Where courts won’t step, media happily leaps

Today, the tragic case of a murdered family has been in the news as the trial opens.

Rzeszowski is accused of stabbing his wife, their two children, his wife’s friend and her daughter, and his father-in-law. He tried to enter a plea of manslaughter due to diminished responsibility, which was refuted by the prosecution, and rejected by the court.

And yet, the media seem quite happy to blame his wife and imply that this wasn’t really his fault. Has anyone seen a report which doesn’t include either “driven to”, “couldn’t cope with” or “as a result of”?  Has anyone seen a report which doesn’t mention that his wife had told him she’d had an affair?  Or a report that doesn’t state the actions were as a result of “domestic problems”?

People wonder why so few are willing to report or press charges in cases of domestic violence.  Well here’s a clue.  Even in this extreme case of a mass-murder, there are strong hints from the media that this was her fault.  This mess could all have been avoided if she’d been a better wife.

Even when the courts are pursuing a murder charge and rejecting the plea of diminished responsibility, the media are there to argue “yeah but…”.  This reporting is something I’ve mentioned before, and really isn’t a surprise.  But it needs to be stated again.  Victim blaming isn’t acceptable.  Whether Rzeszowski was in control or not, responsible or not is to be determined by the court.  But whoever was responsible – it wasn’t the victims.


Red or black and blue?

This post is more of a ponder than a rant, as I’m feeling uncomfortable rather than angry.

Violence against women has garnered more than a couple of headlines this week thanks to Simon Cowell’s new game show Red or Black.  It turns out that the very first winner has spent time in prison after being convicted of violent offences.  The producers of the show knew this, but thought the attack was on a man.   When it turned out the attack was on a woman, the producers announced they needed to ‘review their screening procedures’.  So why is beating a woman so much worse than beating a man?

I am in absolutely not trying to belittle the particular awfulness of domestic violence.  Sustained violence over many years, accompanied by emotional and often sexual abuse is appalling.  But the media coverage hasn’t focused on this, but simply on the fact he hit a woman rather than a man.  And I really don’t think that this type of coverage is doing any favours for equality.  Surely the idea that hitting a woman is somehow worse than hitting a man is completely tied up with the idea that women are weaker than men, that women need a man to protect them in this world?

The coverage has left me feeling rather patronised, rather than pleased that domestic violence is being discussed in the media.  Simon Cowell’s macho-posturing that “if I was him, I know what I would do, I would give away part of the money to the person he had the altercation with and a charity. ” has just gone on to leave me feeling more patronised than ever.  Like somehow for a woman, a big pay-off makes violence better.

I am not sure whether I’m angry at the producers for making these statements, or at the way the media has covered it.  But something about the whole incident has left a very sour taste in my mouth.

I’d really welcome your comments on this post – am I missing something?  Am I right that the idea of hitting a woman as a particular taboo is particularly patronising?  Or should I be celebrating that domestic violence is in the headlines rather than hidden away?

Reminder why contraception and abortion are feminist issues

This weekend, twitter offered once again a glimpse into the nasty underbelly of misogyny with #reasonstobeatyourgirlfriend trending all day Sunday.  Most of the tweets keeping it trending were people saying how awful it was, with another big chunk saying that feminists should get a sense a humour. But the remainder were a pretty shocking indictment of attitudes towards women. And the bit I found most shocking were the % of tweets citing pregnancy as a reason to beat your girlfriend.

Both preventing and dealing with pregnancy appears to be solely the responsibility of young women.  The number of retweets of ‘because she’s pregnant’ really staggered me.  I know that these tweets weren’t meant to be taken literally (and yes, I know I shouldn’t have even looked), but even so, this idea prevailed that pregnancy was a women’s problem.  It was something that your girlfriend did to you.

And this reminded me why contraception and abortion are feminist issues.   I’ve always argued that a woman’s right to control over her own body is a fundamental feminist principle, and the what about the men argument has always made me grind my teeth.  But actually here was evidence on a massive scale that these are women’s issues.  Here were young men in scarily high numbers repeating the idea that pregnancy wasn’t just their girlfriend’s problem, it was a problem their girlfriends were to blame for.

I am sure it’s a heartbreaking situation to be a man that wants a baby whose partner doesn’t.  But lets count the number of times this happens.  Against the number of women who find themselves blamed for falling pregnant and at best abandoned, and at worst trapped in abusive relationships, or murdered for their sin of falling pregnant.  It might take two to make a baby, but society sees pregnancy and children as women’s problems.

There are many, many reasons why I’m prochoice.  But this nasty trending topic reminded me of another one.  It’s not feminists that are making abortion a woman’s issue, it’s society.  And those people trying to reduce access to contraception and abortion services are deliberately, thoughtlessly and carelessly trying to limit women’s lives.  I’m angry that so many people thought this was a fun hashtag to make jokes around.  But I’m furious that people don’t see the reasons why prochoice policies are absolutely vital.

Making cohabitation legally binding

This article in the Guardian was based on the suggestion by family lawyer Nicholas Wall that co-habiting couples be given legal protection.  Yvonne Roberts goes so far as to say that couples need these rights.

Treating cohabiting couples as legally the same as those that are married seems to take away a number of our personal rights – the right to chose our own partners, to choose when we get married, and choose what kind of relationships we have.

One of the arguments for this is to protect children after a break up.  But children are already the responsibility of both parents – whether married or not, parents are legally required to care for their children.

So who are we trying to protect with this new legislation?  Vulnerable women?

Well, as an unmarried woman, there are lots of ways that I can protect myself.  I can earn my own living, build up my own savings, pay into a pension and ensure that my name is on the mortgage.   I am not vulnerable simply for being a woman.  And I’m not waiting around for my M.R.S. while my boyfriend resists marriage.  We’re a partnership, making decisions together about the way we want to live our lives.

So we’re not talking about all women.  We’re talking about protecting a particular group of vulnerable women, who are in relationships that are in some way abusive – whether this is physical, emotional or financial.  So if we’re talking about victims of domestic violence, lets ensure that we support these women particularly.  Not enact a law that assumes all women are victims.

This law would be such a blunt instrument, that if an abusive partner wanted to they would easily find a way around it.  Whether that’s breaking up for 2 weeks a year, lying on council tax declarations, or keeping a spare bed made up to show the relationship-inspectors.

Which brings me nicely on to the practicalities of this law.  How would it be decided whether I am married or not?   Is it as soon as we live in the same building?  When it’s been one year?  How is it decided whether I’m in a relationship or simply flat-sharing.  Will there be bed checks as well as forms?   Or should I have gotten divorced from my housemate before moving in with my boyfriend?

David Allen Green posted on the New Statesman this week reminding us that marriage is a legal contract with consequences.  So how exactly would a court, or any other branch of state decide for me that I’ve entered a legal contract?  Green suggests that if people were aware of the legal implications of marriage, perhaps less people would be inclined to enter into this state.  And perhaps that’s true.  Perhaps also, if people were universally aware that there is no such thing as a “common law wife”, and co-habiting couples don’t have rights after some vague length of time, they would be more likely to get married.  Either way, I fully support people ensuring that they know their rights, and have taken responsibility for what would happen if their relationship ends by protecting themselves accordingly.

Relationships aren’t all exactly the same.  We all have the right to choose the kind of relationship we want to be in.  And as a society, we have a responsibility to protect vulnerable people – whether they are children or victims of domestic violence.  But lets not try to uphold this responsibility by walking rough shod over our rights.