Tag Archives: violence against women

The media’s brazen bias against women

It doesn’t matter whether the paper or website is officially or unofficially conservative or liberal. It doesn’t matter who writes the articles. It doesn’t matter what tragic horror was experienced by the victim(s) in domestic violence reports. The media’s bias against women is out in the open for everyone to see, if they care to notice it. So naturally, few do.

Repetition is a key tactic in social engineering. The more you repeat a message, the more it seems true and inevitable. Tell stories from the perspective of the perpetrator over and over again and the public will learn to sympathize with them rather than with the victims. Since the people who beat and murder their partners are almost invariably men whose victims are women and children, the language used by the media to cast these men in a particular light is chillingly consistent across media platforms. It doesn’t take a conspiracy theorist to see that the problem is systemic.

The Daily Mail published an article today regarding the murder of Irish teacher Clodagh Hawe by her husband Alan, who after stabbing her went on to murder their three sons and then turned the knife on himself. Jilly Beattie reports:

The Irish Mirror reports tormented Mr Hawe stabbed Clodagh in the throat in a downstairs room before strangling and stabbing his sleeping boys to death. [emphasis added]

Immediately after describing how Alan Hawe slaughtered his family, the barbarity of his actions are tempered by the author as they call our attention to his mental state. He was suffering, you understand. Tormented. None of the immediate members of the Hawe family are able to speak for themselves and the person who saw to that is the one we’re meant to sympathize with.

Clodagh Hawe [Irish Mirror]

Clodagh Hawe [Irish Mirror]

The fact that the first photo of Clodagh that was published was accompanied by praise for her murderer is not shocking, but it is outrageous and telling. Alan is described in the article, in the words of his friend (who didn’t want to be named), as:

– a kind and decent person who felt an overriding need to look after the people around him

– devoted

– good

– supportive

These are not appropriate words to describe a murderer. The friend went so far as to state, “Alan never put a step wrong”. NEVER PUT A STEP WRONG! I find it very hard to believe that a man who kills his entire family and then himself has never had prior abusive tendencies or violent outbursts.

He loved his family with all is heart, we’re told. The narrative that men who commit violence against their loved ones do so despite love or out of love rationalizes male violence by obscuring how these men really look at the people they “love”. I believe that people who decide to build families together believe sincerely that they love each other and will love their children, and that this is the case for most people. But the reality is that there are people who enter into and stay in relationships for reasons other than love. There are people who have children out of a sense of duty or perceived emotional need. Much of what binds people together in relationships and families is financial necessity, social factors, emotional attachment, and co-dependency. The ‘happy family’ trope is damaging to the vulnerable, in a society where teens self-harm and become homeless as a result of violent or toxic family dynamics. Families tend to hide and deny these things, leaving children on their own to discern between normal family strife and actual abuse and toxicity. They often then internalize these problems, believing that it’s their fault or that there’s something wrong with them. We can’t afford to keep validating the idea that it’s normal to hurt, really hurt, the people we love.

A woman, particularly if she has children with a violent man, will stay for a variety of reasons, not least of which because she believes that he loves her, and that love and abuse are compatible. “He loves you” is gaslighting. It’s just another way of saying that his feelings matter, that they justify his actions, and that her feelings don’t matter. It tells us that it’s more important to understand what he’s supposedly going through than to ensure her safety and support her needs. Too many women have learned that compassion and patience in the face of an abusive man will get you hurt or killed. Women have lost access to their children and ended up in jail because of violent men.

People often tell female victims of abuse that the perpetrator can’t be that bad because he seems like such a nice guy. They don’t know what he does behind closed doors when no one is looking – something abusers make sure of and exploit. Calculation and manipulation are not the behaviours of a victim. Abusers do this so that when their actions are exposed, people who know them will make excuses for them and doubt those they’ve hurt. Extended family, friends, and co-workers often don’t witness him pitching a fit, threatening, breaking or throwing things, being emotionally abusive, pushing or hitting. And when they do, they often stay silent or minimize it.

The messaging on this issue is strong. Women are expected to fix men who are “broken” and put their own well-being second. They’re instructed to be a good woman/wife/mother and stand by their man. That it was just one little blow up. A mistake. He’ll change. He won’t do it again. He’s just under a lot of pressure. This is how society colludes to guarantee male violence against women and children. Children see this dynamic, they hear the rhetoric, and they internalize it too.

A man who abuses a woman doesn’t love her. Abuse and love are mutually exclusive. A man who abuses a woman views her as his property, a mere extension of his thoughts and feelings, as lesser to him. He wants to control her, make her doubt her own worth and sanity, make her suffer, and ultimately submit to him. And the ultimate way of forcing submission is to snuff a person’s life out. There’s no coming back from that. It’s the most raw assertion of power one human being can inflict on another.

The narrative of mental illness frames the issue in a way that distracts us from the recognition of male violence and misogyny. Women suffer from higher rates of mental illness than men, and yet most cases of battery and homicide are committed by men. We don’t see women who suffer from PTSD following rape or other forms of violence, or their time in the military, carrying out massacres or later killing their spouses or families. Again and again we conflate one problem with another, and the cycle repeats itself.

Mental illness can’t be the chief factor when the violent actions of people who exhibit mental instability aren’t shared evenly throughout that population (and this only increases the stigma of those suffering from mental illness). It can’t be the chief factor when violent men are extended sympathy while women and children are reduced to a footnote.

Not a single article I’ve read on the matter makes mention of an attempt to speak to Clodagh’s family or friends.* There’s no indication that investigators or journalists are considering a possible history of domestic violence and what life might have been like for Clodagh and the boys. The focus is on the murderer. As Linnea Dunne writes, Clodagh is rendered invisible in one media article after another, which tell the story from Alan’s point of view, describing other people in relation to him. The bias can’t be any clearer.

The Daily Mail Male also provides links to support groups which in most cases won’t address the problem because the problem isn’t being correctly identified.

The links provided in this article suggest that the only problem here is depression and suicide. It’s good to share resources with young people who may need to speak to someone about how they’re feeling or what’s going on in the home. But we don’t know whether Alan Hawe was depressed, and regardless, people aren’t inherently violent by virtue of their depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, etc. Many men commit murder-suicides because they don’t want to face the consequences of their actions. If Hawe simply didn’t want to live, he would have just killed himself, but he took his whole family with him, suggesting that he couldn’t accept the thought of them going on without him. That betrays a sense of entitlement and selfishness.

Not a single link to a support service for those suffering from domestic violence is provided in the article. Women are killed every day by their male partners and… silence. Unless one decides on one’s own to seek out further information, this skewed and incomplete treatment of the issue forms the basis of the public’s understanding. No wonder the problem keeps getting worse!

When these men snap, they externalize their problems onto women and children, who they know are attached to them, dependent on them, and not readily able to escape from or redress their violence. That’s the point. These men don’t pick on people who are equally matched in size, strength or social power. Their sense of ownership over the lives of women and children, coupled with their sense of superiority over them, means that no matter how much progress we make with respect to mental illness, men will continue to be violent as they have always been.

The media doesn’t try to hide it. Misogyny and male violence are staring us right in the face, and this problem won’t go away until we recognize it for what it is.


If you live in the UK, please take a moment to let people know about the resources Women’s Aid offers and/or donate if you can.

* A week after the incident was reported in the news, the Irish Mirror and Irish Sun finally published a response by a relative of Clodagh which paints a drastically different picture of Alan Hawe and urged the public sympathize with his victims instead.

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Why men should stop calling themselves feminists

When Emma Watson posted a tribute to the late Alan Rickman by highlighting one of his quotes about feminism, she faced a swift backlash for what some people idiots claimed was a gratuitous promotion of feminism (because promoting feminism is a bad thing and famous people are never quoted in memoriam?).

It’s always good overall, I think, when men can say the word feminism without looking like they’ve just smelled something funky. Although it’s helpful that not all men (or women) think it’s a dirty word, not speaking derisively about the movement for women’s liberation is a basic minimum of decency. If the bar has been set so low that men are lavished with praise for verbally recognizing that women are human beings, this is a solid argument for sustaining the topic in public discourse, to be sure.

The question is: who should shape and own that discourse? Lately there have been numerous instances in which men – especially white men of means – take up the mantle of feminist and instruct other men to do the same. While some women don’t have a problem with this I think it’s worth exploring why some women do because talking about feminism, whether it’s being done by women or men, is not a gender-neutral practice.

The words, ideas, and actions of men carry more weight in society. Females and males aren’t just individuals but also members of social classes which are defined by specific criteria: who they’re perceived to be, how they’re expected to behave, and how they relate to each other. Men hold certain things in common, with some variation thrown in the mix such as nationality, ethnicity, economic class, and sexual orientation. The same goes for women. The result is a complex web of social groups, some of which are organized according to hierarchies i.e. structures of power. The internal commonalities that differentiate males and females from each other are one such example. Of all the topics imaginable, sexism is the subject for which sex-based inequality matters the most. When men and women talk about feminism they’re doing so from privileged and underprivileged positions respectively.

As well-meaning as all of this is, it presents some significant problems. When Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says that men need to be a big part of the conversation, I cringe. Men should critique the system of gender (masculinity and femininity) and talk about what they can do to dismantle it. Most importantly, they should elevate the voices of women, especially marginalized women such as women of colour, indigenous women, immigrant women, poor and working class women, lesbians, disabled women, etc. – bearing in mind that many women belong to more than one of these groups. Organizations like A Call To Men UK do a great job of advocating for the well-being of women and the reason for this is that they take responsibility and they listen to us. Men acting as the face and voice of feminism and taking up space in the movement is actually the last thing that feminism needs. There are loads of intelligent, charismatic women who can (and do) discuss feminism more articulately, more accurately, and with more credibility than men ever can. Why should they have a platform to speak our truths?

mf1

I believe that men should never identify as feminists – and certainly not any time they feel like it as Trudeau suggests. A man, especially one who enjoys multiple levels of privilege, dictating who can or should adopt this title and when smacks of hubris and paternalism. The benefactors of an oppressive system have no business setting the language and parameters of the activism that seeks to destroy that system. The conflict of interest here is obvious to anyone willing to see it.

I recently had a conversation with a friend of a friend who, as soon as he found out I’m a feminist, was eager to tell me that he’s a feminist too. I thought, ‘Oh no. Here we go again’. I took a deep breath and told him that a lot of women aren’t comfortable with men adopting the label of feminist. Without a moment’s hesitation, he dismissed me. “That’s not my problem,” he said.

mftw

It’s always deeply disappointing when men who assume the good guy status ultimately prove themselves to be classic mansplainers. It’s become such a cliché.

bc

Ilana and Abbi in Broad City

Isn’t it convenient that there are two tranches of feminism that men can pick and choose from as though they’re deciding which ice cream tastes better and the one that’s most desirable to them happens to be the one that least challenges their privilege? This serves the purpose of creating a subclass of feminists who are deemed deserving of abuse and allows men to avoid questioning themselves while appearing virtuous. They can rest easy because they’ve been accepted by the good feminists. The real feminists.

jgl

There’s something mildly relieving about the few times guys manage to say something about sexism or feminism that isn’t misguided, stupid, or arrogant. (Don’t worry, I’ll spare you the Ryan Gosling memes because you’ve probably seen a lifetime’s worth and then some.)

It’s not wrong for public figures to say that it’s important to demand a shift in attitudes as Trudeau has said, but I have a feeling he means something different when he says this than when I do. I know I’m not alone in feeling that we’re far from done and radical change can’t come soon enough. We’re expected to be satisfied with minor advancements and I’m sorry (not sorry) but women have only ever made progress when we’ve fought for it. It doesn’t make sense to low-ball in what is essentially treated as a negotiation of human rights.

It’s not as though women have been sitting around at Stitch ‘n Bitch waiting for politicians to give them the green light. Women have been practicing feminism since well before male sympathizers were born. Women are the ones with the most at stake and we also happen to be the experts. So shouldn’t the experts be educating the public on how to move forward? If gender parity really is a priority in his administration, the best way for Trudeau to demonstrate that is to step aside and let women speak, and not just about feminism but every other issue too because we are people, after all, and we have a lot of smart things to say about every topic under the sun. The only way for us to change the fact that men’s words carry more weight is to take some of it and place it on the other side of the scale.

The truth is, very few men know what they’re talking about. Time and time again we see men insisting that they’re feminists and that they know what feminism is and how we should go about it, only to end up stepping in it. Then they track that garbage all over the place without even realizing it. When do we say, enough?

We can pluck examples from a wide variety of men with the same predictable outcome. The most ridiculous case that comes to mind is when porn actor and serial abuser James Deen was lauded as a feminist and “feminist” publications had to backtrack when his misogyny became too embarassingly obvious to rationalize.

A lot of people laughed when Pope Francis said, “forgive me if I’m a bit feminist” and then went on to say, in the way that condescending men are wont to, that women are just so fantastic because they do the care work while men do all the talking. But are other spiritual leaders much different? For instance, what about the Dalai Lama, who proudly wears the feminist label?

It didn’t take long for him to screw up. Just one year later self-identified Buddhist feminists went into damage control after the leader made an unequivocally sexist comment. Oops! When asked whether he supported the idea that the next Lama could be a woman, he enthusiastically said yes (watch at 4:52) but he followed this up with two assertions. The first was that women are biologically wired to be more affectionate and compassionate than men – that familiar stereotype that’s been used for centuries to force support roles on women and deny them other forms of employment. The second was that this woman would have to be very attractive or else she wouldn’t be of much use. Visibly shocked by this, the interviewer asked him if he was joking and he confirmed that he wasn’t. He clearly wasn’t. But even if he had been joking, which many Buddhists insisted was the case regardless of appearances, sexist jokes aren’t funny (how many times do we have to say this??) and they definitely aren’t feminist.

The term ‘male feminist’ exists because females are the default feminists. We’re the default feminists because feminism is a political movement that organizes for the liberation of females from male domination. If I’m being brutally honest? Very few men are interested in destroying this system and those who say they are almost always get in the way. The biggest hindrance to progress is the fact that any given man is far more likely to perpetuate sexism than to challenge it. Women participate in this system as well as a result of our own social conditioning, but with one key difference: relatively speaking, men have power and women do not. The potential for men to divide, derail, and sabotage feminism through their mere presence is enormous.

From this angle, members of the oppressor class referring to themselves as the liberators of the people they oppress is itself an act of domination, whether intentional or not. It’s not for men to decide what or who is feminist. It’s disrespectful to feminists who work hard, take risks and make sacrifices. They shouldn’t have to share the well-earned badge of feminist with people who not only hold power over them but will never understand what it means to be a woman in a culture that hates females. If a man insists on calling himself a feminist despite all of this, he is anything but; that it’s a matter of respecting women’s boundaries should be enough for him to back off. Feminism belongs to women, as do the words we use to signal our support for the struggle.

There are a lot of things men can do to help women, some more effective than others. As Helen Lewis explains, whereas men often want to be part of the feminist conversation – as many believe is their right – the most valuable contribution men can make to feminism is to take on the burdens that have for so long been the responsibility of women. It’s not glamorous or fun but that’s not the point anyway.

Apparently this needs to be said: men are not entitled to feminist spaces, nor do feminists have any obligation to listen to what men have to say about the women’s liberation movement. It’s great when they reject masculinity but if they’re just performing a different stereotype, or they think their gender divergence means they’re not really men, then gender roles are left intact. When it comes to men and gender, true nonconformity means abandoning one’s allegiance to masculinity along with any notion that one’s sex is correlated with one’s personality.

fgr

Being an ally to social causes shouldn’t be about personal identity and it shouldn’t matter whether you’ve taken on a particular status because having a shiny happy image doesn’t help anyone but you.

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What will it take to end sexism?

The topics of gender-based discrimination and abuse continue to pop up in the Canadian media. Personally, I’m still rattled about how conversations about the Jian Ghomeshi scandal have exposed our limits to addressing sexism. It brought me to many videos and articles that helped me probe how I feel about these topics more deeply, especially since I realized how much this has affected me on an emotional level. Looking back on my past, I realized that I’ve been sexually assaulted many times but have never really acknowledged it. Firstly because each time it’s happened it became more normalized in my imagination and secondly because it was almost always at the hands of men I knew and trusted. With each incident, I told myself it could have been worse so it wasn’t that big a deal. They weren’t things you could tell the police about and expect action to be taken. Ubiquity and powerlessness lead to acceptance. But together, these things add up. And while it may seem like we’re getting somewhere because we keep hearing about new allegations of sexual harassment even within government, this isn’t what I would call progress.

While we’re okay with discussing violence against women and sexual misconduct in the public sphere, we should pay close attention to what happens when we land on the concepts of patriarchy and privilege. It quickly becomes apparent just how resistant many people are to acknowledging the fundamental machinations that produce gender-based injustice.

In a recent article, writer Denise Balkissoon articulated something very important while making many men uncomfortable in the process (take a look at the comment section). In Sorry, we haven’t reached a ‘watershed’ on violence against women, Balkissoon says:

I don’t get what is known now that was a mystery yesterday – or why what was ignored yesterday is now so urgent to address. All that’s different now is that we know one guy’s name, and that guy happens to be famous.

This is a sobering point. Why haven’t all the shocking stories we’ve heard jolted us into making substantial progress? What will it take to change things? Every time we try to take a step forward we’re met with a backlash. Expecting that the problem would go away if only women would come forward is unrealistic and unfair. These things don’t happen because of the conduct of the victims. And in addition to being discouraged from coming forward or fighting back, doing so may actually place us in greater danger, as comedian Amanda Seales explains in the video below. She cites the case of a woman who was murdered in Detroit after rejecting a man who asked for her number (of course, the clueless dolt debating her thinks she could have solved the issue by carrying a gun). As much as this guy pisses me off though, watching this is a guilty pleasure because Seales’ facial expressions are priceless.


I’m sick and tired of being smeared for standing up to sexism. There’s a plethora of labels and insults reserved for women like me. The moment I try to get to the root of the problem, I’m met with hatred and disdain. It happens all the time and it can’t be dismissed simply because it’s trollish behaviour. These trolls work with us and ride the subway with us. They’re real people and this is not a game. We need to stop bullshitting each other about how serious this problem is. And not only does the “not all men” excuse do nothing to neutralize the impact of sexism, but as Michael Laxer explains with razor-sharp precision, actually, it is all men:

We, collectively, and most commonly as individuals, are responsible for creating the conditions that not only facilitate Ghomeshi, but that ensure he will exist. This is a very uncomfortable and inconvenient truth. It is all men and the society that they produced that allowed a misogynist, alleged serial abuser to rise to and feel comfortable within the halls of media and fame, despite the now known and clear indications that he was a predator all along and that many, many people could have done something about it but did not.

That’s the ugly thing about privilege: even individuals who aren’t actively abusive benefit from it. Another great point by Root Veg quoted from the comment section of Laxer’s article:

You all benefit from the Jian Ghomeshis of this world, not just because it ensures men’s dominant status, but because other men’s terrorism of women lowers the bar for your qualification as a Good Guy to the absolute bare minimum.

This one hit me like a punch to the face. Now I understand what had me on high alert when I learned about the social media campaign known as MANifestChange. MANifestChange among other things encourages men to speak out by snapping a picture of themselves and pledging to help fight violence against women. Awesome! Or is it?

What I like about this idea is that it places the onus on males to do something. I’m glad there are men out there who want to end patriarchy. I’m just not sure that challenging male privilege means taking cookie-winning selfies. If you’re a man with a conscience, the best thing you can do to help us gals out is to actively challenge your male privilege on a daily basis. It’s hard work. You probably won’t relish the effort involved or the flack you’re going to get. But guess what? If it’s not inconveniencing you, it’s not really helping.

While participating in initiatives like MANifestChange can be just a part of the work someone does, this aspect of the campaign still bugs me. It’s cute. It’s fun. Guys score brownie points with the ladies. And see, I think that’s the problem. This isn’t supposed to make you look good whether you mean it to or not. That’s not what this is about. I don’t need to see a closeup of your mug so we can appreciate how nice a guy you are. Just be that guy. Do it anonymously. Like the philanthropist who donates to a hospital but refuses to put their name on a plaque. That’s how you make sure it’s 100% not about you.

I know we all want to support each other in solidarity and be nice by acknowledging that every little bit counts. But is it really true that every little bit counts in a good way?

How effective is a campaign like HeForShe in addressing oppression, for example? Sometimes what we gain in attracting attention to our cause by putting a celebrity in front of the microphone is erased when they stumble over their own privilege and ignorance, thus undermining our ability to have a really deep conversation. These incidents remind us that within movements of the oppressed, some of us (e.g. white females) still don’t get it and that’s usually because we have privileges of our own that need to be checked. Mia McKenzie’s Why I’m Not Really Here For Emma Watson’s Feminism Speech At the U.N. is a must read because it elevates some important caveats about privilege and how centering these issues on the privileged (e.g. “Guys suffer from patriarchy too!”) is a really good way of protecting them from acknowledging that they’re, well, privileged.

Thankfully, the folks at MANifestChange seem to have a lot more up their sleeve:

Like many people who possess privilege, many males are willing to acknowledge that sexism exists but tend to assume they’re not part of it. By looking at the representations of women in video games, Anita Sarkeesian holds up a mirror to society and the results are horrifying. Yes, we know that women are constantly eroticized and objectified, but does its deeply systemic nature blind us to just how bad it is? I don’t play the kinds of games that Sarkeesian reviews in the video below (not many women do), so I was legitimately shocked when I saw how normalized it is in the minds of boys and men alike (please note the content warning):


Challenging your own privilege isn’t supposed to be fun because it means denying your ego and giving something up. That’s why people feel threatened when they’re called to do it. It means being silent and letting people share their views and experiences, and then taking the time to seriously think about what they have to say. In our rapid fire culture of communication, the fact that we’re hardwired to react doesn’t help. But I don’t believe that sexism is any less of an issue than it was three decades ago. So while sympathy may be a nice gesture, it’s just another way of avoiding the problem. And empathy is the bare minimum we should be able to expect from decent people anyway. Much work remains to be done.

 

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