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.

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Just because it’s art doesn’t mean it isn’t racist sexist objectification of women

Bjarne Melgaard who as described by art critic Roberta Smith,  “never met a taboo he didn’t like breaking,” has a reputation to maintain as an aging enfant terrible .  He has produced a ‘chair-as-art’  based on a similar one created in the 1960s by Allen Jones. The chair is a woman on her back with her thighs pulled up to her chest and her calves and feet sticking up in the air.  The backs of her thighs make the seat.  She is wearing black knickers, long gloves and boots.  The difference is that Melgaard’s chair is a made to resemble a black woman and Jones’ is white.

Russian fashion designer and the editor-in-chief of new bi-annual art and fashion magazine GARAGE, Dasha Zhukova (note – it really isn’t acceptable to reduce a woman to that of girlfriend of a man, however rich and famous he happens to be) is a white woman who has been photographed smiling beatifically from the chair. The image is of a fully-clothed white woman sitting on top of a pornographied black woman. The photo-shoot accompanied  an interview with on-line fashion website Buro 24/7 about the launch of Zhukova’s magazine and has sparked what has been referred to as a ‘racism row’. The editor of the Buro 24/7 Miroslava Duma and Zhukova herself have since apologised. Duma’s apology reads:

“Dear all, Buro 24/7 team and I personally would like to express our sincerest apology to anyone who we have offended and hurt.  It was ABSOLUTELY not our intention. We are against racism or gender inequality or anything that infringes upon anyone’s rights. We love, respect and look up to people regardless of their race, gender or social status. The chair in the photo should only be seen as a piece of art which was created by British Pop-Artist Allen Jones, and not as any form of racial discrimination. In our eyes everyone is equal. And we love everybody.”

Zhukova is reported as saying: “This photograph, which has been published completely out of context, is of an artwork intended specifically as a commentary on gender and racial politics.”  Art critic Jonathan Jones has waded into the furore and defended  the piece arguing that the intention is the opposite of racist:

“in making this woman black he means to retoxify the art of Allen Jones, to offend people with an image long since accepted. It is to question power and representation. Are you offended by this black woman’s abuse? Then why is it OK for white women to be similarly humiliated in a respected pop art icon in the Tate collection?  Offensiveness in art is often a way to satirise injustice.”

Firstly, yes,  I am offended by Jones’ original piece.  The sexual objectification of women is taken to the further depth of a literal objectification by turning us in to a piece of furniture.  But whether art critic Jonathan Jones realises it or not, the objectification of white and black women is not the same.  Black and white women are rarely treated the same in pornography, depictions of black women are rarely free of racial stereotypes.  In Miroslava Duma’s world, everyone might be equal – though I would be interested to see a breakdown of the sex and race of contributors to her magazine – but in the real world they are not; and black women are doubly oppressed, through their race as well as their sex.  The model of the objectified pornographied black woman is made more offensive when it is sat upon by a fully-clothed white woman.

There’s nothing inherently big or clever about breaking taboos,  there’s nothing new about dressing –up porn as art or the art elite explaining to us plebs that we just don’t get it.  Miroslava Duma and Dasha Zhukova are absurdly wealthy white women making Duma’s protestation that “everybody is equal’, at best  ill-considered and uninformed.  Bjarne Melgaard, Allen Jones and Jonathan Jones are white men.  As people who have experienced neither racial nor sexual oppression, their defence of either is worthless.  Pornography is the eroticisation of unequal power relations and art or not, pornography reinforces, not challenges inequality.