The Attack in Manchester was an Attack on Women and Girls

Manchester 22

We now know the names of the 22 people confirmed dead in the attack in Manchester, and we know the 17 of them were women and girls.  Whilst not to deny or denigrate the lives of the 5 men that were also taken, it is essential that we view the attack as an attack on women.

Daesh have claimed responsibility and so the attack is rightly framed in the context of religious extremism.  The patriarchal oppression of women by men is at the heart of this ideology,  and in that respect Daesh is not alone.  Inequality between women and men and men’s violence against women go hand-in-hand the world over.  It is estimated that across the globe  66,000 women and girls are killed violently every year .  Generally those countries with the highest homicide rates are those with the highest rates of fatal violence against women and girls; but other factors are at play too,  countries with higher levels of sex  inequality also have high rates of men’s violence against women and girls. The UK is no exception, this year, even before the attack in Manchester, at least 37 UK women had been killed by men.  Links between men who perpetrate violence against women  and terrorism are now being identified; and mass killers, including school shooters, are almost always male.

Gender is a hierarchy, the ideals of masculinity and femininity are critical tools in maintaining the oppression of women by men,  in the creation of men’s violence against women and the conditions that support and enable it. We cannot afford to fail to identify and name patriarchy as an ideology underpinning violence and we cannot afford to fail to name male violence against women in the Manchester attack.   If we want to end men’s violence against women and girls we will have to dismantle the structures that support inequality between women and men, without this almost any intervention that we might make will have little impact.

The prevent agenda, one of the 4 strands of the UK governments counter-terrorism strategy,  has been condemned as toxic and anti-Muslim, as reinforcing rather than healing mistrust, but cultural relativism is not the solution.   If we want to tackle terrorism, we need to understand and acknowledge that structural inequalities that create the conditions for violent hatred – be they grounded in patriarchy– or imperialism or  capitalism  – are critical and that solutions, if they are to have any impact, need to be equally ambitious.  We also need to make sure our definition of terrorism includes acts of violence perpetrated by those claiming to be motivated by the aims of ideologies held, or perceived to be held, by populations who are mainly white. Religion is one of the tools of ideology. We need to push for a secular state, that doesn’t have to be about the absence of religion from the lives of those who choose it, but it does mean the separation of religion and the state.   Of course if we are to learn from the mistakes of imperialism, this means that the West cannot impose secularism on the Global South.  But we can redouble our efforts to fight for universal Human Rights for all, and human rights fully encompass women’s rights. The right to life, the right to freedom from torture, the right to freedom from slavery: men’s violence against women and more broadly the oppression of women is an international human rights crisis.

Yes, now is the time for unity – and in that unity we should seek our connections to those killed and harmed in the name of violent and oppressive ideologies across the world.  We must be unified in our fight to identify, name and end all forms of men’s violence against women and girls and also to end hierarchies between women and girls.  Whether international terrorism or domestic terrorism, men’s violence against women and girls is used to control, disempower and degrade women and girls.  The attack in Manchester was an attack on women and girls, on our liberty, our safety, our lives.   The response to terrorism must always include the rights of women.

In memory of

Angelica Klis, 40

Georgina Callendar, 18

Saffie Roussos, 8

Kelly Brewster , 32

Olivia Campbell, 15

Alison Howe,45

Lisa Lees, 47

Jane Tweddle-Taylor, 51

Megan Hurley, 15

Nell Jones, 14

Michelle Kiss, 45

Sorrell Leczkowski, 14

Chloe Rutherford, 17

Eilidh Macleod, 14

Wendy Fawell, 50

Courtney Boyle, 19

Elaine McIver,43

And also,

Martyn Hett, 29

Marcin Klis, 42

John Atkinson, 28

Liam Curry, 19

Philip Tron, 32

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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