Sexualizing Violence

“We can forget those curvy 34D-cups, and the inverted commas. This correspondent has earned her battle honours.”  So ends a piece in The Scotsman (May 25, 2002) on the promotion of Durban-born Lara Logan from British breakfast television to CBS network’s 60 Minutes reporter. Farewell sofa journalism, and welcome to the dust of conflict.

Such willed amnesia has not, however, taken root when it comes to the exploits of the daring reporter, who found herself brutally assaulted by protesters while covering the Egyptian unrest.  The official press reaction was one of shock, but dig deeper, and a good deal of misogyny bubbled to the surface.  On moving to GMTV after the attacks of September 11, 2001, the comments came and the eyes rolled.  ‘Men, women, Afghans,’ noted an unspecified American reporter, ‘just stare with their jaws to the sand as she walks by, even though she’s wearing the same dirty clothes we are.  She is quite ravishing’ (Scotsman, May 25, 2002).

Julian Manyon, long serving correspondent for ITN, was even more blunt on the assignment to the Middle East.  ‘Some of our jealous competitors have unkindly suggested that the unique access we have hitherto enjoyed to Bagram [is due to] the considerable physical charms of my travelling companion, the delectable Lara Logan of GMTV, who exploits her God-given advantages with a skill that Mata Hari might envy.’

With each bit of success, various parts of Logan’s various colleagues died with it.  The envy quotient sky rocketed.  Having given exclusives to the Mirror Group, rival papers duly dumped on her.  She was merely a ‘war reporter’ with an appealing bod and expensive tastes.

Logan has shown herself to be plucky and determined to get her story, whatever respectable or saucy Mata Hari means these might have been.  Journalism is a dirty business, and some find it objectionable that women might be as adept at securing their stories as men do.  In 2002, she was arrested near Sangatte in France attempting to enter the UK with asylum seekers.  From working with British breakfast television, her career was catapulted across the Atlantic, where she joined the CBS network.  Again, the same Scotsman piece noted how, ‘There, the flagrant Ms L will present a version of the news show 60 Minutes, basking in the reflected glory of regular host, Dan Rather, and reaching a vast worldwide audience.’

Enter then, the events of February 11, when Logan found herself critically assaulted on being separated from her crew in Tahrir Square.  Empathy, notably amongst certain colleagues, was lacking.  Simone Wilson, writing for LA Weekly, could not help but mention Logan’s ‘shocking good looks and ballsy knack for pushing her way to the heart of the action’.  With ‘Hollywood good looks’, the insatiable protesters duly found their target.  As a furious Mary Elizabeth Williams explained in Salon (Feb 15), noting Wilson’s jab, ‘how else do Egyptians celebrate anyway but with gang assault?  It’s like not like she deserved it, but well, she is hot, right?’  Sexualise the subject, and the boundaries vanish.  The victim is effectively erased.

The reactionary Debbie Schlussel came up with a true, right wing corker, focusing on the brutality of Islam and its apologists (a not to veiled attack on Logan herself).  ‘Lara Logan was among the chief cheerleaders of this “revolution” by animals.  Now she knows what Islamic revolution is really about’ (Debbieschlussel.com, Feb 16).  The fact that ‘Islam’ was rarely mentioned as a motive for revolution by most of the protest movement is a sure sign that Schlussel has avoided her own caveat of RIF – ‘Reading is Fundamental’.  Thankfully, RIF is not something that has ever bothered Schlussel.  Nor, it seems, many commenting on Logan’s fate.

BINOY KAMPMARK was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.  Email: bkampmark@gmail.com


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Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

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