Several weeks have passed since the carnage in downtown Oslo and Utoya island, but it took the media a considerable amount of time to commend the heroic actions of a married lesbian couple who braved gunfire to save 40 teenagers from Anders Behring Breivik’s bloody rampage.
Hege Dalen and Toril Hansen were camping on the other side of the lake from Utoya when they heard gunfire and screams from the island. They jumped into their boat and crossed toward the noise, without regard for their personal safety. As bullets struck the boat, they pulled teenagers from the water and made four trips back and forth, saving the lives of 40 people who might otherwise have drowned or been shot.
In the days after the attacks, stories of bystanders’ bravery during the Utoya shootings hit the news. But somehow, Dalen and Hansen weren’t discovered by the mainstream press until over a week afterward. Now, analysts are questioning whether sexism, homophobia, or both were at play.
In the Guardian, Roz Kaveney points out that women don’t fit into the paradigm for a heroic rescue. ”A lot of the press like their tales of heroism to fit standard narratives, in which men protect and women nurture,” she writes. And it’s true that many of the people first heralded by media outlets like the New York Times and the Telegraph were men. She adds that lesbians are even less likely to fit traditional images of the “rescuer,” and concludes that journalists may also have been reluctant to touch the same-sex marriage issue in the context of the Norway shootings, since Dalen and Hansen are married.
Over at the Telegraph, Tom Chivers acknowledges that many of the same thoughts ran through his head. But, he points out, many “proudly liberal” newspapers neglected Dalen and Hansen’s story (although certainly, even though it may be liberal, The New York Times is capable of sexism and homophobia). ”I think it’s more likely that it’s just that, in the panicked days after the attacks, they just never happened to speak to a journalist,” he wrote.
It’s true that there were many heroic stories to be told in the aftermath of the Norway attacks. But Dalen and Hansen’s should have been among them. At least we can laud them for their bravery now, even if we are a few weeks late.
Photo from NRK P3 via flickr.