Any given tragedy story will include this nonsense: “…killed 24 – including women and children…”
How many women? How many children? And – wait – what about the men?
“Womenandchildren” is frequently used gratuitously on TV in an effort to elicit extra shock and horror in response to an already horrifying and shocking tragedy. I should be used to it, but the further away I get from my own childhood (pretty far, now), the less sense it makes and the more it grates.
Maybe in the “old” days, when women were property, couldn’t vote, had no control over their own finances, and were typically under the control of their male counterparts, they could be compared to children. Maybe when women and children were similarly sheltered and defenseless, they could have been more reasonably treated as equal victims. A few women rebelled and crossed the street by themselves, sure, but for the most part, women weren’t encouraged to be strong, self-sufficient, or even separate individuals.
However, it hasn’t been that way for – gosh – decades, at least. Women are even wearing pants, now. They pay their own rent, drive their own cars, head million-dollar companies, and – oh yeah – join the military and deploy to war, just like men. In the case of Iraq, Iraqi women have also been known to be suicide bombers. Insurgents. Accomplices.
What may seem a harmless qualifier is actually quite harmful, not to mention disrespectful, and the problems with lumping women and children together are twofold:
First, it assumes women and children are even remote equals. Equally helpless, equally innocent, equally incapable. Consider the potential reaction to this sentence in a tragedy article: “Ten killed, including seven men and children.” What has one to do with the other? Are they equally unaware, naïve, and/or helpless?
Second, making special mention of women when a group of twenty adult civilians die not only implies that it is somehow a greater tragedy for “helpless, defenseless” women to die, but that it is somehow less tragic when men die, that the lives of men are less valuable than the lives of women. That, in fact, it’s expected that men will die, civilian or not. In a group of fifty, forty men could die. But, wait – ten WOMEN died. Is this not an injustice? Are men really so dispensable?
Let us please be more accurate. Innocents are innocents, men or women. And only children are children. The Titanic sank over 90 years ago – perhaps, with it, should have sank the antiquated notion of “womenandchildren.”