This is the speech given by Caitlin Roper, Campaigns Manager at Collective Shout, at the 2016 Reclaim the Night rally in Perth.
A domestic violence worker is found shot to death in her home in Victoria. A 21-year-old woman is stabbed 80 times after breaking up with her boyfriend. A Doubleview father douses his three young children in petrol and sets them alight. A five-year-old girl is sexually abused by an older family friend. A man walks into a school, movie theatre, or a crowded street, and starts shooting.
What do all of these seemingly isolated incidents have in common?
They are all examples of male violence.
Of course we rarely identify them as such. We use more neutral, watered down terms such as ‘domestic violence’, ‘family violence’, ‘violence against women’, ‘intimate partner violence’ or ‘gender-based violence’- all of which conveniently fail to recognize and name the perpetrators, without which these crimes would not exist.
Male violence can take many forms. It may be manifested in battering, rape, sexual abuse, stalking, psychological abuse, threats and murder. It can be the exploitation of women in the sex trade. It can be violence against women, children or other men. Male violence against women is at epidemic levels, with police responding to so-called domestic violence call outs every two minutes, with victims being turned away from under-funded refuges and victim services, calls for help going unanswered, and an estimated 55 women killed by male violence in Australia so far this year.
It is everyday terrorism against women, but it is not recognized as such because the targets are women, and the perpetrators are the very people who claim to love us. While many of us have been directly harmed by male violence, the threat alone is enough to keep women as a class in a state of fear, controlled, pliable.
Yet when reporting on male violence, mainstream media neglects to call it what it is, with headlines often stating the sex of the victim while downplaying the sex of the perpetrator, if even mentioning him at all. A few examples illustrate how this is done:
In Sunshine, Queensland, a man stabbed his pregnant female partner to death after she left him. The newspaper reported, “Woman stabbed to death in sunshine”.
A man beat his female partner to death with a brick. The headline read, “Woman killed after brutal brick attack”.
A young man breached a restraining order and stabbed his girlfriend. The paper reported this as “Teenagers in domestic violence attack”.
A man attempted to rape a woman in her home, where her four-year-old child was present. He then beat her to death. The headline read, “Guilty plea to murder on parole”.
This kind of reporting is not unique to Australia. A young man in the US stabbed a young woman in the face, neck and chest at their school after she declined his invitation to the prom. The newspaper said “Connecticut high school girl killed in apparent prom dispute”.
Note how the focus is entirely on the victim and the actions of the victim- much like the discourse on physical and sexual violence on a wider level. The perpetrator tends to be an afterthought in these articles, a few paragraphs in with maybe a sentence or two about a man who was arrested or charged, and often no mention of any relationship between the perpetrator and the woman he murdered. When the media use deliberately passive language, the gendered nature of men’s violence against women is softened or made non-existent.
When men are identified as perpetrators of violence, we go to great lengths to justify and explain these acts. He was really a good guy, we hear, a loving father, he snapped, he’d been through a bitter divorce, he was mentally ill, it was an accident, he thought she was a burglar.
Karen Ingala Smith, of Counting Dead Women, had this to say:
“It is self evident that each woman killed by a man is a unique individual, as is each man that makes the choice to kill her. The circumstances around each killing are never identical. But that doesn’t make them isolated incidents. By refusing to see a pattern we are refusing to see the myriad connections between incidents of men’s fatal violence against women; and by refusing to see the connections we are closing our eyes to the commonalities in the causes.
What sort of a message would it send, if, when a man killed a woman, police didn’t refer to it as an isolated incident but yet another example of femicide? Yet another example of men’s fatal violence against women. Maybe then, naming male violence, misogyny, sex inequality, dangerous rules of gender and patriarchy wouldn’t be restricted to feminists and would become part of a wider understanding. Maybe then, there would be sufficient motivation to do something about ending men’s fatal violence against women.”
In a world that expects silent compliance from women, speaking openly about male violence can be a revolutionary act, one that is met with hostility from men.
Through the course of my feminist activism, myself and my colleagues have been attacked and threatened online by men. This is not uncommon, and many, many women have similar stories about being punished for daring to express an opinion, particularly an unpopular opinion, especially for holding men accountable for their abusive and violent treatment of women.
At one time I was targeted for participating in a campaign against a well-known athlete who had been convicted for raping a teenage girl. I was inundated with vile abuse and threats of rape, and my Twitter profile was copied and used to pimp me out and offer sexual acts to strange men on the Internet, with my name and photo attached. I compiled screenshots of the incident and tweeted them with the words “This is how far some men will go to silence women”.
One guess for how the men of Twitter felt about that statement…
In the dialogue that followed, I was reminded of course, ‘not all men’, how I was making unfair generalisations, that it wasn’t about my gender. It became apparent to me that these men were less concerned about what had been done to me, the rape threats, the police involvement and the psychological toll, and more concerned about their own hurt feelings. The issue was no longer about male violence, but women making men uncomfortable. They want us to be more polite as we speak about men abusing and battering women. What I found the most telling through this experience was not the rape threats, or being pimped out against my will, but the way that men responded to my speaking about it.
I am tired of being polite. I am sick of trying to convince men of women’s basic humanity. I am tired of asking men nicely to stop raping and killing us.
I conclude my remarks now with one of my favourite quotes from Andrea Dworkin:
“We have been asked by many people to accept that women are making progress, because one sees our presence in these places where we weren’t before. And those of us who are berated for being radicals have been saying:
‘That is not the way we measure progress. We count the number of rapes. We count the women who are being battered. We keep track of the children who are being raped by their fathers. We count the dead. And when those numbers start to change in a way that is meaningful, we will then talk to you about whether or not we can measure progress.'”
Join us on 27 October 2017, the last Friday in October, to say no to male violence against women and girls.