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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.

ArtisanLentilWeaver Tue 18-Jun-13 13:14:53

I imagine that any woman who has suffered dv either in the past or recently, whether famous or not, must feel confused, bewildered and at a really low ebb.

It is shocking that so many are ready to blame Nigella, not Saatchi and thus adding to the feelings of despair.

Glosswitch's eloquent blog ought to be printed in every paper - not just in the UK, DV is global. It is time to show bullying and controlling partners that trivialising violence is a sign of denial which needs to be addressed.

nerofiend Tue 18-Jun-13 13:15:07

Excellent article. It's so true. Talking about gender these days seems too radical, too divisive in this supposed post feminist "era of equality".

I'm glad that the issue of gender is brought up, and shouted out loud. Violence comes in many forms and places, but the reality of violence against women cannot be silenced. It is silenced when we call these incidents "playful tiffs", dismiss them as normal among couples.

onedomesticgoddess Tue 18-Jun-13 13:45:42

Apols for my name- pure coincidence and can't be bothered to change for this.

I don't think anyone is blaming Nigella- what they are saying is come on, stand up in public against violence for women.

If they were blaming her, they'd be saying she perpetuated it in some way- 'asked for it'- 'deserved it' etc .

Yes there is blackmail- 'we won't buy your products unless you make a stand' which is unacceptable. But they are not blaming her for his unacceptable behaviour.

HowLongIsTooLong Tue 18-Jun-13 13:50:59

This is not a comment, but more of a question. I am sure this incident has resonated with a lot of women, and some good may come out of it in the end by exposing the unhealthy dynamics of so many interpersonal relationships. Many of us may have experienced abuse to various degrees and not recognised it as such. I was taken aback when I read a quote from a previous interview with Nigella when she described how Saatchis is "an exploder" and this makes her turn to "horrible festeringness" (or words similar). I have been struggling for years with "an exploder". It is horrible and draining. Just wondering what the professional psychological diagnosis of this problem is. I´m not looking for jokey comments like "tosser" etc. Seriously, what exactly is this about? This trait was one of the reasons I split up my family and I am still trying to figure out if my ex can get help or can evern change, as I feel it is actually some kind of personality disorder, or is it "anger management", which, let´s face it, men have very different conditioning in than women (men = healthy to express anger and be assertive in an angry way; women: suppress, suppress, suppress, hence tears and trembling lip).

scallopsrgreat Tue 18-Jun-13 13:54:51

I agree onedomesticgoddess. There has been a minimisation and denial of his behaviour but not much blame publicly on Nigella (other than the usual "why doesn't she leave"). I have seen it on here and on FB though.

However, I wonder if that is because she is the "right sort of victim" for the media. If it had been Kerry Katona, for example, would the media reaction have been different? <very cynical>

ouryve Tue 18-Jun-13 13:56:32

The pressure on nigella to comment is utterly unfair. Given the nature of the relationship, and whether rightly or wrongly, I'm sure she sees it as prudent to keep a diplomatic silence until there are sufficient lawyers between her ans saatchi for her to feel safe for herself and her children.

scallopsrgreat Tue 18-Jun-13 13:58:16

HowLongIsTooLong - have you read Lundy Bancroft's Why does he do that? It is an excellent book that would probably give you the answers you are looking for. Being explosive is a form of abuse. Abusers are unlikely to change. Anger management is not the answer, generally. Most abusers don't have personality disorders. They just have a sense of entitlement that it is OK to behave like that and a need to control their partners.

catwithflowers Tue 18-Jun-13 14:06:21

Well said

HowLongIsTooLong Tue 18-Jun-13 14:07:16

Thanks for the recommendation Scallopsrgreat. Have actually got the Bancroft book "Should I Stay or Should I Go?" and this actually this suggests change can be made if the man (or the problematic party, let´s not forget abuse is not just present in heterosexual relationships) is ready to do some serious work on himself. But yes, probably the core issue has to be the person´s sense of entitlement that they have the right to do what they do, otherwise they wouldn´t have done it in the first place. It is this that is the core problem and enables them to downplay the serious damage they do. "Playful tiff" my a**e! But everyone in my ex´s family has this explosive, flying-off-the-handle tendency, including his mother and sister. So what´s that about? Can turn one into a nervous wreck being around that family...

onedomesticgoddess Tue 18-Jun-13 14:09:29

Is there pressure on her to comment? I haven't seen any despite reading the national press.

I think she is behaving very well. If she has any sense she will hide away from the media and collect her thoughts. I doubt that, even if it's her wish, she will end her marriage as a 'knee jerk reaction' and play into the media's hands/ expectations. She'll take her time to take the spotlight off herself.

Aside from the actual physical abuse, the most awful thing must be to have yourself exposed in such a manner. His behaviour was not acceptable, ever, but having said that everyone must be careful of commenting on a marriage where only the two people in it know what goes on.

Often there is mutual physical abuse- and no, it's not right. But we only have a snapshot of one incident- who knows what goes on behind closed doors. And although women all over will press Nigella to leave him, we don't know the dynamics of their relationship. Ultimately, it's 100% her choice and not for anyone else to tell her what is 'right' for her, or to be a beacon for women.

ImaHexGirl Tue 18-Jun-13 14:13:00

I complained to Absolute radio yesterday morning when they referred to the incident as "bust up" on their breakfast news as I felt it minimised the incident or at the least implied that Nigella was equally responsible. I don't know if they took my comments on board as was at work by the time of the next bulletin. I'd have been interested to see if they changed their wording.

ImaHexGirl Tue 18-Jun-13 14:17:31

Sorry doesn't really have much to do with general discussion but I felt the use of the words bust up in the media was indicative how these things can be inadvertently (or purposely) downplayed in the media and how this then impacts on women (and men) not in the public eye and who are victims of domestic abuse.

Bonsoir Tue 18-Jun-13 14:23:10

It is completely wrong for there to be any sort of public pressure on Nigella to take a stand or to leave her husband over this incident so that these events might be instrumentalised for the greater good. This is her private life.

onedomesticgoddess Tue 18-Jun-13 14:23:11

I agree. But the inaccurate vocab of local radio ( is it?) is one thing.....

But equally there are today pics of Saatchi on the front pages of the broadsheets, telling how he has been cautioned for assault. The message there seems clear: he's seriously messed up.

ouryve Tue 18-Jun-13 14:35:48

Absolute radio is a national radio station. It used to be Virgin Radio, back in the days when Chris Evans owned it.

onedomesticgoddess Tue 18-Jun-13 14:51:22

I'm a Radio 4 girl- never heard of itsmile

justanuthermanicmumsday Tue 18-Jun-13 14:57:38

ill be the last to defend domestic abusers but nigella lawson has made no statement, so why are we speculating. The media is having a field day, they love to create this frenzy of speculation, and guilt without hard facts.

The camera could be lying or telling the truth, i just don't believe nothing until i hear it from the horses mouth as it were.

also something that's not been mentioned the public or media obsession with other people's private lives, i find that cringeworthy, and disturbing. But even for someone like me with no tv or tabloids i still hear about non news like this on the radio. Why do i call it non news, well its someone private life i don't think I deserve to know about it, or care to know, unless they wish to make it public. Even then i wouldn't buy such books.

Nigella is wonderful as a tv chef and that's how I want to know her, her personal life is her personal business.

newpencilcase Tue 18-Jun-13 15:04:38

manicmumsday, do you feel this way about all abuse? Or just that between husband and wife.

A crime has been committed worthy of a police caution at the very least. That is news.

Do you really think physical violence in a public place is a "private matter" because the victim doesn't wish to talk about it?

SaintTheresa Tue 18-Jun-13 15:10:33

justanuther we are not speculating. Charles S has ADMITTED assaulting his wife. If that is not the horse's mouth, what is?

I object to the way that the newspapers headline with "Saatchi accepts caution" rather than "Saatchi admits assaulting Nigella". It's as if he has done something positive or redemptive (taking a caution) rather than focusing on his crime.

Saatchi says that he has accepted a caution rather than enduring "this hanging over us for months." No Saatchi. It would be hanging over YOU only. Why? Because you were guilty of this crime (as you have now admitted). Had you not admitted the offence today, it would indeed have trundled on for months and, if the justice system had worked properly, you would THEN have been found guilty (as you admit you are) and many more details may have come to light. The only person you were doing a favour by graciously accepting a caution, was yourself.

Nigella, I wish you strength and courage. It's not easy to know what to do.

candyflosscloud Tue 18-Jun-13 15:17:45

Poor girl I feel so sorry for her in this terrible ordeal sad. This is not nice at all and what is worse is that this happened in public so people have photos and it must make it worse for her like I'm rubbish at wording stuff but I hope people know what I mean. Like I'm sure she would rather this happen in her home and so she could deal with this privately but then in a way maybe it was better this was done in public maybe he would of gone further!

mignonette Tue 18-Jun-13 15:22:57

These calls for Nigella to take a 'stand' against violence to Women seem to forget that she owes us, the public nothing.

Regardless of whether we buy her books and believe in her 'brand'....(whatever the hell that means)...

Nigella's only priority is herself and her children. Everyone and everything else is just hoo ha. To suggest that every public figure who goes through a meaningful/traumatic or whatever experience then has some kind of obligation to become a public figurehead/spokesperson for their 'cause' says more about the rampant neediness of Joe Public and their desire to see famous people 'paying the piper' for their fame and money.

OneStepCloser Tue 18-Jun-13 15:30:09

Its a bit bullying to try and force Nigella to say or do anything isnt it?!

At the moment all she needs to think about is herself, it must be hard with the country talking about it, she must feel under tremendous pressure and she shouldnt. Anything she does now, must be done for her and her alone and not the public.

OneStepCloser Tue 18-Jun-13 15:31:37

Hmm, perhaps `force` is too strong a word, I should probably say `want` want Nigella to say or do anything......

Glosswitch Tue 18-Jun-13 15:47:08

Re the Australian DJ thing, I really resent the idea that because of what has happened to her Nigella Lawson should become some kind of inspiring poster girl for fighting back and face criticism if she doesn't wish to. It really is a form of victim blaming, and I'd place it alongside all those instances where women with breast cancer are ordered to be pink and smiley or else, or women whose bodies don't meet our culture's exacting standards are blamed for not "celebrating" their curves, as if the fightback's all in your own head. With violence it's worse, though, not just because you can't tell a frightened person to buck up on behalf of the rest of womankind, but because it's so personal and there are so many complex feelings involved. All this does is shame the victim. In fact, I've never bought a Nigella cookbook but now I just might, in reverse protest at the very idea of a boycott...

Glosswitch Tue 18-Jun-13 15:56:13

Manicmumsday, I agree it can be hard to make calls about people’s personal relationships, but don’t we sometimes have a responsibility to do so? And by that I don’t mean the People were acting as a moral guardian, but that in broader terms making judgment calls and intervening (which in this instance no one did) matters. Last Christmas my partner and I were staying in a hotel and ended up calling for help due to a row in the room next door. I still don’t know whether what happened was as bad as it sounded through the walls, but it was clear to me that not calling would still be making a judgment call – and that doing nothing was a far riskier route to take. I don't think outside observers were wrong in this instance, but I also think it's worth taking a chance and stepping into the complexities of other people's interactions if there's a chance someone's at risk.

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