Objectifying Reeva Steenkamp is No Way to Cover the Oscar Pistorius Case

We know that Oscar Pistorius, the Olympic and Paralympic track star, has been charged with the murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp. We know that she worked as a model, earned a law degree and was outspoken about violence against women. The only two things that are up in the air at this point are if Pistorius is guilty and if journalists are capable of covering this story appropriately.

I came across an article on the Washington Post website that was trying to pass as a straight news story but did not even come close. The article, which appears to be written by an Associated Press reporter, says:

“The leggy blonde with a law degree also appeared in international and South African ads and was a celebrity contestant on “Tropika Island of Treasure,” a South African reality show filmed in Jamaica.”

Yes, the article on the website of a national newspaper actually referred to Steenkamp, a woman who was just fatally shot three times as, “leggy.”

Putting aside the fact that the report has managed to objectify a woman who is believed to have been murdered just days ago, I can say with absolute certainty that a phrase like ‘the leggy blonde’ does not belong in a straight news story. Properly written news stories do not include the reporter’s opinions; they include concrete, relevant facts. The term “leggy” is definitely subjective. And how exactly is her hair color or the length of her legs related to her murder investigation?

It gets better.

“While known for her bikini-clad, vamping photo spreads, she tweeted messages urging women to stand up against rape.

This language is extremely problematic. Yes, Steenkamp was known for her bikini-clad photo spreads and, yes, she also tweeted messages about rape. These two facts are true and both should be included in the article.

The language is not problematic because of content; it is problematic because of placement. The reporter chose to take two completely unrelated facts, combine them into once sentence and imply that they contradict each other. The use of the word ‘while’ invites the idea that it is strange that Steenkamp would both pose in her bikini and urge women to stand up against rape.

This is what we call victim blaming. It is the same thing as insinuating that women who wear revealing clothing are asking to be raped. Steenkamp had just as much right to tweet about preventing rape as Gloria Steinem does. What she wore in her photo shoots has absolutely nothing to do with her views on violence against women.

We don’t know yet what really happened between Pistorius and Steenkamp the night that Steenkamp died. But whether Pistorius is guilty or not, a young woman’s life was cut tragically short. As journalists, let’s respect her memory by striving for accurate reporting, and put the objectification and victim blaming to rest.

Guest contributor Leigh Ann Renzulli is a senior journalism major and women’s studies minor at the University of Maryland, College Park. She is a feminist with a blog (youshouldbeafeminist.com) and is on Twitter @lerenzulli.

Image via iStockphoto

  • Bob Lamm

    Excellent statement.

  • Tru

    Beautifully written. Just needs a fix of the spelling of Pistorius’ name in the final paragraph.

5341066529_860a317b53_b
Get Over Yourselves. We’re All Rory Gilmore
Hillary Clinton, Shake It Off, Taylor Swift, Hillary Clinton Campaign song
Six Reasons “Shake It Off” Should Be Hillary Clinton’s Campaign Theme Song
Nancy Reagan dies, Just Say No, Ronald Reagan
A Not-So-Positive Ode to Nancy Reagan’s Frothy “Just Say No” Campaign
800px-Girls_At_Highland_Avenue_Train_Stop
Maybe It Wasn’t Rape: Emerging Matriarchy and the Altering of Women’s Past Sexual Narratives
1024px-white_mocha_ice_cream
Post-Election Munchies: What is Your Grief Snack of Choice?
saudi-women-vote
Women’s Elections Rights in Saudi Arabia: A Token Drop in an Abysmal Bucket & the Plight of Women Under Sharia Law
il_570xn-1112089415_sqh3
Hillary Clinton and What It Means to Be a “Nasty Woman”
24224402311_b5fdc2769e_z
Voting in Protest: How Could They?!
1024px-white_mocha_ice_cream
Post-Election Munchies: What is Your Grief Snack of Choice?
saudi-women-vote
Women’s Elections Rights in Saudi Arabia: A Token Drop in an Abysmal Bucket & the Plight of Women Under Sharia Law
il_570xn-1112089415_sqh3
Hillary Clinton and What It Means to Be a “Nasty Woman”
24224402311_b5fdc2769e_z
Voting in Protest: How Could They?!
5341066529_860a317b53_b
Get Over Yourselves. We’re All Rory Gilmore
1024px-white_mocha_ice_cream
Post-Election Munchies: What is Your Grief Snack of Choice?
saudi-women-vote
Women’s Elections Rights in Saudi Arabia: A Token Drop in an Abysmal Bucket & the Plight of Women Under Sharia Law
writing-1170146_640
A Heartfelt Note from a Gen X Mom to Millennial Women
Israel Palestine BDS AIPAC Clinton
HRC, AIPAC, BDS and UC
800px-Girls_At_Highland_Avenue_Train_Stop
Maybe It Wasn’t Rape: Emerging Matriarchy and the Altering of Women’s Past Sexual Narratives
Paris attacks, Paris terrorism
Is Paris Burning?
Chinese government and women's reproductive rights, adopting Chinese girls, international adoption
Dear Xi Jinping, I Am Writing to You as an American Mom of a 19-Year-Old Chinese Daughter
800px-Girls_At_Highland_Avenue_Train_Stop
Maybe It Wasn’t Rape: Emerging Matriarchy and the Altering of Women’s Past Sexual Narratives
369.the-eyes-have-it1
The Eyes Have It!
Ashley Madison, Jared Fogle, sex, rape, sexual affairs
Ashley Madison vs. Jared Fogle: Rape, Sex and Hacking in America
women's viagra, Viagra, Flibanserin, sexual arousal, women's desire, sex after menopause
That “Little Pink Pill” Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up to Be

Get our new weekly email
Broadly Speaking

featuring our best words for the week + an exclusive longread