I know that the story is about women, but I don't see why this commentary would not be of interest to Tribune readers that happen to have male genitals.
African-Americans make up about 68 percent of the population of New Orleans, and it appears from the media coverage that they represent a considerably higher proportion than that of the survivors who were trapped inside the city, perhaps as high as 80 percent.
And yet there is another equally important and starkly apparent social dimension to the hurricane disaster that media coverage has put in front of our eyes but that has yet to be "noticed": This disaster fell hard on one side of the gender line too. Most of the survivors are women. Women with children, women on their own, elderly women in wheelchairs, women everywhere--by a proportion of what looks to be again somewhere around 75 or 80 percent.
Women make up 54 percent of the population of New Orleans, so the gender gap is even more dramatic than the race gap. The two gaps need not compete for our attention; they are linked. The majority of victims trapped in New Orleans appeared to be African-American women with their children, and no doubt the ranks of the dead also will be.
The gender gap is no surprise, or shouldn't be. Disaster is seldom gender neutral. In the 1995 Kobe, Japan, earthquake, 1.5 times more women died than men; in the 2004 Southeast Asia tsunami, death rates for women across the region averaged three to four times that of men.
The gender, class and race dimension of each disaster needs particular explanation. Feminists working in relief agencies and the UN, for example, identified several factors that explain the gender skew in the 2004 tsunami deaths.In some instances, sex differences in physical strength clearly made a difference in the ability of survivors to climb, cling or run to safety. Prevailing ideologies of femininity played a role in this: strength differences reflect the extent to which women are encouraged or allowed to develop physical strength. ***
The "not noticing" of the gendered dimensions of this disaster by the American media and by the experts who interpreted the disaster to the public through the media is alarming and warrants attention.
Feminist theorists have long pointed to the public invisibility of women, especially women of racial minorities, and the New Orleans case study provides a dramatic example of the "unremarkability" of racialized minority women in the gaze of a predominantly male and white media. In the real world of an unfolding disaster, this comes at a price.The lack of curiosity about the rapes in the midst of the New Orleans disaster is just one aspect of this willful ignorance that is particularly disturbing.
Rapes have been mentioned in several news stories, but always in passing and with no follow-through: no interviews with police officials about the magnitude of rape, no curiosity about the nature of masculinity that contemplates rape even in conditions of extreme human suffering, no disaster experts assuring us that rape-support teams are included in the rescue teams, no discussion about the medical and psychological resources that women who have survived unimaginable tragedy and stress and have also been raped will need.
Someone should inform the Brahmins at the Tribune that women play a big role in the lives of men. Most of the males I know have at least one parent who is a female. Many of them are married to women. Some even have children and grandchildren that are females.
Just because a piece is about women and "women's issues", that is no reason to just assume that boys wouldn't be interested and bury the piece in "WomenNews."