QotD: “In Britain in 2018, women trying to hold public meetings to talk about politics and the law are being subjected to intimidation and threats. The police are investigating a bomb threat against one of those meetings”
[On the 20th June] some women got together in a room to talk about law and politics and sex and gender. The meeting, in Hastings, was organised by a group called A Woman’s Place UK, which is concerned about the way politics and public debate is developing with regard to the legal rights of transgender people and women.
This stuff is complicated and, to many people, obscure. I’ve written about these issues quite a bit here, and while quite a lot of people seem keen to read about the transgender debate, I’m under no illusions that this has broken through into wider public consciousness. Most people, I suspect, haven’t really engaged with the detail of this debate, though that might start to change a bit next month when the Government launches a consultation on overhauling the law that allows someone to legally change their gender.
Given that a lot of people haven’t engaged with the detail of the gender debate, let me offer a catchier description of what happened in Hastings this week. Some women organised a meeting to talk about their legal rights. Someone threatened to blow up that meeting with a bomb. The threat in question was made on Twitter a few days ago. I became aware of it shortly afterwards, and I am sorry to say that my initial reaction, was to think: “Just some idiot on Twitter. Doesn’t mean anything.” Sussex Police took a different view. They are taking the threat seriously and have begun an investigation. A Sussex Police spokesman said:
We are not disclosing details of the investigation or of our discussions with the organisers, however the threat is being taken seriously and is not currently being linked to any other event or offence.
What does it say about how strongly the women at that meeting last night feel about this issue that they went along despite such a threat? It’s not as if this was a one-off either: as Judith Green of WPUK wrote here earlier this year, Woman’s Place meetings are frequently the subject of aggressive protests from people who say they are representing transgender people. Yet women turn up anyway, in large numbers. And what does it say about public and political debate about gender issues that this stuff has become normal and almost unremarkable?
In Britain in 2018, women trying to hold public meetings to talk about politics and the law are being subjected to intimidation and threats. The police are investigating a bomb threat against one of those meetings. Yet politicians and large sections of the media are silent. Would that be the case if any other group or community were subject to such threats and intimidation? Why aren’t politicians, of all parties, shouting from the rooftops about this?
It’s not as if they don’t know or don’t care. Since I started writing about the gender debate in February, I’ve lost count of the number of MPs and other political people (of all parties and ranks, from policy advisers to Cabinet ministers) who have privately told me they are worried about the nature of this debate and worried about the implications of policy. Yet almost all of those people have also said they are not willing to talk about this publicly, for fear of the criticism and vitriol they believe they would face from people who believe the interests of transgender people are best served by shouting down questions with allegations of transphobia and bigotry. I understand that silence, but it has costs. When the people who are supposed to speak for ordinary people – and the rules that allow those people to exercise their basic democratic freedoms – stay silent, they leave a vacuum of leadership and moral courage that can be filled with hostility and fear.
I’ll end by repeating the basic facts of this story once more, in the hope that some of the politicians who talk so much about free speech and equality and fairness finally pluck up the courage to talk about this. Some women had a meeting to talk about their legal rights. Someone threatened to blow up the meeting with a bomb. The police are investigating that threat and say it is being “taken seriously”. And this happened in Britain in 2018.
Last week, Sally Challen, who in 2011 had been convicted of her husband Richard’s murder and handed a 22-year sentence, was granted permission to appeal. Sally – now 63, a mother of two, who’d been with Richard since the age of 15 – doesn’t deny that she bludgeoned him to death with a hammer, before driving to Beachy Head to kill herself. But what’s changed in the years she’s been in prison, is that the law now recognises that domestic violence can’t always be quantified simply in bruises and broken arms, but may also include “coercive control”, where it’s not just a person’s physical integrity that’s violated, but their human rights.
Challen’s legal team will submit fresh evidence that they say shows Richard humiliated her, isolated her, lied to her about his affairs with other women, controlled her finances, and raped her, after she kissed one of his friends on the cheek. Once, when they had guests for dinner, he threw the entire meal Sally had cooked, along with plates, into the bin. She killed him in 2010, then covered his body with a curtain, leaving a note that said: “I love you.”
It’s not uncommon for abusive relationships to end in a fatality, but usually it is the man left standing – on average two women are killed by their partner or ex-partner every week in England and Wales. No doubt it’s this that has catapulted Challen’s story of domestic abuse into the headlines, over those where it was a woman who died and the murder barely acknowledged. Initially this case played as a crime of jealousy after Challen discovered one of her husband’s affairs. This week, the details have been repeated in every paper, and gorily, too. Whereas men killing women? Typically a weary inclusion three clicks deep. But either way, a conversation about domestic abuse is horribly welcome.
I’m writing as last week’s snow is thawing. Challen’s appeal feels like the slimmest, but warmest slice of light at a time when the system is in crisis, when there is nowhere for escaping women to hide, when help for victims has been diluted to a homeopathic degree, with a huge number of hostels closing because of government cuts, and when (according to a survey by Refuge) almost 40% of 16 to 21-year-old girls say they think coercive behaviour in relationships has become normalised.
Sally Challen’s case has the potential to change, if not the world, where men will surely continue to abuse women until what it means to be a man changes completely, then the way we look at the world, and in turn, the women suffering inside it. This case has comprehensively laid out the ways in which women are crushed by their abusers. It’s shown the depth of violence women suffer in these relationships, the lack of control they have, whether of their bank accounts or how regularly they’re allowed to go to the toilet, and so in turn, explains how difficult it can be to leave this house, this double-glazed prison.
We know the role that children play in these stories, we’ve seen how mothers will put themselves at risk to protect them. If Sally’s appeal is successful, as her son David (who has been campaigning steadily for her release, calmly answering questions about his father’s death on Good Morning, and calling for mental abuse to be taken more seriously in this country) is hoping, then thousands of women living in similar small hells, could be freed too. To David then, happy Mother’s Day.
QotD: “Men often kill wives after lengthy periods of prolonged physical violence accompanied by other forms of abuse and coercion”
Men often kill wives after lengthy periods of prolonged physical violence accompanied by other forms of abuse and coercion; the roles in such cases are seldom if ever reversed. Men perpetrate familial massacres, killing spouse and children together; women do not. Men commonly hunt down and kill wives who have left them; women hardly ever behave similarly. Men kill wives as part of planned murder-suicides; analogous acts by women are almost unheard of. Men kill in response to revelations of wifely infidelity; women almost never respond similarly, though their mates are more often adulterous.
R. Emerson and Russell Dobash, quoted in Angry White Men by Michael Kimmel
(Asked about his stance on pornography, in response to perceived endorsement of Hustler, who had tricked Chomsky into giving an interview for the magazine.)
Pornography is humiliation and degradation of women. It’s a disgraceful activity. I don’t want to be associated with it. Just take a look at the pictures. I mean, women are degraded as vulgar sex objects. That’s not what human beings are. I don’t even see anything to discuss.
(Interviewer: But didn’t performers choose to do the job and get paid?)
The fact that people agree to it and are paid, is about as convincing as the fact that we should be in favour of sweatshops in China, where women are locked into a factory and work fifteen hours a day, and then the factory burns down and they all die. Yeah, they were paid and they consented, but it doesn’t make me in favour of it, so that argument we can’t even talk about.
As for the fact that it’s some people’s erotica, well you know that’s their problem, doesn’t mean I have to contribute to it. If they get enjoyment out of humiliation of women, they have a problem, but it’s nothing I want to contribute to.
(Interviewer: How should we improve the production conditions of pornography?)
By eliminating degradation of women, that would improve it. Just like child abuse, you don’t want to make it better child abuse, you want to stop child abuse.
Suppose there’s a starving child in the slums, and you say “well, I’ll give you food if you’ll let me abuse you.” Suppose—well, there happen to be laws against child abuse, fortunately—but suppose someone were to give you an argument. Well, you know, after all a child’s starving otherwise, so you’re taking away their chance to get some food if you ban abuse. I mean, is that an argument?
The answer to that is stop the conditions in which the child is starving, and the same is true here. Eliminate the conditions in which women can’t get decent jobs, not permit abusive and destructive behaviour.
Noam Chomsky, The Price of Pleasure.