Tag Archives: violence

Gender and abuse

One of the things that really worries me around gender critical/ terf discourse is how they are handling ideas around violence and abuse. What I see from them increasingly is the idea that trans women are a threat to cis women because trans women are men and men are abusive. The only reason they can imagine for trans women existing seems to be that it enables men to access female spaces to abuse women. Let me be clear now that as far as I am concerned, trans women are women and that point requires no further discussion.

Problem number one – female only spaces do not protect women from abuse, and we know this because female only spaces exist but lots of women experience abuse and typically three women a week in the UK die as a consequence of it. Men who are unequivocally presenting as men do not struggle to find opportunities for abuse.

Problem number two is that not all men are abusive. Most men aren’t actively abusive although men who are not abusers often don’t do enough to counter toxic masculinity and rape culture and can benefit from it. Talking about abuse as though it’s just what men do functions to normalise it, which in turn makes it harder to tackle. Abuse isn’t inevitable. Men are not intrinsically predators and women are not inherently prey. We need to hold men accountable, not assume that they can’t help themselves.

Treating abuse by men as inevitable leads to victim blaming and puts unreasonable pressure on women to act protectively. This in turn can have the effect of driving women into women only spaces, hived off from anywhere they might have influence or significance. As a female-presenting person, I don’t want to be hived off in special, women’s only spaces where I can be more easily ignored.

Problem number three is that some women are abusive, and treating abuse like it’s always a gender issue is totally unhelpful and misleading. Women are disproportionately affected by abuse and far less likely to kill, but women can also be abusers and we should not pretend otherwise.

Problem number four exists around the determination to call pregnant people ‘women’. Not all pregnant people are women, and this is especially a problem when the pregnant person is a child, and therefore an abuse victim. Equating pregnancy to womanhood is a tactic being used to distort thinking around abortion in America at the moment. A pregnant child is a pregnant person, and is not a woman. 

When we double down on the ‘rules’ for gender identity, we are more likely to limit women than support the majority of people who identify as female. This usually impacts hardest on women of colour, who tend not to match the definitions of femininity that come from white women. Any attempt at measuring and defining women is going to exclude people, and many of these will be people who have spent their whole lives considering themselves to be female. Attempts to limit and define women invariably play into the hands of people who want to control and regulate female bodies.

Hate is always hungry

Hate can be a powerful bonding and motivating force for groups of people. Defining someone as ‘other’ helps to firm up the edges so we know who we are. Coming together to fight the hated other gives us focus, common purpose and identity. We bolster each other’s feelings of self righteousness and remind each other how justified we are in stamping out the hate object.

If we win, we either have to give up on the heady intoxication of hate or we have to identify a new hate object. A new enemy of the people. And then we all have to band together to destroy them. 

In the beginning, the targets are always the most marginal and vulnerable people. It’s easy to garner support for the abuse of people who are already mistrusted for some reason or another. As a violent and oppressive regime rolls on, it has to identify new targets for hate and inevitably when you’ve taken out the marginal folk, a new margin emerges. People who start the violent uprising can find that they’ve become the people at the edges who are the new targets.

I don’t know how many thoroughly committed Nazis were killed by the Nazis, but that number is not zero. I don’t know how many dedicated cultural revolutionaries were killed by Chinese communism, but that number isn’t zero either.

It is amazing to me that anyone could hear the call to hate and violence and assume that’s always going to go well for them. Hate is always hungry and sooner or later it eats its own.

Please can chivalry be dead

By ‘chivalry’ I do not mean being nice to people, holding doors for them and whatnot. That stuff is good and useful, and I’m generally in favour of it. What I’m talking about today is the social norms that are used to frame and justify male violence, and particularly the way women are deployed in that.

The idea that male violence is justified by protecting women is a really suspect thing. We get a lot of pop culture stories where the death or rape of a woman is used to justify a man attacking or killing another man. There are many examples out there of male jealousy over attention paid to a woman being used to justify male violence. That whole business of duelling is a case in point, and it’s something that older films have tended to portray as attractive and appealing. What woman doesn’t want the man, or men she loves to fight to the death over her? Clearly the answer should be ‘anyone who isn’t a psychopath.’

Men fighting over women just reinforces the idea that women are prizes/property. Men taking revenge on behalf of women reinforces the idea that women have no agency, and need men to defend them from other men. This really doesn’t help us around building fairer and safer societies. It also centres the male rage and the male hurt feelings around things that are actually happening to women. It becomes a story about the fight between the men, the winner and the loser. Nothing restorative happens on these terms, and the original wrong may be entirely overshadowed.

Making women responsible for male violence can be incredibly controlling. I’ve been through that, there was a boyfriend in my teens who made clear his intention to punch any man who looked at me in a way he didn’t like. It was terrifying. I didn’t want to be the inadvertent cause of some lad getting attacked because he smiled at me or did something my boyfriend thought was flirting. For a little while I was cautious and anxious, and then I got the hell out. If your partner may be violent to others and is making that about how they treat you, it becomes hard to even feel you can be in the same room as other men – which is of course entirely the point.

There’s also the issue that violence tends to escalate. If someone disrespects you, and your partner responds by, say and for example, slapping them in the face, does it stop there? Sometimes, but not always. Sometimes the other person turns out to be a better fighter, or carrying a knife, or a gun. So not only are you, as the woman in this scenario, responsible for everyone else’s safety, you may also be afraid that your partner is going to get themselves hurt or killed if things kick off. In no way is this about female safety and wellbeing.

I was genuinely surprised by the number of female friends online who felt strongly that their men should be violent in their defence if they are verbally attacked. I can only wonder if they’ve thought through the implications. Having been offered that kind of violence in my ‘honour’ and ‘defence’ I have no doubt that it is an awful thing for people to be doing. Self defence is one thing, defending your people is always a good choice, escalation is always a terrible idea.

Female Safety

CW rape and violence

The judge in the sentencing hearing for Wayne Couzens described his victim Sarah Everard as “wholly blameless”. There’s a subtext here, that a victim of rape and murder could, in some instances, be considered not wholly blameless, and this is both appaling and unsurpriing. Here in the UK we have a long tradition of blaming the victims of violence – especially women.

My whole life, I’ve been hearing what women should do to stay safe – don’t drink, don’t go out on your own, don’t go out after dark, use your keys to defend yourself, don’t dress provocatively, stay in areas with plenty of other people around. Sabina Nessa should (by that useless theory) have been safe on those terms, but she was murdered recently. 

Now the Metropolitan police are telling women what to do to stay safe if approached by a police officer. Because we can no longer safely assume that a police officer won’t assault, rape or murder a woman, in the aftermath of what Wayne Couzens did to Sarah Everard. He was shielded and enabled by his status as a police officer. The Met, let me repeat, are now telling women what to do for their own safety if approached by a police officer.

I don’t have words for how angry I am. These are the people whose job it is to uphold the law and keep people safe. If the institutional response to police brutality is to make the victims responsible for their own safety from police abuse, the police cannot be said to exist to uphold the law or keep people safe. As Talis Kimberly pointed out on Twitter, if this is the case, no-one should be charged with resisting arrest – especially not anyone whose apparent race or gender identity might put them at risk of being killed by the police. 

In theory we are supposed to be policed by consent. No one consents to police brutality, to rape or to murder. Either we need an urgent and radical overhaul of how policing works and how problematic policepersons are dealt with, or we are, of necessity, going to all have to treat the police as dangerous and suspicious – and clearly that’s not going to go well for anyone.

Radical change is long overdue. Police brutality towards black people is a known and longstanding issue. Police attitudes to protestors are highly problematic and tend to defend the convenience and property of the powerful at the expense of the freedom and wellbeing of ordinary people. Violence against women seldom leads to justice, with rape prosecution an area of absolute shame in this regard. Innocent, blameless women die all the time in the UK – a further 80 since Sarah Everard was murdered. It’s relentless. If you haven’t willingly participated in a violent situation, you are blameless and innocent.

The police are supposed to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. We have to demand change.

What if we re-thought land ownership?

Land ownership is mostly about violence.  There are places around the world where land is held collectively by the people who live on it, but that’s not mostly what we get. Where land is bought and sold, it’s all about those with the most resources being entitled to control the bounty freely available from the Earth. This tends to have its roots in conquest. Land has gone from common ownership, to being under control of relatively few people. At some point, this will probably have involved war or aggressive colonialism.

There is no moral justification for letting a few people benefit from the violence in our shared history.  That your ancestor had a big sword and was willing to kill should not be a basis for deciding who now has control of land. All too often, we see vast areas of land exploited for the benefit of the few, with no eye to the good of most people, the needs of nature or the urgent need for decarbonisation.  In the UK, the grouse moor is the prime example of this – areas of land that are burned to provide habitat for grouse so that rich people can hunt them. Grouse moors are known to contribute to flooding elsewhere, they deprive regular people of land access, and for what?

Meanwhile in our urban environments, homes and areas of land are bought as investment and may be left empty because the people who own them are only thinking about their personal profits. We’re not obliged to allow this. Laws could be changed to prevent this kind of behaviour. We could have a much more equitable approach to land.

We could cap how much land a person can own. We could penalise people for misusing the land. We could redistribute land ownership more fairly, or bring more land into public ownership. We could require public green spaces as part of urban planning permission.

While we’re at it, we could challenge ideas around private ownership. With a small percentage of people owning far more than they can use while vast numbers of people have little or nothing, we could afford to rethink how we distribute resources. We could start rejecting the violence inherent in certain kinds of ownership. We could decide that exploiting masses of people so that a few people can have far more than they need, isn’t an acceptable way to carry on. We could re-write some of our narratives around entitlement and fairness and question whether ‘deserve’ really should mean being able to profit from someone else having taken land by force at some point in history.

We could question the whole idea of owning land.

Modelling Behaviour

Children copy what they experience – most especially what they see their adult primary carers doing. Patterns for behaviour, a sense of place in the world, ideas about self, family, community and life are absorbed unconsciously early on, and often taken in through that act of mimicry. However, there’s not an age at which this entirely goes away. We’re primates. Monkey see, monkey do.

Affirmation and a sense of belonging follows from doing the things we can see other people doing. It’s one of the reasons clothes fashions and counter culture clothing are so powerful – they identify us with our people. There’s no inherent reason why we see suits as smart and jeans as scruffy, that’s just a consensus to help us fit in with the company we’re keeping. If the convention was to wear jeans to the office and suits for lounging around in, we’d do it that way instead. Neither being that physically comfortable.

When people encounter expressions of anger, hatred, violence and prejudice, some will respond by wanting to repeat that behaviour. Obviously it has to tap into personal attitude, but the more visible it is, the more comfortable it feels to be part of it. When the majority are calm, pleasant, cooperative and friendly there’s real pressure on people who tend to hate to fit in with standard behaviour.

Many people aren’t comfortable with standing out from the crowd.

This is why, for those of us who can and will buck the trend, it’s important to keep modelling the kind of behaviour we want to see in the world. Be calm. Be reasonable. Avoid aggressive and abusive language. Avoid shouting back. Model something better. It has a real effect. On the other hand, if we’re lured into expressions of rage and violence, what we do is fuel the rage and violence that we were trying to oppose. There’s an allure in verbal and physical violence – it can make us feel powerful, it can allow us power over others, and if we feel self-righteous, knocking the ‘idiots’ down can feel exciting, and that’s a trap to avoid, because at that point, we’re just a bunch of people attacking each other and the values we thought we stood up for are likely lost in the mix.

Situations of self defence aside, the ‘fight’ here is first and foremost at a conceptual level, it’s about what kind of people we are and how we think people should be, and the best way to achieve this is to keep demonstrating it.

No Excuses

Whenever there are acts of terrorism or public violence, we wait for the explanations. Sooner or later, the media will tell us which outfit is claiming responsibility. So often, there’s a professed cause to be highlighted or announced, some political agenda supposedly being served, and we’ll get that out and air it. The net result tends to be that the majority become more hostile to the perceived implicated minority. That can in turn lead to ‘reprisals’ as though bashing some innocent bystander from ‘the other side’ somehow evens things up. All this gets you is more anger, more hatred, more violence and more suffering.

Effectively what we do is give terrorists a media platform to sell us their useless excuses and justifications. This is a big part of the incentive. A few minutes publicity for your hate, alongside whatever sick jollies you get out of hurting random victims. I can feel a bit more understanding for people who kill specific people for specific reasons – that at least makes sense. To kill an unsuspecting stranger in the name of some kind of political idea? Some person who might have agreed with you, potentially. Some person who might have cared, might have been sympathetic (you’ll never know). To kill children. What does that prove? That other horrors happen other places and should not happen, is never going to be sorted out by blowing up random victims. It just makes people angry, and rightly so.

I think it’s really important that we stop caring what the bullshit excuse is. Don’t give the cause airing – not if people have died. Any kind of fair and legal protest should get media time and recognition, but if you set out to kill people, I think we should respond by not naming your cause, and not giving you airtime. We should name the killers, and label them as psychopaths and not give any space to talk about the excuses. Every time we air the excuses, and debate them, we validate them. It’s counter-productive.

So, I want to know the names of the people behind the Boston bombing and I want to see them sent to prison for a very long time. I don’t want to hear one word about what they claim to have been doing it for. It’s irrelevant. No one who really cares about a cause goes anonymously to blow up strangers. If you have a cause, then speaking, publicising, legitimate protest are the ways to go. Non-violent non-cooperation is fine. Actually, I’m in favour of pretty much any kind of protesting that does not lead to bloodshed. As soon as someone dies, what you’ve shown me is that really, you don’t give a shit about your cause, you’re just some sick creature that wants to kill, and latched onto this as an excuse. You’re probably insane. You have also undermined my sympathy for your cause, whatever it was.

If you want to resist this kind of violence, the place to start is by not putting information out there about the alleged reasons. There are no reasons, there are only lame excuses. Don’t talk about the excuses, don’t acknowledge them, don’t share the articles on, don’t buy the papers that give a space to the justifications of the mentally ill when they act out their deranged fantasies. None violent non-cooperation, is something we can all participate it. Let’s not co-operate with hate.

What nature does

In the comments recently, Alex observed that nature is sex, violence and death and went on to make some suggestions about how we might relate to it, ourselves and the fluffy safety of facebook, off the back of that. I’ve pondered this at length. I took that ponder down the towpath last night, and saw a fox in a field of lambs. I stopped to watch. The lambs were really curious about the fox, two of them started trotting about after it. The fox moved away from them. Nobody died. Of course ultimately everything dies, and things are dying all the time, and eating each other, and breeding. But this is a fragment of the story.

I’ve watched swans mating. The seconds of that were far shorter than the strange, almost courtly dance that came afterwards, and are nothing compared to the long weeks of sitting on eggs that will follow, and the months of teaching cygnets how to be swans. Trees spend quite a lot of time having sex – and usually attempt to get it on with my nasal passages for good measure. They have their cycles of dying back and growing, but what trees seem to spend most of their time doing, is sunbathing.

I spend a lot of time outdoors and have direct contact with wild and natural things on pretty much a daily basis. Nature sleeps when it can, and a lot of it sunbathes. I see social interactions, and yes, I see fish die in the beaks of cormorants, and small birds hunting for insects. I saw the pigeon the otters got, or at least, what was left of it and I saw a gull take a baby coot. Comparing the moments of drama, violence, sex and death to the hours of very little happening leads me to believe that while sex, death and violence are part of nature, there’s a lot of other stuff going on too.

One of those things, is play. I’ve watched the buzzards riding the thermals, drifting up into the sky until they are almost invisible flecks. They can’t hunt from up there. It serves no practical purpose. I listen to the dawn chorus most mornings, to the blackbirds singing at sunset and the settling sounds from the rookery at night. Communication, expression – there may be things about group bonding and territory there, but it’s a big part of their lives. Maybe it ultimately serves the sex and death agenda. Or maybe what the sex and death get us, is opportunities to sunbathe, sing, and ride the winds. I’ve watched the gulls ride on the wave behind the Severn bore, and get airbourn in high winds apparently for the express purpose of being blown about. I’ve watched the huge flocks of starlings wheel across the sky at twilight, and the water voles diving exuberantly into the canal because they could, not because it was practical.

Reducing the world down to the basic mechanics of the selfish gene busily reproducing itself and ousting competitors misses a lot of what nature does. Some of nature is co-operative. Some of it is playful. Most of it likes to lounge about doing very little, when it can. Spending a lot of time with the wild things, sex, death and violence look like a tiny part of the whole, and aren’t always the most important bits. I say this because I believe that whatever you are doing right now has to count as one of the most important bits. However, nature programs, with their emphasis on drama and desire for narrative are terribly prone to giving misleading shows of sex, death and violence. I can see how watching a lot of nature on the TV might leave a person with a distorted sense of what ‘nature’ actually means. We need to get away from the human storytelling with its tabloid obsessions, and get out amongst the trees, where the birds are singing, things are growing, and there is life being lived, not just the bits that go at either end of life.

Becoming a non-person

It’s well known that if you want to destroy a person, or a minority group, it’s best to start by dehumanising them. This makes it easier for your people to feel comfortable about the destruction process, and it also makes the victim more passive and easier to destroy. In fact, do a good enough job of the dehumanising and the victim will sometimes destroy themselves and spare you the effort. What further complicates this already nasty issue, is that most of us assume (until it happens to us) that we could resist. We think we’re clever enough to see through the propaganda, smart enough to get out of the violent relationship, capable of resisting government led denigration. The people who don’t, are therefore stupid and probably deserve it, we imagine. This actually makes us easier to take down too, because we refuse to see what’s happening. We don’t want to believe we’re falling, we want to beleive we’re clever enough that it couldn’t be hppening to us. Once someone is starting to go under, it gets easier to push them all the way down.

There are a number of ways to turn someone into a non-person, and you can start small. Constant criticism of lifestyle choices, personal appearance, preferences and so forth undermines confidence. We judge by economic contribution (our elderly suffer as a consequence.) Ridiculing of opinion – which we see all the time online and in the media. “Only a stupid person could think the way you do.” Doing things and then lying and saying they never happened (as is so often the way with workplace bullying). Minimising damage. We only pushed him, it wasn’t really a thump. It was only a joke, we didn’t mean for her to kill herself… Blaming the victim – we aren’t doing this to them, it’s happening because they are weak, stupid, lazy and irresponsible. Labelling them – note the way in which the word ‘benefits’ is so regularly publically linked to the word ‘fraud’ so that when you hear the first the second is more likely to show up in your head. (Illegal) Immigrants, Muslim (terrorists) Unemployed (scroungers) … there are many more, but you get the idea. We build the associations.

Becoming a non-person isn’t an event. It isn’t about a single occasion of someone being a bit mean (really, you’re a man, you can take it). It isn’t weakness (thin skinned, melodramatic, making a fuss). Note how we can further denigrate people for becoming victims. No, this is a process, and it can happen so slowly and over such a long time that you don’t even notice your personhood being stripped away. Or your participation in doing it to someone else. You slowly become an object, an expense, a nuisance, a scrounger. You stop being Bob who can tell a good joke and likes the footy, and you become that useless man. You stop being beautiful Esme who is a great mum, and become that lump of meat he shoves round the kitchen of a Friday night before using for sex. And somewhere, maybe you stop looking at yourself in the mirror because you can’t bear the eyes of the person looking back at you. Somewhere in the process you start to believe, as you are being told, that this all makes perfect sense: it’s happening because you deserve it. If everything around you reinforces your status as a non-person, are you going to hold out against that?

Disbelieving everything you are told starts, after a while, to feel a bit crazy. So you try harder, do more, work longer hours, try to humour the boss, accept the benefit cut, accept the brutal sex, and the labels, and you let yourself believe it is all your fault this is happening, and you lose a bit more self.

I’m watching my government undertaking this process aided by the gutter press, and every day the news items, and the shit in the media makes me sick. The language of denigration, the deliberate, relentless dehumanising. Right now, the victims of preference are the poor. We’re hounding the poor into ghettos. We’re doing it by forcing people on housing benefit out of more affluent places, especially London. We’re well under way with forcing them to work unpaid for the state, with the welfare to work scheme. We haven’t moved them into camps for that yet, but maybe we don’t need to. Does this sound familiar to anyone yet?

Are we going to wake up one morning and find that the Tories have come up with a bold, final solution to poverty? And by then, will we have dehumanised the poor so thoroughly that, as the Germans did with their vulnerable people in the 1940s, we let the state kill them? That’s where you ultimately go with this kind of logic.

When they came for the disabled, I did not speak out, because I was not disabled. When they came for the single mums, I did not speak out, because I was not a single mum…

The bottom third of the UK population is now experiencing poverty, from what statistics I’ve seen. We have to start speaking out and we have to actively resist all attempts to dehumanise the vulnerable. No more labels, no more blame culture, no more robbing people of their basic dignity. You don’t need gas to kill people. You can freeze them to death with homelessness, or inflated energy prices. You can starve them to death. You can drive them to suicide. You don’t have to be as obvious as a death camp. You can make your whole country a death camp for the ones you don’t want along.

Taking no prisoners

I read a letter recently in which it said something like “drivers cite congestion frustration around the school as the major cause of their speeding through the village.” That people feel comfortable saying this astounds me, but its part of a much wider culture and one I feel very strongly about.

We may not have much control over our emotional reactions to things, but we do, all of us, choose how we behave as a response. The idea that something, or someone else is ‘making’ you behave in a dangerous, violent, cruel or antisocial way is ridiculous. No one is holding a gun to these people’s heads to make them go faster. As they aren’t emergency services, the few minutes of differences made to journey length is largely irrelevant. We do what we want to do in these situations, and then we deny responsibility. If a child is knocked down and killed as a consequence, will the driver still blame the frustration of congestion and imagine they aren’t responsible? Maybe some people would.

We get cross. The heat of angry emotion rushes through us, so we shout. We are entitled to shout, because we’re being made angry by someone else. And then the anger means we want to take the offending person and shake them. We are so angry we hit, we push, they fall. It’s not our fault, they made us do it, they made us angry.

Now let’s take a step back. What did the person do to make us so angry we were violent? Maybe they insulted us. Said we were stupid, or wrong, or that we’d let them down. Told us they weren’t happy, or that we’d hurt their feelings, or we’d frightened them, that we weren’t perfect. Not had the dinner cooked on time. Not ironed the shirt perfectly. They made us angry. They made us do it. You said ‘no’ and I wanted to hear ‘yes’ and now you have made me angry, and when I beat you until your bones break, that will be all your fault.

See how it works?

Every day, anger leads to violence in someone’s life and violence leads to serious damage, or to death. More often than not we aren’t talking about big, heroic reasons for getting angry either. We aren’t talking about thumping the guy who raped your daughter, or beating off a mugger, or anything justifiable. No, we’re talking the kind of people who, being slowed down by the traffic around a school think that breaking the speed limit, in an area known to have children, dog walkers, joggers, cyclists, horses and tight corners, is just fine. Ordinary people. Normal people.

Once we’ve established that “you make me angry and therefore my reaction is not my fault” is a viable idea, we can escalate. I shout at you. Tomorrow I shove you. Next week I’m going to slap you in the face and in a month’s time I will push you down a flight of stairs, and then I’m going to get so angry that I kill your dog, just to show you that making me angry is a bad thing. And even then, I still feel like I have the moral high ground. It’s not my fault. You made me do it.

“You” might be a five year old child. You might be a pregnant nineteen year old or a brittle boned granny of eighty. It doesn’t matter, apparently. Your power in causing anger, is too great, and you therefore deserve to be punished. You were asking for it.

In case you aren’t squirming with discomfort already, I’d like to mention a news story this week, the jailing of a man from Cornwall who gouged his girlfriend’s eyes out. She has young children. No one was talking about why he did it, and that’s brilliant, because all the reasons, the justifications are imaginary. He did it because he was a sick and evil bastard. But I’d be prepared to bet you that in his head, in the moments when he reached for her to do that, he was telling himself it was fine. Justified. He was angry. She made him do it.

Evil starts small. We don’t wake up one morning and decide, spontaneously to torture, murder or otherwise destroy another human being. We go slowly, building our confidence and our justifications. Most importantly, we hear or see things we don’t like, we allow ourselves to feel angry about them, like a spoiled child who isn’t getting their own way and then we IMAGINE that feeling this way entitles us to retaliate. Or speed through the village. Or take it out on the next person.

“It/he/she made me angry, made me do it” should never, ever be accepted as an excuse for appalling behaviour. It’s bad enough in small children, utterly unacceptable in adults.