Feminist Reporting: Why won’t we talk about the heroism of the Ukrainian people?

Feminist Reporting: Why won’t we talk about the heroism of the Ukrainian people? By Brendan O’Neill.

There is something strange and unsettling about the media coverage of the war in Ukraine.

We talk about the war constantly but we never see it. Sure, we see parts of it. We see shaky mobile-phone footage of Russian missiles hitting buildings. We see burnt-out tanks. And of course we see columns of refugees. We see mothers puffy-faced from crying and children clasping battered dolls. We see that kind of thing — the terrible residue of war — all the time.

But the actual war? It seems oddly absent. It’s almost as if … the media really want to tell about the suffering of women and children, and the goodness of us in the West who are taking them in. …

The sidelining of actors in a catastrophe, primarily men, in preference for focusing on women and children has been a key part of the journalism of feeling for some time. …

Men ‘confuse the clarity of the story, complicating a reaction of pity alone’. And so they’re left out, not conspiratorially, not even fully consciously, but rather because our media that yearns for stories and images of suffering intuitively know that men — the fighters, the warriors, the reconstructors — must be bypassed if a simple tale of sorrow is to be successfully told.

Early media coverage in Ukraine reported on the men signing up to fight (though even then it tended to focus on the very young men, barely out of their teens, and the fear they felt). But since then the men of Ukraine have notably disappeared from the frontline of our coverage; they’ve been invisibilised.

The entire resistance seems invisible now. We know it’s there. We know it’s scoring some stunning victories against Russia and its unprovoked war of aggression. Numerous Russian generals have been killed. Russia’s advance appears to have stalled at times. And some reports claim Russia is lowering its horizons in response to the unexpected ferocity of the Ukrainian resistance. And yet the resistance is rarely front and centre in the coverage. Which means it can feel like a phantasm. Almost a dream. ‘Who is achieving all of this?’, one could be forgiven for asking.

The moral incoherence of the West, our dearth of fighting spirit and self-confidence, our trading-in of our belief in autonomy for an obsession with suffering, has unquestionably infected how we understand and talk about Ukraine. …

The cult of victimhood has very real political consequences. In this instance it marginalises the sustained military rebellion of the Ukrainian people in preference for focusing either on the wickedness of Russia or the pain of Ukraine’s citizens. This has a potentially pacifying effect on Western audiences. We are invited not to feel stirred by Ukraine, but to feel horrified, to feel pity — debilitating emotions.

Imagine if WWII had been told this way. What a joke.