I am fed up with missing white girls

I am declaring a personal moratorium on books and shows and movies about kidnapped-presumed-raped-and-murdered girls. I don’t care how awesome the shows or books or movies are. I don’t care if they are Twin Peaks, a show I have still not seen in spite of its fanatical popularity in certain circles and now may NEVER SEE because I have absolutely had it with this storyline.

This weekend I read Sara Zarr’s Once Was Lost. Once Was Lost is a pretty good book, per usual for Sara Zarr. It speaks thoughtfully about questions of faith and the benefits and drawbacks of belonging to a religious community. Sara Zarr is good at speaking thoughtfully about issues that in the hands of another author would come out black and white.


In the midst of its thoughtfulness, there is a story about a little girl who goes missing, and the town is set abuzz with worry and anger. And it isn’t that Sara Zarr was telling a particularly annoying version of this type of story. It just turned out to be the last straw. When I started to write a review of Once Was Lost, all I could write about is how tired I am of seeing story after story after story where a young white female person goes missing and there is a resulting media frenzy that tears apart the young white female person’s small town of origin. You know what? I do not need to read that story anymore. I have read enough versions of that story. That story exhausts me.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie gave a talk, earlier this year, about what she called “the danger of a single story,” a phrase and a concept that I find very striking. Her point is that the real truth, in all its layers, can be arrived at by telling numerous stories; and if you get stuck on just one story (violent permanent catastrophe in Africa; little white girls snatched off their bikes in small towns), it can become the defining story of that type of person or place, at the price of silencing and ignoring other stories. I am tired of violence against women being defined by the story of an innocent white girl abducted by a monstrous pedophile or whatever.

Here is a really really common story: A woman is assaulted, kidnapped, or murdered, and the media could not give less of a shit about it because the woman was any of the following things:

  1. A person of color
  2. Poor
  3. Sexually active
  4. A survivor of previous physical or sexual violence
  5. Believed to have been assaulted, kidnapped, or murdered by an intimate partner

I’m not saying that there aren’t good stories about kidnapped-or-murdered white girls. Twin Peaks is good (I have heard). The first season of Veronica Mars is superb. The Fates Will Find Their Way was unexpectedly weird and wonderful. There are many good books, shows, and movies that feature this storyline.

I just don’t care anymore. I have missing-white-girl exhaustion. I’m on a break from that story, starting now. The publishing, movie, and television industries have not asked for my input, but if they had asked for my input, I would urge them to take a  break from it too. That old story has gone past cliche and become completely lazy, and I think we would all find it refreshing to have some time away.

Feel free to grumble companionably about this trope in the comments, or to disagree with this cranky and rather dogmatic post!

  • I couldn’t agree more. What frustrates me most of all is that this isn’t even restricted to fiction; are the books reflecting life or is life reflecting what sells. Either way, it is an upsetting conclusion. I generally avoid these types of books – I agree that there are some very good ones, but I have found that once you’ve read one you’ve read them all.

    • Gin Jenny

      You know, I don’t even think that they’re all the same, but I just have had enough of reading so many different versions of this one repetitive story. I’m just tired of it (in books and especially in real life).


    • Gin Jenny

      Hahaha, thank you for the support!

  • Amy @ My Friend Amy

    aw, I know you’ve complained about this before. I’m not tired of it, though, oddly. Do you feel the same way if they’re just dead? Like does the fact that Broadchurch is about a dead boy but sort of unravels in the same way make it better? Lol I’ve actually been thinking lately about how much I like stories that have a crime like this as the unraveling point for people. I mean I’m not only thinking missing white girls, but those stories definitely fit under the umbrella.

    • Gin Jenny

      I still don’t love it, to be honest, if they’re dead. That’s why I haven’t watched Broadchurch yet–because I’m not sure I have the energy for this storyline anymore. Separate from the fact that I’m tired of missing white girls in particular (which I think is problematic because of the single story issue), I’m also just weary of stories about dead innocents. I’m on a hiatus from those.

      • aartichapati

        I am surprised you do not watch Broadchurch because David Tennant is in it. I am impressed that dislike of storyline trumps love of Tennant.

        I am tired of this storyline, too. Mostly because I am fed up at all the ones that do NOT make the news. Like all the victims of gun violence in Chicago that never make the news because they meet some of your criteria above.

        • Gin Jenny

          I am surprised by that myself. I didn’t think anything could stand between me and my love for David Tennant. If he were a cheerful cop in it I might be able to manage, but I do not love grumpy David Tennant exactly the same amount that I love gleeful David Tennant. So there’s that.

          HUGE YES to being fed up with crimes that don’t make the news. Victims of gun crime in New Orleans, same thing. Even children who get shot, it doesn’t become a huge news story. It makes me really angry.

  • Jeane

    If the story were more realistic and about a missing girl who was of color, poor, a prior victim or any of those other identifiers, would it be more interesting…? Especially if it showed (in the story) how media ignored her plight and she suffered anyway?

    • Gin Jenny

      It would at least be a different story, so in that sense, yeah, I think it would be more interesting. I just feel like I’ve seen/read every iteration of the missing-white-girl story by this time, and I’m tired of it.

  • 🙂
    But then what would I read?
    I agree, however, and would only add that I’m tired of gory details about bizarre murders by serial killers.

    • Gin Jenny

      Hahaha, well, I steer almost completely clear of books about serial killers. People have to recommend a serial killer book pretty strenuously to me before I will read it. Serial killers are too scary for me.

  • I love the point about telling the same story to the point of its becoming the ONLY story. Also, I love this very cranky post. Also, I am just generally sick of the whole women-in-jep thing anyway. FED UP.

    • Gin Jenny

      ME TOO. And I forgot to add, not thin. That should have been included in my list of things that make the media ignore tragedies.

  • Dude. In my hometown we had a serial killer. Unfortunately he got up to like 14 victims before anyone (including the cops) paid any attention. Why? The victims were all poor African American prostitutes. Granted, I haven’t read a lot of kidnapped white girl fiction, but I understand your frustration!

    • Gin Jenny

      Ugh, yes! That makes me so angry. And it’s such a common story–your hometown is far from the only one where this happens.

  • Missing white girl syndrome makes me super cranky too. It’s like some writers want to write about wealthy white families and then think OH but I’ve GOT to make it gritty and hardboiled somehow and oh! what could possibly toy with a reader’s emotions more than [INSERT MISSING WHITE GIRL]. AND in certain cases there’s this awful mashup of manic-pixie-dream-girl/missing-abducted-white-girl with whom the white male protagonist posthumously falls in love with and that makes me even crankier. (Though I will say that I really liked Twin Peaks as a work of horror.)

    • Gin Jenny

      I know, Twin Peaks is a really good show. I’m not slagging off Twin Peaks. I know everyone loves it, and maybe someday I will too.

      Also, YES. The gritty hardboiled thing, and how having a missing innocent white girl is this lazy shortcut to achieving that. Blech.

  • I really sick of missing-white-girl stories in the news. I KNOW it sounds mean and horrible of me, but when there’s another one and the national news is having a field day with it, I just DON’T CARE. I can’t be bothered to care, because it’s the only time they focus on missing persons cases and it’s just pathetic and horrible and frustrating.

    So KUDOS to this post! The honeyman and I nodded our heads in agreement (I had him read it with me, since he was nearby.)

    • Gin Jenny

      It doesn’t sound mean and horrible. It’s easy to become exhausted with those stories, and I feel really angry that other–equally important–stories about violence against women are being completely ignored because this one narrative is apparently so irresistible.

  • I’m not completely done with the trope, but it’s not one that makes me want to read a book. I’d need additional convincing–someone trust-worthy to tell me it’s really good (and different from the others) or an author I already love to be writing it.

    But it annoys me considerably that this has become such a dominant story in our fiction, when the story you describe is so much more common. It’s like those stories are so common that we’ve decided they don’t matter enough to tell them anymore. And that is horrifying on more levels than I can count.

    • Gin Jenny

      I was in the same place as you for a while–I’d read this story if someone I trusted recommended it very highly–but I don’t know. I’m just burned out on it completely now, at least for a little while. I need a break.

  • I was nodding my head all the way through this post. I couldn’t agree more.

    • Gin Jenny

      The trope is everywhere! It’s inescapable.

  • trapunto

    Absolutely. How about a psychoanalytic reading of the authors? “Oh no, at some point when I wasn’t paying attention my inner little-white-girl went missing and it was a DISASTER, it RUINED MY WHOLE LIFE! (and, naturally, everyone else’s).”

    • Gin Jenny

      Hahahahahahaha. And, hi! I miss you, I hope you are well!

  • I agree. Me, too.

  • I don’t really know the genre, since I don’t read thrillers or crime fiction that often; but about a decade ago (must have been before it became a trend) I read a novel called The Church of Dead Girls, and it fits just your description. I must say I loved it though, it was tense and creepy. Fortunately I never saturated myself with this type of story so I keep good memories of reading it.

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  • movieman0283

    You may find Twin Peaks worth watching because it subverts several of these tropes. Unfortunately, the series can be a bit coy at times. But the prequel film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me is a harrowing, deeply empathic depiction of the dead girl’s final days, told through her eyes.