When the media says a woman is no more than a whore

A man moves in with his girlfriend. A few months later, in an argument over the rent, he strangles her to death.

Media coverage:

Nuttidar Vaikaew was killed by her partner, as many women are in our country. She wasn’t killed because she was a prostitute, she was killed because the man she lived with was angry and in his mind extreme physical violence was an acceptable way of reacting to his anger.

If she had been a cleaner, or a lawyer, or a consultant her profession wouldn’t be front and centre in the headlines because it would be her job, not her whole identity. It’s there because of a subtext about women who do sex work: they get themselves killed; they are not girlfriends, wives or mothers; they are no more than whores.

Author: Anita

A Wellington feminist wondering how to make politics something real people can do.

16 thoughts on “When the media says a woman is no more than a whore”

  1. Hmm, I’m not sure I necessarily agree with you factually, I vaguely remember seeing a few articles about “Lawyer stabbed to death” or “mother strangled” – professions are just an easy shortcut to identify someone’s identity in a capitalist world where what people do for a living partly defines them

  2. I think if a headline said “Lawyer stabbed to death” it would be because the murder was somehow related to the lawyer’s profession, even if only that they were killed during their working day by someone who knew them in no other way.

    If someone killed their wife who was also a lawyer I don’t believe the headlines would call them a “lawyer killer”.

    He didn’t kill “a prostitute”, he killed his girlfriend – to mislabel her misrepresents what he did, and takes away from all that she was. The media are picking a stereotype, even tho it is not the relevant one for the situation.

  3. Yep, he was killed at 4pm on a weekday by someone who didn’t know him.

    I agree that there is an issue about the blurring of profession and identity, but it doesn’t take away from my point about this very different situation. A more useful comparison is the coverage of the attack on Mata Glassie where headlines describe her as a victim and a mum – both of which are relevant to what happened.

  4. The media do it for other things too. Like that young NZ woman killed in England recently who happened to have done some modelling at some point. Every report referred to her as ‘model killed’ etc. The Irena Asher coverage was similar. Events which had nothing to do with what they may have done for a living at some point.

    Im not disagreeing with what you’re saying. Its average journalism. Drives me nuts.

  5. Francisco and Phil – in the examples that come to mind immediately for me, when professions like “lawyer” have been used to describe someone it’s generally to give as much information as possible at a point when writers are not yet allowed to name the victim. I suspect that the limitation of prostitutes’ descriptions to their profession continues for some time after this point as people reflect on the case, and is a result of entrenched ideas about women rather than rules about naming victims (like references to other professions may be).

  6. Nicola – good point. I wonder if the examples i’ve used are the result of similarly entrenched ideas about women?

  7. Phil,

    I totally agree, the constant description of Iraena Asher and Emily Longley as “model”s always struck me as quite gendered and carrying a similar subtext of value judgment and stereotyping of that type of woman. The media never ran the headlines calling one a trainee teacher and the other a shop assistant.

  8. There’s been a fair bit of coverage of “journalist killed” recently, and google searches for the first jobs I could think of (fireman, doctor, nurse, cleaner, teacher, technician, shop assistant … killed) all had news stories of the deaths of such people unrelated to their employment.

  9. Graeme,

    The recent story was about a journalist killed within minutes of finishing his shift walking home from work, killed by someone who (as far as we know) knew him in no other context.

    That is quite different from describing the victim of domestic violence by their profession.

  10. Reading these comments, and seeing that wonderful graphic ad. that ended the item, confirmed for me that there’s two problems going on here. First, there’s the journalistic shorthand (or, more particularly, sub-editorial shorthand) that sees someone’s profession used in leads to summarise who someone is.

    The other, of course, the social value carried by the jobs – lawyer, teacher, journalist, prostitute.

    I doubt any change to the journalistic behaviour would be coming any time soon, but change to the view of sex workers really must occur. And now. It’s an old story, but it’s still so sadly, horribly true – some professions, especially gendered professions, have a stigma of “well, she deserved it (it being abuse, low wages, murder, whatever) because of the job she was in.

    I’d love to see something like that Stepping Stones Nova Scotia campaign here in New Zealand.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *