Men, there is no such thing as reverse sexism.

(Originally published at Feminist Times)

Mumsnet is sexist. At least, that seems to be the rationale behind the founding of Mumsanddadsnet, set up by Duncan Fisher and Jeszemma Garratt because parenting sites “exclude” dads – which conveniently ignores the fact that parenting sites already have male members and have done since the beginning.

The main problem with the idea that Mumsnet needs more men or that men are deliberately being excluded from parenting websites is that it fails to acknowledge the gendered reality of childrearing in the UK. It is women who do the majority of childcare, childrearing and family organisation, regardless of whether or not they work outside the home (a euphemistic phrase which implies that childcare and housework aren’t really work).

But marriage and childrearing is more than just a “second shift” for women. As Susan Maushart argues in her seminal text Wifework: What Marriage Really Means for Women, “becoming a wife will erode your mental health, reduce your leisure, decimate your libido, and increase the odds that you will be physically assaulted or murdered in your own home.”

Wifework isn’t just doing a couple of extra loads of laundry a week. Being a wife means taking on responsibility for the emotional and physical care of the needs of the husband at the expense of one’s own emotional and physical health.

Feminists have long since recognised the fact that marriage has a detrimental effect on women’s health and emotional wellbeing. Yet we are replicating the exact same structures within the feminist movement without recognising it. Feminism has stopped being about the liberation of women and has instead become about not alienating men.

We can’t simply talk about rape culture and strategize how to destroy it without every single statement requiring the caveat “we don’t mean all men”. We can’t hold conferences without including men. We can’t even hold Reclaim the Night marches without men demanding to be included, irrespective of the fact that the men who demand the right to attend rarely show up. Or that the inclusion of men means that many women don’t feel safe attending.

Excluding women from Reclaim the Night marches in order to include men is an anti-feminist position, but it is one that women are pushed into making because excluding men is somehow seen as unkind. Frankly, in the unkind sweepstakes, the reality of male sexual, physical and emotional violence against women and children is slightly worse than not being invited on a march. Liberating women from these structures should be the goal of feminism, not worrying about whether or nor men’s feelings are hurt.

We cannot fight for liberation if our physical and emotional time is spent placating men or worrying about their feelings. Our emotional health and our time are very precious resources that need to be allocated to other women. We need to allocate it to ourselves.

This is why I worry about feminist organisations like The Everyday Sexism Project praising men with their #everydayallies hashtag on twitter. We are praising them for behaving like human beings; not for doing anything to support women’s liberation or to end male violence, but for acting like human beings. This should be a basic requirement of humanity, not a cause for celebration.

This isn’t to say that men should not take responsibility for ending male violence against women and girls but that they need to take on this work themselves. More men need to support women’s liberation, rather than demanding to be included in work women are doing (and then trying to take credit just for rocking up).

Critiquing The Everyday Sexism Project for taking out a few hours from the brilliant work they do for women to thank men may seem churlish, but it is part of larger pattern of women caring for men’s feelings above their own. This is just another way women have to expand energy caring for men more than themselves.

Demanding inclusion of men, within the feminist movement and on parenting websites, also ignores the importance of women-only spaces. There is a tremendous amount of research, from Dale Spender to Margaret Atwood, into how men dominate public spaces and public communication. More recently, Ruth Lewis and Elizabeth Sharp’s research into the importance of women-only spaces, conducted following the North East Feminist Gathering in 2012 and published on Feminist Times, has documented numerous positive outcomes for women including a surge in confidence and reflexivity, as well as a safe place for debate and to challenge stereotypes.

The incursion of men into women-only spaces has a detrimental effect on women’s abilities to communicate and engage with one another safely. This should be something of concern to feminists rather than the feelings of men who feel excluded. Women-only spaces are important for women’s cognitive and emotional safety. We need to make sure that every single woman has this space.

This is why parenting sites like Mumsnet and Netmums are so popular. They are sites by women, for women, talking about every single issue that women are concerned about – from caring for a child to radical feminist politics to football. Men who demand to be part of these spaces aren’t engaging with the reality of women’s lives. They are demanding the right to speak over and for women. They are demanding the right to be the most important concern in the room. This is inherently anti-feminist.

Men who understand feminism don’t need our praise. They just get on with the work needed to undo the patriarchy. Feminism needs more men like this. We also need to reflect more on why feminism is starting to replicate the harmful gendered stereotypes on which the institution of marriage is based when it is feminism that recognised the harm in the first place.

Why has feminism become so concerned with ensuring men aren’t excluded rather than focusing on women’s exclusion from public life? Why are the feelings of a few men upset because a parenting website doesn’t include the word “dad”, when the reality is that women do the vast majority of parenting at the expense of our health?

Putting the needs of men, as a class, to feel included above the safety of women is an anti-feminist position. Feminism should be by women, for women, because women are important too – and our feelings of exclusion are grounded in reality.

– See more at: http://www.feministtimes.com/men-know-your-place/#sthash.ZArZxXyy.dpuf

I was sexually harassed more when pregnant and with my kids

(Originally Published at Feminist Times)

Street harassment: a concept that was once reserved for dirty old men in trench coats and construction workers, has finally been recognised as a significant part of the spectrum of male violence against women and girls through the activism of groups like Hollaback and Everyday Sexism.

The recognition of how unsafe public spaces can be for all women, regardless of things like body type and age, is becoming more commonplace, as is the understanding of how street harassment disproportionately affects women of colour due to the intersections of racism and misogyny. However, there is one area of street harassment that remains unspoken: the harassment of women who are pregnant or with small children.

The fact that it remains, for the most part, unspoken, makes it difficult to assess how common street harassment is for pregnant women and mothers. We tend to think of women with children as safe from street harassment, yet it is the very vulnerability of being pregnant or with a child that makes it easier for men to harass without consequence. A woman with a child is less likely to confront a street harasser because of the fear of the possible harm to their child.

My first pregnancy was aged 18, when I looked no more than 15. I was the skinny kid with bad glasses and frizzy hair but I experienced a tremendous amount of street harassment before getting pregnant. Growing up in a transient mining community with a high rate of alcoholism in Northern Canada isn’t a safe space for women at the best of times. It was worse for Indigenous women.

The harassment got worse after I gave birth. I assumed, wrongly, that this increase was due to my age: that it was only because I looked young that I was being harassed. Then I experienced a similar increase in street harassment after the birth of my second child when I was 29, when I most definitely did not look 15. I have had comments about my breasts, my ass, and a number of dubious propositions all in front of my child.

Was I surprised that men were sexually harassing me in front of my child? Absolutely. I had naively thought men would not target a pregnant women or mother, not if she was outside the age range of the “teen Mum” who was in their mind, by default, a slut and therefore deserving of all harassment and abuse.

I wasn’t alone. It turns out that street harassment whilst pregnant or with a young child isn’t that uncommon. I’ve heard countless complaints from other women at toddler and baby groups. Parenting website Mumsnet has had thread after thread where women discuss their experiences of street harassment whilst pregnant or with small children. GirlwiththeMouseyHair wrote of her experiences of street harassment, which included a sexual assault, whilst 6 months pregnant and with her toddler.

Another Mumsnetter, D, shared this story with me. I am reproducing it with permission:

When F was little, we were on a quite empty bus and a guy came and sat adjacent and started rubbing himself in a quite blatant fashion whilst staring right at us. My thought at the time was that he might think I was less likely to kick off as I had a toddler with me. Or it could have been something worse that got his jollies. I was frozen to the spot. Then luckily he got off. I really didn’t know what to do.

Whatever the reason for this sexual assault D felt more vulnerable because she was with her child. This is a reality of street harassment, up to and including sexual assault, and it needs more research.

Without the research available I can’t statistically prove for you here that street harassment and sexual harassment increases when women are pregnant or with young children. So much of the evidence is anecdotal and remains in the domain of the message board, but I certainly remember more experiences whilst pregnant or with a toddler.

It’s possible this reflects feelings of greater vulnerability rather than a greater experience of harassment, or that I remember these incidents more vividly because my children experienced the harassment too – having someone confirm your experience can make it feel more real. It is heart-breaking when that validation comes from your 3 year old asking why the man was rude to you, or when your 2 year old asks the definition of a sex term that no small child should be familiar with.

The reality of street harassment is that no woman is safe in public spaces. That street harassment is a constant feature of women’s lives and that, unfortunately, this includes when women are pregnant or with their children.

– See more at: http://www.feministtimes.com/i-was-sexually-harassed-more-when-pregnant-and-with-my-kids/#sthash.b6HiSDMX.dpuf

I love Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum!

I really do. I know they aren’t really the most Feminist-friendly of books but I love them. Stephanie has a shit job and no real qualifications and she stinks at her job. She’s constantly being rescued by either Ranger or Morelli but I still love her.

More importantly, I want to be Grandma Mazur. Okay, she lives with her daughter and son-in-law who isn’t exactly fond of her and she has an unfortunate tendency to disrupt funerals but she carries a gun, wants to be a rock star, runs about with all manner of leprechauns, thieves and doesn’t bat an eyelid at her granddaughter’s life. Grandma Mazur and Stephanie are both living their lives outside of the heteronarmative rules of their community and are happy doing so!

I don’t want to be a bounty hunter and I’m a huge fan of gun control laws but living your life in spite of the objections of the Patriarchy and being happy doing so is an amazing gift that not enough women enjoy. More importantly, I’d keep Ranger. Morelli is lovely and all but you know he’d expect his partner to do all the domestic chores. Ranger might not be around much but he pays maintenance and is good in bed. I’m all for matriarchal child rearing and sex on the side.

That and the strength of the relationships between the women: Stephanie with her sister, mother and grandmother and Stephanie with her friends Lula and Connie. What makes these books special is the emphasis on women’s friendships: on their unconditional love and support for another. That is Feminism.

Violence against women and girls is state-sanctioned terrorism

Man Haron Monis was placed on a two-year “good behaviour bond” in 2013 after writing a series of offensive letters to families of soldiers killed in Afghanistan. He was then charged as an accessory in the murder of his ex-wife Noleen Hayson. Monis was released on bail. Since then, he has appeared twice in court on 40 sexual assault offences. Magistrate William Pierce, who originally granted Monis bail, said he did not represent a threat to the public. He was not deemed a threat at subsequent hearings. Now, two more people are dead following Monis’ siege of a café.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott is asking if the hostage taking could have been prevented. The answer to this question is yes, but not for the reasons Abbott is suggesting. Had Monis’ clear history of multiple counts of sexual violence been taken seriously, he would not have been granted bail. Monis was not considered a risk to the public because we still define public to mean men.

Monis was charged with 40 separate sexual offences and was still not deemed a threat to the general public. This is the reality of rape culture: systemic violence against women is simply not considered a problem. We need to start using the term terrorism to define male violence and we need to start recognising that women are human too. Until we do, men like Monis will continue to perpetrate these crimes, which are not ‘isolated incidents’ but systemic, state-sanctioned terrorism against women and girls.

Hilary Boyd’s Thursdays in the Park

This is one of those books that I really wanted to enjoy. It is the story of a woman’s reawakening after an unhappy marriage to an unpleasant man. Unfortunately, the entire book is the minimisation of male violence both in the marriage of the main character, Jeanie, and that of her daughter. Like Paula McLean, who wrote The Paris Wife,  Hilary Boyd seems to have little understanding of the level of coercion and control that is common. Boyd also gives both husbands an ‘excuse’ for their abusive behaviour: one is the victim of child sexual violence and the other suffers from extreme jealousy. Obviously, neither man is responsible for their own behaviour to the point that Jeanie labels herself a bitch for wanting out of her unhappy marriage.

I would really like to read a “romance” novel, since Jeanie had to find a new man rather than be happy by herself, that actually understood the dynamics of domestic violence. Just one.

Britain’s Youngest Mum was 11 years old [content note for child rape]

(originally published at Ending Victimisation and Blame)

Tressa Middleton was only 11 years old the first time she became pregnant. When first reported, in 2006, the media repeatedly made statements about the father being a “neighbourhood boy”. The focus was on the girl; not the boy and not the circumstances in which an 11 year old child could find themselves pregnant. There was very little discussion about the fact that an 11 year old cannot legally consent to sex and that any sexual relationship with a “neighbourhood boy” older than her would have still been classed as a crime. There was very little discussion about why an 11 year old child was “having sex” or drinking alcohol. Instead, media coverage focused on shaming Tressa and her mother.

Many feminist commentators and people involved in child protection clearly knew the story was far more complex. Those directly involved in the case knew it was more complex, yet could not defend Tressa from the media intrusion without putting her further at risk. When Tressa was 14, it was revealed that her older brother Jason, aged 16 at the age of the attack, was the man who raped her. Jason Middleton was sentenced to 4 years in prison in 2009 and has since been released home to live with his mother.

Tressa, a child victim of rape, became pregnant. She also became addicted to alcohol and was eventually placed in a residential unit without her child and placed in a position where she had no choice but to sign adoption papers.

The original coverage of Tressa’s pregnancy was simply victim blaming. It was horrific shaming of a child victim of rape with no attempt to contextualise Tressa’s abuse. The case has once again gained media coverage due to Tressa’s new pregnancy with the Daily Mail publishing an article conveniently ignoring their original victim-blaming. The refusal to acknowledge their own responsibility in perpetuating the harm to Tressa by publishing salacious articles is important to note but equally so is the failure to place Tressa’s experience within a paradigm of male violence and our culture’s refusal to accept responsibility for not supporting Tressa.

Tressa was a child who was raped. Instead of discussing her experience as rape, which it clearly was under law as 11 year olds cannot consent, the media blamed Tressa repeatedly. Whilst I cannot comment on the specifics of the investigation into Tressa’s rape since that is not a matter of public record, I do want to make it clear that child rape is frequently not investigated properly. We simply do not know if the authorities involved in Tressa’s care realised they were dealing with a child victim of rape. The media certainly didn’t think so. If the authorities did realise it was child rape, did they ever investigate the brother as a possible perpetrator? Again, we cannot know that. All that we do know is that an 11 year old rape victim was forced to live with her rapist despite becoming pregnant (and the rape becoming known to the authorities). The reality is that most rape victims are raped by someone known to them yet we don’t publicly acknowledge the reality of rape by fathers and brothers. We talk about stepfathers and uncles but very rarely fathers and brothers despite this not being uncommon.

What the Daily Mail has also failed to make explicit is that Tressa’s daughter was placed for adoption because of the lack of specialist services for teenage mothers and for mothers with substance misuse problems. They failed to acknowledge the lack of adequate support for victims of child rape; for a child with a clear case of trauma. They didn’t investigate the poor provision for teenage mothers. They didn’t acknowledge how traumatic it would be for a young mother to be forced to live with her rapist; to have no safe space. Or, how traumatic it would be for a child to have her own child forcibly removed from her care simply due to the lack of resources to support both.

Tressa Middleton has had very little choice in having her story become public knowledge. We are doing her a tremendous disservice by focusing on her pregnancies without acknowledging that she was originally blamed for being a victim of child rape; that she has been publicly shamed and humiliated.

Tressa’s case is not an isolated one. We do not have exact figures for children who are raped within their own home by male relatives. We do not have accurate figures for children who become pregnant after being raped. We do know that it is not uncommon. We need to reflect on the treatment Tressa received and look into implementing victim-centred support so that no other child is forced to experience what Tressa did.

There are two separate required responses to this case:

1. The lack of services for victims

  • specialist rape support for children
  • better mandatory training for GPs, health workers, social workers, teachers, police and any other front line staff working with children to recognise the signs of child sexual abuse
  • residential units to support all mothers who are recovering from trauma and/ or substance misuse where the babies can live with their mothers
  • foster care for teenage mothers where the babies can remain in the primary care of the mother

2. Enforceable legislation guiding the publication of stories of male violence against women and girls. Guidelines already exist but they are not strong enough and the media ignores them.

We are complicit in continuing the abuse of Tressa by irresponsible reporting and denying services to victims.

We need to do better.

Realm of the Goddess by Sabina Khan

I first heard of the Realm of the Goddess in a blog with author Sabina Khan on Women Writers, Women Books. As the mother of two daughters, it was this that got my interest:

Disappointed at this obvious lack of diversity to choose from, I decided that I would write one myself. I feel strongly about the need to expose our youth to the magical and colorful traditions that make up our world. I also want my daughters to read about characters like themselves, so that they are not always reading about “others”. Or feeling that they are always the “others”.

My children and others of their generation may or may not want to read about the immigrant experience. But they certainly want to see themselves reflected in the fiction of their time. They want to see characters like themselves battling evil, falling in love and fighting with their parents. They want to know that others like them are dealing with conflicts as diverse as arranged marriage, education, religion and all of the issues that plague young people, regardless of their ethnicity.

As a lover of the genre of fantasy in young adult fiction, I wanted to read a book that was outside the vampire/werewolf/witch theme. I was going to put the book on my Amazon wishlist (600 books long and growing), but it was free on kindle so I downloaded it. And, then couldn’t put it down. It is very difficult to build lego for your kid whilst trying to read a book at the same time and not to  be recommended.

Realm of the Goddess does follow the pattern of vampire/ werewolf / witch books but with Hindu mythology. That alone makes it stand out from the crowd, but it is the richness of detail of Hindu mythology that makes this book so fabulous. The inclusion of the mythology is not forced or that dreadful Wikipedia-style history which made A.S Byatt’s The Children’s Book so unbearable. As a history nerd, I do love historical youth fiction and ones which are correct are hard to find. Granted I knew only the basics of Hindu mythology, but reading this made me want to read more (all recommendations of books written by women gratefully received!).

The main character Callie was fabulously written with depth and intelligence. She also ate actual food with gusto – all kinds of food from the traditional dishes of her family to cheeseburgers and pizza. Her hair was never perfect standing straight up on end when she awoke to the frizz of humidity. Callie reminded me of the character of Claire Danvers in the Morganville Vampire books: intelligent, strong, loyal, and kind. The female characters in young adult fiction are frequently unbearable with their desperation to be with a man. Callie does have a love interest (and they do kiss) but the discussions of the relationship focus on what Callie believes is best for her. Realm of the Goddess joins the Morganville Vampires in being as close to feminist-friendly as can be written. This is why it will never get the publicity of Twilight, which reinforced the norms of our patriarchal culture. Callie not only challenges these norms, but also talks about the reality of male violence and rape. In fact, rape and other forms of male violence are integral to the plot and are clearly labelled as the sole impediment to women’s liberation and power.

This is the hallmark of a great book for me, strong female characters who are real. I want to read more by Khan as well as more books written about Hindu mythology.  I want to see Khan publish a fact book on Hindu mythology like Rick Riordan did for Greek mythology with his Percy Jackson books.

I’m also restraining myself from emailing daily to ask when she’s going to publish the second book.

This Is a War on Women: Erasing Jed Allen’s Choice to Kill

Janet Jordon is responsible for her own murder and that of her partner Philip Howard and 6 year old daughter Derin.

At least, that’s what Victoria Ward has written in the Telegraph this week: Jed Allen isn’t responsible for killing his mother, his half-sister or his mother’s partner because he “had a troubled family life and had struggled with his mother’s alcoholism”. Or, as the title states: ” Didcot Triple Murder: Suspect always had family issues and anger problems”.

These statements come from an unnamed ex-girlfriend and Jane Ilott, the former mayoress of Kidlington and one-time landlord.

Ilott claims that two of Jordon’s children were adopted due to her alcoholism. It’s worth pointing out that we only have Ilcott’s version of event since child protection services are legally prohibited from sharing information about minors. We do not know when the children were adopted, how old Allen was and why he remained in the house with a mother who needed support when his two siblings were removed – if he did indeed remain in the house. Ilott mentions numerous examples of Jordon struggling with alcohol dependency but doesn’t mention once contacting social services as a way of accessing support for Jordon.

Ilcott also helpfully suggests that “it must have impacted on (Allen) when when two of Jane’s children were adopted”. There is no reference to the impact it would have had on Jordon or the other two children.

This is the real problem with Ward’s article: there is no mention of Philip Howard and Derin only gets a brief mention at the end. Ward has effectively excused Allen’s criminal act because Jordon deserved to die since she was a ‘bad mother’.

Ward has not questioned why Jordon had problems with alcohol dependency. She hasn’t bothered to ask if Jordon grew up in an abusive home – and, the links between women’s substance use and child abuse are fairly well established.

This is the reality of the war on women and victim blaming culture: the perpetrator’s agency and choice are erased in favour of a narrative of woman-blaming. Predictably, there is no mention of Jed Allen’s father in this article – and, statistically, fathers are the majority of perpetrators of child neglect and abuse. Yet, there is no pattern of children killing their neglectful or abusive fathers.

Karen Ingala Smith, who runs the Counting Dead Women campaign tracking femicide in England and Wales, makes this double standard clear:

Jed Allen made a choice to kill three people. He is responsible for his actions. Yet it should be understood that his actions took place, not in isolation, but in a context: a society where men and women are unequal, a society that is thick with toxic hyper-masculinity. In this same society, too many are quicker to blame women for men’s choices, even where women are victims of that man’s violence. Jed Allen is at least the 15th UK man to have killed his mother in the last year. He is the second to have killed his mother and sister this year.

Jed Allen may have had a very difficult childhood but so do many children who do not grow up to kill. We need to be very clear here: this is about male violence. It is very rare for women to kill and the context is very different. Women who kill their children tend to have a history of post-natal depression rather than the history of domestic violence of fathers who kill. Women who kill their partners do so in self-defence. Men who choose to kill their current or former partners and children do so as part of the pattern of coercive control that defines domestic violence and abuse.

Our organisation monitors media coverage of male violence. Whilst this is the most egregious coverage we have seen in a while, it follows the normal pattern: blaming the victim, erasing the perpetrator’s agency, and justifying violence without recognising the patterns or contexts of male violence.

Janet Jordon is not responsible for her own murder or that of her daughter and partner. Jed Allen made a choice to kill his mother and sister. He made this choice within a context of endemic male violence against women and girls. These types of murders are not isolated or tragic. They are simply the extension of patriarchal control over women’s bodies and lives.

If we want to end familial violence, we need to start tackling our culture of hyper-masculinity and male entitlement which leads men to believe they are justified in killing women and children. Otherwise, we will continue to read stories of families being slaughtered by a male member and the victims held accountable for their own murders.

The war on women exists because we allow these narratives of justifiable male violence to continue. Until men start examining their own privilege and entitlement, women and children will continue to pay the price with their lives.

 

First published on Huffington Post as Everyday Victim Blaming

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Domestic Violence does not go ‘awry’

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Originally published 31.12.14

 

Earlier this week, I challenged a tweet from Warrington Central Police which implies that the victim is responsible for stopping domestic violence and that, once reported, the police will ensure it stops. They did respond to my challenge, defensively, but they did respond which is more than other police forces have done in the past. I challenged because it is this language which prevents women from reporting to the police. Women know that the greatest risk to their life and that of their children is leaving the relationship. Several reports on research in the US suggest that the majority of physical violence resulting in hospitalisation occurs after separation and that the majority of male offenders are not living with women they abuse. Richards, in a London study in 2003, found that 76% of women are murdered by violent men are killed during separation. That study also found that 50% of sexual violence occurred during or after separation.* Women living domestic violence know this – a tweet suggesting that the police will immediately stop the perpetrator does not give women confidence since it suggests a police force which simply does not understand the reality of domestic violence. With ‘austerity cuts’ slashing budgets to women’s services which have resulted in refuges closing, women are quite aware that safe spaces are decreasing. This also assumes that they have no children as very few violent men are actually denied contact with their children forcing women to live with domestic violence even after the relationship has ended. Neither the family court system, criminal justice system nor government services are adequate to deal with domestic violence. Like the tweet above which suggests that one phone call will render everything hunky-dory, the system does not prioritise the safety of victims. Instead, it holds the victim responsible for ‘allowing’ the abuse to continue and completely erases the perpetrator.

I challenge these types of tweets fairly frequently so I would not have thought anymore about it had I not woken to the news of the murder of 8 people in Edmonton, Alberta where the formal police statement includes the phrases ‘extreme domestic violence’ and “domestic violence gone awry’. Identities of the murder victims and the perpetrator have not been formally released (although I see the media is already trying to get around that law), but the police are clear that the perpetrator has a long criminal record that includes arrests for domestic violence, sexual violence and uttering threats in 2012 and this year. I have to wonder why the perpetrator was not in prison since Canadian law does not require the victim to testify in order to proceed with a criminal trial. I await the excuses as to why this man was not being monitored more appropriately considering his history of domestic violence is a clear indicator of the potential to commit fatal violence.

What is most concerning are the statements from police chief Rod Knecht which demonstrate a clear failure to understand what domestic violence actually is: the murder of 8 people is not an “extreme form”. It is domestic violence. These are only some of the statistics on domestic violence in Canada:

  • On average, every six days a woman in Canada is killed by her intimate partner.  In 2011, In 2011, from the 89 police reported spousal homicides, 76 of the victims (over 85%) were women.
  • On any given day in Canada, more than 3,300 women (along with their 3,000 children) are forced to sleep in an emergency shelter to escape domestic violence. Every night, about 200 women are turned away because the shelters are full. 
  • Each year, over 40,000 arrests result from domestic violence—that’s about 12% of all violent crime in Canada.Since only 22% of all incidents are reported to the police, the real number is much higher.
  • According to the Department of Justice, each year Canadians collectively spend $7.4 billion to deal with the aftermath of spousal violence. This figure includes immediate costs such as emergency room visits and future costs such as loss of income. It also includes tangible costs such as funerals, and intangible costs such as pain and suffering.10
  • In 2010, the rate of intimate partner homicide committed against females increased by 19%, the third increase in four years. During that same period, the rate for male victims fell by almost half. 20
  • Victims are now less likely to report an incident to police.22
  • More women are experiencing violence after leaving their abuser.23

These statistics are taken from the Canadian Women’s Foundation. These statistics are not shocking to anyone working in the sector and they shouldn’t be shocking to a chief of police. Yet, Knecht’s statement ignores this reality by suggesting that murdering 8 people is ‘extreme’ as though non-fatal domestic violence were not really a problem because no one dies (except, obviously, the one woman a week who is murdered). And that domestic violence isn’t really a problem unless it goes ‘awry’ – as if there were a ‘normal’ pattern of domestic violence that really wasn’t that big a deal (unless of course you are one of the 200 women a night turned away from shelters because they are full) and that the number of women reporting to police declining is their fault.

Over the next few days, we are going to hear a narrative of a poor depressed man who was not really responsible for his actions – this is already apparent in the CBC coverage. We will hear statements about‘good fathers’ or ones like that made by coroner Kevin McCarthy on the brutal murder of Deborah Ruse by her ex-husband Oliver, who then committed suicide:

“Tragedies like this bring home to us all the complexities of relationships and the frailties of life.”

We will hear a lot of discussion about mental health services and depression. We will hear a lot of excuses made for perpetrators of domestic violence. What we will hear little of in the mainstream press is that perpetrators make a choice to commit domestic violence and that depression does not cause domestic violence, nor does it cause the murder of 8 people. We will hear a lot about father’s rights and nasty women preventing fathers from seeing their children, as though domestic violence has no impact whatsoever on the emotional and physical wellbeing of children in the house. We won’t talk about men’s entitlement to women’s bodies. We won’t take about the fact that police are statistically more likely to be perpetrators of domestic abuse than the general population and that it is these very perpetrators who are being sent out to investigate domestic violence in the wider community. We won’t talk about the culture of hyper-masculinity within police forces or their failures to deal appropriately with their own officers who are perpetrators. We won’t talk about how language used by the police minimises domestic violence, erases the perpetrator and leaves women with no faith in the very institution who are supposed to protect them.

Instead, we will hear Knecht talking about domestic violence going ‘awry’. We will hear the term ‘isolated incident’ even though 1 in 3 women experience domestic violence in their lifetime. And, then we will hear of another male family annihilator with a history of domestic violence brutally murdering his current or former partner and children – where the same excuses, minimising language and misrepresentations of domestic violence by police will occur. The media will remain silent on the irony of the organisation with a serious problem of domestic violence being responsible for investigating the very crimes a not-insignificant number of their members commit. And, police forces will continue to tweet out statements which hold victims accountable for being victims.

 

*Scottish Women’s Aid run a training course called Why Doesn’t She Leave? I highly recommend attending for anyone who may be working with women and children living with domestic violence or those trying to support family members and friends.

“Deeply Romantic” : Paula McLain’s The Paris Wife

I received a free copy of Paula McLain’s The Paris Wife via the Mumsnet Book of the Month Book Club. I’ve enjoyed most of the books I’ve received free copies of with the notable exception of Aimee Bender’s The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cakewhich bored me senseless and I gave it up after 50 pages. The Paris Wife, though, made me rage incandescently.

It started with the comment on the front from Sarah Blake who wrote The Postmistress : “As much about life and how we try to catch it as it is about love even as it vanishes …”. My first instinct was to bang my head off my desk. This is a book about Ernest Hemingway’s first marriage; the Ernest Hemingway who isn’t precisely renown for his respect for women. I’ve not read Sarah Blake’s The Postmistress so I don’t know if this book represents her understanding of love but it sure as hell doesn’t meet mine.

The back cover is worse. It bears the quote “Deeply Romantic” from the Times Literary Supplement which is a publication I generally avoid because of, well, Rupert Murdoch. The less said about that man, the better. But, back to the point: “Deeply Romantic.” This is the story of an psychologically abusive man who belittles and isolates his wife Hadley at every opportunity whilst they live in Paris and then, in a grand gesture of romance, tries to get her to live in menage-a-trois with his mistress; one of Hadley’s only “friends.”

There is nothing ‘romantic’ about this relationship. Hadley is a lonely and isolated young woman who enters into a relationship with the first man she really manages to meet whilst living in a fairly suffocating family situation with a dying mother. Hadley may be several years older than Ernest but this isn’t a relationship of equals. She gives up everything for him and he tries to destroy her.Ernest used Hadley because he could but he had an escape route and she didn’t. This isn’t romance. It’s psychological abuse and it is utterly misogynistic to pretend otherwise. Ernest had sex with another woman in the same bed as Hadley. It doesn’t matter that this other woman becomes his second wife Pauline or that she instigated the encounter. The point is this is a self-destructive man destroying the women around him and burning through friendship after friendship with his narcissism. This isn’t romantic behaviour. It’s soul-destroying.

Whilst this is a fictional account and we can not know what happened during Hadley and Ernest’s marriage for certain, it is utterly irresponsible to peddle this kind of victim-blaming misogyny as “romance.” If this were advertised simply as a fictional/biographical account of their marriage, then it would be an incredible book because it is beautifully written and McLain has some lovely descriptions of the loneliness within marriage and the feelings of isolation from everything but it’s peddled as a “romance”. That is dangerous because it reinforces a cultural trope about “artistic” men which blames their victims for not being “understanding.” Roman Polanski has benefited quite well from this trope which has allowed him to take no responsibility for his very serious crime of child rape. And, get a standing ovation for his Oscar which was, frankly, one of the most appalling scenes of mass victim-blaming ever.

If Hadley were my friend, I would be phoning Women’s Aid on her behalf. The trope of abuse as romance is destructive and violent. It starts when we tell little girls that the boy in their class who pulls their hair and calls them smelly “loves” them. We teach our daughters that men don’t know how to communicate love effectively so have to resort to crass bullying and violence. Good men don’t need to have their egos stroked daily nor do they get upset if you have friends. Good men don’t treat their wives as appendages to be discarded when they get “old” or have the temerity to give birth and change the shape of their body.

Don’t get me wrong. I did enjoy this book. It is beautifully written and McLean’s descriptions of their marriage are equally sad and moving but this isn’t romance. It isn’t love. It also isn’t actually about Hadley; mostly Hadley serves as a tool for defining Ernest. Depressingly, the book is really all about him. Hadley is just there, in the background, serving no purpose except as “sweet little wife” to big, important author. It would have been more interesting if it had been about Hadley. We spend far too much time celebrating “Great Men” and not enough time simply acknowledging women. The thing which would improve this book is to have advertised it as ” The Real Woman’s Guide to Spotting an Emotionally Abusive Fuckwit,” then Hadley wouldn’t be insignificant in her own story.

As long as we keep peddling these relationships as “romantic,” we will continue to institutionalise Intimate Partner Violence as normal. The Paris Wife might be representative of Hadley and Ernest’s marriage but it most certainly should NOT be representative of marriage.

I call this The Norman Mailer Rule. If you meet a man who says Mailer is romantic, don’t date them. Life is too short and love too precious to waste on these relationships.

These are the signs of Intimate Partner Violence as outlined by Women’s Aid:• Destructive criticism and verbal abuse: shouting/mocking/accusing/name calling/verbally threatening

• Pressure tactics: sulking, threatening to withhold money, disconnect the telephone, take the car away, commit suicide, take the children away, report you to welfare agencies unless you comply with his demands regarding bringing up the children, lying to your friends and family about you, telling you that you have no choice in any decisions.

• Disrespect: persistently putting you down in front of other people, not listening or responding when you talk, interrupting your telephone calls, taking money from your purse without asking, refusing to help with childcare or housework.

• Breaking trust: lying to you, withholding information from you, being jealous, having other relationships, breaking promises and shared agreements.

• Isolation: monitoring or blocking your telephone calls, telling you where you can and cannot go, preventing you from seeing friends and relatives.

• Harassment: following you, checking up on you, opening your mail, repeatedly checking to see who has telephoned you, embarrassing you in public.

• Threats: making angry gestures, using physical size to intimidate, shouting you down, destroying your possessions, breaking things, punching walls, wielding a knife or a gun, threatening to kill or harm you and the children.

• Sexual violence: using force, threats or intimidation to make you perform sexual acts, having sex with you when you don’t want to have sex, any degrading treatment based on your sexual orientation.

• Physical violence: punching, slapping, hitting, biting, pinching, kicking, pulling hair out, pushing, shoving, burning, strangling.

• Denial: saying the abuse doesn’t happen, saying you caused the abusive behaviour, being publicly gentle and patient, crying and begging for forgiveness, saying it will never happen again.