Gods above, but that was a bad, bad week for women. In amongst the other enormous breaking news stories (resigning Popes; covert ground-up horse in apparently everything; meteors hitting the Earth), a woman was shot dead in the middle of the night, allegedly by her boyfriend.
The story has garnered far more media attention than any other case of domestic violence might because the man who’s been charged with her murder is a world-famous Paralympian athlete. This, understandably, has meant that the focus of the story has been Oscar Pistorius, rather than the victim, Reeva Steenkamp. The faint irk that she seemed to be referred to for the first 24 hours of reporting as “his girlfriend” rather than by her name was nothing in comparison to the anger felt the following day when tabloid newspapers around the world saw fit to illustrate the story with pictures of law graduate and model, who spoke out about empowering women, in the skimpiest bikinis and underwear they could find.
Then, on Friday morning, between a tweet about a band’s new single and Bruce Willis flogging his latest film, Daybreak tweeted the following:
I’m well aware that Daybreak isn’t the epitome of high culture and sophisticated discussion. That’s fine: there’s space for both it and BBC4. But it’s a programme with an enormous audience, and one staffed by people who should know better than to put out such idiocy. ONS stats might be a deeply worrying portrayal of Britain’s attitudes towards women and sexual violence, but the responsible journalistic approach isn’t to start a “debate” where there isn’t one. It’s to educate viewers that there aren’t two sides to the argument. This might be an individual incident, but it’s individual incidents that combine to add up to a culture in which blaming victims is acceptable, when actually the only people who are responsible for crimes are those who have committed them.
Because these two incidents came in a week when the 1 Billion Rising campaign was launched, highlighting and campaigning against the fact that one in three women will be raped or beaten in her lifetime. They came in a week when the BBC ran a deeply saddening but entirely unsurprising piece about women’s attitudes to their own safety when walking home after a night out. The verdict was unanimous: from Ramala to Kampala, Melbourne to Rio to Ottowa, women don’t feel safe. They make sure they have something they can lay hands on as a weapon should they need to. A quick, unscientific Twitter poll of followers elicited the same information. Check with your female friends: I guarantee the majority of them will have done it, at least once, if not regularly.
Is it any wonder, really, given that – globally – there’s a culture of violence against women. It’s a systemic problem; that if we don’t speak up against it where we see it, nothing will change, and one billion more women will suffer.