How We’re Talking About Lara Logan, by Gender

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.

Wordle: Women on Logan

Women on Logan, 6,000 words

Click on the links to see larger versions.

Wordle: Men on Logan

Men on Logan, 7,000 words

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?


12 comments on “How We’re Talking About Lara Logan, by Gender

  1. votermom says:

    If you look at the men’s word cloud, you’d think they were talking about Logan-CBS-Egypt-Lara-People-Women. So guessing without context, I’d have guessed it was about Lara Logan on CBS reporting about Egypt and it’s People & Women. Could be about a feel-good story for all I know.

    If you look at the women’s word cloud, you see Rape-Logan-Women-Lara-Assault-CBS. You definitely know they are talking about Rape, Lara Logan, and Women.

    I think you’re on to something.

    • Lola-at-Large says:

      Hey, I hadn’t even examined it from afar, I got so caught up in the details. That’s an excellent point. Very interesting. Thanks!

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by annabellep, Lola-at-Large. Lola-at-Large said: How We're Talking About Lara Logan, by Gender […]

  3. anna says:

    excellent observations. I wonder why it is so difficult for so many men to voice sympathy for the victim of such horrendous crime. I think these men rather feel connected to other men no matter what and deny what is going on. not as large print, but saw in the men’s clowd the words “accuser” and “story”. we all know that there is no “story” but facts witnessed by so many. the word “accuser” is interesting in the context a recent proposal by a male Republican state representative to change the word “victim” in rape cases to “accuser”. to me this all point to big big denial. big dissociation with womenhood in all its perils.

    • Lola-at-Large says:

      I wish I knew, anna. I suspect that men’s experience of our culture is so vastly different than women’s that they justdon’t “get” it. And they are aware that rape generally happens to the less powerful among us. Women, children, handicapped, etc. An average grown guy doesn’t really have to worry unless he goes to prison, but he is aware that it is men like him that are perpetrating the vast majority of these crimes. That’s a tough spot to be in. Not nearly as tough as being raped or sexually assaulted, but tough nonetheless. I imagine a lot of men just feel powerless to stop other men.

  4. Melissa says:

    But some of the reports on this thing are specifically saying it wasn’t a rape. Who knows if that is true or if they’re just trying to protect what little privacy she has left. Either way, I find some of the reactions to this situation disturbing.

    • Lola-at-Large says:

      Absolutely, I agree Melissa. Some of the reaction is disturbing, which is why I turned to analyzing the verbal data. It’s so easy to get offended at one out-of-left-field reaction. I was picking up on something that felt like insensitivity coming from men, but I couldn’t put my finger on it until I stripped the words to data points. Most of these guys are genuinely trying to be sensitive, but they are just failing all over the place.

  5. sandress says:

    What I find interesting is that women are clearly talking about this in the context of gender, and men are talking about this in the context of culture wars. How many Islam/Muslim/Egypt references do the men have vs. the women?

    • sandress says:

      Identity politics my ASS.

      • Lola-at-Large says:

        But yeah, women get this in a way that men don’t. It’s surprising to me that just a tweak in the frame fleshed it out.

    • Lola-at-Large says:

      Some of that is a reflection of the political rhetorical divide. Of the online stories I was using, the balance did tilt toward the left for women and toward the center-right for men. I tried to get as much political balance as I could, but I was basically pulling inks of Memeorandum. This is garage band verbal analysis–cheap & on the fly. Though Muslim does show up on the male chart, it’s a pretty small word, fourth or fifth tier. I can’t seem to find it on the female chart.

  6. Nijma says:

    Maybe the men don’t know what to say about that aspect. I know when I’m commenting about a sensitive subject, like maybe race, I tend to say less when I’m not a member of the group in question, maybe out of not knowing the present location of the shifting boundaries of political correctness.

    Or maybe the men have more prime time type of slots where they have to downplay the sexualized violence aspect because of the presumed presence of children, leaving the edgier commenting to women who are marginalized from MSM.

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