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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.

SarabiDog Tue 18-Jun-13 15:56:40

mignonette, you could argue that she owes the public everything - without them she wouldn't have a global brand.

While I agree her first concerns should absolutely be herself and her children, I would say she owes it to the other victims of domestic violence to stand up and make comment. While you may not like the "rampant neediness" of the public the simple fact is that a famous victim can do a huge amount of good - look at Angelina Jolie recently; or what Jade Goody did after her cancer diagnosis.

ouryve Tue 18-Jun-13 16:13:39

Sarabi - I'm sure that if she does have a comment to make, she will make it in her own time. I'm quite sure her bullying husband would take anything she said, right now, and find a way of turning it against her. I'd be surprised if he hasn't already got some water tight gagging order on her. He's obviously not too fond of her speaking her mind - as illustrated by the hand over her mouth.

onedomesticgoddess Tue 18-Jun-13 16:35:18

shock *sarabidog
So you are arguing that if someone buys your products - or 'brand'- you then become their 'property' and are answerable to them and 'owe' them something in return?

She owes nothing to you, me or anyone.

Why should she?

Are you saying that if someone has a media status and public recognition they should then do whatever they are asked to do? Or am I right in thinking that is just another kind of abuse- forcing someone to behave in way that might make others feel better?

SarabiDog Tue 18-Jun-13 17:00:41

So you are arguing that if someone buys your products - or 'brand'- you then become their 'property' and are answerable to them and 'owe' them something in return?

I never said that someone in the media becomes "property". That's quite clear from the fact I didn't use the word "property".

Do they owe something? Yes, absolutely. If they use the media to promote themselves and their brand, then they do have a responsibility to their fans - the people that positioned them there. It's hardly a shocking concept - we talk about Stuart Hall and Jimmy Saville abusing their "responsibility" all the time when they used their media image to not only perform horrific crimes, but also to hide them.

In this instance, Nigella has a fantastic opportunity to reach out to those people who are caught in the grip of domestic violence and to show them that people will listen and support them.

Are you saying that if someone has a media status and public recognition they should then do whatever they are asked to do? Or am I right in thinking that is just another kind of abuse- forcing someone to behave in way that might make others feel better?

Again, that's not what I said is it, but I appreciate the effort in exaggerating my point to the nth degree.

LeGavrOrf Tue 18-Jun-13 17:18:53

She owes us fuck all.

thezebrawearspurple Tue 18-Jun-13 17:23:00

Message deleted by Mumsnet for breaking our Talk Guidelines. Replies may also be deleted.

scallopsrgreat Tue 18-Jun-13 17:29:21

^ ^
And there we have the victim blaming onedomesticgoddess. No blame attributed to Saatchi and his appalling behaviour for putting the children through that. No expectation that Saatchi owes us to sort himself out. All about the woman's behaviour.


mignonette Tue 18-Jun-13 17:32:15

She owes us nothing.She wrote her books/filmed her TV shows and got paid for them. We bought them and got a great book to read and cook from and a show to be entertained by. Or not as the case may be but there is the 'contract'.
Quid pro quo.

NigellasGuest Tue 18-Jun-13 17:35:24

if you have "some twisted psychological need" then you do not have absolute control over your own destiny.

ImaHexGirl Tue 18-Jun-13 17:36:15

Onedomestic, it doesn't really matter whether it's a local, national or intergalactic radio station. The point is that if everyone just accepted the misuse of certain phrases to describe particular situations it becomes the norm and potentially trivialised. It might have only been a small thing in the grand scheme but I'm glad i pointed it out even the impact was minimal. Perhaps I should listen to Radio 4 more often but my taste in music is very immature grin

LeGavrOrf Tue 18-Jun-13 17:49:11

Good lord zebra. Where is your criticism of Saatchi in that extraordinary post of yours? You are so concentrated on lambasting Nigella Lawson's dysfunctional psyche and selfish nature that you forget that she was on the receiving end of those hands on her throat, and that is (possibly) the tip of the iceberg. Why are you concentrating on blaming her?

TheOneWithTheHair Tue 18-Jun-13 17:58:35

I have been lurking but I must post now to say to zebra that I feel sorry for you. You obviously have no empathy whatsoever.

Just because she has money does not make it any easier to leave. Have you never committed to someone who has drawn you in only for you to find out they were not the person you thought they were? Money can't protect you from that!!

Logistically, yes, with money it's easier but that is the only benefit. It doesn't bring greater understanding, support or courage. angry

We are all capable of being manipulated. You've just done it to me. The inflammatory nature of your post has compelled me to post I only intended to lurk on!

Smudging Tue 18-Jun-13 17:58:37

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

TheOneWithTheHair Tue 18-Jun-13 18:00:05

*post on a thread

OneStepCloser Tue 18-Jun-13 18:00:19

shock zebra that is a shocking post, and not in a good way. Nice bit of victim blaming there. I cant even be bothered really to argue against your post, too much tunnel vision going on there.

thezebrawearspurple Tue 18-Jun-13 18:21:54

Message deleted by Mumsnet for breaking our Talk Guidelines. Replies may also be deleted.

AnyFucker Tue 18-Jun-13 18:23:05

Disgusting post, zebra

Northernlurker Tue 18-Jun-13 18:24:16

Violence in a relationship breaks trust and takes away choice. I don't know whether you're deeply stupid or deeply unpleasant Zebra but either way your posts do you no credit. I have reported and hope your posts will be deleted

BasilBabyEater Tue 18-Jun-13 18:43:32

PM have really pissed me off this evening - there was this reformed abuser on talking about how he'd been to anger management to stop abusing.

It doesn't help when the media promote myths about domestic violence like it's just about men not being able to manage their anger. Charles Saatchi is brilliant at managing his anger - he only inflicts it in on people in circumstances where he won't be held accountable for it. I bet he's never actually expressed it in that way at business meetings. hmm

OneStepCloser Tue 18-Jun-13 18:46:43

I totally agree Basil, its not about temper and not being able to control it.

The more I think of that man the more `red flags` there are. Wrt him not eating Nigellas food, as he prefers Weetabix, funny that, do you think Scotts have been serving him Weetabix? Not a bloody chance, just another form of bullying, put downs and control.

justanuthermanicmumsday Tue 18-Jun-13 18:49:45

Unfortunately pencil it is still a private matter apart from the fact police have the right to intervene, as they rightly have. Also bystanders have a right to intervene but they didnt either. But us mere public watching from our sofas no i don't think it's our business.

Newpencilcase: I never said i support domestic violence im just sick of this culture of speculation, sizzling gossip, poking noses into others people personal lives. Did he didn't be, aww wonder what goes on behind closed doors in the nigella lawson household, this sort of thing is disgusting. I think we are blind to the fact that the media is lapping it up for all is worth, do you really think the give a tuppence if nigella is being abused or not course they don't!

I by the wa saw domestic violence as a wee child and experiences it up until my twenties so no i, not against it, I, against everything else that comes with this nigella headline. I think she could do with the press getting off her back.

justanuthermanicmumsday Tue 18-Jun-13 18:51:25

I meant I am against it lol seriously it was a typo, what sane person would support abuse of any sort.

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

I was shocked by this I admit. But it was two people having a seemingly quite violent row in public. Most domestic abuse takes place behind closed doors. I think the following days and weeks will show how friendly a tiff it actually was.

Northernlurker Tue 18-Jun-13 18:55:50

Eh? Please tell me you're not saying that if a woman stays in a relationship it wasn't real dv. Just a tiff?

I can tell you what shows it wasn't a friendly tiff. The fear in her eyes in the pictures and his caution for assault.

BasilBabyEater Tue 18-Jun-13 18:59:05

Nigella didn't have her hands around Charles' throat, Vivienmary.

What you are doing, is minimising domestic violence.

That sort of minimising is precisely the reason it is so prevalent.

1 in 4 women are subjected to chronic DV in their lives. One of the major reasons it's so common, is because most people minimise it and pretend it's six of one and half a dozen of the other.

It isn't. One party here was clearly abusing the other one. Yet still people queue up to pretend it was mutual.


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