Nothing portrays the disturbingly structured roles men and women play in media more than missing white woman syndrome (MWWS). The term refers to the disproportionate amount of media coverage devoted to stories of white women, who are generally affluent and good looking, when they go missing. In these stories, the woman is the victim and a man is likely to blame. And it can’t be any woman. It helps if she’s young too.
American news media has taken MWWS to a whole new level with their portrayal of a new binary relationship: the missing, helpless pregnant woman and her aggressive and violent husband or boyfriend. The case of Laci Peterson, who went missing while eight months pregnant, and was later found murdered by her husband, set a certain precedent for the way media latched on to similar stories. The idea that the aggressive male was evil enough to kill his unborn child as well as his female companion seems to sell more papers.
Criticism of this issue is tricky. Domestic violence against women is a troubling problem and news coverage of that can’t necessarily be attributed to an obsession with MWWS. But domestic violence isn’t covered as though all men and women are equal in the eyes of the media — because they aren’t.
Men are victims of domestic abuse too, and we rarely hear about that. Young men go missing from poor neighbourhoods and we rarely hear about that, either. If we trusted the mainstream media to tell us about who goes missing in North America, we’d be led to believe pregnant women are the only ones who ever go missing.