Male violence against women is political
With the announcement of the murder of Sarah Everard, the head of the Metropolitan Police, Cressida Dick, acknowledged that women in London and beyond "will be worried and may well be feeling scared". She went on to say that for a woman to be abducted off the street and murdered was an 'incredibly rare' event.
‘Incredibly rare’ - a misleading statement at best. This statement implies that women around us are usually safe. Women are not safe. A woman or girl is killed every 36 hours in Britain by male violence. The difference is that most of these women will have known their murderer; does Cressida suggest these women are not as important? Does being strangled to death by your husband, bludgeoned by your son, uncle or a man you went on a date with once make you less relevant, less worthy of sympathy?
The way the media, police and politicians frame certain murders can influence audiences' grief levels by distorting the true event. When violence is portrayed as being inevitable, its victims are viewed in a less sympathetic light, while those seen as ‘true victims’ are usually white women who can be fitted into the passive mould - ‘a damsel in distress’. I do not suggest that Sarah Everard was passive in any way but that is how the media has packaged her, a ‘perfect victim’. A woman who did not know her assailant, who was not out late, had not been drinking and was ‘modestly dressed’.This is something gender theorist Judith Butler refers to as a “framing approach'' that in turn decides someone's “grievability”.
Since the death of Sarah Everard, 25 women have been murdered due to male violence, while 27 women were murdered prior to Sarah this year alone.
We need to stop saying, ‘there have to be more streetlights’, ‘less shrubbery near footpaths’, ‘more CCTV’. These things are certainly valuable points for helping ensure women’s safety, but they do not address the glaring fact that male violence is at the epicenter. The erotization of dominance and submission, and the lust for sexual violence permeates our society around the globe. Gendered terminology that excuses men for ‘inappropriate behaviour’ must end. As Jenny Lester from Zero Tolerance states, there is no ‘underage sex’, it’s rape; there is no consensual ‘rough sex’ when someone dies, it’s murder.
Dr Jessica Taylor, author of Why Women are Blamed for Everything comments on the impact video games, like Grand Theft Auto, have on male empathy levels, triggering a normalization of violence against women. GTA gamers can “have sex with a prostitute but then make the decision to kill after the sex and steal their money back”. GTA is not an anomaly; games featuring graphic imagery and female objectification saturate the market, selling millions of copies worldwide and appealing to younger audiences. Violence against women is ingrained in our society as ‘normal’; sexual violence is regularly joked about and brushed off as ‘male banter’. When Dr. Taylor released her book, she was bombarded with misogynist-abuse for simply addressing these issues. Women who dare to speak out against men are characteristically met with threats of violence. “Compared with women, men are overwhelmingly involved in all types of violence. It is mostly men who commit acts of violence - against women and girls as well as towards other men and boys. Men are also most implicated in other types of 'organised' or institutionalized violence as victims and perpetrators of violence. Around the world, militaries consist mostly of men. Men own guns and weapons more than women, and are imprisoned and murdered more than women. It is also a fact that men control more resources and power than women”. (Lang 2020)
Violence and men seem to go together like a hand in a glove, as does violence and power. We know that violence begets violence and that men are raised in a society that promotes machismo, strength and dominance - not only against their fellow men but also against women. But as Lang points out, when we talk about ‘violence against women and girls’ it’s important to acknowledge whose violence it is “it is men’s violence - men are the subject of the action”.
We need men and women to acknowledge how the patriarchy prevails in order to make change. Toxic masculinity not only hurts women but is destructive to men too, Award-winning-author of Why We Should All Be Feminists, Chimamandi Ngozi Adichie states, “masculinity is a hard, small cage, we put boys inside this cage. We teach them to be afraid of fear, of weakness and vulnerability”. We need to address toxic maleness rather than protect and make excuses for male perpetrators, in particular politicians, police or other powerful men.
This wall of male power became glaringly obvious at the vigil for Sarah Everard at Clapham Common in London, where peaceful women wearing face coverings gathered to mourn, not only the death of yet another woman murdered by male violence, but also their shared experience of trauma and fear, as Shola Mos-Shogbamimu stated: “It was a violent assault on women's vulnerability at a time when women had collectively come together to grieve, and that it was no doubt a desecration of our human rights as women to stand in solidarity”.
The nation was shocked by the police’s reaction, with footage capturing not only officers dragging women to the ground, but also the echoes of screams which surrounded them.
After the public outcry, a report was conducted and the police watchdog found the Police to have 'acted appropriately'. As with the inquiry regarding institutional racism in Britain, no evidence of institutional racism in the UK was found, bringing to surface questions about our democracy, corruption and freedom of speech in Britain.
While conversations are being had, there is a lot of discussion, protest and calls for action about race inequality and GBV, but there needs to be political change. The government talks the talk, yet their rhetoric isn't followed by policy.
The government continues to make cuts to women's refuges and programmes like the The Freedom Programme that offer vital support for women who have escaped domestic abuse. Frontline organisations that were already heavily underfunded struggled to meet the needs of women and children trapped with their abusers during COVID-19 lockdown. Deaths of women sharply increased during national lockdown while domestic-violence-charity Refuge reported a 700% increase in calls in a single day. “Savage cuts to legal aid [...] have seen the removal of legal aid from a huge range of civil and criminal matters [...]. These cuts have a particularly adverse impact on black and minority women and children who are subjected to violence and abuse primarily because they also face often overlapping forms of discrimination that enhance their vulnerability to violence and exploitation”.
Women cannot continue being murdered and raped at the current rate. Women cannot go on avoiding eye contact with men, making themselves small so as to go unnoticed, to slip under the male glare. To not take that spare seat on the bus next to the man with the hungry eyes, or decide to walk proud and accept the cat calls,the wandering hands, and worse.
This is not to say all men. We know that not all men are violent, we know that not all police officers are misogynists, we know that misogyny appears in female form as well - but violence against women is an epidemic and cannot be ignored. Hashtags like #NotAllMen and #AllLivesMatter are not helpful. This isn't a war on men, it's a war on internalized misogyny. There needs to be harmony not hierarchy.
Nothing can change unless these problems are acknowledged at the root. As a society, we are merely placing a plaster over the wound, over and over again. But this cut is too deep and the blood is still seeping out. It’s time to stitch it up, so we can finally heal.
“Whatever space you’re in use your voice to support all women, challenging VA W&G is not a personal choice it's a political one” (Patel in conversation for Sheroes)
Words: Alice Brookes
Art: Alice Brookes
Lang, JL. (2002) Men, Masculinities and Violence. International Conference
“Eradicating Violence against Women and Girls - Strengthening Human Rights”, Berlin.
Butler, J. (2007) Gender Trouble. 4th edn. Oxon United Kingdom: Routledge.
Taylor,J. (2020) Why Women Are Blamed For Everything. 1st edn. Derby United Kingdom.