against women in the music industry. But music can also be subversive; it can be used to challenge the patriarchal status quo and call out abuse and abusers alike. Many strong women singer/songwriters are doing just that. In listening to these songs and in writing their own original songs, women survivors can find their own path of healing. This can be done independently or in consultation with a music therapist.

Women survivors need to be humanized. They need to be recognized in full—not just as accusers or victims, but as complete human beings, with all their accomplishments.

Lady Gaga shows us the way with her song, "Til It Happens to You". She gave voice to her own experience of sexual assault, but she also gave voice to dozens of abuse survivors who joined her on stage at the 2016 Oscars performance. The performance gave voice to countless numbers of other survivors who watched. While impossible to know what it feels like "til it happens to you", Lady Gaga allows listeners to gain empathy and perhaps become better allies.

Lady Gaga is just one example, but it can't be just celebrities to lead the way. To truly root out the misogyny and internalized sexism in our media and society, each one of us needs to take a stand with survivors and change the language that tells their story.

3 min read
Lifestyle

Help! My Friend Is a No Show

Email armchairpsychologist@swaaymedia.com to get the advice you need!

Help! My Friend Is a No Show

Dear Armchair Psychologist,

I have a friend who doesn't reply to my messages about meeting for dinner, etc. Although, last week I ran into her at a local restaurant of mine, it has always been awkward to be friends with her. Should I continue our friendship or discontinue it? We've been friends for a total four years and nothing has changed. I don't feel as comfortable with her as my other close friends, and I don't think I'll ever be able to reach that comfort zone in pure friendship.

-Sadsies

Dear Sadsies,

I am sorry to hear you've been neglected by your friend. You may already have the answer to your question, since you're evaluating the non-existing bond between yourself and your friend. However, I'll gladly affirm to you that a friendship that isn't reciprocated is not a good friendship.



I have had a similar situation with a friend whom I'd grown up with but who was also consistently a very negative person, a true Debby Downer. One day, I just had enough of her criticism and vitriol. I stopped making excuses for her and dumped her. It was a great decision and I haven't looked back. With that in mind, it could be possible that something has changed in your friend's life, but it's insignificant if she isn't responding to you. It's time to dump her and spend your energy where it's appreciated. Don't dwell on this friend. History is not enough to create a lasting bond, it only means just that—you and your friend have history—so let her be history!



- The Armchair Psychologist

Need more armchair psychologist in your life? Check out the last installment or emailarmchairpsychologist@swaaymedia.com to get some advice of your own!