America’s Real Favorite Pastime? Judging Women

After the mob attack on Lara Logan, many commenters claimed she was partly to blame. Recalling her own experiences with sexual violence and public criticism, Deborah Copaken Kogan dissects the judgment game

by Deborah Copaken Kogan
deborah copaken cogan image
Photograph: Elinor Carucci

And what of those mothers whose jobs take them to actual minefields? Continuing to cover wars after becoming a parent is a deeply personal decision for all journalists, but only the women who do so are either condemned or forced to account for their choices. When the Atlantic Monthly’s Michael Kelly was killed in a Humvee accident in Iraq in 2003, commentary generally focused on the tragedy, not on any accusation that he was responsible for depriving his two young sons of their father. ABC correspondent Bob Woodruff, a father of four, suffered a traumatic, almost fatal brain injury as a result of an IED explosion in Iraq and was universally lionized upon his return. New York Times photographer João Silva, father of two, stepped on a mine in Afghanistan last October and lost both legs below the knees. Still recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., he told Terry Gross of NPR that his ordeal has been hard on his wife and children, but moments later he also told her he hopes to return to conflict photography, “once I get to the point that I can walk, I can run . . . if I feel that I can move quick enough . . . I would make decisions based on that.” Gross expressed surprise that he would do so, given that he now has two prosthetic legs and that he was almost killed, but not once did she ask if he felt it would be fair to his family. In Shutterbabe, I shared my own thoughts on this subject: “It is also my opinion—and a bizarrely unpopular one, at that—that, be they male or female, journalists with children should not cover wars. Then again, I also don’t think they should skydive or shoot heroin or drive without seatbelts.”

Yes, I still hold the same opinion today, but it’s only that: my opinion. I would never attempt to foist it on anyone else. Lara Logan, whose children are one and two years old, hinted at her own views in her 60 Minutes interview: “When I thought, I am going to die here, my next thought was, I can’t believe I just let them kill me . . . that I just gave in and gave up on my children so easily; how could you do that?” Asked how she felt when she saw her children again, she replied, “I felt like I had been given a second chance that I didn’t deserve. Because I did that to them . . . I came so close to leaving them, to abandoning them.” If anyone reading this can think of a male journalist who has so publicly and honestly examined how his professional choices have affected his ability to be a good father, drop me a line.

Whether Logan’s appearance on TV inspired sympathy or criticism, we’ll never know, since the killing of Osama bin Laden that night knocked her—and every other piece of news—out of the headlines. But besides being brave and honest about her children, Logan spoke out on another important point that night. Asked why she was telling her story, she said, “One thing that I am extremely proud of . . . is when my female colleagues stood up and said that I’d broken the silence on what all of us have experienced but never talk about . . . That women never complain about incidents of sexual violence because you don’t want someone to say, ‘Well, women shouldn’t be out there.’ ”

After I broke that silence myself in 2000, I was so traumatized by the public reaction that I retreated once again into silence. Inspired by Logan, I’m now trying to change that. Not bringing my attackers to trial two decades ago was the better choice for that particular juncture in my young life, and yet a part of me will always be ashamed of my inaction. Ditto for my public silence in the face of personal attacks in the press: What seemed right for my career and reputation felt morally corrupt, spineless. That’s the problem with the abuse of power of any kind, whether physical or verbal. It turns a strong woman weak. And its flashbacks last a lifetime.

Click here to read about Ashley Judd's outreach to improve the health and safety of women in Africa.

First Published May 26, 2011

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Vanessa 08.15.2011

Thank you to the author for writing this important piece and for her courage speaking out. I picked up my first issue of MORE today and after reading this, I went online and bought a subscription.

Liana Preble08.01.2011

Great article! Thank you for sharing....
Liana Preble
CEO/Founder
www.victoriousmoms.org

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