Ahead of White Ribbon Day, a worldwide movement established to end male violence against women, Cath Holland questions why dissatisfaction towards male offenders in the public eye is often only temporary and all too quickly forgotten.
Throughout music history the misdemeanours of cash cow male stars across the genres have been tolerated, brushed under the carpet, hushed up. The nearer to, or higher up, the popular music canon, the more easily and readily they are forgiven for bad behaviour. A collective amnesia takes over around inappropriate attitudes and actions towards women by successful, famous men. Focus on Slowthai’s behaviour at NME Awards 2020 was sidelined within days; a line drawn under Miles Kane’s attitude towards a female journalist in 2016 pretty sharpish following his inadequate apology.
When Kasabian singer Tom Meighan was convicted of assaulting his former partner in July this year, the rest of the band reduced the assault to ‘personal issues’ before cutting him loose proper. Meighan pleaded guilty at a time when many worked from home and had limited social lives outside our immediate family and friends. There were no gigs or football matches to divert our attention, leaving both time and opportunity for a wider conversation to be had about domestic violence and a chance for abusive men, famous or not, to examine and reflect on their habits, to take the opportunity to feel shame in the knowledge neighbours were at home more too and could hear through walls.
But, as ever, debate or action on the subject fizzled to nowt within days, everyone agreeing that, yes, domestic violence is really bad, we’ll have to do something about it. At some point, when we get round to it, pass the peas someone. Domestic violence rates shot up alarmingly during the pandemic. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women, called the increase a ‘shadow pandemic’. UK charity Refuge reported a massive 700 per cent increase in calls from mainly women to the National Domestic Violence Helpline on one day alone in April as lockdown bit hard. The same month as Meighan’s arrest, coincidentally. In fact, 16 women and girls were killed in cases of suspected domestic violence in the UK that month, more than triple the number from 2019.
The shadow pandemic rates are bad news, and to use lockdown stress and worry as an excuse to abuse is wrong. We are all responsible for how we act towards others. That aside, when year on year one woman every three days in the UK is killed by a male acquaintance, 50 per cent by a current or former partner, the remainder by a male relative – son, stepson, father, brother, uncle – or a friend, or just a man they know, I suggest there is a longstanding deep rooted problem. The phrase ‘isolated incident’ is often cited by police around such deaths and yet the Femicide Census – inspired by feminist campaigner Karen Ingala Smith’s blog Counting Dead Women – for 2018 shows a total of 149 women killed, the highest number since the census began. That is an awful lot of isolated incidents.
Murder, manslaughter, the sex game gone wrong defence, ‘honour killings’ all add up to the same thing. Dress it up how you like, go at it from different angles, justify it, find reasons, but the end result is a dead woman. The violence cuts across all ages, incomes, classes, ethnic groups, whether disabled or able-bodied. If these women died in more public circumstances – a terrorist attack, perhaps – the headlines would last longer than the news that Kasabian no longer have a troublesome singer causing them embarrassment. I’ll go out on a limb here and say if 149 men were killed by women within a twelve-month period annually, the country would be wondering why and loudly, the perpetrators rarely labelled a lone wolf acting independently, the entire female sex a spiteful coven instead.
Domestic violence leads to deaths but incorporates emotional control on top of any enforced physical restriction of our movements and expression. It is hidden and unspoken about, this physical abuse through assault, rape, female genital mutilation (FGM), pressure for partners to have sex without adequate contraception, leaving them at risk of pregnancy and STIs, and mental abuse and coercive control, all within a private domestic setting, and so unseen. Maybe that’s why the conversation around it peters out so quickly, because the world doesn’t have to acknowledge what it can’t see. Or maybe we just see it as normal. For the past five years, on International Women’s Day each March, Labour MP Jess Phillips reads out the names of women killed by men in the UK since last IWD, typically to an almost empty chamber at House of Commons. The seats are clear and clean of people who don’t want to know.
Male creatives made credible through their art are permitted to get away with an awful lot with regards to women, while more mainstream pop stars are the easy target for faux outrage and provide a very effective route to deflect attention away from the valued music canon. We’re relieved to scorn international stars and tabloid fodder like Chris Brown, he’s remote and it doesn’t affect anyone’s career or status to call him out. But Ian Brown’s arrest for domestic violence in 2009, the exact same year, is an easily forgotten truth. How interesting it is though for both Browns, who bring in so much money to the music and entertainment industries, to carry on in their careers unhindered.
It’s very easy to suck in cheeks disapprovingly when hearing of wealthy pop stars being nasty and bad, and sharing memes on Facebook saying how terrible it is. But that changes little for the woman or girl who lives down your street.
Founded nearly 30 years ago, the annual White Ribbon Day each November is part of a global movement to end male violence against women, by engaging with men and boys to make a stand against male violence. They can pledge to fulfil the White Ribbon Promise to never commit, excuse or remain silent when they see or hear it taking place. The day is well-placed in the calendar; Christmas one month later always shows a spike in male to female violence in the home.
More awareness is necessary, and it’s not that hard to achieve. Helen Reddy who died recently, most widely known for the feminist anthem I Am Woman, wrote and sang “I’m still an embryo with a long long way to go until I make my brother understand”. Meaning, unless men get the notion of equality then it’s gonna be a tough road ahead. The song is months away from its 50th birthday and we’re still not there.
For a woman to enter a traditional male or public space can be risky behaviour, as is being the sole woman in the company of men. The world of music consumption is a male-dominated space still, and when we are made to feel unwelcome at gigs because of harassment or ridicule it is a way of telling us ‘this is not your place, not your space’. It’s not unlike dogs marking their territory by pissing on a lamppost. When women and girls feel uncomfortable, we should be permitted to say so and be listened to whether at a gig, in the workplace or the street. The public arena belongs to us as well. And men need to know this and act accordingly, individually and collectively take action and change behaviour. Not remaining silent when women are spoken about disrespectfully, even if we aren’t present, is a constructive way of supporting us. For men who show women their intimate body parts to intimidate and scare us, to remind us who is boss, to let us know what could happen if we don’t toe the line, other men must speak up when shit like this happens.
Women’s thoughts are heavily policed by those we don’t know, have never met. That’s a subject on its own, and instead of joining social media pile-ons and trolling women with opinions, respect her right to speak. No one is saying you have to agree with her.
Controlling what women do and say and think, what they wear and where they go, is a national pastime both inside the home and out of it. And it has to stop.
White Ribbon Day takes place on 25th November.