When the private becomes public, and we close our eyes at it

4 Jul

£££250PEOPLE-ONLY-Nigella-Lawson-1955474

We have all read about it. Nigella found herself a victim of domestic violence in the eyes of Britain and the world. The horrible event has been covered by the media from different perspectives that all dance around the Achilles’ heel of this particular form of abuse: are we really still categorizing this as a private matter?

Mainstream media in the UK covered the issue and public figures commented on it. The coverage revealed, with some exceptions, that people will bravely stand against domestic violence as long as they are talking about the topic in general, but not about a particular situation, person or woman. More importantly, we repeatedly read how accusing a man who might just have been joking or trying to make a point is surely not something we should rush into. After all: no one knows what really happened, is what people say. And it drives me crazy.

I saw the pictures and have a pretty good idea of what his actions against her were. I don’t know why he did it, but I don’t think it matters. Saatchi described the situation as a “playful tiff” and people seek to believe it: after all, who doesn’t dream about being choked in public by their husband? People just don’t understand humor these days…

Reading and talking about it, I am shocked by the amount of persons that insist they cannot judge the situation from those pictures. Have they really seen them? Unless these were fabricated (which no one, not even Saatchi, has alleged) the situation is pretty clear to me. Yet, these are some of the comments we were lucky to read from UK media and public figures on Nigella’s personal via crusis:

The only way the Saatchi marriage stands a chance is if everyone – including the Metropolitan Police – back off. Sadly, I doubt this is possible.” Said Christine Odone in The Telegraph. This one is so far out there I doubt I need to comment, right? I love the way she refers to the Saatchi marriage as an institution needing rescuing. Do take a look at the article though; you don’t want to miss Odone’s advice for victims of domestic violence: fry a Mars Bar to overcome your marriage crisis”.

Another one that made my day was Nick Griffin MEP’s tweetIf I had the opportunity to squeeze Nigella Lawson, her throat wouldn’t be my first choice”. Vote BNP!

Nick Clegg in a radio broadcast interview refused to comment on the issue because he wasn’t there and he had only seen the photos: “it could have been a fleeting situation”, he said. After all, it’s not violence if it was just this once… right Nick? He later rushed off to condemn domestic violence due to hard criticism, but only once Saatchi had himself gone to the Police and accepted a caution for assault.

Similarly, Greenslade had to issue an apology in The Guardian, as he initially said it was a rushed judgment to call this domestic violence and that the pictures only told part of the story. He made his point stronger by quoting Saatchi’s declaration: “I held Nigella’s neck repeatedly while attempting to emphasise my point… There was no grip, it was a playful tiff.” In his apology Greenslade claims his doubts in condemning the act come from years of friendship with Nigella. With friends like these…

The Independent’s Ellen Jones could think of nothing better than to attack Nigella for lying to us: “Nigella has welcomed us into her home, but not her heart. More so than any other TV chef, she’s selling the illusion of intimacy – and we’re buying it”. Nailed! How dare Nigella not include her most private, difficult problems in her worldwide show!

While other newspapers took a strong stand on calling this abuse, they immediately dwelled on how this will have a catastrophic impact for her career and gave Nigella’s drama a paparazzi style coverage, rather than a serious analysis of a serious issue.

It’s not surprising to see all these comments and excuses stem from similar, old paradigms:

  • Domestic violence is private and no one should say, comment or do anything about it. It’s up to the couple to solve it and intervening is intrusive and unhelpful.
  • If it’s just once, not very hard, happened very fast, or was in any other way “excusable”; then it’s not really domestic violence and we shouldn’t rush to judge.
  • It’s good to condemn domestic violence in abstract and theory. However, when speaking about real people, let alone friends, one shall never comment on, even obvious, situations of violence.

Thankfully I have also read some articles (an exception to this trend, though) and some commentators still have the courage to call this what it was: outright abuse. Suzane Moore reflected on the fact that no one intervened despite later being eager to report on Nigella’s obvious distress. Moore writes: “If a man had his hands round the throat of another man during a meal would the waiters have carried on as normal?” I don’t think they would have…

Readers’ comments and non-traditional news sites have condemned this act: why didn’t any one help her? Erin Ryan for Jezebel has it right: this is NOT a private matter! And it isn’t really, when statistics say that 1 in 4 women will be a victim of domestic violence in their lifetime, that one incident of domestic violence is reported to the police every minute and that on average, 2 women a week are killed by a current or former male partner. It’s a complex issue to analyze and a complete picture of the extent and nature of domestic violence in the UK can be found at the British Crime Survey of 2004. However, those numbers are surely enough for us to conclude that it is a matter of public interest.

The issue is not simple: the reason why domestic violence is still affecting societies where gender equality has otherwise improved is the fact that it combines two problems we have a hard time dealing with; gender discrimination and the private sphere dilemma.

Domestic violence is a form of gender discrimination and a violation of human rights. Yet we seek to justify it or find an excuse for every concrete situation we come accross: there must have been something she said to provoke him, we don’t know his side of the story, etc. Saatchi’s ex-wife said he was never violent towards her, so there must be another explanation. We are desperate to find excuses for the powerful, dominant aggressor. He is, after all, the white, rich, male. If he says he was just joking, that surely should appease us all…

Take that and add the fact that we are taught to never intervene in private issues, and you have a perfect formula for the perpetuation of domestic violence. What should it mean, for the average Joe, that domestic violence is a public matter? And here I’m talking about any kind of domestic violence, where men and children can be victims as well.

It should mean that we should all stand against it when encountering it. A male victim of domestic violence said on BBC’s Radio 4 “Woman’s Hour” that the hardest thing for him was how his relatives, friends and neighbors isolated him when it started becoming obvious. They would look away on the street and it made him feel he was alone in it. His situation ended when someone anonymously called the police, but no one ever offered him help or approached his wife.

So all in all, it doesn’t matter if we all saw the fear and tears in Nigella’s eyes, if we saw the series of photographs of him grabbing her neck or pinching her nose like a school bully, or those of her fleeing the restaurant in tears. Let’s not rush to judge, right? Those must have been happy tears, she was still laughing and was surely just in a rush to buy her Mars Bars at Waitrose.

When we think of it, the reasons why we continue to be silent when we hear our neighbor’s walls bang and a crying voice are far beyond gender discrimination issues. We have lost (did we ever have it?) a sense of community and human solidarity. And I’m not talking about spying on your neighbors but about walking away when we know that there is an abusive situation going on. We say nothing when we see a parent hit his child or yell abusively at him on the street, even if we get enraged by it. We choose to walk away because “it’s a private matter”.

What do we fear will happen should we intervene? Embarrassment? Next time we’re confronted with a public act of violence or abuse we should stop and think. What does the person affected fear? Is our fear that important after all?

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