Two exceptionally complex stories have been unfolding right in front of us. At home, a series of seemingly unconnected events in different entertainment industries collided and (re)launched a broad, sustained discussion on the portrayal of and violence against women. Abroad, the elevation of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) from terrorist talking point to legitimate threat has driven a coalition of countries, lead by the United States, back to war in the Middle East. Though both stories have been building for some time, it was only after graphic depictions of the violence were revealed to the world that conversation exploded, and action was taken.
There wasn't one single event that kickstarted the conversation on women and mainstream misogyny in 2014. Rather, several clashes flared up simultaneously. The treatment of women in the NFL. The treatment of women in the gaming industry. The treatment of women in the public eye, online and off. #WhyIStayed. #GamerGate. #CelebGate. The interactive timeline below briefly details just a few of the milestones that brought the conversation to a boil.
The voices have grown louder. Now there is no ignoring the conversation. With the release of videos showing Rice's assault on his wife, the public vitriol aimed at prominent women in the gaming community, and the online privacy breach of hundreds of celebrities so their bodies could be consumed, it is clear something must be done to better combat gender-driven attacks. Law enforcement is investigating, tech companies are beefing up security and sports fans are questioning their allegiance to a league that ignores them. This is progress, changing the narrative and pushing the story forward. And it began with conversations that followed the public spectacle.
Concurrently, there has been the ramp-up to war with ISIS, with President Obama announcing on September 10 that America and its allies would launch operations designed to "degrade and destroy" the Islamic State. Interestingly though, how the administration's perceptions of ISIS have changed since the beginning of the year.
This escalation of ISIS's treatment by the United States, from off-handed remarks to military action, was no doubt facilitated by the terror group's release of graphic videos depicting the beheading of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, as well as British aid worker David Haines in late August and early September respectively. Unlike similar tapes released in recent years, these videos were well produced, shot and edited in the vocabulary of convincing propaganda, and uploaded directly to YouTube. Rather than being delivered to a news network for verification and broadcast, it was simply dropped off for the world to wake up to. Though weary of reengaging in desert warfare of any kind, the American government made the decision soon after.
In many ways, these two stories, the treatment of women and the response to ISIS, are far apart from one other. A commonality, however, does exist. While both narratives have lingered in the public consciousness, it was the release of brutal images that finally warranted significant action. It is that old mantra "a picture is worth a thousand words" at work.
Written words are deliberate and effective when they are considered, but they can also be ignored. A punch to the face cannot be ignored. It demands action. These stories are the defining issues of our day and demand our attention. Now they've got it.