Thursday, 5 June 2014

BBC - Language around male violence...again

I seem to be on a mission with the BBC and their reporting at the moment. As with this article, some might call it inevitable. The problem I have with the article is part of a wider pattern of BBC reporting on male violence against women.

Peter Foster murdered his partner. He killed a woman yet the article is framed to seem actually sympathetic with him because he took his own life.
Mr Carver said Foster was "full of remorse" for what had happened, but that his death was "inevitable".
What evidence is there of remorse? So full of remorse that he tried to dispose of evidence and dumped her body. Remember this is a man who killed his partner, who had recently given birth, by "hitting Det Con Cooper over the head 10 times with a baseball bat and stabbing her in the throat." There was no remorse for Heather Cooper. The only remorse was all for himself and the fact he was caught.

The article then goes on to describe some of the trigger points in Foster's life which is understandable as it is an inquest into his suicide. But it is the way these points have been selected and the way they have been described that minimises what he did.
...not being able to see his children after his arrest had a "profound effect on him".
Are we meant to feel sympathy here? He brutally killed their mother. He shouldn't have access to them. He needed to face the consequences of his actions. This was one of them. What about the effect his actions had on his children? Did he think about the profound effect it may have had on them? The self absorption of the man can really be seen in that comment.
He said Foster had been abandoned by his mother and brought up by his grandmother.
The language here is so telling. '[A]bandoned' is such an emotive word. Did she abandon him or did she leave him in the care of his father or grandmother? Fathers who abandon their children are far far more often described as 'absent' or 'not around'.
He also had a difficult relationship with his father and suffered bouts of depression.
What does 'difficult' mean exactly? His mother abandoned him and his father he had a difficult relationship with. A bit of disparity going on there with the wording. Maximising the effect of his mother's actions on his life and minimising the actions of his father who clearly wasn't around much either as he was brought up by his grandmother.
...Foster's father was murdered in January 2009, which he had found hard to cope with.
Later that year, he was found close to death on his father's grave after taking pills and alcohol.
So he had a history of of wanting to take his life. In between which he took someone else's life. Why are we asking the question of why he took his own life but not asking why this man decided to direct his violence outwards on to someone else? And on a wider basis why men so often direct their emotions outward in a violent manner because this is by no means restricted to Foster. And we should remember, from the second BBC article linked to that Heather Cooper wanted to leave him. He promised to go to anger classes. The violence was already there before he murdered her. This was a violent, abusive man.
Prison officer Geoff Gordon described Foster as a pleasant and calm man who was interesting, vulnerable and bright.
I really feel like swearing at this point. This is a total eradication of what he did. He brutally murdered a woman. How come some are so quick to overlook that? Such privilege is rarely offered to female murderers. Would a female murderer's suicide garner this much sympathy? 10 women a week commit suicide due to domestic abuse. They certainly don't garner much sympathy and they didn't kill anyone.

Taking these excerpts that the BBC chose at face value, you would think that Peter Foster was a tragic soul who'd had things happen to him. Not someone who had taken a life incredibly violently and deprived his children of their mother. Language matters. Let's use it correctly around violent and abusive men. He was nasty and brutal.

However I do agree with the BBC and Mr Carver on one point. His suicide was inevitable because here was a man who refused to face up to the responsibility of his actions.

Friday, 25 April 2014

BBC buys into rape culture...again

The BBC appear to be on a mission to uphold rape culture within our society at every opportunity. Every time I open an article about male violence against women there seems to be misinformation, misleading implications, inaccuracies, victim blaming and shifting the focus away from or minimising appalling male behaviour. This article about a boy who repeatedly rape his young sister is no different.

The main sentence I have an issue with is:

"The attacks ended when the boy, now 18 and from South Lincolnshire, formed a sexual relationship with another girl."

This a sentence loaded with implications. And none of them good.

The inference of this is that the boy was having a sexual relationship with his sister too. He wasn't. He was violently abusing her. In fact abuse is a word never used in the article. It was systematic and deliberate. The further implication of this was that he was only raping his sister because he wasn't in a relationship with another girl. This is inaccurate and victim-blaming. It also positions the boy as not having control over his actions. He had to fulfil his sexual desires so he raped his sister. Over 50 times. Rape isn't about sexual desires. Whilst the act of raping his sister probably satisfied some part of him, that isn't sex. That isn't a sexual relationship. It is entitlement, power, control and violence. The fact he got off on those things has absolutely nothing to do with sex.

There is the very real suggestion in that sentence that girls/women are interchangeable objects. One replaced another. It is hugely dismissive of the trauma his sister must have gone through. And yes, the boy was undoubtedly hugely dismissive of his sister's feelings and emotions and treated her like an object, but that does not mean the reporters should do the same thing.

I also have an issue with the words 'sexual relationship' in the same sentence as girl. The girl with whom he then entered a 'relationship' is given no age. But again the implication by using that word is that she was young. Younger than an adult. In that case was it even a sexual relationship? Or more systematic abuse? I hope she is OK too.

BBC please start looking at your reporting of male violence against women and girls. The victims of these crimes deserve better.


Friday, 28 March 2014

The Heraean Games

This post is very much out of my comfort zone. I have never ventured into the area of Greek History. In fact this is the first time I have done any research into it or honestly learnt anything about it. I gave up History at the first opportunity (aged 14) and we hadn't ever been taught anything from the Ancient Greek times. However one of my lovely friends, @AlexPolisTigers thought it might be great idea for Women's History Month. So here we are!

The first thing that struck me was how little information there was out there about the Heraean Games (or Games of Hera). I know we are talking millenia ago now but the information available about the male equivalent is in far greater quantities and better quality. As a result there is a lot of conjecture around the Heraean Games. It is a fantastic demonstration of the erasure of Women's History. Despite the fact that they ran for centuries alongside the male equivalent they are considerably less well known. Most of the limited information seems to have been taken from Pausanias and his Description of Greece and then extrapolated from there.

The Games appear to have been established by Hippodamia sometime during the Archaic Period (800C - 500C BC). She wanted to offer her gratitude to Hera for her marriage to Pelops. It seems odd to create a predominantly female space in thanks for being given to a man. Maybe she felt the need for more women-centric activities after joining her life with a man! Hera, however was a strong, independent and dignified woman so was a great taliswoman for the games despite what the linked Wikipedia article says. History has consigned her to being the petulant, jealous wife of Zeus. How the narrative is rewritten according to who writes it! In this case it was the patriarchal Christians who assigned Goddesses as lesser than the Gods and introduced a patriarchal view of the women in Ancient Greek times. In the same vein much of the information about Hippodamia is only available in relation to her husband or father, despite the fact she was obviously a capable woman in her own right. This is not to say that Ancient Greece was a bastion of feminism. In all likelihood it wasn't a great period for women and a patriarchy is very much in evidence. But subsequently misrepresenting women only makes matters worse.

Hippodamia assembled the Sixteen Women and together they founded the Heraea. The Sixteen Women are thought to have been peace-makers between Elis and Pisa and are likely to have been married women. There are several interpretations as to how these women were brought together and where they were from. Some think that the group was made up of women from sixteen cities from Elis and Pisa, others that they were all from Elis. They did succeed in peace between the two regions, after which they were given the task of building the Heraean Games and weaving a spiritual robe for Hera. It is possible that these games may have even pre-dated the men as some think that the male Olympiad were established in honour of Pelops' death.The Games were held in the Olympic Stadium that the men used and were held between 3-5 years apart. The time between events seemed to vary throughout their existence although it is thought that for the most part they matched the men's games, every 4 years. They consisted of three foot races, one in each of three different age categories. Again there is very little information about the format of the races or what the age categories were.

Patricia Monaghan believed that the the age groups match the three phases of women's life: maiden, mother and crone. Hera went through those phases as mortal females did even though she was a Goddess. I like the thought of that I must say. Much more inclusive and female-centric. However, most other sources I looked at, including Pausanius, seem to think the age groups were much younger than that and that only maidens competed. It is entirely possible that whatever the actual age of the participants, they may have represented the phases Monaghan mentions. It is difficult to confirm or reject with any certainty, due to the paucity of information.

It is known that the women used a shortened form of the men's course at the Olympic Stadium and that one of the races was a 160 yard dash. The athletes wore a chiton, which was an off the shoulder short dress in which the right shoulder and breast were left bare. This was an adaptation from a garment that men used to wear when doing labour in hot temperatures.

Courtesy of The British Museum 

They won an olive wreath crown and a portion of the ox/cow that had been slaughtered for Hera on behalf of all the contestants. There may also have been inscribed statues created in honour of the winners. One of the known winners was Chloris. Chloris was the daughter of Niobe and Amphion and was spared being killed by Artemis and Apollo. They killed all (except possibly one other) of her siblings in revenge for Niobe insulting their mother with taunts about how many children she had. The misogyny in there is worth a post in its own right, if in fact that was what actually happened. As mentioned earlier we are looking at this through the prism of male, Christian patriarchy. There seems to have been an awful lot of jealousy/rivalry between women to explain male violence. Some may recognise these excuses even today.

There is also evidence that there were other sporting contests in Sparta in which women competed. The girls of Sparta had unprecedented access to education and sports. The reasons behind this seem very patriarchal in that they wanted more healthy warriors. The cynical side of me thinks that it is typical that equality can be given to women when it suits men's ends! Again there is not much known about the women of Sparta for two reasons. Sparta seemed to have deliberately not recorded its history and those observing and recounting the history were overwhelmingly male and it can probably be safe to say had little to no interest in women and maintaining their history. Gymnopaedia seems to have been a sporting event where young women competed. There does seem to have been some links with this and a showcase for marriage potential with young men making up some of the spectators. Like a sporty debutante ball!

So the Heraean Games were created in response to a woman being thankful for being married to a man. Not the most auspicious of starts nor the most feminist. However its establishment could well have been, in part due to the exclusion of women from the male Olympiad. It could have provided both some kind of parity and satisfied their desire to compete. This pattern is still seen today where women are excluded and organise themselves to redress the balance, especially in sporting events. Even the lesser status of these events still holds true.

If the games did indeed predate the male equivalent then it seems that as far back as Ancient Greek times women recognised the importance of organising women-only or predominantly female spaces. Having read only a little about the amount of misogyny and horrible acts perpetrated against women in these times, I can understand why the women would have wanted to praise and celebrate their own sex.


Pausanias, Description of Greece 5. 16. 1 - 8