Odd to think if I hadn’t picked up a copy of Spanish Elle (“Extra belleza – El manual de las buenas formas”) while waiting for a bus last week I would probably have never known that in 2007 128 women in Britain were murdered as a result of “domestic violence”. Or should I say, murdered by? Or victims of? How do you properly swing that pathetic euphemism so it connects with the truth? Women smitten down for committing the last crime that still carries a death penalty in Britain: bad taste in men.
This grim fact wasn’t even the point of the feature, just a boxed-out aside. I recalled those posters on the Underground back home “every week two women are killed by an ex or current partner.” I did the sums. More like two-point-five, actually. (Spain only claims 71 murders last year. The point of the statistic was comparative.)
Anger comes first, most easily. A poster in the Tube station, a brief phrase in Elle magazine… is this the sum total of attention and outrage paid to the fact pretty near every other day somewhere in Britain a woman is being murdered and it is blandly written off as “domestic violence”? Sweet Jesus. If there were two-point-five Jews being killed every week in anti-Semitic hate crimes the Mossad would be kicking in doors. If two-point-five blacks were killed in racist attacks every week there’d be riots from Jersey to John O’Groats; London would be burning. If – heaven forfend – there were two-point-five Muslims being murdered by Christians; or vice versa the entire life of the nation would grind to a halt; a state of emergency would be declared. Tanks in Pall Mall, the works.
It is impossible to think of another identifiable group (apart from, possibly, children, whose close association with women renders them vulnerable, extensions of a worthless entity) that could be routinely targeted with brutal, lethal violence and there not be an explosion of social unrest.
Oh, but there are stories in the papers, strict laws, women’s shelters and hotlines, you say. Sweet fuck all use they appear to have been to 128 women last year. And god knows how many this year, and next year. Clearly, our ambitions are too small. Our anger too modulated. Perhaps we even feel at some gut level (as did Judge Francis Allen who sentenced a man to just six years for battering his wife to death with a hammer and burying her in the back garden. His sentencing remarks were, “It is said that you suffered at the hands of this woman… and that you were provoked into doing what you did, but I have to bear in mind… that you got a hammer and killed her with it” — an interesting choice of words which implies there are worse things in the world than being brained by your husband) that these women provoked the fatal rage.
Interesting that justification never gets used when it’s a racial crime, or a homophobic attack. People who would rightly choke with outrage should a lawyer defend a white client for brutally killing a black by saying “well, he was provoked” don’t even murmur when it’s used – successfully – in “domestic violence” cases.
Where do you start pointing fingers when, plainly, we’re all guilty?
It’s tempting to start with women. It’s right to ask why we aren’t protecting our own. Why we’re waiting for a dysfunctional system to rescue us instead of simply saying, fuck this, we’ve had enough. Why there continue to be advice columns in women’s magazines telling concerned friends or daughters or sisters that they shouldn’t “interfere” if they suspect their loved one is a victim of battery but that they should “be supportive” and “seek professional help.” Why women, as a group, appear to be saying plaintively ‘please, don’t hurt me’ instead of ‘one step closer and I’ll crush your balls, you fuck.’
However, to blame women is to let the real bad guys off the hook (“it’s not my fault, she drove me to it…”). To “fix” women and their attitudes is a fool’s errand until we fix men. (Though until we manage a comprehensive reconditioning of social attitudes I fully support the idea of pro-female agitation, mutual defence associations, all-women neighbourhood watch groups dedicated to prising open doors that hide violent secrets.)
I re-read the Elle feature, thinking the answer may lie in their comprehensive anti-domestic violence law (the only of its kind in Europe) which passed in 2004. Unfortunately, the murder rate in Spain has continued to go up since then, incrementally. It’s too early to tell exactly how effective the law can be. The palpable difference, the difference between 71 and 128, is culture.
For all its superficial machismo (and there’s plenty) Spain lives much of its life out of doors, in public. Men whistle and call out to women on the street but the streets are full and awash with voices. One man’s comment hardly matters. A busy park, pavement or bus in Spain is nothing like the mute density of England, where a crowd of thousands can maintain a studious, isolated silence. Chatter, noise, laughter, quarrels are all played at uninhibited volume and unabashedly observed.
In England, a raised voice is cue for averted eyes; violence (unless intimately related to beer and/or football) is backed away from. A man’s (always a man’s) home is his castle. The English gospel of the stiff upper lip, of keeping up appearances, of never letting them see you sweat… is inimical to women’s safety. To cry, scream, flee, protest, shriek for help is sub-consciously seen to be not coping. Not keeping the British end up. Blood, sweat, toil and tears are the four national humours.
Statistically, the “nuclear family” of Anglo-Saxon obsession is just that: explosive fatal to anyone in its path. A perverse, idiotic pride in “family” is probably the single biggest danger to women and children in British society. Logic has fallen into a great yawning chasm where appearance trumps reality and women pay with their lives for the insane British obsession with “family values.”