I should be working on that Graduate Diploma I foolishly enrolled in, not writing about the Gabby Pettito circus. Yet here I am.
First of all, let me acknowledge the tragedy. While I’m sick of hearing about her, Gabrielle Venora Petito’s parents will never stop hearing about her. I’m not being unkind — there but for the grace of [insert fictional deity here] goes every father. To hear your daughter was murdered is the sort of news that drives a father to religion and/or the bottle.
If Joe Petito is anything like me, he will be filled with a hopeless, helpless rage for the rest of his life. Nevertheless, I am totally sick of hearing about her.
Pettito’s case is classic Missing White Woman Syndrome, which (to be real) needs to be updated, because what mainstream media really suffer from is Missing Cute Girl Syndrome. While POC definitely need to keep fighting their corner, in reality there are non-white girls who also receive extraordinary media attention.
But only if they’re cute.
While it was journalist Gwen Ifill who launched the term in 2004, Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson’s term ‘damsel’ is more evocative and more accurate. Sardonic newsman Jon Stewart’s formula is less kind: Family Income x (Abductee Cuteness ÷ Skin Color)² + Length of Abduction x Media Savvy of Grieving Parents³.
Not saying inaccurate, just unkind.
But Stewart’s right. Nothing creates a frenzy like Missing Cute Rich White Girl Syndrome. If her mother also happens to be hot, then we totally lap that shit up. Nothing beats a rich hot white mom in distress on national television. That’s why Grieving Rich Hot White Mom of Missing Cute Rich White Girl Syndrome also makes bloody good news.
Damsels evoke strange behaviour in fully-grown men — the well-documented White Knight Syndrome — which make them want to ride off and slay the dragon, rescue the damsel, and earn the lasting gratitude of the grieving hot mom. It’s ridiculous. Another syndrome overdue for renaming: “Sad Middle-Aged Guy Considers Taking Action But Stays Home Instead” maybe.
Probably not, lady, but it’s good to see you push back.
The US has the MMIW movement — Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women — but I don’t think Australia has an equivalent. Aboriginal girls 12-15 years old make up the vast majority of reported missing persons here in New South Wales. But the real number — the so called ‘dark figure‘ — is significantly higher because MOST missing girls aren’t reported to police.
While every reported case in NSW is investigated, and the Missing Person Unit boasts a recovery rate of 99%, there remains a perception that these girls aren’t really missing, they’re just runaways. But even when these runaways are not found, never does it translate into a Pettito-esque national manhunt.
Unless you’re a Missing White Girl who looks like Revelle Balmain, that is. Police are still offering a one million dollar reward for information leading to her recovery 25 years aftyer her disappearance. You can trust the media to never forget Revelle — not while there’s a dollar of interest left in her.
And I just spent that dollar, so you’ll never hear me talk about Revelle (or Gabby) again.