Over the last seven days, violent men have been in the headlines. But not for the reasons I’d hoped.
It began a week ago today when the BBC released a trailer for a new documentary, The Trials of Oscar Pistorius. While the trailer failed to include Reeva Steenkamp’s name – Pistorius’s girlfriend, whom he shot four times – it did include his sporting achievements, describing him as “an international hero who inspired millions”. After an outcry from domestic abuse charities, the BBC amended the trailer.
On Saturday, news broke that Sean Connery had died. Black and white portraits of a young James Bond cluttered news sites and social media feeds. Actors Daniel Craig and Pierce Brosnan paid tribute. It wasn’t long, however, before a recorded interview from 1987 surfaced. The interviewer reminds Connery of a previous statement: “‘You don’t hit women with a clenched fist; you do it with an open hand’. Remember that?” and the actor responds, “I haven’t changed my opinion … not at all.” Violence against women “is not good”, he concedes, but sometimes it “merits it” because “you’ve tried everything else” and “women can’t leave it alone”. Two years after this interview, People magazine named him the Sexiest Man Alive.
On Monday, news broke that Johnny Depp had lost his libel case against The Sun, with the judge ruling that it was largely true that, in fact, he was a “wife beater”. This was good news, and maybe even a hint at progress. Yet Depp’s lawyers have called the ruling “perverse” and seek to appeal against it. Within minutes of the news breaking, #justiceforjohnny was trending, his legion of devoted, obsessive fans immediately insisting that Depp is the “real” victim and hurling abuse at anyone who said otherwise.
If you are a survivor of abuse, working with people who are, or you simply find the crime abhorrent, it has been a truly exhausting seven days. We have seen, yet again, that men’s violence is forgotten, overlooked or even denied – and that’s despite the unprecedented legal “win” by The Sun. Of course, these aren’t just any men. They are famous, wealthy, successful and handsome men. And in our society, the privilege of being a man, especially a man with those attributes, so often means that “brilliance” eclipses crime. We simply still do not value women as much as we value a man’s IMDB profile or how fast he can run.
Instead, society relegates violence against women to a footnote, a video on Twitter, a half-mention midway through a trailer. If you search “Sean Connery” on Twitter, tributes and photos paint a picture of an acting legend. You can only find the aforementioned video if you include “slap” in your search. In the libel case, Depp, a man, was suing a newspaper owned by a man. The victim, a woman, was merely a witness to her own story of abuse.
As we continue to celebrate the perpetrator, victims – the ones without expensive lawyers – are reminded that it’s not even a case of being believed or not. It simply doesn’t matter. We're not outraged when we discover it happened. We just look the other way, even if a court of law made a determination. Still, we do not say their names.
Over the last seven days, we were also reminded that it is not just wealthy and famous men who are afforded this treatment. Last week, a court heard how PC Timothy Brehmer claimed he “accidentally” strangled Claire Parry; he was jailed for manslaughter, not murder. In the same week, David Thompson, chief constable of West Midlands Police, the second largest force in the country, said he was worried that the police spent too much time “policing relationships” and not enough fighting crimes like burglary.
We are in the middle of a domestic abuse crisis. The Counting Dead Women project estimates that 88 women have been murdered this year so far at the hands of a current or former partner. We roll out the statistic so many times that two women die every week that we are numb to it. It has just become a fact – something we can’t change. And as we enter a second lockdown, we will undoubtedly see yet another spike in abuse.
However, when it comes to abuse against women, we have always been in a crisis, long before the arrival of Covid-19. We chose to be blinded by the fame and success of men. We chose to believe women just don’t matter enough. We insisted that the idolisation of men was too important. We have clung to this power structure as if our lives depended on it. Yet the chilling reality, of course, is that women’s lives actually depend on us doing this no longer.
Online, those who objected to the Pistorius trailer or pointed to the Connery interview or celebrated the Depp ruling were met with derision, abuse and mockery. And I was reminded, in a short but gruelling seven days, just how much we still don’t care.
But if we don’t care now, when will we? What will it take? For now, save the profiles and documentaries of abusive men; they’ve had too much airtime as it is. We need to start talking about the lives of women – and if we do, maybe we can save a few more.
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