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Guest blog: Nigella, Saatchi and the media - it's time to call violence against women by its name

(172 Posts)
KateMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 18-Jun-13 10:34:12

Yesterday, following the publication of images which showed him grasping his wife Nigella Lawson by the throat, Charles Saatchi was cautioned by police for assault.

The initial publication of the photographs sparked a flurry of media comment, some of which appeared to sail perilously close to out-and-out victim blaming. Here, columnist and Mumsnet blogger Glosswitch says it's time to call violence by its name.

"When a man presses his hands around his partner?s throat, what should we call it? A 'row'? A 'violent dispute'? Or perhaps it's nothing more than a 'playful tiff'? After all, these things happen. Perhaps you've had similar 'playful tiffs' yourself.

Like most women, I've grown to be wary of the tiff, the domestic, the bust-up. Casual language masks a far more brutal reality. You don't have to see violence captured on film to witness fear around you. A friend of mine changed her name and moved to a new town, taking her daughter with her. Fifteen years on, she still lives on self-imposed witness protection, albeit minus the protection. An acquaintance of my mother's didn't leave; her violent partner left her, but only after discovering she had terminal cancer, pain and suffering that for once he couldn't control. A man in our local area stabbed his wife to death. The men said nothing while the women exchanged reassurances about the dead woman having been 'a nag. It's shocking, the things a 'playful tiff' can lead to. So let's not call it that; let's simply call it what it is, and that's violence against women.

I'm aware that this is a loaded phrase. Why not just say 'domestic violence'? 'Violence against women' can be considered disrespectful to male victims of violence, an active dismissal of their suffering, yet it doesn't need to be. It's an important way of recognising that this type of abuse takes place against a very specific cultural backdrop. Like the Mayfair diners too polite to intervene when a woman is terrorised before them, it seems we're too well-mannered to talk about gender. It's too radical, too divisive, 'a bit 1970s'. But how do you address an issue when you're constantly swerving to avoid what lies at the very heart?

In discussions of domestic violence there's an impulse to make things appear equal, as though we're trying to pacify fractious children rather than dealing with a clear-cut issue of right and wrong. We talk about provocation and willed victimhood (an Australian DJ demands people boycott Lawson's books 'until she makes a stand on domestic violence'). We mumble excuses about self-expression and different ways of arguing (Charles Saatchi claims to have 'held Nigella's neck repeatedly while attempting to emphasise [his] point' - as you do - while Christina Odone helpfully describes what occurred as 'a quarrel where the husband jokingly puts his hands round his wife's throat and accidentally hurts her' - oh yeah, one of those! So no harm done then, eh?). Over in the Guardian Roy Greenslade smugly sallies forth as the Voice of Reason, chiding us all for 'a rush to judgment' before quoting Saatchi's bizarre excuses without a trace of scepticism. It seems a woman can be abused in broad daylight and still people will try to suggest all's fair in love and war. But it's not. This isn't a competition, or at least not one that anyone should want to win. It's not about ignoring male victims of violence, but understanding that there's a specific type of fear that many women have to live with - one that's being heightened right this very minute by all those who seek to downplay scenes such as those captured by the Sunday People.

Nick Griffin's tweet in response to the Saatchi incident -If I had the opportunity to squeeze Nigella Lawson, her throat wouldn't be my first choice - is telling. It's about taking ownership of women and their bodies, diminishing them, putting them in their place. And yes, of course this is Nick Griffin, who is hardly all men (thank god). Even so, it's a response to a culture we all recognise. We can easily imagine which bits Griffin wouldn't mind squeezing. Does he mean it? Who knows? The point at which 'ironic' banter merges into out-and-out threat is never quite clear. Charles Saatchi still thinks he's being 'playful' when he's throttling the woman he claims to love.

So where do we go from here? The media that reports on incidents such as that which took place between Saatchi and Lawson is deeply sexist. It tells us what men say and do but only what women look like. It's interested in bare breasts, muffin tops, a female politician's shoes, the tears in a frightened woman's eyes. Of course it's ironic that this prurient interest in women as objects becomes the whole reason why we know of this particular assault (who do you think the camera was there to find - Saatchi or Lawson?). All the same, let's not waste this knowledge by merely skimming the surface.

This isn't about a posh couple having a fight. It isn't a tiff, that short, fluffy, one-syllable word that hides a multitude of sins. It's about power, manipulation and the way in which disrespect for women's bodies and voices is endemic and poisonous. We shouldn't be surprised when these things happen to the Rihannas and the Nigellas - that implies that being non-famous can be accepted as a natural risk factor for being abused. We should however be outraged that a distorted view of what is normal and what is equal might prevent us from tackling this problem with the honesty and compassion it deserves.

stargirl1701 Tue 18-Jun-13 10:37:13

Hear, hear.

newpencilcase Tue 18-Jun-13 11:25:17

Excellent words from Glosswitch, as always.

I have given my own tuppence in this post about how we need to stop normalising this behaviour and declare loudly what a healthy relationship involves.

eehbahmum Tue 18-Jun-13 11:30:55

I knew you'd have something brilliant to say about this.
Although I missed the Nick Griffin tweet and would have been happier if it had stayed that way.

AnyFucker Tue 18-Jun-13 11:42:44

great post

listenupnorth Tue 18-Jun-13 11:44:34

After hearing of 2 cases of domestic violence where the women were unable to escape their abusive partners despite injunctions etc & were totally failed by the system, I was inspired to write a radio play 'Oranges & Lemons' which I recorded with local actors:
Part 1:
Part 2:

TheBirdsFellDownToDingADong Tue 18-Jun-13 11:49:24


ilovexmastime Tue 18-Jun-13 11:55:41

I completely agree, why doesn't everyone though, it seems so obvious?

AnyFucker Tue 18-Jun-13 11:58:20

Glosswitch, what are your thoughts on how the blaming of Nigella has already started ?

hang on a mo, I'll link to the thread

SageBush Tue 18-Jun-13 12:00:04

Really great post.

AnyFucker Tue 18-Jun-13 12:02:26


LeGavrOrf Tue 18-Jun-13 11:53:20
Nigella blaming has started

An Australian DJ has sparked outrage after implying that women should boycott TV cook Nigella Lawson's books until she 'makes a stand on domestic violence'.

Writing about the images on her blog, 3AW DJ Dunleavy, who is known as 'The Queen of Melbourne radio', said: "Nigella, like it or not, you're a beacon for women from all walks of life.

"If you want us to buy your books and watch your shows on how to run our kitchens, then we need you to make a stand on domestic violence."

"Why, at about the same time the pictures went viral on the internet, did Nigella post a picture of a buttered, toasted bagel on her official Twitter page, as though nothing else was on her mind but food?

That’s not the response we were after, Nigella. We think you are strong, beautiful and successful. We imagine your home is warm and smells of cinnamon, and if we dropped in we’d get a hug and a feed.

"We don’t like to think of you cowering from a thug. A man so boldly abusive he had no qualms about attacking you in public."

LeGavrOrf Tue 18-Jun-13 12:03:53

I cannot believe the Nigella blaming has already started.

I posted about it yesterday, thinking that her business would suffer because of the whole 'domestic goddess' (which was intended to send herself up anyway) element.

But that Australian DJ (the link in your OP doesn't work) says "If you want us to buy your books and watch your shows on how to run our kitchens, then we need you to make a stand on domestic violence."

Nothing said to Charles Saatchi 'if you want us to attend your gallery, you need to admit that what you have done is wrong, and address your violence to your wife'

Nigella has done nothing wrong, and yet it is her name which is besmirched, her career at risk, her 'brand' devalued.

I am so furious about this. I didn't think the Nigella blaming would start so qucikly.

LeGavrOrf Tue 18-Jun-13 12:04:18

Sorry, xposts with anyfucker.

scallopsrgreat Tue 18-Jun-13 12:19:26

Totally agree glosswitch. Great post.

newpencilcase Tue 18-Jun-13 12:21:55

Have you read Saatchi's statement about why he accepted assault.

Absolutely horrifying. It really brings home how abusers don't recognise themselves as such and think it's just how relationships are.


I don't like to speculate about other's marriages (but I'm going to) but the fact that everything carried on as normal for the rest of the week is not a sign that everything is OK, but a sign that it's probably not the first time she's been treated in that way.

I really hope they sack him.

newpencilcase Tue 18-Jun-13 12:22:53

KneeDeepInDaisies Tue 18-Jun-13 12:30:44

Excellent post.

Saatchi and Griffin make me angry and sad.

scallopsrgreat Tue 18-Jun-13 12:38:50

The reason he took the caution is that he knew he wasn't going to be disadvantaged by it. angry sad Whereas he would be disadvantaged by continued speculation and barrage in the press. He has appeased the masses without any real consequences for him. Typical abuser.

Longdistance Tue 18-Jun-13 12:42:43

I wouldn't listen to any Aussie dj's, they have shit for brains!!!

I don't blame her for not saying anything yet. She's probably embarrassed. I've seen it before unfortunately. She needs her to bide her time.

Isabeller Tue 18-Jun-13 12:42:45

Brilliant Glosswitch, agree with everyone, too outraged to add anything sensible but standing up to be counted.

Wishing strength and support to Nigella and anyone else facing abuse.

Northernlurker Tue 18-Jun-13 12:48:11

That's a really good piece. Greenslade has now apologised and said he got it really, really wrong.

Sunnywithshowers Tue 18-Jun-13 12:49:32

Great post Glosswitch.

TygerTyger Tue 18-Jun-13 13:03:49

What bothers me, is that if he's cavalier enough to do that in public, what on earth is he like behind closed doors? I can understand her needing that buttered, toasted bagel. That's practically code for comfort food. And she needs plenty of comfort. Quite why anyone would boycott her products and reduce her earning power as a stance against domestic violence, I don't know. OK, she's minted; but if it were the woman at the corner shop, would we boycott her and reduce her economic independence? That wouldn't help her kick her husband out, would it? Silly Aussie DJ.

newpencilcase Tue 18-Jun-13 13:06:15

Also, I doubt very much that Nigella manages her own social media.

I hate to break it to the poor aussie DJ but it's highly unlikely that the person tweeting the bagel had the faintest idea what went on in her marriage.

LilyAmaryllis Tue 18-Jun-13 13:13:58

Yes, lets all boycott the new Saatchi exhibition. (Not that I would have gone anyway!)

Poor Nigella, I am encouraged by reports that she and the kids have moved out somewhere. I hope she finds the strength to leave him. What a horrible man. And yes, you are absolutely right, how can any reporter or commentator find his excuses in any way convincing.

Its a shame it has been only his voice that has been reported. I am not suggesting that Nigella should have been asked to form any public words about this, I think she's got enough to be dealing with. But maybe going to Women's Aid for a quote would have been a great thing for a journalist to do.

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