Missing White Woman Syndrome

Missing white woman syndrome, also known as missing pretty girl syndrome, is a tongue-in-cheek term coined by some media critics to reference a form of media hype in which excessive news coverage is devoted to a specific missing or murdered white women and girls, while virtually ignoring missing men, non-white women, or other news stories.

According to these critics, reporting of these stories often lasts for several days or weeks, sometimes even months, and displaces reporting on other current events that some people consider more newsworthy, such as economics and politics.

This syndrome appears to be most prevalent in U. S. media, but famous examples can also be found elsewhere in the world, e. g. the United Kingdom. The essential features of a missing person said to give rise to Missing White Woman Syndrome are sex, her race, (relative) prettiness, and age.

These features are said to provoke positive discrimination in the reporting as news of the disappearance of a young white woman, and so to increase public interest in her disappearance.

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Missing people claims that cases which generate greatest publicity are those where missing persons are white, middle-class, female and from stable two-parent families, and where is no indication that such a missing person ran away from home.

A working-class boy or an older woman is less likely to receive news coverage. Even in cases where foul play is suspected, if the victim is male, is of Afro-Caribbean or Asian descent, is a prostitute, has drug problems, is a persistent runaway, or has been in foster care, reporters are said to decide that their readership is less likely to relate to or empathize with the victim, and they reduce their coverage accordingly.

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The typical profile that must be fit: blonde, attractive, if possible blue-eyed, young, petite, vivacious and of a middle class or higher economic background creates the cases of MPWW which involve every local or national news to provide regular daily coverage of any and all developments, accompanied by lengthy discussions about the meaning of such developments.

Speculations about evidence, suspects, motives that caused the disappearance rise and family members are called in order to offer more information and to show pictures of the victim. As the story gains momentum and begins to pick up steam like a runaway locomotive more talk shows and news media search details and turn the event into a national issue. The typical case lasts for days, weeks, months, forever and ever resulting in some families creating a website about the case, or a reward is posted, flyers and leaflets are posted all over and cover all neighborhoods.

However, if we take a look at the Doe Network, which is one of the resources that handles missing adult cases, we find out that:

  1. there are more missing black women in the US than women of all other races combined,
  2. there are more missing men than women, and
  3. there are far, far more missing long-term missing persons than most people even dream about.

Moreover, from the news you would never know that most missing Americans are men, not women, that nearly a third of the missing are black, and that even ugliness will not save a woman from becoming missing and turning up dead.

The Missing White Woman Syndrome should be taken into account and treated as a huge problem, but at times some cases are emphasize more than others and thus discrimination appears. What is more, “Missing White Woman Syndrome” seems to be interjecting racism into a situation that is much more complex than simple racism, as very often the disappearance of black women is neglected or if at the same time a white woman and a black one are reported missing it is only the white one that catches the media attention and soon becomes national news.

Some critics say that pretty, white damsels in distress draw viewers, whereas missing women who are black, Latino, Asian, old, fat or ugly do not. For example, in May 2004, a young black woman was missing. It was not until 14 months later that they found her body. Her aunt worked in public relations but the press was not all that interested. Yet during all those months, when she went missing cable news went on and on about other missing women who were white. So, it could be the media’s fault for not covering every subject properly, and at times this does not resume just to Missing White Woman Syndrome, but to other news as well.

It is a matter of interpretation of every situation and the media tends to draw the attention upon a certain area of a subject so that it should turn the whole thing into a business as it is often considered. For example, an automobile accident that kills five people is “newsworthy”, but five separate fatalities are not. A coal mine accident that kills a dozen is covered by every media outlet, but scores of miners who die from black lung every year are ignored. It is the shocking news that get the attention, as a means of manipulating the audience.

Some claim that the media offers its viewers what they want, as it is like any other market driven much the same way that demand for certain automobiles drives production. It is said that is not just pretty white women, because people are drawn to stories about “pretty” people in general. Good looking actors get more face time than not so goof looking ones. Overweight people are now the majority in the U. S. , yet “full figured” models don’t turn up in Victoria Secret magazines. A plump homely missing child will likely not draw the attention that a good looking child would.

Maybe people are drawn to “attractive”, because it is what we want to be. Then when bad things happen to attractive people we feel bad because something happened to the concept of what we’d like to see ourselves as – attractive. Attractive is pleasing to the eye and to the mind, and we are drawn to the things that please us… Government intervention could be the only solution, if it subsidized the news media to insure the reporting of certain events even though they may not be in demand.

However, there are opponents who claim that this is a social matter and not an economic one, mainly focused on racism and the way it is still perceived in America. Missing White Woman Syndrome is spread not only in the United States, but in other countries as well and it apparently attract millions of viewers. During the last year in Romania there ahs been a continuous debate on a similar case of a missing white woman, a lawyer, whose case has been analyzed from every angle and it is still discussed.

Some even say that it became a brand, as there was a TV-show that kept up with all the details of the case. In the meanwhile many other teenagers or children have gone missing but the attention is still drawn to this never-ending case that some even consider not to be true. There is also the cult of true womanhood which teaches that white women are to be rescued, therefore they are helpless and in need of protection, while black women are assumed as being “in control” of the situation.

It is a matter of perception upon the entire world, thus including prejudices and mentalities that grow into racism and into different forms of seeing others of a different race or sex or social status as capable of certain things. Here we could mention the view of people on a missing black woman who is later found dead, as either a drug addict or an easy woman. The questions “How do you save a black man from drowning? You take off your foot of his head. ” and “What do you get if a white man falls of a skyscraper? Who cares.” best summon the idea that it is spread worldwide not just on the Missing White Woman Syndrome, but in other cases of discrimination and also national opinion upon a certain topic. The abagond. wordpress. com refers to the missing white woman syndrome as “missing pretty girls syndrome” or “damsel in distress syndrome” and it also makes references of TV episodes where the syndrome was clearly present. That is in “Without a Trace” episode “White Balance” in which the agents investigate two cases: that of a white teenage girl and that of a black teenage boy.

They must cope with the white girl’s case getting constant attention and the black boy’s getting none. The episode concludes with a No Ending, as we are told that one lives and one dies, but not which is which. In one episode of “Law and Order Criminal Intent”, the disappearance of a white girl on a school trip becomes the subject of a media frenzy, and is eventually tied to the disappearance of a local black girl. The mother of the black girl accuses the authorities of coming to her only when her daughter’s disappearance was tied up with the white girl’s.

The msnbc. msn. com refers to unconscious bias stating that “Quoting those FBI statistics – its like saying ‘99percent of the nations in the world are not at war, so why are focusing on the war? ’ But Iraq is an extraordinary event involving Americans” said Mark Effron, vice president of news at MSNBC TV. “What makes news is the unexpected.” Also, ironically the site gives another quote which refers to the Missing White Woman Syndrome, that is “If you are missing, it helps to be young, white, female.” Maybe this statement should raise a question mark that can make everyone see the real meaning of this “syndrome” that does not occur only among white women, but among black or Asian women as well, thus making all of them equal in front of the world and in the media articles. CNN has often been accused of not taking into account all missing cases and of observing and broadcasting only those of white pretty women, ignoring missing black women. The news media does not only entertain viewers, but also sells newspapers and you rarely, if ever, see in the news a woman “of color” who has gone missing.

The Missing White Woman Syndrome is another embodiment of racism that makes you concentrate only on a small part of the problem and thus ignore the rest as if it never exists. There are thousands of people who go missing every day, but who, for not fitting the profile do not make it to the front page or the news. Those attractive women who are reported try to create that perfect image of the world where everyone seeks the beauty and the perfection and these cases of disappearances or deaths often ruin or at least shake the confidence in these stereotypes.

But it is very clear that one does not have to be young, blonde and blue-eyed in order to be abducted and moreover breaking the news does not necessarily help bring back the missing person. Here is a matter of police involvement as well and the way in which authorities do everything in their power to find whoever has gone missing. Nevertheless, it is somehow ironical how statistics show that there are more males missing than women, and yet rarely are these cases reported.

The percentage of missing white women is not higher than that of black women, but we only speak about a Missing White Woman Syndrome and not about a Missing Black Woman Syndrome. There are also a lot of children gone missing and most of them are not blond, blue-eyed and yet they are those who everyone talks about and even become icons of the “syndrome”. It is a creation of a fake world where we only focus on what we want to see and not on what there really is out there.


  1. www. msnbc. msn. com www. tvtropes. org www. abagond. wordpress. com Monica Radu, 1st year student of American Studies.
Cite this page

Missing White Woman Syndrome. (2017, Feb 02). Retrieved from http://studymoose.com/missing-white-woman-syndrome-essay

Missing White Woman Syndrome
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