Saturday, 30 March 2013

Retribution or Justice?

Part of my feminist discovery journey has been to question my previous steadfastly held beliefs and look at them through a feminist lens in the context that we live in a patriarchy. One of these closely held beliefs is the abolition of the death penalty. All the usual reasons apply:

I couldn't kill someone, why should I expect others to do it for me?
It could be a mistake.
Two wrongs don't make a right.
Civilised society shouldn't be killing people.
The distastefulness of an eye for an eye type mentality i.e. lowering ourselves to the criminal's level.
The inhumanity and torture of keeping someone locked up only until it is time to kill them (and them knowing that).
In my lofty, privileged position I also felt that I had to make this decision for myself before anything awful happened to my family or someone I loved as obviously raw emotions would kick in then and death to the perpetrators may look very appealing. And that would be seen as revenge, which, of course is very wrong. We are also told that raw emotions are never a good foundation on which to base a decision.

And then we come to the horrific rape and murder of Jyoti in Delhi, India. The perpetrators of this crime are facing the death penalty if found guilty. Immediately I felt my conditioning kick in. My first thought was who are we to execute these men, no matter what they did?

This thread on Mumsnet, however, prompted me to have a rethink about where these beliefs are coming from. On the thread, a couple of people were quite vociferous in stating that we couldn't be feminists if we didn't think these men should have the death penalty. Now there are only a handful of reasons why I think a person can't be a feminist and opposing the death penalty isn't one of them. But it did get me thinking as to why I almost unthinkingly accept that the death penalty is wrong in all circumstances and whether that was a feminist stance or an anti-feminist stance in the wake of extreme violence against women.

I did realise quite early on in reading the thread that I just don't care what happens to these men. Not at all. Which was uncomfortable. I would prefer it if they could just slink away and die without me having to think about it emotionally or critically, but that won't happen, so here we are. How real are my convictions about capital punishment and how much is social construction? Well I'll probably never know the answer to that. But I do wonder whether the resistance to capital punishment is gendered. Women are socially constructed to be less violent so it would make sense that we would oppose other forms of violence more than men. Which then led to the thought that is this a trick of the patriarchy to keep us submissive. Engender in us this hatred of violence so that we won't use it against men. Could violence against men in particular circumstances be exactly what is required to gain freedom from oppression? If women were to start killing their rapists and abusers would that actually stem and even stop male violence? And if it did then capital punishment would seem to be more like justice, not revenge.

Then I think, am I being hypocritical rethinking this subject in light of the monstrous attack on Jyoti? Is it the nature of the attack that makes me have less care about the fate of the perpetrators? I mean it was so brutal and as a fellow woman I am frightened to the core by how much pain and suffering this woman went through. Would I feel this way about a brutal murder of a man? Possibly not, although I was highly disturbed when the BBC aired the depiction of the murder of a man in very similar circumstances. But the investigation into a similar crime on a man would not be scattered with victim-blaming and man-hating (instead of the misogyny seen in this case).

I know I would feel the same about a similar crime committed against children though. So, are crimes against women & children special? Yes, I think they are. Children for obvious reasons - their size, age, vulnerability and general innocence. Women because we are still oppressed and it is male violence keeping us oppressed. The oppression keeps happening and people, more specifically men, seem unwilling to do anything about it. And not only that we get blamed for the crimes against us. That feeling of impotence is rage inducing.

Would my feelings be different if violence against women were actually dealt with properly on any level? Very probably. If I felt justice was being served to women who were being raped and murdered; if I felt that we were winning the war against male violence then yes I would care about being humane towards the perpetrators of this terrible crime. But justice isn't being served and we aren't winning the war at the moment. These men thought that Jyoti didn't matter, that nobody would make them be responsible for their actions because they see women being treated appallingly everywhere and nobody does anything about it. That is why they felt it was OK to do this, in plain view. They thought they would get away with it. Surely justice in this case would be to send out a message to deter other men from casually raping and murdering women. Draw the line in the sand. Except of course it isn't a line in the sand. Because there are so many fronts to fight on. And is capital punishment even a deterrent?

I really don't know what my conclusions are on this. I know you can still be a feminist and not believe in the death penalty even for crimes against women. In fact I find that whole argument quite bizarre. And it certainly isn't my place to say who is or isn't a feminist (unless they are actively anti-feminist and then I reserve judgment!). Somehow, I would feel happier if Jyoti had survived, tracked her torturers down and killed them single-handedly. That would seem much more like justice and probably send out a much stronger signal. But it isn't about whether I feel happier and of course Jyoti can't do that. Part of me, a significant part, just doesn't think that the way to handle violence is with state-condoned violence, especially when that state is a patriarchy. It is just more patriarchal, bullshit violence. Whether that is the conditioning kicking in or something else does it even matter? Part of me, though, a small part, would like those men who did this to her and all those other men who torture and kill women and children to die. I can live with being a hypocrite on this.

I started writing this ages ago but it seems appropriate to publish it today in honour of International Women's Day and for the Million Women Rise march, today in London. So this is for all the women fighting the fight against male violence in a peaceful manner.

Friday, 29 March 2013

Separating art from the artist: Why should we?

Recently there have been two high profile cases of men who have been celebrated and allowed to continue working having committed serious violent crimes against women. In both cases it has been deemed that their work is more important than their crime. Their crimes have either been ignored or not deemed serious enough to interrupt their career.

The BFI had a "two-month retrospective" of Roman Polanski over January and February. Oh joys. On 10 March 1977 Roman Polanski was charged with the rape by use of drugs, perversion, sodomy, lewd and lascivious act upon a child under fourteen. He pleaded guilty to unlawful sexual intercourse but never faced sentencing as he did a runner, to put it bluntly. The BFI didn't even acknowledge the crime in their "retrospective". Conservative with the truth, let's say.

Now, admittedly, I am not an avid "Art" fan. I like some of it, I enjoy watching films, love reading books but I will never be completely immersed in it. Maybe this is why I can't see beyond a man's crimes to appreciate his art, or maybe it is because I am a human being. However, you can see evidence of Polanski's misogyny in his films and his inappropriate fixation on young girls. Chinatown and Tess are particularly problematic in this area, not mention Polanski's relationship with Nastassja Kinski when she was only 15. The attitude and sense of entitlement it takes to rape someone doesn't just appear in isolation. It permeates throughout their life including their work.

I may not be an arts fan but I am a sports fan. On 14th February 2013 Oscar Pistorius killed his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp by shooting her 4 times. This is not in doubt. Following this killing there was a lot of disbelief and misplaced adulation and barely a mention of his victim. This eradication of Reeva and what happened to her has continued now in that Pistorius has been granted leave to compete abroad whilst waiting on bail for his trial (set to be in June). So the judge in South Africa saw fit to prioritise his career above the crime he has been charged with. Again there is a separation of the crime from the work of the man as if the two are not related.

Pistorius showed a glimpse of his sense of entitlement at the London 2012 Paralympics when losing the 200m to Alan Fonteles. Elite sportsmen often have an arrogance and selfishness which gets them to the top. This selfishness is only one step away from feeling entitlement. When all around you tell you how good you are and how you deserve to win, it will have an impact on your mindset. Allowing him to compete whilst waiting for trial is another incident emphasising that he is allowed special and preferential treatment. It does require a sense of entitlement to shoot your girlfriend through a bathroom door, four times.

You can't separate a man and his work. His work is part of him as is his crime. They don't sit in separate compartments. They overlap. Compartmentalising it is very convenient for the men who commit these crimes and for all other men who commit violence, especially against women. Seeing a crime in isolation from the man denies the connection and the pattern that these men follow. It encourages only focussing on the individual and not only the overall problem of male violence. It perpetuates the rape culture we live in, allows male violence to continue and keeps women oppressed. Ignoring men's behaviour when they commit crimes against women and promoting their work really only sends out one message: women and their lives do not matter.

Not only do we we need to name the problem of male violence but punish it and remember what these men did.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Steubenville and CNN: Perpetuating Rape Culture

I don't normally write about topical things because I am just not that quick off the mark (or at the zoo) and by the time I get round to it several hundred other wonderful feminists have articulated it far better than I could, with my O'Level in English Language. However, this whole incident/issue has just given me the rage. I am an angry feminist. And the more angry feminists that speak out against this shit the better. It is a travesty that there are probably only hundreds of people speaking out about this. It should be millions. Steubenville should not be allowed to happen.

And that is the problem. This is what happens when you live in a rape culture despite those that deny its existence. <warning don't click on that link if you believe men should actually be responsible for their behaviour or you have the critical faculties required to join the dots together>

Rape culture not just men raping women although there is enough of that about. It is the low conviction rate. It is women changing their behaviour to try and avoid rape. It is victim-blaming and shaming. It is idolising perpetrators. It is covering up for perpetrators. It is wanting anonymity for perpetrators. It is the reporting of rape as 'sex scandals'. It is the public regulation of what women wear. It is expecting women's behaviour to be different or of a higher standard than men's. It is the culture that expects a woman to say no otherwise consent is implied. It is where men shouting obscenities, making sexual advances or groping women is seen as something women just have to put up with. It is prioritising a tiny amount of false accusations over the thousands of rapes that occur every year in the UK. It is the pornographic images seen all over the web. It is the culture where men buying women for sex is acceptable. I could carry on ... and on but I am sure you are managing to join the dots by now. The coverage of this rape (and the backlash against the convictions) has ticked so many of those boxes. To be honest the coverage of most rapes normally does.

But CNN have truly managed to surpass themselves with their reporting of the sentencing of the Steubenville rape. The language used about the boys - "promising futures"; "still sound like 16 year old boys"; "difficult to watch [their sentencing]"; "their life fell apart"; "[the boys] lives are destroyed" - was sympathesing with the perpetrators of a crime whilst completely eradicating the victim's experience. It was as if they felt justice hadn't been done. I suspect that we have that in common, although for completely different reasons. How the media report crimes like this is incredibly important. The regretful language used to describe the fact that the boys are now on the sex offenders register gives the impression that they have been hard done by. Their upset at being caught and found guilty (because this wasn't remorse as shown by Mays statement about how the photographs and video should never have been taken - no mention of the rape) has been validated by this coverage. This is like a green light for abusers - validation for their feelings, sympathy for their punishment even sympathy for what they had done like it was all a big mistake. Everything they believe has just been reinforced.

I have two young sons. I have already started teaching them not to rape through respecting their boundaries and their bodies and getting them to respect each other's. This is such a good letter to sons. Yet the society we live in will be fighting back against those teachings all the time. Everywhere they look will be "evidence" that women are there to be raped; their boundaries can be crossed; there is no consequences for rape and if you were unlucky enough to get caught and convicted then you will still get sympathy and understanding.

Shame on you CNN. I hope you are forced to apologise.
Shame on you Trent Mays and Ma'lik Richmond. I wish your sentence was harsher, it is what you deserve.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Lucretia Grindle: A little bit of feminism with your mysteries

I've read two Lucretia Grindle novels The Lost Daughter and The Villa Triste and enjoyed both immensely. Both books are modern day crime mysteries, set in Italy with the roots of the mystery in the past. In the case of The Lost Daughter the story centres around events of the 1970s and especially the murder of the politician Aldo Moro and the Red Brigades. In modern day a young woman goes missing while studying in Italy. Her father and stepmother have just arrived to celebrate her birthday and prove to be the link back to a 1970s conspiracy. The Villa Triste begins in 1943 and the Italian partisans. In the modern day a partisan hero has been killed in highly specific circumstances possibly related to his time as or because he was a partisan. Both have been well developed mysteries with decent female characters.

The two main investigating police officers in both books are in fact male but the stories and mysteries are most definitely female-centric. In fact the focus doesn't really stray from the female lead roles even when the story switches to the investigation that is taking place.

She is a woman who clearly likes other women and has an understanding of why, even not so likeable women behave the way they do. She doesn't follow the stereotypes, which is refreshing. The female characters all have faults and positives. There is no dwelling on how the female characters look, in fact their appearances are only mentioned to set an initial impression and if relevant. They are also all doing something. They aren't just companions to men or facilitating men doing things. They are the stars of their own story.

Grindle shows a real awareness of abusive relationships in The Lost Daughter. She seems to understand how and why abuse begins and why women get caught up in it. In fact the two main female characters, stepmother and daughter are groomed when they are young. However, in addition to that the police officers also recognise the dynamics at play. There are no excuses made or minimising of the abuse.

In The Villa Triste Grindle writes about two sister's experiences during WWII. Apart from being really interesting, punctuated with factual information and statistics, it is an account of the war through women's eyes. As most of history has been written seen through men's eyes I really enjoyed reading about the emotions and fears of the two women, even though it was a fictional account. But it was more than that. Grindle seems to have an awareness that women's history has been largely eradicated and makes an effort to highlight that and fill in some gaps. For example, did you know that out of approximately 200,000 partisans, 55,000 were women and 35,000 of them fought in armed engagements. So much for women not fighting on the frontline. So much for women not being as capable or too weak or too high a risk. This is emphasised perfectly in this quote and also sums up quite nicely why I have enjoyed her books:
'That even in that day and age,' he said, 'in any day and age, that people always insist on believing their heroes are men.'