Brigid Daull Brockway is technically a writer

Brigid Daull Brockway is technically a writer

A blog about words, wordplay, and etymology, with slightly more than occasional political rants.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

I know you are but what am I?

This has been floating around in my head a while, but I keep forgetting to post it here. 
Some months ago, I read this New York Times article, which describes how the police force in one area of China has hired 13 attractive women to improve public relations. Seems the police in this area are known for being particularly brutal, and the pleasant, attractive women are supposed to defray that.
I don't find the story particularly interesting - I'm not even sure why it's a story. Doesn't every industry in every country use attractive people as a pubic relations tool? What I found interesting about the article was this picture and quote:

Four barely-past-teenage girls in white gloves and identical olive jackets and pants snapped to attention. Four pairs of black pumps lined up ruler-straight. Four prim hats perched perfectly atop hair bound in blue and white striped bows.

See, the obvious point of the article is to make the Chinese look backward and sexist... and least that's what I took away from it. But look at the way the author describes the officers. I see a picture of four professional police officers in dress uniforms not terribly different from those worn by police officers here. Can you imagine if the New York Times ran a photo of four young American police women and described them as "barely-past-teenage girls"? It would be inappropriate and disrespectful. Why is it different if the women in the photo live in China?
The story uses this wording to accentuate the fact that the police women's roles are largely for show - they're not allowed to do the same things the male officers are, they have to have certain measurements and physical features to serve, and they have to be under a certain age. I certainly discern that to be sexist and trivializing, although I'm not familiar enough with the culture of the area to make an educated judgement. However, the wording that the authors of the article chose is also sexist and trivializing. It fails to acknowledge the fact that, regardless of whether they're being used as eye candy, these women are professional adults who have chosen a difficult and potentially dangerous line of work.
You know that old adage about what happens when you point one finger at someone else?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The CCP is a lot of things, but sexist it isn't. Women's lib was actually a big thing for the Communists and one of their core beliefs. In a span of 50 years, they've banned things like arranged marriage, child brides, foot binding, dowries, divorces, polygamy, and other hold-overs from the old Confucian Feudal culture. They've also mandated equal pay and equal opportunity for women in the work-place, although to be fair much of the CCP central committee continues to be the Chinese version of the good ol' boys.

There does seem to be a lot of underhanded belittling of China in certain American mainstream news outlets like CNN or NY Times. I chalk it up to pandering: China as a Big Yellow Scare makes for an easy sell, than say a more nuanced and balanced view that you tend to find in the BBC or Al-Jazeera.