Thursday 15 November 2007

Killer Or Victim? Man or Woman?

The story about the death of a family in a fire in Omagh has shocked and saddened many. The suspicions that it was the father of the family that may have started the family has only added to the sense of tragedy.

However, as many reports, especially in the tabloids, refer to the father, Arthur McElhill, as 'demented' amongst other sensationalist demonising phrases the question must be asked: would similar language be used if it were suspected that the mother of the family had started the fire?

As seen in the case in Wexford last year, the media jumped to demonise the father, however when it was revealed that his wife visited an undertaker with him the week before, the tone softened considerably.

In the last year we have seen the suicides of Nollaig Owen and the mother and son who died on the Cliffs of Moher, yet never is the phrase murder-suicide used.

Terminology when describing these events tend to be much more sympathetic towards the women in question, with reasoning such as Post-Natal depression given to explain these tragedies.

There is a regular push to quash the social stigma of male mental health yet men with mental issues are not given the same benefits in the media as women are. That is not to suggest that women are deserving of the same treatment subjected to men in the media, but to suggest that men who are responsible for these tragedies are subject to the same criteria when judged by the media.

Ultimately it is a reminder that in our society mental illness is a 'weakness': permissible in 'the fairer sex' but unforgivable in men, who are supposed to be the strong, dominant gender, who are 'demented' as opposed to 'tragic'.

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