Talking about men’s violence (It seems like I’ve been here before)

Anybody pushing a ‘gender neutral’ approach to domestic – or sexual – violence is just a male violence enabler.

Men (mostly, but yes, some women too) don’t seem to like it when we talk about men’s violence against women.  The responses are nothing new and as yet never original,  so, as a result, I’ve written this to save me the bother of repeating the same thing over and over again because I am not going to stop talking about men’s violence against women and I don’t suppose men are going to stop finding that objectionable.  If I have sent you a link to this piece, it’s because

a) you have suggested that I don’t care about male victims

b) you refuse to accept than the extent of differences between men’s and women’s use of violence or the effects of that violence

c) you’re interpreting what I say as ‘all men are violent’

d) you’ve found it necessary to point out that women can be violent too

c) you have made some nonsense comment about feminism,  or

d) some combination of the above.

I want to see an end to men’s violence against women.  I’m campaigning to raise awareness of men’s fatal violence against women and for action to increase our understanding of the reasons behind the differences in men and women’s use of violence and their victimisation, so that we can reduce men’s violence against women.

Women who are murdered are most likely to have been murdered by a man.  Men who are murdered are most likely to have been murdered by a man.  Men are more likely to be violent than women.  Not all men are murderers, not all men are violent. Some women are murderers, some women are violent.

Gender and gender differences – the ways that many of us behave in ways that are seen as being like a ‘typical man’ or a ‘typical woman’ – are socially constructed.  They are not biological, they are not inevitable.  Not all women and not all men conform or want to conform to these gender differences, many of us sometimes do and sometimes don’t. Because gender differences are socially constructed, it means we can change them.  The stereotypical gender differences between women and men are a way of keeping women and men unequal. At the same time, different doesn’t have to mean unequal.

All men benefit from inequality between women and men.  This doesn’t mean that some women are not in more advantageous positions than some men. It doesn’t mean all men are the same.  It doesn’t mean that all women are the same.   It doesn’t mean that sex is the only important basis for inequality.  It doesn’t mean that everyone wants it to be that way.

Men’s violence against women is a cause and consequence of inequality between women and men. It doesn’t have to be that way. If enough of us decide to do things differently we can change the world.  Men don’t have to be violent, towards women or other men. Men can end male violence if enough of them want to.  The thing is, this won’t happen if too many men – and/or women – refuse to see that men’s violence is a problem.  The changes that will reduce men’s violence against women will also reduce men’s violence against other men, they will probably also reduce women’s violence.

I want to see an end to men’s violence against women.  What this means is “I want to see an end to men’s violence against women.”  It doesn’t mean that I do not care about other forms of violence.  It doesn’t mean that I do not feel any compassion towards male victims of violence.  It doesn’t mean that I don’t care  or that I celebrate if men are killed – and that is true whether they’re killed by a woman, or, as is more likely, by another man.

A straw man argument  is misrepresentation of someone else’s position to make it easier to attack or undermine that position.  When men – and it usually is men, but not always – attack me for caring about women killed though men’s violence, by suggesting that this means I don’t care about men who are victims of violence (whether from women, or as more likely, other men), they’re using a straw man argument.  They saying that because I care about men killing women, I can’t care about men who are killed, to attack the fact that I care about women who are killed. This may or may not be, as suggested by a friend of mine, Louise Pennington, because they do not care when men kill women. The thing is, whether they intend it or not, their attacks and their refusal to accept men’s violence as the  problem means that it is less likely that we’ll be able to make the changes that will make us all safer.  And even though men kill more men that they kill women, who benefits from things staying the same? Yep.  Men. Even the nice ones.

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Sorry, I can’t join your campaign to end male primogeniture, I’m washing my hair

Liza Campbell is campaigning to end male primogeniture – the practice of inheritance of estate and title by the eldest male child.  She explains why she believes it is a feminist issue here.  I’ve already written about becoming class conscious before sex-class conscious and self-identifying as a feminist here.  It didn’t take me long to work out how to reconcile class and sex oppression but I will never  forget that feeling of alienation, difference and being “less than”, when I first experienced ‘posh girls’  en masse (and yes, that’s exactly how I saw them and also exactly what I called them) at ‘A’ level college in Yorkshire in the mid-1980s.  So Campbell’s sentence: “ “Why the hell should we care about posh girls?” I hear you say.” gave me a good dose of ear steam.

Of course male primogeniture is wrong.  Of course.  Of course anything that privileges men over women is wrong.  But that doesn’t mean that ending the sex inequality is more important than ending the inequality.  Campbell ends her piece by saying that if we wish to sneer, then we must also sneer at Brahmin women and Senate Masupha too.  She’s right and I will.  I’d also ask her whether she is using cultural liberalism and the fear of appearing racist to bolster her argument in favour of maintaining inherited class privilege.  Indeed, she uses the practice of female genital mutilation, a form of abuse that for years many white liberals squirmed to condemn because of the fear of condemning a harmful practice in a culture subjugated in the UK, to illustrate the problem of female doorkeepers of patriarchy and the difficulty of dissent for a culture’s daughters.  Please don’t compare a girl’s right to survive with her genitals intact to another’s to be called Lady Blah-di-blah and inherit the family mansion.

Campbell describes the dilemma of being someone who “by accident of birth, finds herself the daughter of an earl.” She says that she doesn’t use her title and is deracinated from that life.  She says that refusal to help her struck her as the worst sort of inverted snobbery.  I might just probably be too busy to help her ‘cos I am too busy googling ‘deracinated’ because my life chances haven’t brought that word in to my vocabulary just yet. Though seriously, I am not going to help her because the answer to one form of inequality of accidental birth (male primogeniture and indeed maleness per se) is not to overlook and ignore other forms of inherited privilege.

I do agree with Campbell that everything is connected.  Though where she argues that “every struggle for women’s rights should be supported; every infringement resisted” I cannot agree. No-one should inherit titles. No-one should inherit wealth, privilege and status over others. No-one should inherit a free-pass to a privileged education that will set that person up for privilege for life. No-one should inherit poverty under the benefits-cap, insecure housing, being born in a war zone.  Food, shelter, safety, education  – and world equality in our right to access these – are surely our goals.  I wish I believed that I’ll see a world in which inequality between people has been erased before I die, but I don’t.  However this will not stop me trying to contribute to creating that world.  In my vision of an equal world, women will be liberated from patriarchal oppression,  male primogeniture will not exist, but I am not interested in ending it for the benefit of privileged women.

Thanks and all, but no thanks: I don’t want men in my feminism

Yes, I’m one of those feminists who doesn’t want men in feminism, the type who doesn’t think men can be feminists.  I’m quite happy to talk with you, work in partnership with or alongside you, even count a select bunch of you amongst my friends, but call you feminists: “Nah.”

Men – you’ve had since time immemorial to get your shit together.  For the sake of argument, let’s start from the assumption that as a species we’ve been around for about 200,000 years.  Evidence suggests that early societies were egalitarian but that with the development of agriculture and domestication around 11,700 years ago, came the emergence of patriarchy, of men’s domination of women.  What we refer to as first wave feminism gained prominence from the late 19th and early twentieth centuries, though this is western-centric and writes out women’s earlier struggles in Europe from the 15th century.  Even if we take  Mary Wollstonecraft’s  A Vindication of the Rights of Woman published in 1792 as the start of women’s fight for our rights, men had eleven and a half thousand years to do something about sex inequality – if only a) you had wanted to and b) you weren’t too busy enjoying the benefits.  What’s suddenly happened for you to want to get in on the act?

Feminism is more than the demand for rights for women or equality between women and men. For me, feminism is the fight for the liberation of all women as a class from subjugation under patriarchy.  Loose the structural analysis and feminism gets lost in the rights of the individual, in identity led politics and notions of choice and agency fail to take sufficient account of context and impact.  Get men in and feminism is almost inevitably reduced to the problem of inequality and usually it isn’t so long before the ‘men suffer under patriarchy too’ line is trotted out.

Men, revolutionaries,  when you fight for equality you’re too quick betray your sisters.  Women were fighting for the rights of women as a class, as well as the overthrow of totalitarian regimes in the Arab Spring, but women’s status has been seriously threated in the countries that achieved changes of government.  The end of communism in Eastern Europe, and with it the rise of choice and consumerism furthered the commodification of women and men’s right’s to choose to profit and purchase. In the UK,  the Socialist Workers Party handling of rape shows that misogyny, sexism and sexual violence were seen as equality issues of lesser importance.

Men, you take up too much public space.  This post by End Victimisation and Blaming cites Dale Spender:

“Present at the discussion, which was a workshop on sexism and education in London, were thirty-two women and five men. Apart from the fact that the tape revealed that the men talked for over 50 per cent of the time, it also revealed that what the men wanted to talk about – and the way in which they wanted to talk – was given precedence.”     […]

“There is no doubt in my mind that in this context at least (and I do not think it was an atypical one) it was the five males and not the thirty-two females who were defining the parameters of the talk. I suspect that neither the women nor the men were conscious of this. There was no overt hostility displayed towards the females who ‘strayed from the point’, but considerable pressure was applied by the males – and accepted without comment from the females – to confine the discussion to the male definition of the topic.”

Spender is absolutely right if my experience is anything to go by, the situation she described was not atypical. In the media men dominate, they take up disproportionate space. In politics men dominate, they take up disproportionate space.  Even on public transport men dominate, you take up disproportionate space as illustrated by this blog and this.  Seriously fellas, we know that your balls aren’t that big.

This piece by Glosswitch on the vitriol directed towards a twitter hashtag #sharedgirlhood and its protagonist Victoria Brownworth (@VABOX) explores the importance of a collective approach to women’s oppression.   Too few women get to know the joy of mass women-only spaces. It’s increasingly rare to find even a feminist event that is women only, and those that seek to provide this, increasingly face challenges.  Bullying from men’s rights extremists led to the London Irish Centre cancelling a booking for the women-only radical feminist conference Rad Fem 2013 for safeguarding reasons and because the venue could not handle the volume of complaints, though the conference went ahead peacefully elsewhere.  What’s the big threat?  Are you afraid that we’re plotting to overthrow male privilege or something?

Men, how about you prioritise taking responsibility for your violence above asking ‘What about the men?’  Services for women who have experienced sexual and domestic violence are increasingly required by commissioners to offer services to men too, despite evidence that this is not what women want, despite women being overwhelmingly the victims and men being overwhelmingly the perpetrators of sexual and domestic violence. Despite even the recognition of this by the government in its strategy to end (male) violence against women and girls. Incidentally men, if you focussed on ending male violence, you’d be helping a whole lot more men – and women – than you are by overstating your victimisation by women.

Men, how about you challenge the pornography tastes of some of your brethren?  Other men and boys listen to you, use their sexism for the greater good.  How about you challenge the sexual objectification of women without needing to call yourselves feminists to do so. Just do it because you recognise that objectification is damaging to women, a cause and consequence of inequality that upholds patriarchy.

Men, how about you sort out the rest of society – that in which you dominate – and make that more equitable and safer for women before you insist on occupying our space?  There is a role for you, plenty that you can do,  and I really hope that you will be influenced by feminism but in my experience, it is the men who exclude themselves from identifying as a feminist, who instead see themselves as allies, supporters or pro-feminist who have the more sophisticated analysis.  Men who realise that feminism is not about or for them, not about what they think.

The silencing of women by men in the public sphere is deafening; the habit of overlooking and failing to respond to women’s subordination is entrenched, structural and serves men as a class. By insist on inclusion in feminism, once again, men’s wants and needs are prioritised over women’s and women’s subordination is reinforced.

Feminism, single issue campaigns and disagreeing

I’d like to be able to write this without referring to the campaign that has prompted this piece, I’d like to but I’m not sure that in doing so I’d be able to express myself well enough; I’d like to because I support the single objective of that single issue campaign and I don’t want to knock women who are trying to make a difference. Sadly however, as described in this blog by Terri Strange, by describing themselves as “not anti-porn” the campaigner(s) behind ‘No more Page Three’ have located the campaign within a feminist political position that I cannot ascribe to.

I supported the ‘No More Page Three’ campaign because the sexual objectification of women – like men’s violence against women – is a cause and consequence of inequality between women and men.  My support of the single issue campaign was and is consistent with my wider perspective.  Pornography is the eroticisation of unequal power relations and women’s subjugation. Add a racial analysis to that perspective and the problems are exacerbated. This is not my feminism.  My feminism is rooted in a structural analysis of power relations rather than identity politics and choice.  A feminism based on a structural analysis of power relations is just as able – in my opinion, better able – to encompass multiple forms of advantage and oppression, such as class, race and disability within and in addition to analysis of sex-class inequality, as identity based feminism.

The eroticisation of women’s bodies as objects of consumption works because women’s and men’s bodies serve different purposes in a patriarchal capitalist society.  For a decent and thorough analysis, please read Julia Long’s ‘Anti-porn or Gail Dines’ ‘Pornland’. For the purposes of this piece, the parody Wrecking Ball (Chatroulette Version)  illustrates my position perfectly well.   In patriarchal society, treating women and men’s bodies the same, isn’t the same.  It just doesn’t work.  Why?  Because of sex inequality.

I understand why some feminists are reluctant to support single issue campaigns.  They’re absolutely right if they argue that we are not going to achieve the liberation of women, the end of women’s subjugation under patriarchy though relatively easily achievable single issue campaigns.  I however, can live with that.  As a feminist whose primary focus is male violence against women, I was  more than happy to support Caroline Criado-Perez’s bank notes campaign and explained why here:

Violence against women and girls is both a consequence and cause of inequality between women and men.  Of course, I am not suggesting that the inclusion of a woman on banknotes would reduce male violence against women and girls.  But I do believe that when we have a choice about whether our actions reinforce or challenge inequality between women and men, if we chose to ignore or exclude women, then we are guilty  of relegating women to a second-class status.  If we think that making women invisible is acceptable, then we are part of the problem.

The problem is different where single issue campaigners knowingly place their objectives outside or in opposition to a wider political analysis.

As a feminist, I have learned a lot from women who have disagreed with me and challenged me, women who have pointed out the inconsistencies within my own comfort zones.  It’s still happening all the time and yet I still cling to behaviours, habits and thought processes that I  know don’t cut it. And I recognise the inadequacy of the choice based defence that I occasionally fall back on.  However, sometimes I listen, sometimes I learn, sometimes my position shifts.  That’s why I cannot agree with those who are critical of the feminists who are critiquing the “not anti-porn” position of the ‘No More Page Three’ campaign.   I am not criticising their campaign, the huge time and energy that has been invested in pushing for change, but I am challenging, questioning and disagreeing with the political – or lack or political –  analysis.  As a feminist, I hear and learn from women that I sometimes agree with, sometimes disagree with, all the time.  Most disagreements do not negate the value of the things I learn.  We need to be able to discuss and disagree.

I hope that the ‘No More Page Three’ campaign achieves its aim.  But I want to see the campaign succeed because pornography is a cause and consequence of inequality and I want to be able to support the campaign because it is part of the solution, not just shifting the problem. And I want to be able to say that – in the hope of spreading a structural feminist analysis –  without it being seen as an attack on other women who are fighting for a better world.

Don’t these feminists just need to lighten up and have some Halloween fun?

Artist Emma Bolland took and shared on twitter a photo of a mannequin in the window of the Amazing Party Company fancy dress shop in Leeds.  After seeing the photo, I called the shop to complain, by this time they had removed the knife from her chest, they told me “It isn’t a woman who has been stabbed.  It’s a zombie nurse.  Zombie’s don’t really exist. It’s just a bit of fun”

The stereotype of the ‘sexy nurse’ isn’t fun, it is objectification, 90% of nurses are women, it is reducing the role of a nurse to a woman’s sexual agency. It is pure and simple sexism. A UK poll found that for men a nurse was the most sexually-fantasized-about job. Reducing nurses to sex objects is an insult to the hard work and professionalism of the thousands of women in nursing and contributes to the devaluing of the role and towards sexual harassment of nurses in their place of work.

As the Amazing Party Company – who describe themselves as a family run retail business –said “Zombie nurses don’t exit.”  Zombie nurses don’t exist, but stabbed women do, stabbed nurses do. I’d like to see them explain the fun of stabbed nurses to Penny and John Clough, whose daughter, 26 year old nurse Jane Clough, was stabbed 71 times by her former boyfriend Jonathan Vass before he slit her throat in the hospital car park.  Or the family and friends of 25 year-old estate agent Nicole Waterhouse from York or 28 year-old Gabrielle Stanley from Doncaster, both of whom were stabbed to death this month.  From my records of women killed through suspected male violence I know that 33 UK women were stabbed to death by violent men in 2012.  At least a further 11 women have been killed though stabbing so far this year, probably more – if 2012 was typical, stabbing seems to be the most frequently used form of murder. Stabbed nurses, stabbed women, I’m failing to see the fun side.

Those stabbings take place within a wider context of fatal male violence against women.  In total, I know of 120 women killed though male violence in 2012 and a further 100 already suspected so far this year. Not fun.

Jane Clough  had written in her diary that she thought Jonathan Vass would try to kill her after she ended their relationship.  In the December before he murdered her, Vass was charged with 9 counts of rape and 4 of assault against Jane. Against the reported wishes of both the police and the Crown Prosecution Service, Judge Simon Newel granted him bail.  Making male violence against women fun contributes to a society that doesn’t take the threat of male violence against women seriously. A society that doesn’t taken male violence against women seriously is one in which bail can be  granted to men with a history of violence against women.

I’m still not finding this fun.  Happy Halloween Amazing Party Company.  Did you make  a good profit out of the fun that is fatal male violence against women?

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On becoming a working class feminist and ‘choice’: a personal reflection

history is history of class struggles

I’ve been to two feminist events this year where the issue of class was presented by women who were not working-class or of working-class background. Each woman (three women, two events) was an articulate speaker who raised interesting and valid points but that isn’t the issue, as feminists there is no need for us to make class an anthropological issue.  Sure, feminism has a class problem, but that does not mean that there aren’t any feminists who are able to articulate class issues from a position as anything other than ‘other’.  It’s only as I wrote this that I realised how much I talked about ‘choice’ and how my own story is about the ways that class and sex influence and limit choice.

I’m not going to even try to define class here, I’ll leave that to the sociologists; but rather than continue to gripe about middle-class feminists commandeering class, I thought I ought to talk about what being a working-class feminist means to me.

My mother and biological father met working in John Crowther’s Mill, a textile manufacturing mill in Milnsbridge, West Yorkshire. It was 1967, the year that the Abortion Act was passed in the British parliament.  Pregnant at 17 to a married Sicilian immigrant who didn’t speak very much English, my mother married her on-off boyfriend,  I’m not sure how much ‘right to choose’ she really had.  She doesn’t recall knowing that abortion was an option –“I never even thought about it,” –  and the same with the pill, which had been available since 1961 “I never even thought about that either, I might’ve heard of it ….”.  There was perhaps a 50-50 chance that she was marrying the father of her soon-to-be child, but she wasn’t; the best-man, not the groom was the daddy, though it was  much later that I became aware of this.  As far as I was concerned, up until my early 20s, I was the daughter of an ex-mill worker/factory packer/auxiliary-nurse/shop-worker mother and a plumber/builder dad.

Class is not simply about poverty.  We weren’t poor. My mother had been, she’d grown up as the third child and oldest girl of 12 siblings.  I’ve heard stories of six-mile walks in winter by children to borrow coal from relatives; the need to get home early to get the best pick of clothes for a night out; shared beds, not just shared rooms; coats that doubled as blankets and lying to friends about birthday presents that never transpired.  I never went hungry and most of our meals were home cooked, the smattering of convenience foods being more about exciting 70s fashions than anything else.  My ‘dad’ was controlling (tight) with money, though I’d say this was more about control and power than poverty, he drove a flash American imported sports car, but my sister and I grew up in a mixture of new clothes, family hand-me-downs and jumble-sale bargains, but if that was poverty or disadvantage, I was barely aware of it .  My mum’s youngest sister, my aunt, was less than four years older than me and I looked up to her, growing into the clothes that she was growing out of was a welcomed rite of passage,  The annual jumble sale at my primary school a much anticipated event among all my friends.  Memories of a new coat from C&A (for anyone who doesn’t know, by no means an expensive brand) are bittersweet, my mum cutting the price label out and telling me to pretend that it had cost less than it actually had because she wasn’t supposed to spend that much on clothes. Years later,  she told me that one of the reasons she’d returned to work was because ‘she wasn’t given’ enough money for clothes for the children. I remember walking to school with a friend, I would have been any age between 8 and 11, and her telling me that her dad said ‘if he had your dad’s money, he’d spend more of it on his children’, and trying to argue my way out of the stinging indignant humiliation.

I was educated at local state schools, attending one of the country’s first purpose-built comprehensives, long before the concept of choice was widely used in free education.  For whatever reasons, I did ‘well’ at school.  My secondary school was large, I think approximately 1,800 pupils;  some classes were streamed according to ability, so in time, though I wasn’t conscious of this, my peers became increasingly (but by no means exclusively) those doing well at school  and, therefore,  not coincidentally, increasingly those from relatively privileged backgrounds.  Looking back, class meant my subject choices at ‘O’ and ‘A’ level weren’t hampered by the parental influence of the need to build a good career foundation, less pressure to revise and no pressure to stick at learning to play an instrument, things that I experienced as freedoms and which were sometimes the envy of friends from more advantaged backgrounds. So, I picked ‘O’ levels based on a mixture of what I wanted, which teachers I wanted to avoid and some minor school regulations based on what was deemed appropriate –or not – for a bright kid. (Therefore a language and not typing or the wonderfully named ‘office practise’, and physics not general science.)

I didn’t really choose to do ‘A’ levels but picked some because that’s what my peers were doing (again free choice so: Sociology, Geography and Art) and a further education college rather than the  small school sixth form because I’d snogged and was avoiding too many of the boys that would have been in the sixth form.  I wasn’t sure that I’d end up at the sixth form college anyway, I applied for jobs over the summer holiday and remember receiving a lovely hand-written letter from  Batley’s Cash and Carry telling me that I had ‘far too much going for me’ to leave school and work there.  My ‘dad’ asked me why I was bothering, I’d only be having babies, so I was just wasting time.

‘A’ level college was the first time I recall experiencing class making me feel different.  The main intakes were from local fee-paying schools, or so it seemed, maybe it was just that I knew only a handful of similar stragglers from my old school and they were a slightly larger,  but much louder,  pack. I felt silenced by their confident chatter, although also from Huddersfield their accents were different from mine.  I didn’t mix with them. I couldn’t like The  Smiths, ‘cos they did. I dropped ‘A’ level art because I couldn’t find my voice amongst theirs, I had a nagging feeling that I was as good as most of them, better than some, but I knew that after college, if this was what I had to compete with, I would be lost.

Around the same time, I started doing an evening class in psychology.  I hadn’t chosen biology ‘O’ level, so this was my introduction to dominant and recessive genes. The tutor of my class must have been relieved when I decided that my impossible ‘dominant gene’ brown eyes from parents with recessive gene blue and green eyes and my blond and blue-eyed younger brother and sister meant that I must be a ‘genetic throw-back’.  I remember coming home and talking about it, and what now I might call the sound of tumbleweed.

Through sociology, I found a name for the feeling of being different: class.  It was 1984/85, although Huddersfield was a mill not a mining town, the miners’ strike felt alive around us and anyway the job losses were echoed in the decline of the mills.  I discovered Billy Bragg and pop and politics merged in my teenage identity. Sometime after ‘class’, sociology introduced me to the concept of feminism.   “How stupid!”, I thought, how could I ever have more in common with the posh girls from the private schools than a man who worked in a pit? Luckily though, as we moved on to socialist and radical feminism, the ideas of women like Shulasmith Firestone and Sheila Rowbotham showed me how class and feminist politics needn’t be mutually exclusive – and honestly, since the exposure to ideas through ‘A’ level sociology,  nothing has been the same.

I drifted into university much in the same was that I drifted into ‘A’ levels.  My mum had left my dad.  I was the first of my family to go to university, though my grandparents’ twelve children have had twenty-five children between them and several of my cousins and one of my aunts have also since attended university.  I was in the South at the University of Kent. Northern, working-class, from a broken-home, back-combed hair, second hand 50/60s dresses and old men’s coats.  I felt different and I wanted it that way, but when the daughter of a doctor (she was studying law)  told me I was lucky, that I had a credibility that she could never have, I knew she was talking shite.  I stuck with sociology, read more about Marx, about domestic and sexual violence, about patriarchy.  We marched for miners, we marched against Thatcher, against Clause 28 and against the Poll Tax.  I learnt the truth about my parentage and those dominant gene brown eyes.  I wasn’t a genetic throw-back but half-Italian. What I saw in the mirror now made sense. I met my biological dad (if I was expecting Al Pacino or Robert De Niro, I got Danny De Vito) a handful of new half-brothers and sisters and my Sicilian/Italian family.

Having the benefit of a degree (through a free education) and a working-class background places me on a class margin, add to that a sense of always feeling ‘a bit different’ in the home I grew up in but not knowing why.  Neither one thing nor the other, always a bit too much of ‘something different’ to truly feel in place anywhere. If I’d ever doubted it, my work history in women’s refuges and hostels means that I have met countless women and children whose backgrounds and life chances make my own look steeped in advantage and privilege.  I can compare my own life to that of my mum, to my sister and brother and know that I have had opportunities that they have been denied.  But still, attending meetings with people whom I don’t know, especially ‘higher-ranking’ professionals means that when I first open my mouth and speak and my working-class Yorkshire accent comes out, I frequently detect a quick flicker of surprise in their eyes.  Being a woman and working-class means that I am no stranger to hearing an ignored suggestion that I have made earlier,  later  repeated by a man, or in a different accent or both, accepted and valued.  Being a woman and working-class means that only very recently, I stopped telling myself that long-haul holidays, talking on the radio, writing a blog, buying the car that I wanted were not for ‘people like me’.

Unlike age, disability, gender reassignment, disability, marriage/civil-partnership, pregnancy/maternity, race, religion/belief, sex and sexual orientation, class it not a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010 which sought to protect people from discrimination in the workplace and in wider society, replacing previous anti-discrimination laws with a single Act.  It means that the analysis of class, of poverty, of the importance of access to education and their impact on life chances is missing from most equalities training and equality policies.  Its inclusion could potentially have created a tool with which to fight the policies of class-hate, the welfare reforms that disadvantage the poor  and stigmatise poverty,  the erosion of free education pushed through by recent governments of all persuasions.  Many of the accidental and fortuitous ‘choices’ that I made, are now denied to children who are like the child I was.

My mum has told me that she doesn’t know where I got my ‘strong opinions’ but I do: free education, a sociology degree and feminism.  Choice doesn’t exist without the limits of social context.  My life experiences and my education have made me the woman that I am, the choices that I didn’t have are as much part of me as the choices that I made.  Professor Liz Kelly recently made what seemed at the time to be a passing comment, that class was about access to ideas.  Looking at myself, this was absolutely critical.  The thing that changed me was access to ideas.

To those through history who fought for free and compulsory education for all children, for equality for girls and women, for every feminist, class warrior and teacher who shaped my ideas, and my mum –  accidental teenage parent without the choice of the pill or abortion and with a baby to ‘the wrong man’ – thank you for giving me somewhere to grow ‘strong opinions’.  To organisers of feminist events who, rightfully want to talk about the advantages and disadvantages of life opportunities according to class, let us working-class women with strong opinions speak for ourselves. We can, you know; and we have things to say that are worth listening to.

Who gets to define femicide?

I’ve been undecided about the use of the term ‘femicide’  to describe the list of names of the UK  women killed through suspected1 male violence.  The term is useful because it takes the concept of fatal male violence against women beyond domestic violence and that’s important, many people’s understanding of the concept of fatal male violence against women stops and ends at women killed through domestic violence.  However, that the term ‘femicide’ in itself fails to name the male as the agent is problematic.  An early definition of femicide as “the killing of females by males because they are females” dealt with this, though there is a convincing argument for the inclusion of women killed by women because of the influence of patriarchal values.

In 2012, the participants of the Vienna Symposium on Femicide agreed the following:

Femicide is the killing of women and girls because of their gender, which can take the form of, inter alia: 1) the murder of women as a result of intimate partner violence; 2) the torture and misogynist slaying of women 3) killing of women and girls in the name of “ honour”; 4) targeted killing of women and girls in the context of armed conflict; 5) dowry-related killings of women; 6) killing of women and girls because of their sexual orientation and gender identity; 7) the killing of aboriginal and indigenous women and girls because of their gender; 8) female infanticide and gender-based sex selection foeticide; 9) genital mutilation related femicide; 10) accusations of witchcraft and 11) other femicides connected with gangs, organized crime, drug dealers, human trafficking, and the proliferation of small arms.

As a list of some of the forms that femicide can take, this is helpful and aids the understanding of femicide as something much wider than domestic violence.  The use of the term ‘inter alia’ meaning ‘among other things’ indicates that even they were not convinced that this included everything.  They’re right, it certainly doesn’t include everything.  The definition fascinates me.  It is 123 words long.  123 words and the words man, men or male do not appear once. The full declaration is over 800 words long.  It mentions men and boys once, in reference to ‘sensitising education programmes’. The argument that femicide can also include the killings of women by women because of the influence of patriarchal values is not so convincing that it warrants the absence of the identification of men as perpetrators in a declaration to take action to end femicide that spans over 800 words. The vast majority of women who are killed, are killed by men, whilst it is also true that the vast majority of killers of men are also men, this cannot warrant the failure to name men as the killers of women.  One of the significant achievements of feminism is getting male violence against women into the mainstream and onto the policy agenda.  One of the threats against this achievement is that those with power take the concepts and under the auspices of dealing with the problem shake some of the most basic elements of feminist understanding right out of them.  The exclusion of male violence from the declaration on femicide is inexcusable.  Inexcusable because failing to name the agent will not help us to end, or even reduce, fatal male violence against women.  Could failing to name men as the agents of femicide be a patriarchal political act?

I’ve written about the murders of 18 year-old Samantha Sykes and 17 year-old Kimberley Frank in other pieces.  It was their murders by Ahmad Otak that convinced me that a list of women killed by men through domestic violence, simply was not enough. Otak wasn’t the boyfriend of either of them, but of Elisa Frank, Kimberley’s sister.  The murders of Samantha and Kimberley don’t fit the definition of domestic violence, but they’re absolutely about a man trying to exert power, control and coercion in his relationship, reports of their murders have stated that he was attempting to show Elisa that he would allow no-one to stand in the way of them being together. The murders of Kimberley and Samantha were every bit about male violence against women, control and coercion through the display of the power to kill.  I doubt anyone would try to say that the murders of Samantha and Kimberley weren’t femicide.

I’ve been challenged about the inclusion of older women killed in the process of robberies and muggings in my work naming the women killed through male violence.  In 2012, six older women, aged between 75 and 88 were killed by much younger men, aged between 15 and 43 as they were robbed or mugged:

Irene Lawless, 68 who was raped, beaten and strangled by 26 year old Darren Martin. Pornography depicting rape and featuring older women was found on his home computer.

Margaret Biddolph, 78 and Annie Leyland, 88 were strangled and robbed by Andrew Flood, 43, who knew them through his job as a taxi driver. He’d also robbed a third woman elderly woman and threatened to kill her cat.  He was clearly targeting women.

Delia Hughes was 85 when she was killed by 25 year-old Jamie Boult. He struck her repeatedly about the head with a hammer, a hammer he was carrying specifically because he intended to kill.  When Boult was sentenced, Delia’s daughter, Beryl said

“I’ve never seen a dead body before. Seeing my mum her head battered, covered in blood, black and blue with bruises, sitting in a pool of blood, blood splattered on the walls, this is a sight that will stay with me for the rest of my life.”

The murder of Delia Hughes was not simply a robbery gone wrong.

Similarly, Jean Farrar, 77, was kicked and stamped on by Daniel Barnett, 20, until she was her virtually unrecognisable.  Her  son Jamie was absolutely right when he said 2Daniel Barnett did not need to enter my mother’s house that night. He chose to. Upon finding my mum at home, he easily could have left.  Instead he chose to beat her and throw her against the wall. And when she screamed in pain, he chose to kick her, stamp on her, and jump on her head until she was unable to scream any more.”

Whatever the rights and wrongs of Jamie Boult and Daniel Barnett’s choices to carry out robberies, that these choices also included choices to inflict fatal violence was not inevitable.

Paula Castle was 85 when she was knocked to the ground when she was mugged by Jiervon Bartlett and Nayed Hoque who were both 15.  They may not have intended to kill her, but they also mugged another woman the next day.  They were clearly targeting women.  

I’ve been told that the killing of elderly women as part of a robbery or mugging is “not femicide”.  I disagree.  These women were killed because they were women.  And if their killings are not femicide, then it is because the term femicide is being misused

Epistemology questions what knowledge is and how it can be acquired. The acquisition and identification of what constitutes knowledge does not escape structural inequalities of sex, class and race.  Dr Maddy Coy of the Child and Woman Abuse Studies Unit at London Metropolitan University calls for the recognition of practice-based evidence, for example from specialist women’s organisations, to be considered as expertise as worthy as that of academics.  It’s ‘participant observation’ when it’s produced by an academic, it’s ‘anecdotal’ when it comes from a women’s services provider.  Does the objectification of women and the valuing of us on our merits based on the patriarchal fuckability test mean that it is the murders of elderly women that are those most likely to be excluded from the term femicide?  Women talk about the mixed blessing of becoming invisible as we grow older, is that what has happened with the term femicide?  Has sex inequality, particularly in patriarchally infected academia and state bureaucracies, depoliticised them term ‘femicide’ to the point that male violence has been erased from the concept?  Until the hierarchies of knowledge  are eradicated, then the role of anything considered knowledge in upholding structural inequality, is open to question.

How easy is it to escape socially constructed gender? How many of us, if our values were assessed and measured, would be found not to be influenced – at all – by sexism and sexist stereotypes?  Do we know that the population of men who kill women are not more sexist and misogynistic than a control group? When misogyny and sexism are so pervasive, are all but inescapable, can a man killing a women ever not be a sexist act?  A fatal enactment of patriarchy?

If an 800 word declaration on  femicide is the best that policy makers and ‘experts’ can come up with and yet it does not mention the words ‘male violence’ ,  if it does not name men as the agents and beneficiaries of fatal male violence against women, it is time for feminists to take back the term and make sure that the definition is ours.

Footnotes

 1 I have to say ‘suspected’ until a trial has been held or an inquest in the case of a man who has also killed himself.

2 Credited to   Diana E. H. Russell