Note: My sincere condolences go out to Lara Logan and her family. I can’t believe the inhumanity expressed upon her person. May her attackers be brought to justice.
I’m just trying to make sense today of the horrific news that Lara Logan was sexually assaulted last Friday in Cairo while reporting on the celebrations that followed Mubarak’s resignation. Most women, I think, experience a visceral reaction of fear whenever they hear of an event like this, and it’s hard not to feel resentful that it’s by design.
I think we’re seeing this dynamic at play in the dialogue we’re having about it. I’ve spent the morning reading a a variety of reactions on both the left and the right, as well as from women and men. And while others are focused on the divide in rhetoric between the political sides, I’m interested in examining how the divide breaks down across gender lines. To that end I’ve collect roughly 6,000 words of text from women and 7,000 words of text from men across the online political spectrum and pasted them into the word cloud machine at Wordle.
Click on the links to see larger versions.
As you can see, the word rape features most prominently in the minds of women as they think about and write about Lara Logan, along with her last name and women. For men, the word rape places around the fifth or sixth tier of emphasis in what they’re thinking and writing about. All the prominent emphasis for men is on Logan, her last name. Notice how small the word women appears for the men comparative to the women. The word men also features more prominently for women than for men.
Similarly for second tier emphasis, women have a plurality of thoughts, including verbiage such as Lara, people, one, and assault. For men, the second tier, too, has Lara, and CBS. CBS also features high in female emphasis, though not quite as high as men. Egypt and Egyptian feature prominently on both the women’s and men’s word cloud graphic.
Some of this is to be expected. The news involves the sexual assault of Lara Logan, a CBS foreign correspondent in Egypt. That accounts for her name, and the terms CBS, Egypt, Egyptian, etc. What I’m drawn to is this absence of emphasis on one side, and prominent emphasis on the other around the gender terms men and women, and the descriptor rape. This suggests something about how men and women process knowledge of these acts, and how they talk about it. I’m not sure what that is, exactly, though it brings to mind a number of questions and possibilities.
Why does the gender point of view appear quite evident to women? Does instinctual fear explain the emphasis on the female side? Do men lack the language to discuss these issues openly, and is that why they can’t articulate their thoughts in gender terms? Are there other psychological dynamics in play, such as denial? How do moral dis-ease and our own issues with sexual violence influence how we discuss these events?
[Note: As votermom points out in comments, looking at these word clouds without context, one would be hard pressed to identify what the story is actually about from the male point of view. All the danger words feature prominently on the female side, however, and thus allow for some gleaming of the story at a glance.]
These are questions and thoughts I had as I contemplated the explosive reactions from around the interwebs on the Logan story today. It’s definitely a rhetorical mess out there right now, and people are trying to come to terms with it all over. Some are better than others. Most are fraught with the conventions and punctilios of our own peculiar institution of patriarchy, which is no less guilty of fetishizing and provoking gang rapes than the Egyptian patriarchy. We’ve just legalized it and posted it on the internet as porn, but that’s a whole other blog post.
What occurs to you as you examine these words clouds? Did I miss anything?