Carrie Symonds and Boris Johnson
The resulting speculation and commentary around the incident however, are telling of just how far we haven’t come since feminist campaigners began the tireless work to get domestic abuse recognised as a matter of public and criminal concern — a matter that we should never turn a blind eye to.
Male violence against women is endemic in this country as elsewhere. We hear the statistics time and time again: one in four women experience domestic abuse in their lifetime; two women a week are killed by partners or former partners. The women who are abused are not faceless victims; they are daughters, mothers, friends, sisters, colleagues. They are women we know. They are us. And we are not to blame.
When journalist Alison Pearson called for the neighbours who rang the police to be publicly identified when she was on Radio 4 this morning, referring to the incident as a “lovers tiff”, she invoked all the ideas, myths and stereotypes that victims and survivors face when trying to leave an abusive partner. Peddling the dangerous idea that we shouldn’t intervene when we hear people using threatening language, or when we see people behaving in a threatening way, takes us right back to the idea that we don’t have a collective responsibility to stop male violence, that we should just “look away” from those individuals’ problems because it is none of our business.
It is all of our business to end male violence against women, and all forms of violence in our society. To discourage people from reporting suspected domestic violence to the police isn’t just irresponsible, it is beyond the pale.
But perhaps worse still than Pearson’s intentionally provocative statement this morning is the media’s glee in reporting this as what could be the “gaffe” from Boris Johnson everyone has been waiting for. We’ve all heard it, the only person who can stop Johnson becoming the next leader of our country is Boris Johnson. Could this be it? Could this be his downfall?
This man was never fit to lead our country. The Conservatives are hedging their bets on their own incompetent populist as a last ditch attempt to save their party from Nigel Farage. They are contorting themselves to win back votes by leaning on Johnson’s dog whistle racist and sexist tactics just as they incorporated anti-immigration rhetoric to answer Farage’s previous outfit, Ukip.
But let’s not allow a media circus around Johnson to reinforce the idea that men who are aggressive, violent and / or controlling are monsters who deviate from expectations. When it happens, they should face consequences and take responsibility. The Women’s Equality Party is calling for Mark Field to resign as an MP or face his constituents in a recall petition given the evidence of his appalling actions towards the Greenpeace protester at Mansion House, for example. Anything less amounts to apologism for his actions.
But violence against women and girls is on a spectrum and it takes many forms, including sexual harassment, sexual violence, online trolling, cat calls, aggressive responses to romantic rejections, physical violence, and murder. When men are violent and aggressive to women they are not deviating from gendered expectations, they are conforming to them.
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