Forgiveness, Christianity and men’s violence against women

Desmond Tutu has been eulogising about forgiveness, he’s written a soon to be published book about it.  He’s a fan of forgiveness.  He has forgiven his father for his violence towards his mother, violence that Tutu witnessed and was powerless to stop as a child.   He explains that it took him years to realise that he needed to forgive himself, or the child that he was, for not protecting his mother.

No one needs to be forgiven for being a child unable to prevent one parent’s violence towards the other (usually a father’s violence towards the mother).  The child is never responsible.  There is nothing to be forgiven for.  But is it for the child to forgive the abusive parent?   What does it mean for a boy child to forgive his father for violence towards his mother, essentially for a man to forgive another man for violence against women?

Tutu has also, with difficulty he says,  forgiven himself for not making time to respond to his father’s request to see him the night before he unexpectedly died, an occasion which, Tutu imagines, might have been the time when his father sought to apologise for the violence he inflicted on Tutu’s mother.  There’s nothing to suggest that Tutu is correct in this belief.  It’s a convenience upon which he can pin his forgiveness.

It’s probably fair to say that Desmond Tutu is big on religion.  He’s a retired Anglican bishop.   I’d go as far as saying that he appears to have used his power and influence for good, but however closely allied to social justice, religion is conservative, it protects the status quo.  In a feminist analysis that identifies patriarchal society, religion has been shaped to protect men’s oppression of women.

Apparently,  in the bible there are two types of forgiveness: God’s pardoning of the sins of ‘his’ subjects, and the obligation of those subjects to pardon others. Being able to do so is so important that a believer’s eternal destiny is dependent upon it. Refusing to forgive is a sin.  Forgiveness then is a selfish, not a selfless act.  But it’s more than that, when talking about violence, it is an act that absolves the abuser of their responsibility. “No one is born a rapist, or a terrorist.  No one is born full of hatred,” explains Tutu.  He looks at how life chances have an impact upon the person we become, how none of us can say that we would not have behaved as an abuser behaves.  I disagree.  We are more than the product of our experiences.  We have consciousness, we make choices, we can see if our behaviour is harmful or hurtful to another. Abusers are always responsible for their abuse.  If someone’s ‘god’ , or indeed another believer, can absolve someone for the choices that they make, their responsibility is erased.

By reducing male violence against women to an individual relationship, one in which someone who is neither perpetrator nor primary victim can bestow forgiveness, we are ignoring, condoning – forgiving – the wider impact of men’s violence upon women, upon all women above and beyond that individual relationship.  We cannot allow a person to say that this is okay, that this is forgiven, but it appears that religion encourages us to do just that. Indeed, male violence against women can be forgiven by god.  That’s just a little bit convenient for patriarchy.

Male violence against women does not simply take place in the cocoon of an individual relationship. It is structural, it is systemic.  The pattern, the overwhelming consistency with which women are the victims and men the perpetrators  should be a big clue.  Male violence against women is not random, it has a function and that function is to maintain the social order of male dominance: patriarchy.  Male violence against women is a cause and consequence of inequality between women and men.    In the UK, the mainstream is very quick to identify ‘other’ religions as oppressive to women but this is equally true of Christianity. Religion reinforces and upholds patriarchy, forgiveness is just another of its tools. We do not need to forgive male violence against women unless we want men to continue to dominate women.

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Grayson Perry talking about masculinity at the Women of the World festival

Did Grayson Perry really talk about his Bill of Rights for Men at Southbank’s Women of the World festival?  Can anyone who was there confirm?

At a festival celebrating women, is this appropriate?

 “We men ask ourselves and others for the following: 1. the right to be vulnerable; 2. the right to be weak; 3. the right to be wrong; 4. the right to be intuitive; 5. the right not to know; 6. the right to be uncertain; 7. the right to be flexible; 8. the right not to be ashamed of any of these things.”

Imagine Iain Duncan Smith at the Paralympics:

“We people who are not disabled ask ourselves and others for the following: 1. the right to be vulnerable; 2. the right to be weak; 3. the right to be wrong; 4. the right to be intuitive; 5. the right not to know; 6. the right to be uncertain; 7. the right to be flexible; 8. the right not to be ashamed of any of these things.”

Imagine Mark Harper at the Notting Hill Carnival:

“We white people ask ourselves and others for the following: 1. the right to be vulnerable; 2. the right to be weak; 3. the right to be wrong; 4. the right to be intuitive; 5. the right not to know; 6. the right to be uncertain; 7. the right to be flexible; 8. the right not to be ashamed of any of these things.”

Imagine at a Koestler Trust awards event celebrating the art of offenders, secure patients and detainees

“We people at liberty ask ourselves and others for the following: 1. the right to be vulnerable; 2. the right to be weak; 3. the right to be wrong; 4. the right to be intuitive; 5. the right not to know; 6. the right to be uncertain; 7. the right to be flexible; 8. the right not to be ashamed of any of these things.”

What’s next?  Shall I offer to talk about the rights of heterosexuals at Pride?  Has anyone thought to invite George Osborne to talk about poor maligned Tories at any events making the 30th anniversary of the Miner’s Strike?

Just another case of  “What about the men?” Women as a class are oppressed by men as a class.  I can understand an examination of masculinity as a tool of women’s oppression at a festival for women even though it’s hardly a cause for celebration – but an examination of the oppression of the oppressors?

Clare’s Law – Let’s talk about Manchester

Becky Ayres, killed on the 6th March 2014,  is the second woman in Greater Manchester to have been stabbed by a partner/ex-partner this year following the stabbing of Caroline Finegan in January.  Last year, 5 women in Manchester were killed by a partner/ex-partner and 3 women were killed by their sons. The year before, 2012, 4 women were killed by a partner/ex.  That’s 14 women in Manchester killed through men’s violence in two years.

Greater Manchester Police were piloting the domestic violence disclosure scheme, also known as Clare’s Law, from September 2012 to September 2013.  Clare’s Law allows people – of course most of them will be women – to ask the police to check whether a partner – of course most of them will be men – has a violent past. If police checks show that a ‘person’ may be at risk of domestic violence from their partner, the police will consider disclosing the information. The pilot was also supposed look at how the police could proactively release information (‘right to know’) to protect a ‘person’ from domestic violence where lawful, necessary and proportionate.

Linzi Ashton was murdered by Michael Cope nine months in to the Clare’s Law pilot.  We know that Greater Manchester Police knew that Cope was being violent to Linzi, that he had raped her and strangled her.  Through the court we have also learned that he had a known history of violence to two former partners as well as other convictions for violent crimes.  It appears to me that there was ample evidence to suggest that the police should have shared information about Cope with Linzi and should have realised the danger that she was in. Whether they did so or not, Linzi is dead and suffered a brutal painful death.  After her death, there were 108 injuries on Linzi’s body, there were fractures to her right forearm, left elbow, neck, her nose was broken, there were ligature marks to her throat, as well as a cut along her throat. She had been punched, kicked, stamped on, cut with a blade, beaten with a metal pole and strangled with a cable tie.

During the pilot of Clare’s Law, as well as Linzi Ashton, the following women were killed through men’s violence:  Jabeen Younis, 32 was stabbed 19 times by her husband Jahangir Nazar;  Marianne Stones, 58, was strangled by her son Paul Stones, she also had a cut to the nose and bruising on her eye, arms and tongue;  and Zaneta Kindzierska, 32 was stabbed by her husband Krzysztof Kindzierski.  The body of Rania Alayed, 25 has not been found.   Her husband and brother-in-law have been charged with her murder. They both deny the charges and will face trial in April.

The IPCC is investigating Greater Manchester Police’s contact with Linzi Ashton before her death.  I fully expect to see a report showing that ‘lessons have been learned’.   I’m sick of reading that lessons have been learned whilst still women are being killed by violent men.

The basic principle of allowing women to find out if a partner/prospective partner has a violent history is sound.  I’ve spoken to several women who have had violent relationships who have told me that they think it would have made a difference to them, to have what we might call ‘warning signs’ confirmed. But Clare’s Law needs to be resourced and that means investment in, not cuts to, specialist women’s services.

I’m concerned that the government is going for quick fixes and headlines.  The number of women killed though domestic violence has remained consistent for over 10 years. Yet that’s not the whole story.  Approximately one quarter of women killed though men’s violence over the last two years have not been killed by a partner or former partner. The Government has a strategy to end violence against women and girls within which it states that: “The causes and consequences of violence against women and girls are complex. For too long government has focused on violence against women and girls as a criminal justice issue” and yet its actions do not match that commitment.  I launched my campaign ‘counting dead women’ to highlight the extent of the problem of fatal male violence against women and to urge the government to do more to stop this happening.  We need changes to the Criminal Justice System for sure, but we need so much more than that.

Clare’s Law, during its pilot in Manchester, did not prevent the deaths of Linzi Ashton, Jabeen Younis, Marianne Stones, Zaneta Kindzierska and Rania Alayed. Men’s violence against women and girls is a cause and consequence of inequality between women and men. Quick fixes are not the solution.  Clare’s Law, may make a difference to some women who request information, but it’s not enough.  I want to see changes to show that lessons really have been learned and that things are going to be different.  Until then and until the government admits the seriousness of the problem and properly commits to doing  everything it can to understand and end male violence, women will continue to be beaten, raped, abused, controlled and killed by men.

In memory of

Becky Ayres

24

06 March 2014

Caroline Finegan

30

16 January 2014

Jabeen Younis

32

19 April 2013

Marianne Stones

58

09 June 2013

Zaneta Kindzierska

32

16 June 2013

Linzi Ashton

25

29 June 2013

Rania Alayed

25

Olwen Dohoney

86

12 November 2013

Aisha Alam

49

22 November 2013

Glennis Brierley

64

14 December 2013

Leanne McNuff

24

11 March 2012

Kelly Davies

31

02 June 2012

Razu Khanum

38

08 June 2012

Esther Aragundade

32

26 June 2012