Last week, feminist activist group Sisters Uncut made headlines when they crashed the premier of Suffragette. With chants such as “dead women can’t vote” and jumping the barriers to lie down on the red carpet, there is no doubt that these women had a message to be heard loud and clearly. Honestly though, I think the message got a little lost in the juxtaposition between a feminist protest at a film screening about feminism. A little newspaper research turns up the following main reasons for protesting at this film:
• The film cast is pretty exclusively white and ignores the contribution of women of colour in the suffragette movement.
• The celebratory air to the film may suggest the battle is won. Far from it.
• The film comes at a time when the government is making harsh cuts to domestic violence services. Disproportionately so in terms of services that help BAME (Black And Ethnic Minority) or LGBT women.
• Two women die a week from domestic violence. Drastic action is needed to save lives.
I would be a pretty poor feminist if I didn’t support these issues. I do. Wholeheartedly. But I think it is incredibly misguided when we start discussing domestic violence as a feminist issue. Domestic violence is wrong, full stop, regardless of who has done it or whether it was physical or verbal or intentional or caused by alcohol. It is wrong. We need to discuss this as a societal whole, linked arms as human beings. Until we learn to talk about it properly, we provide hiding places for perpetrators and isolation for survivors.
When my ex grabbed me by the throat and forced me against a wall, he didn’t do it because I have a vagina. He also didn’t do it because he’s a bad person and I’m an innocent, defenceless victim. I despise the idea of being portrayed that way. I am a human being and a bad thing happened to me inflicted by a human being who did something bad. My gender doesn’t come into that any more than it would had it happened the other way around.
I think it’s good that feminists talk about these issues and fight for the rights of women, but it scares me that when we start talking about domestic violence as a feminist issue, we start talking about domestic violence as women as victims and men as bad guys. For starters, until we understand why people abuse, it is very hard to suggest that someone is flat out a bad person. Afterall, anyone is capable of doing both good and horrific things. Moreover, we run a very heavy risk of perpetuating not only the stereotype of domestic violence being purely a heavy man hitting a lightweight woman, but also the idea that men are the strong ones in relationships. I know several women who work out and I bet you half of them can bench press more than you!
Perhaps more frequently discussed is that statistically around 40% of domestic abuse victims are men. The thing about crime statistics though, is that they only track reported crime. It can be very hard to recognise when you are in an abusive relationship. Even things that may seem obvious – physical violence such as being grabbed or hit- can become blurred into things that are acceptable behaviours because you may believe they are deserved or justified or not severe. Then there are scenarios where children are involved and people may not want to “rock the boat”. Now that applies to both genders, but with men you have to add the stigma surrounding male victims of domestic violence. I mean it’s practically a joke for a man to be beat within an inch of his life by a woman right? And hey, at least men can’t be raped.
I hope that was as horrifying for you to read as it was for me to write. Of course it isn’t true. Still, say you are a man in that situation, you type domestic violence into Google (and pray to high hell that she doesn’t see you doing it). The first result is for a national domestic violence helpline. You click on it and it is run in partnership between Women’s Aid and Refuge (also a women’s charity), has pictures of women and a section on what to do if you are a woman being abused. The second result on Google is for Women’s Aid.
That is utterly harrowing to think, when you remember that nearly half of the victims of domestic violence are men.
Of course, just because one gender is being vastly under represented, doesn’t mean we should stop campaigning for the safety of another and, truly, I applaud those who do speak up about these issues. That won’t change the fact that feminism is a lost cause if it isn’t about true equality, which means everyone talking about these vastly complicated issues, seeking to understand them better and putting up a united front that domestic violence is not okay. Ever.
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