womanchildNo more women and children, please.  (Or “womenandchildren,” since it may as well be.)

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.”

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Join the conversation! 5 Comments

  1. Losing women and children means more/is worse to society than men is what it implies. From a man’s perspective (could be just mine), losing my wife or son means more to me than losing my own life.

    Reply
    • Why is it worse to society to lose women than men?

      And why do you put women and children together as if they are equally “precious”?

      Your perspective is valid if you’re talking about your wife and your child, but that has little to do with the broader lumping together of “women and children.” I could say the same as you, that losing my husband, and if I had a child, he and the child, would be worse than losing my own life. Does that mean we should therefore change to “men and children”?

      The male perspective isn’t the only relevant perspective.

      Reply
      • Hard telling. 🙂 must be in the genes or the way we are brought up. The lives of women and children (yes, grouped together) seem more valuable that those of men. When the ship sinks, “women and children first!” is shouted (because men diving into the life boats first would be considered cowards). When an organization like one.org campaigns for more debt relief and medicine for Africa (and rightfully so) they primarily focus on women and children.

  2. Haven’t thought of the phrase “woman and children” in the way you address it here. I can see your point.

    Historically, before women played the role they do in the military now, the phrase did refer to those not involved in hostilities, thus innocent and, generally, defenseless. That is why in Western Civilization, at least after the Thirty Years War (1618-48), the European countries hammered out a “humane war” policy (called Just War in theological circles) that protected noncombatants and even combatants who were injured or captured. That horrible war devastated Europe, much like WW1 & 2. Germany alone lost about 8 1/2 million people, most of them (please excuse me) “women and children.” Invading armies were as barbarous to the noncombatant women and children as they were to the armed men. That is a horrifying picture.

    So, the phrase “women and children” has a special place in history. Maybe it doesn’t fit now, as you so ably claim. But, as much as that shows gain and progress, I think it indicates some degree of loss, too.

    If the town I live in is ever attacked, I hope special consideration will be given to the women and children, especially since some of them are mine.

    You post some challenging articles.

    Reply

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About Kris Tsetsi

Kristen J. Tsetsi is the author of the novels "Pretty Much True..." and "The Year of Dan Palace" and the short fiction collection "20 Short Stories," all published under the name Chris Jane. Website: http://kristenjtsetsi.com

Category

Social commentary, women, Writing