When a male friend of a friend disappeared in Mexico, there were no hysterical responses. His bright shining face was not plastered all over cable news the way Natalee Holloway’s had been. He was just some white dude gone missing; it barely made the news at all. And when his body was found—he had suffered a mishap while hiking in the mountains and was unable to make it out—there was no tut-tutting by commentators about how dangerous it was for men to travel alone. His disappearance did not fit into their agenda.
I would never argue that the world is a safe place for women. Women face a disproportionate amount of physical, sexual, and political violence throughout the world. But how we choose to write about that violence matters. By sensationalizing the stories of Holloway and others, we create a narrative that distracts from the more everyday dangers that women face–and from the women who are most vulnerable to violence.
When the report of the Danish woman who was raped in India made the news, I remember a lot of people, particularly women in the comments section, blaming the victim for going to India at all. “What did she expect?” I read over and over. It’s convenient for Westerners to think of India as a place where rape happens. It helps us dehumanize men of color, and it helps protect our unquestioned xenophobia. It also allows us not to think about our own countries’ problems with violence against women.