Mystery is Misogyny

This is the text of the speech given at Reclaim the Night Perth 2015 following the reading of the names of men who killed women in Australia from 1 January 2015 to 30 October 2015. The men whose names were read had been charged with the deaths of the 68 women, as listed on Real for Women – Man Murders Woman 2015.

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Reclaim the Night 2015 – Stop Domestic Violence

One of the hardest things to deal with if you’ve lost a loved one to male violence, or if you’ve been campaigning against male violence to women, is to hear the media report the perpetrator as “such a lovely guy”. To hear them build a narrative about how unfathomable his community finds it, how shocked his neighbours are. To hear people pronounce how loving he was to those he killed. Because the reality is that almost never does this come out of nowhere. It’s incredibly rare that men ‘snap’, having previously been loving and egalitarian in their relationships.

It’s almost always the case that this was the culmination of a long-standing pattern where the man controlled those he ultimately murdered. Not always through violence ­ sometimes it’s mostly control and abuse by other means. But the murder is usually not the first act of violence,­ just the first that the community finds out about. Sometimes the victimised woman has been seeking help for a long time. She may have been manipulated into thinking that her partner really loved her but just ‘needed help’. That his actions weren’t about controlling her, but about him losing control. Or she knows this isn’t true, but their extended family keeps saying it is, and sides with him instead of helping her get out.

And this is why the narratives that we tell about men’s murders of women and children matter. They can be part of the vast array of factors making it hard for women escape their partners. Our entire social understanding of male­pattern violence is built on beliefs which confuse women into doubting ourselves, and manipulate people into siding with the abuser. We’re taught to believe that women are perpetrators just as much as men, or that men are equally victims. Even where they are, it’s usually not of women, but of male perpetrators.

Intimate partner murders where a woman kills the man are nearly always acts of self-­defence, against long-standing abuse, and even then they are extremely rare. In Australia, four out of five intimate partner homicides​involve a man killing his female partner. And women are most endangered by men we know. There simply is no reason to assume that domestic murders are mysterious. Crucially, the standard line in media reports of male family annihilators is that it was a complete surprise and the motive was unknown. Think about this ­ the suggestion is either that men killing their families is a rare occurrence ­ what a flat­out lie ­ or that they are seriously considering the possibility of a good reason for these murders. A motivation other than ‘a final way to prove who controls who’. These suggestions that these regular family murders by men are ‘mysterious’ take the cause backwards. They deny what couldn’t be clearer, given that male murders of women now number at 68​this year. And it has been well­documented for many decades that the time when women are leaving men, or have recently left them, is the most dangerous time for women and our children, as men fear they have lost their usual means of controlling them ­ they may escalate to murder. To describe this as ‘unfathomable’, as you might hear a community or police commentator ­ oddly, often men ­ say, is nowhere near good enough. This is not a mystery, but a pattern of known dynamics.

We are inviting everyone to join us in a hashtag campaign ­ or to broaden it out beyond that ­ saying the so­-called “mystery” is in fact misogyny. You can see the hashtag on our banners and information. Every time the media puts out this narrative about how strange and inexplicable these abusers’ actions are, we want to counteract it with the hashtag and a reminder about what best­ practice reporting on male killers of women should look like.

We don’t want random men given space to comment on their bewilderment ­ we need actual experts on male violence against women to put the occurrence into context.

We don’t want the only helpline included to be for men who are thinking of killing women.

Abused women have far fewer options to get out, and need help with that. And we need to hear domestic violence acknowledged as being practised far more severely against women and children. And the bulk of the sympathy of the article ­ and the ‘humanising’ detail which recognises who the deceased were as people ­ needs to be about the victims. Not about the men who suicided just after murdering their families. It’s not ok to keep having these articles which end in contact details only for men thinking of suiciding. That completely erases their victims in importance and casts the men’s suicides as the most important fact. This reinforces the prevalent thinking by many other men that their own lives and desires should take precedence over others’.

And we are already making a difference to media reporting ­ feminists’ objections to this awful coverage is starting to take effect. And there were some great new media guidelines put out last year on responsible reporting on DV. They’re online at Our Watch. But they’re not mandatory, so we can use them as a tool to help our cause, but the crucial factor is whether we keep organising around these issues.

Men killing women ­ and often killing our children as a way of punishing us ­ isn’t about general male violence or ‘lashing out’. These men share particular beliefs about what women owe them, and these are beliefs that come from how society’s set up; they’re not random. When we recognise the absolute necessity of ending male power over women at every level ­ economic, our domestic lives, judicial decisions that show men that women’s lives matter ­ we can really make a change to women’s lives.

No more male coercion; no more myths.

No more mystery; no more misogyny.

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