Why I was rejected for Labour Party membership and my response

I updated this blog on 7 July 2020, why I decided that I wouldn’t walk away from the Labour Party, but would continue to challenge their refusal of my membership application.

I’m a feminist from a working-class background. I was social-class conscious before I was sex-class conscious. I’d been a member, admittedly largely inactive, of the Labour Party for most of my adult life. I’d managed to hold my nose when Tony Blair changed Clause IV in 1995, and it was removed from membership cards, symbolising to me, a move away from the party’s proud socialist history. But I resigned at some point about  ten years later when his promises to reform the House of Lords failed and I was angry that a party supposedly based on equality baulked when it came to dealing with such a blatant example of inherited privilege.  I can’t remember when I re-joined but I resigned for a second time in 2018 when the then General Secretary, Jennie Formby, announced that all-women-shortlists would no longer be women only. The conflict between my feminism and the party’s commitment to dealing with sex inequality felt irreconcilable.  

I was devastated by the results of the general election in December 2019. I’d voted for Labour, of course.  I was barely interested in the furore around Corbyn. Labour are a political party, not a cult, and it has always been the party’s principles and their manifesto that mattered to me more than the leader; and the 2019 manifesto set out objectives that I would want to see underpinning society. It seemed to me – as it still does – that a Labour Party that didn’t meet my feminist ideals offered better opportunities for ordinary women than any other party. I was gutted at the thought of another five-years   of Tory rule, let alone the prospect of ten, so I applied to re-join within days of the defeat. 

Just over three months after I had applied to join the Labour Party, I received a letter (carrying the Stonewall logo) by email saying my membership had been rejected because: “information brought to our attention is that you have engaged in conduct online that may reasonably be seen to demonstrate hostility based on gender identity.” The letter contained no evidence to back this assertion, so I appealed against the decision and submitted a subject access request. 12 weeks later, I received an email with an attachment to a document containing 14 tweets that, I must conclude, illustrate my on-line crimes. I was invited to make a “statement giving your reasons why you should be accepted into membership of the Labour Party and your reply to the decision to reject your application.”  I’ve decided to make my reply – and the reasons for their rejection – open. The tweets cover these eight issues:  

  1. Men’s fatal violence against women
  2. Not all feminists are the same
  3. Fantasies of totalitarian regimes
  4. Women’s sport and human rights
  5. Jess Phillips and the smell of sexism
  6. Non sequiturs
  7. Lesbians’ right to set their own sexual boundaries  
  8. Poodle kitten extermination and probable extinction
  1. Men’s Fatal Violence Against Women

The case against me

My defence

I spend a lot of time working on men’s fatal violence against women.  I calculated that number for a blog that I wrote in 2018, available here. I updated that figure in 2019, see here . So as far as I am able to find, the most recent data for the UK suggests that between 2007 and 2019, there were 62% more homicides perpetrated by trans-identified males than there were homicides of  people (who were all male) who identified as transgender.

I happen to think that knowing the truth about sex differences and fatal violence is an essential step towards ending men’s fatal violence against women.  I would also say that the truth is also an important step in addressing violence against those who identify as transgender, or indeed men’s violence against other men.

2. Not all feminists are the same

The case against me

My defence

There are variations on an allegation regularly made by trans extremist ‘activists’ that UK feminist groups are allied to and indeed funded by the religious Right in the USA.  It may be true of some women who consider themselves to be ‘gender critical’, some but not all of whom also consider themselves to be feminists. It isn’t true of any groups I’m involved with, any women I’m friends with and it isn’t true of me. It pisses me off. Don’t generalise from the beliefs or actions of some (and make)  an assumption about the beliefs or actions of all of any demographic. I thought that was a pretty basic principle. Evidently not one that the Labour Party thinks is important.

3. Fantasies of totalitarian regimes  

The evidence against me

My (partial) defence

Ermm, seriously?  I sincerely promise that I do not want to overthrow this fragile constitutional monarchy with a totalitarian regime that bans words. Actually, I’d love to get rid of the embarrassment that is the ‘royal family’, but it wasn’t what I was thinking about when I wrote this tweet; and I will admit that I think the phrase ‘gender-neutral’ is an oxymoron. There’s nothing neutral about gender, it’s a primary weapon of patriarchy functioning to enforce women’s sex-based oppression.

4. Women’s sport and human rights

The case against me

My defence

I absolutely stand by every word.

5. Jess Phillips and the smell of sexism

The case against me

My defence

Jess Phillips does important work on domestic violence and abuse though her role as an MP. I am particularly grateful to her for reading the names of all women killed by men (collected by me), on International Women’s Day every year for the last four years. I know this means a lot to many of the friends and families of women killed and I feel so very honoured to have played a role in getting their names recorded in Hansard. However, I strongly disagree with the opinions she expressed in Mumsnet and Penis News interviews. I also believe that some of the critique (at best), trolling and the death threats she has received are rooted in sexism and misogyny. It reeks. I can disagree with her on this issue (and others) and still respect and feel grateful for her work on men’s violence against women.

6. Non sequiturs

The case against me

My defence

I take full responsibility for this appalling non sequitur. What was I thinking? I’m sorry. Maybe it made sense at the time but it doesn’t now.

7. Lesbians’ right to set their own sexual boundaries  

The case against me

My defence

I stand by every word.  Lesbians are same-sex attracted women and I will defend their right to set their sexual boundaries on this basis. To require otherwise is lesbophobia. Can someone in the Labour Party or anywhere else justify this? 

8.        Poodle kitten extermination  and probable extinction

The case against me

My defence

I really, really, really do not wish death upon poodle kittens. They’re such gorgeous little grumpy faced gremlins. I would never knowingly bring one to harm. Save the poodle kittens!

Sex and gender aren’t the same though. In the context that I was using the words, one refers to whether a human being is female or male. The other (as I have mentioned above) is a primary weapon of patriarchy functioning to enforce women’s sex-based oppression. It isn’t helpful to confuse the two.

To conclude

I believe in universal human rights. I would love to see a government based on socialist, anti-sexist and anti-racist principles.  None of the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats or Green Party are good for women, or poor people, or people of African, Caribbean, Asian or Arabic or any other non-Caucasian heritage. I’ll never vote for the Conservatives as long as I can draw breath. I can’t imagine voting Lib Dem because their libertarianism is too often at the expense of women’s rights and dignity, and the Greens (as they are) are a lost cause. I want to be able to vote Labour with pride and as a member.

Apparently, the tweets above (and to be honest plenty more where they came from) make me unworthy of the Labour Party. From where I stand though, if the Labour Party defends the positions in opposition to them, the Labour Party is letting women down. I believe a Labour Party that actively tackles misogyny, sexism, sex discrimination and sex inequality is worth fighting for.

Labour Party Policy should be developed through the National Policy Forum, not indirectly determined by the membership committee by refusing membership to people with ideals that are not even incompatible with the party manifesto.

I would like to see a Labour government.

I do not believe that people can change sex. I do believe that women are discriminated upon on the basis of sex. I think the 2019 manifesto demonstrated that the Labour Party knows this too.

SUSAN B ANTHONY

Men’s violence against women: ‘Miss World’ is part of the problem

The bodies of Maria Jose Alvarado, 19, and her sister, Sofia Trinidad, 23, were found almost a week after they disappeared after being seen leaving a party near the city of Santa Barbara, in Honduras.  Maria Alvaro was due to fly to London this week to compete in the Miss World competition as Miss Honduras.  Plutarco Ruiz, Sofia’s boyfriend  has confessed to killing both women, allegedly because he was angry and jealous after seeing her dance with another man.

Men’s violence against women is a cause and consequence of sex inequality between women and men.  We need to make the connections between the objectification of women and violence against women.  While women are seen and judged as decorative objects judged by sexist beauty standards and simultaneously as men’s possessions, women and men can never be equal; and as long as we have sex inequality, we will have male violence against women.  The ‘Miss World’ competition is part of the problem. 

Honduras has the sixth highest rate of femicide in the world, a woman is violently murdered every 18 hours, 245 women were killed in the first six months of 2012, over 3000 women killed in a decade. 

And yet  femicide – the systemic killing of women because they are women – rarely makes the news.  If it does, it is usually because, as in the case of the murder of Maria Jose Alvarado​m the woman herself is seen as newsworthy. Across the world, hundreds of women are violently killed every day.  So far this year, in the UK, at least 131 women have been killed through suspected male violence. Ordinary women killed by ordinary men, violence so ordinary that it is rarely front-page news.

What does it look like, this equality that you speak of?

To everyone – woman and man – who says they’re a feminist because they believe in equality, I have to ask you, what does it look like, this equality that you speak of?

Gender.  You probably want gender equality, don’t you?  But gender is inequality. Gender is the convenient invention, the way we train women and men to be different, to be unequal. Gender equality is a smokescreen. Gender is a hierarchy.  Feminine, masculine, they can never be equal, they are subordination and domination dressed up in frilly pink and crisp blue.

You mean wage equality, right? Are you going to achieve that by equal pay for equal work? Yes? Or no? ‘Cos that’ll never do it.  Work has no inherent value and just somehow, we’ve ended up with women’s work undervalued, so unless we all do more of the same, or unless we increase the value of what we see as ‘women’s work’, we’re stuck.  Wage equality without radical reform, is an impossible dream, never to be realised with the Equal Pay Act.

Child birth? Are you looking for a brave new world where that is equal? Or a world where bearing and rearing children does not render women unequal?  Are men gonna wipe an equal number of bums? Babies bums? Sick folk’s bums? Old folk’s bums? Equality of sharing, caring, cleaning and weaning.

What about valuing women for how we look? You know, the patriarchal fuckability test?  Are men going to be equally judged by what they look like, rather than what they do? Women can chose to walk in painful heels, to maximise their ‘assets’, to flaunt or enhance their curves. Some women enjoy that femininity shit, don’t they? You surely believe in a woman’s right to choose, don’t you?  Of course you do. But what do we chose? Why do we? If we’re equal, would we? And those that choose not to, will they be equal too?

What about war? Do you want women to start an equal number of wars to men?  To fight and die in equal numbers to men? To rape in equal numbers to men? For men to be raped in equal numbers to women? Which is it?  How’s that going to work under your equality? What about no war? Maybe no war. But in this man made world of arbitrary boundaries and power struggles, how’re you going to achieve no war?

Democracy’s great, isn’t it? A cornerstone of equality, maybe, for sure?  But only 24% of the UK cabinet are women.  You’ll sort that out in the name of equality, won’t you? And where’s the equality when 6 percent of children go to independent schools but make up 45% of the cabinet?  When 61% of the cabinet graduated from just two universities?  5% percent of the cabinet – two people – are from black and minority ethnic backgrounds.  What’s democracy again?  Power of the people,  ruling through freely elected representatives? It’s just that not everyone gets an equal chance of representing.  Just not rule by representative representatives.

What about the sale and purchase of women? Are men going to be commodified just the same?  Objectified? Pornified? Trafficked?  Pimped?  Ah, yes, but what about choice again?  That old turkey.  A woman’s right to choose to sell sex? Are men going to make the same choices? If not, why not?  Where’s the market? And how come it’s poor women, black women, in some counties indigenous women, who disproportionately make that choice?  What about their equality? What about mine? If some women are commodities and some men are buyers, how can any of us ever be equal? If my sisters are for sale, they cannot be, I cannot be, equal.

Equality under the law?  Yeah, surely you want that too.  But how are you going to get that, with laws written by rich white men to protect the interests of rich white men? When we have a legal system celebrated for innocent until proven guilty. When insufficient evidence is synonymous with lack of guilt, with innocence. Can’t you see how it’s stacked? When poor people, black people and women who have been abused are disproportionately found guilty, disproportionately disbelieved, where’s the equality?

When the Equality Act 2010  covers age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation, marriage and civil partnership, and pregnancy and maternity but not class, not poverty, what is even the point of pretending it’s about equality?

Male violence against women? Bet you believe in equality there too, don’t you? Domestic violence is gender neutral, right? Rape?  Those hidden male victims?  If you refuse to see inequality, if you don’t even believe that most violence is perpetrated by men, how are you going to achieve equality?  Which equality are you going for there?  Increasing the number of male victims? Increasing the number of female perpetrators? Can’t be reducing male violence, can it?  Male violence isn’t a thing, is it?

In all this and more, equality just doesn’t provide the answers.  Equality is a condition of a just society, not a cure for an unjust one.  So when I say feminism isn’t about equality, it’s about women’s liberation from men’s oppression, this is what I mean.  Ending inequality is a big part of feminism, of course it is. But equality is impossible in the society that we have. That’s why feminists talk about smashing patriarchy because we need to think bigger. I don’t even know what a society free of patriarchy would look like.  I don’t know how we’ll get there, but I know we’ll never get there down the road called ‘equality’.

Early this year, I heard Bea Campbell ask ‘What would a world without male violence look like?’ Shit. I can’t even imagine that.

Male entitlement to women’s spaces, bodies and lives

 

“Well I’d rather see you dead, little girl

Than to be with another man

 Catch you with another man 

That’s the end’a little girl”

 John Lennon and Paul McCartney

 

“I don’t know why you girls aren’t attracted to me but I will punish you all for it.   …….. If I can’t have you girls, I will destroy you. [laughs] You denied me a happy life and in turn I will deny all of you life, it’s only fair. I hate all of you.”

Elliot Rodger

Male entitlement is a deadly seam running through male violence against women whether coercive control, FGM, rape, prostitution, trafficking or murder.

According to government statistics, approximately 85,000 women are raped on average in England and Wales every year, that’s an average of 233 women raped by men in the UK every day. Last year in the UK, 142 women were killed through suspected male violence, that’s one dead woman every 2.5 days; and between January and April this year, 50 UK women have been killed. The World Health Organisation estimates that between 100 and 140 million girls and women worldwide have been subjected to one of the first three types of female genital mutilation. Prostitution, pornography and trafficking reduce women to commodities, possessions and objects for market exchange, men the purchasers, controllers and profit-makers.   It is estimated that prostitution revenue is around £110 billion per year worldwide, involves around 40-42 million people worldwide, of which 90% are dependent on a procurer,  75% are between 13 and 25 years old and the overwhelming majority are women. The global pornography industry was estimated to be worth  £57 billion in 2006.  Approximately 230 girls are still missing, more than a month after they were abducted in Chibok, Nigeria.  Women are still routinely ‘given away’ by their fathers in marriage ceremonies and fathers, not mothers are named on marriage certificates.  Male entitlement to women and girls and male violence against women and girls are inextricable.

Mass killings make news headlines in the way day-to-day fatal violence rarely does.  The day after Elliott Rodger murdered six people, 82-year old Harold Ambrose called the police from the home he shared with his wife in Boxted, Essex, and told them that he had shot her dead. When armed police reached the house, they found 77-year-old Wendy Ambrose,  sitting dead in a chair in the living room with two gunshots to her head and face. Harold Ambrose was found dead in the garden with a single gunshot wound to his head.  Harold Ambrose’s name has not trended on twitter, it has not made widespread national, let alone international, news coverage.  A man killing a woman is so ‘everyday’ that those who set the agenda do not deem it worthy of attention.

Male entitlement to women’s spaces crosses the realms of the theoretical, cultural and physical.  Whether it’s Seven Brides for Seven Brothers aka Stockholm Syndrome: the musical, misogynist fantasies of emotional and sexual abuse in the guise of stories for children or adult women, Tom Jones (for example and by no alone) with his songs of Christmas rape or murdering women, popular culture from fairy-tale to pop-music and film is littered with the message that women exist for men. The guy gets the girl. Reward. Happy ending. Some of the men that haven’t management to grasp the intricacies of women’s liberation from structural oppression demand to be, rather than support, feminists. Socially constructed gender and biological sex become conflated, woman is seen as a state of mind. Women-only conferences are threatened by men’s rights activists and women’s domestic and sexual violence services are increasingly re-commissioned as ‘gender-neutral’ services under a barely disguised reactionary ideology.  And whilst I was delighted to learn that Sweden has just elected the only formal feminist party to the EU parliament with a Roma woman, Soraya Post as its representative, my heart sank when I read that the role of men is seen as the same as that of women in the Swedish Feminist Initiative. How can we be the same when in patriarchal society we are anything but?

It has now been confirmed that Elliot Rodgers killed six people, four men and two women, the motivating force of his entitled misogyny and bitter jealously revealed in his self-recorded “last video”.  Elliot Rodger’s sense of entitlement is glaringly obvious. Prostitution was even suggested as a possible – missed – solution to Rodger’s choice to kill.  As explored here by Megan Murphy “What could possibly be a better cure for male entitlement than more male entitlement?” Glaringly obvious and not unusual, male entitlement is frequently accepted as an excuse or justification for everyday fatal male violence against women. For most women, leaving a violent relationship is the best way to end the violence (63%) but for over a third it is not: the violence reduced for eight per cent, stayed about the same for five per cent,changed to something else, such as stalking and other harassment, for 18 per cent, got worse for three per cent and only started when they split up for three per cent.  In my tracking of UK women killed through male violence, women being killed by men when they ended relationships, as they left, as they formed relationships with others or after leaving a violence relationship is ever present: Jabeen Younis, 30; Samantha Medland, 24; Rosemary Gill, 48; Chloe Siokos, 80; Gabielle Stanley, 28; Julie Beattie, 24; Da In Lee, 22; Shaista Khatoon, 33; Marion Vita, 48; Janee Parsons, 31. This list could go on and on. Whilst men’s murderous entitlement to women’s spaces, bodies and lives continues unchecked and sometimes supported by liberal capitalist ideology, male violence against women and girls will continue and the lists of women killed by men will continue to grow longer.

Counting Dead Women: Reviewing 2012 – How 107 dead women became 126

When I talk about why I started counting dead women, I begin with my realisation that in the first three days of 2012, seven UK women had been killed though male violence.  More than two years later, I found out it wasn’t seven women in three days, but eight.

Betty Yates, a retired teacher who was 77 years-old, was found dead at home in her house in Bewdley, Worcestershire on 4th January.  She had been beaten with a walking stick and stabbed in the head four times, two days earlier.  The knife used to kill her was still embedded in her neck.  Stephen Farrow, 48, was charged with her murder through DNA evidence matched after he murdered vicar John Suddard on 13 February.

2012 then, in the first three days of the year, eight women were killed though male violence.  Three days: 8 dead women: 3 shot, 2 stabbed, 1 strangled, 1 smothered and one beaten to death through 15 blunt force trauma injuries.

By the end of the year, I’d counted and named 107 women killed though suspected male violence, but as cases of women’s killings went to court, that number grew.  By February 2013 it was 109 women, by  the end of July it became 114, then 118.  In October 2013, I added Carole Waugh and then later Louise Evans;  in March 2014, I added Sally Ann Harrison.  May 2014, and not only is there Betty Yates but Jenny Methven, Yong Li Qui, Patricia Seddon and Eleftheria Demetriou.

Jenny Methven was 80 years-old when she was found dead on 20th February, she died through blunt force injuries to her head and body. Her skull was fractured from one side to the other with bone splinters embedded in her brain. 46-year-old William Kean has been found guilty of her murder.

Yong Li Qui, 42,  was murdered by Gang Wang, 48.  In his trial, he denied he intended to kill her or cause her really serious harm. He had beaten her head with an object so severely that her skull was fractured and her brain tissue could be seen.  She died on 25th March, a week after being attacked.

Patricia Seddon, 65, and her husband Robert, 68, were shot dead by their son Stephen. Four months earlier, he had staged a road accident and attempted to kill them by driving into a canal with them strapped in the back seats of a car.

Eleftheria Demetriou, 79, was stabbed to death by Hakim Abdillah, 38, she was killed through multiple wounds to the heart and spleen by a man she had befriended and who used to call her ‘grandma’.

I’ve written before about how I initially started counting women killed by men who were partners, ex-partners or family members: domestic violence; I’ve also looked at how femicide is a more useful but still problematic term because, whilst using patriarchal society as a context  it focuses on women killed because they are women  and not enough on toxic masculinity.

Between the five women above, two, Betty Yates and Patricia Seddon were murdered by men who also murdered a man.  I don’t know how the sex of 80 year-old Jenny Methven, 79 year-old Eleftheria Demetriou, and 77 year-old Betty, was relevant when they were killed by William Kean, 46,  Hakim Abdillah, 38 and Stephen Farrow, 48.  The age gaps between killer and victim, the inevitable differences in their strength; and the brutality of their attacks mean masculinity and power over women and misogyny, the hatred of women cannot be ruled out.   But the differences between the numbers of men who kill women (or men) to the number of women who kill women or men; and the number of men who kill their mothers (or father) to the number of women who kill a parent mean that if we want to end male violence against women, we need to look at patriarchy, sex inequality and socially constructed toxic gender for the answers.

The names of all 126 UK women killed through male violence in 2012 can be found here.

What do you think of when you hear the term ‘Cultural Violence’?

Culture is the ideas, social behaviours and traditions or customs of a particular society or group.

Cultural violence occurs when an someone is harmed as a result of practices that are part of her culture or tradition.  In patriarchal societies male violence against women is cultural, it is normalised, it functions as a cause and consequence of inequality between women and men.

In the UK, for April 2014, we could represent cultural violence like this:

April 201 - 15 women

(Left to right. Top row: Doreen Walker, Senga Closs, Kayleigh Palmer, Image to represent Sandra Boakes, Yvette Hallsworth; Middle row: Isabelle Sanders, Judith Nibbs, Pauline Butler, Angela Smeaton, Doreen Webb; Bottom row: Image to represent Elaine Duncan, Malgorzata Dantes, Ann Maguire, Carol Dyson, Susan Ashworth).     

The fifteen women above were all killed in the UK in April 2014. The primary suspects alleged to have killed them are all male.  Fatal male violence against women in the UK is so normalised that only the killing of one of these women made a significant impact on the media.  In the UK, the predominant culture makes fatal male violence against women invisible, it is rarely named as a cultural practice and there is resistance to attempts made to do so.

The woman killed though alleged male violence in the UK in April 2014 were aged between 16 and 75 years old.  Their killers were aged between 15 and 79 years old.  The men who allegedly killed the women made the following choices: One to kill a woman through multiple injuries, one to kill a woman through head injuries, one to strangle a woman, one to decapitate a woman, one to smoother a woman, one to kill her in a house fire or use a house fire to disguise his method of killing and seven to stab women to death  The methods by which two women were killed have not been made publicly available, we don’t yet know about the choices the men made who killed them. At least eight men are alleged to have killed a partner or former partner, one is alleged to have killed one of his teachers and one is alleged to have killed his mother. The relationship between alleged perpetrator and victim has not been released in four cases when men killed women in the UK in April 2014.

In the UK, if asked to describe the term ‘cultural violence’ in relation to April 2014, do we think about these fifteen dead women? If not, we should.

 

 

 

Can you give me a link to ‘Counting Dead Men’?

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Women who are killed are most likely to have been killed by a man, men who are killed are most likely to have been killed by a man.  We know that women who are killed are most likely to have been killed by someone they know, government statistics suggest 78%, of these most are killed by a partner or former partner, government statistics suggest 47%.  Most women killed are killed by men.  The government declines to share the statistic for this, instead blurring the sex of killers by using neutral relationship terms like parent, associate, child, indeed partner or ex-partner to identify killers by their relationship to the victim. Men, on the other hand, whilst still more likely to have been killed by someone they know, 57%, are much less likely to be killed by a partner or former partner, approximately 5% of men killed. Gay men are more likely to be killed by their male partner than lesbians killed by their female partner.   

Most men killed are killed by men.  Again, the government declines to share this statistic. We know that more men are killed each year than women, so we can’t simply compare the 47% of women killed being killed by a partner/ex-partner to the 5% of men killed for a simple numerical comparator, but in the 11 years between 2001/2 and 2011/12, 296 men, an average of 27 per year were killed by a partner or ex-partner and 1066 women were killed by a partner or ex-partner, an average of 97 per year.  In the same period, in total, 6.1% of people convicted of murder were women, meaning that 93.9% were men, those are the government’s figures, not mine.  31.8 of homicide victims were women, 68.2% were men.

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We all know that Charles Saatchi grabbed Nigella Lawson by the throat last June but what about Janelle Duncan Bailey, 25; Myrna Kirby, 57;  Glynis Solmaz, 65; Chantelle Barnsdate-Quean, 35; Mary Roberts, 50;  Christine Baker, 52; Margaret Macati, 63; Georgia Williams, 17; Yvonne Walsh, 25; Marianne Stones, 58; Sabeen Thandi, 37; Shavani Kapoor, 34; Assia Newton, 44; Jade Watson, 22; and Poonam, 35,  all of whom were strangled to death last year in the UK by men.  How many of us know the names of these women?  How many of us know the names of their killers?

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On Saturday 5 April this year, it is alleged that Mayka Kukucova shot a British man Andrew Bush, in Spain.   A google search of her name brings 5,100 results and 104 links to articles for the reader to ‘explore in depth’. On the same day, Aston Robinson murdered Kayleigh Palmer, it is alleged; a search of his name brings 3,420 results and 39 articles to ‘explore in depth’. Also on 5 April, it is alleged that Steven McCall murdered Senga Closs.  Search his name and there are 3,700 results but the first three links are to completely different issues, different McCalls, before the murder of Senga Closs appears with 5 links to pieces for the reader to  ‘explore in depth’.  Since then Dudley Boakes and Mateusz Kosecki have been charged with the murders of Sandra Boakes and Yvette Hallsworth on 6th April; and Dempsey Nibbs with the murder of Judith Nibbs on 11th April; none generating the interest afforded to Mayka Kukucova.  In addition, Liam Naylor has been charged with the murder of Doreen Walker on 2 April and Paul McManus has been charged with the fatal stabbing of  Isabelle Sanders on 9 April. Compare also the number of photos of Mayka Kukucova  to those of the men accused of murder (only Aston Robinson currently appears in a photograph) and it is very clear that the killing of a British man by a woman, even overseas, is deemed much more newsworthy than that of any of the 7 British women suspected to have been killed by men  in the UK so far this month.

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The media coverage of the current trial for murder of Oscar Pistorius who has admitted killing Reeva Steenkamp last February, has sympathetically covered his sobbing, his vomiting and his love for Reeva;  despite his more recent floundering under cross-examination by state prosecutor Gerrie Nel, today he found time to sign an autograph on his way out of court  reading “Thank you for your love and kindness, Oscar”.  It’s about him, about what happened to him not what he did.  Last month, a report released by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) ‘Everyone’s business: Improving the police response to domestic abuse’ referred to 77 women killed by their partners or ex-partners between April 2012 and March 2013.  The focus on domestic violence meant that the killings by men of 38 women were rendered irrelevant. The extent of fatal male violence against women simply erased.

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We’re only two weeks in to April 2014 and already seven women in the UK have been killed, with a man charged with their murders.  Just like any other month, these killings can rarely, even if somewhat anachronistically, be referred to as front-page news.  Without the added ingredient of celebrity, male violence against women: rape, assault and murder are simply too commonplace.

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Almost 94% of murderers in the UK are men.  Even the most ardent disciples of ‘yeah but women kill men too’  cannot deny that this is a  significant statistical difference.  Government data and mainstream media conspire to feed the denial of both the extent to which men comprise the majority of murderers and the number of women killed by men compared to the number of men killed by women.  It could almost make you feel sympathetic to those suggesting, demanding or instructing me to count dead men.  Almost.

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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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There are a lot of isolated incidents around

One of the reasons I started counting dead women was hearing a murder of a woman killed referred to as an ‘isolated incident’.  Seven women were killed in the first three days of 2012 and yet connections between these occurrences of men’s fatal violence against women were absent.   It’s little over two years and 275 dead women later, and police are still describing men’s killings of women as isolated incidents.

On Sunday 23rd February 2014, two women, one in her 60s and one in her 40s, as yet unnamed but believed to be mother and daughter, were shot dead.  82 year-old John Lowe has been arrested for their murders.  A Detective Chief Inspector speaking on behalf of Surrey police said:

“We are conducting a full and thorough investigation into the circumstances surrounding these two deaths. However, at this time, we believe this is an isolated incident and there is no further risk to the wider community.”

Which aspect of  their murders was an isolated incident? That they were killed by a man.  Surely not, as stated above 275 women have been killed by men in the last 26 months.  That they were shot?  No, not that either. At least 15 of the 275 women killed were shot .

Less than two weeks earlier, 20 year-old Hollie Gazzard was stabbed  to death. A Police Chief Inspector said

“I would like to reassure members of this community, both residents and local businesses, that this is an isolated incident. These offences don’t happen in Gloucester regularly. This incident was very tragic, however; both victim and suspect knew each other. They were in a previous relationship. That doesn’t lessen this horrific incident but it would be good for us to reassure the local community.”

Again, it’s difficult to see which aspect of Hollie’s murder was isolated.  That she was stabbed?  Definitely not, already in 2014, 6 women have been stabbed to death by men.  In 2013, at least 45 women were stabbed to death and there were 44 in 2012.  That’s 95 women stabbed in 26 months.  Was it that she was stabbed by someone that she had been in a relationship with? Certainly not that, approximately three-quarters of the UK women killed by men since January 2012 have been killed by a partner or former partner.  Perhaps then it’s that Hollie was killed in Gloucestershire.   Gloucestershire wouldn’t be described as a femicide hotspot, though  it’s only 6 months since the body of Jane Wiggett was found dead, her ex-husband has been charged with murder and remanded in custody.  Two women dead in 6 months?  Not so isolated then.

Earlier this year, on 24th January, 17 year-old Elizabeth Thomas was stabbed to death in Oxted, Surrey.  A 16-year-old male, said to be known to her, has been arrested on suspicion of her murder.  The Senior Investigating Officer Detective Chief Inspector said:

“We believe this to be an isolated incident and that there is no risk to the further community.”

It’s difficult to fathom which aspect of Elizabeth’s murder was an isolated incident.  That she was killed by a man known to her? No. That she was stabbed?  No. That she was a teenager?  No, not that either.  Of the 275 women killed since January 2012, she’s the 16th teenager.  Maybe it’s that she lived in affluent Surrey, the county ranked fifth least deprived according to the multiple deprivation index?  Maybe that, after all it’s a long 14 months since 25 year-old Georgina Hackett was bludgeoned to death with a mallet by her boyfriend Daniel Baker.  Yet Elizabeth’s murder was followed only 5 weeks later by the fatal shooting of the two women mentioned earlier. Maybe now, Elizabeth’s murder seems a little less of an isolated incident.

Also earlier this year, 43 year-old Karen Wild was stabbed to death in Hanbury, Worcestershire.  A police  Superintendent said:

“Following this tragic incident, we continue our investigations in and around the house, including searches and forensic examinations.  I would like to reassure the local community that we believe this to be an isolated incident and no-one else is being sought in relation to our investigation.”

What was isolated about Karen Wild’s murder? We know it isn’t because she was killed by a man.  We know it isn’t because she was stabbed.  Worcestershire is another largely affluent area, Worcester district is ranked third least deprived according to the multiple deprivation index.  Maybe all that affluence shortens memories, after-all 3 women – Alethea Taylor, 63; Jacqueline Harrison, 47 and Louise Evans, 32 – were killed though male violence in Worcestershire in 2012.  Could it be that Karen’s son, Lian Wild was arrested and charged with her murder, that marks her killing as an isolated incident?  No, it isn’t that either; Karen Wild is one of at least 32 women who have been killed by their sons since January 2012.

This is not about local communities, affluent or not. It is about women and it is about men.  Are women not a community?  Is our risk through men’s violence unrecognised? It is self-evident that each women killed by a man is a unique individual, as is each man that makes the choice to kill her. The circumstances around each killing are never identical.   But that doesn’t make them isolated incidents.  By refusing to see a pattern we are refusing to see the myriad connections between incidents of men’s fatal violence against women; and by refusing to see the connections we are closing our eyes to the commonalities in the causes. What sort of a message would it send, if, when a man killed a woman, police didn’t refer to an isolated incident but to yet another example of femicide? Yet another example of men’s fatal violence against women. Maybe then, naming male violence,  misogyny, sex-inequality, dangerous rules of gender and patriarchy wouldn’t be restricted to feminists and would become part of a wider understanding.  Maybe then, there would be sufficient motivation to do something about ending men’s fatal violence against women.

Here’s a thing: women exist

Insult us from the playground to parliament: Bitch. Witch. Slapper. Cow. Dog. Mouse. Mousse. Tart. Whore. Slut. Slag. Slattern. Fish-wife. Bossy. Bag. Harridan. Hag. Man. Man-hater

Strengthen the cage: reinforce gender by making girlhood pinker, shinier, sparklier
Princess, pretty, doll, lady,
Sweeter Sweetie: sugar, honey, treacle

Abort us. Kill us, rape us, burn us, drown us
Constrict us: corset, girdle, spanx. Tie us in, tie us down
Restrict us. Write us out of history. Block our education
Pay us less. Prevent us from voting, driving, ski-jumping

Sell us lies
Fill us with botox, collagen, PIPs
Our lips, wrinkles, breasts, bottoms: bigger, puffier, perter
Our skin too shiny, too dull, too dark, too pale
Cut out our fat, labia, clitorises
Heels higher, towering, teetering, toppling
Hair longer, straighter, blonder
Strip it, pluck it, wax it, shave it

We promised to obey
Treat us as property
Legalise our commodification
Prostitute us. Objectify us
Hide us in modest clothing
Shame our bodies
Camel-toe, nipple-block, vagisil

This is society, not biology, not psychology
Man-made
Patriarchy

Infiltrate, assimilate, vilify
Turn the tables, accuse us of hate-speech
Deny us a platform
Segregate us
Try to ban us from meeting

I am woman, hear me roar
Phenomenal Woman
Keep trying. Try harder
Your hatred
Your need to subjugate, dominate and place your interests first will not silence me and my sisters
You will not erase us
Still I rise. We rise.