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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.

SunshineBossaNova Wed 26-Jun-13 22:03:17

No worries BIWI smile

BIWI Wed 26-Jun-13 15:37:33

I'd just like to say that my comment/question was not intended to be a 'what about the menz' one!

HardlyMotherTheresa Wed 26-Jun-13 15:32:34

Hear, hear Basil.

SunshineBossaNova Sat 22-Jun-13 13:48:05

Thanks Basil for explaining so beautifully why we mustn't forget the gendered aspect of DV.

BasilBabyEater Sat 22-Jun-13 11:17:30

Sorry that may not be clear.

My point is, that if we keep on pretending there isn't a specific context to DV murders, that number of 2 women a week will never come down.

BasilBabyEater Sat 22-Jun-13 11:16:34

By pretending that it's 2 people a week as opposed to 2 women, we invisibilise the gender aspect of the killings.

Most victims of domestic violence are women, most perpetrators are men; it is a gendered crime.

If we know that, we can address the causes of it. If we invisibilise what we know, we can't address the causes.

One of the things the Stephen Lawrence case did, was force the police, courts, media and society in general, to acknowledge the specific problem of killings on racist grounds - acknowledging that this is a specific problem with specific causes and therefore needs to be handled differently from murder in general and be addressed differently (in terms of prevention) than murder in general, does not in any way imply that general, non-racist murder doesn't matter.

It gives us all a proper context to properly address the issue. Failing to acknowledge context, means we're doomed never to be able to address it properly.

SunshineBossaNova Fri 21-Jun-13 21:58:01

BIWI I abhor domestic violence, no matter what the sex of the victim.

But the 2 deaths a week figure is often cited exclusively for females killed by male perpetrators, hence my question.

BIWI Fri 21-Jun-13 20:39:15

Does it matter what gender they are? Domestic violence is inexcusable regardless of the sex of the victim.

SunshineBossaNova Fri 21-Jun-13 20:07:41

tripfiction are those 2 people women?

tripfiction Fri 21-Jun-13 17:09:16

Great blog. It is worth remembering that 2 people die per week in the UK through Domestic Violence and Abuse (DVA) and the neck is an extremely vulnerable area of the body...

BasilBabyEater Thu 20-Jun-13 10:01:58

ooh now you've put me on the spot Northernlurker.

I might have to google for hours to sift through all the shite to get to the one or two sensible comments she surely must have made in her time. grin

Northernlurker Thu 20-Jun-13 08:06:40

There's no such thing as a neutral observation. So now you know she was seen eating out with him again. Given that he is known to snub her cooking that's not surprising is it? I fail to see why this 'new info in the case' is so fascinating and significant. I repeat again we don't know if she's left the marriage and of course it's possible that if she has, she had made that decision some time before the publishing of the photos. Every time somebody refers to her still dining with him afterwards or going home with him afterwards or only leaving because of the media then yes you sould like an apologist for the abuse. You appear to minimise the abuse and that's why the comments generate opposition.

Somebloke - yes you're absolutely right it was. I typed Mae West then thought hmm but was too slack to google.

HowLongIsTooLong Thu 20-Jun-13 00:05:35

Don´t worry onedomesticgoddess, I understand exactly what you were saying and it wasn´t "apologist drivel" - don´t know why some people turn so nasty and attacking here. For me too it was new info to the case seeing them dining together in the same restaurant again some days after the awful abuse incident. She looked bloody miserable. I agree that this suggests that the media furore MAY have contributed to her leaving home when she did. And this is not judging her at all, just an observation.

Northernlurker Wed 19-Jun-13 23:17:08

I don't recall a single example of her talking sense. Please share the quotes! Would be like seeing a unicorn....'Look there's The Odone in a highly unusual habitat....'

BIWI Wed 19-Jun-13 22:16:04


AnyFucker Wed 19-Jun-13 21:24:15

arf @ BBE

BasilBabyEater Wed 19-Jun-13 21:20:06

She has occasionally talked sense.

But mostly, she hasn't talked sense.

If you were to weigh it, the sense would be like a couple of tea-spoons and the total shite would be about a ship's tanker full.

I like to be fair.

KarlosKKrinkelbeim Wed 19-Jun-13 20:55:59

"Odone has talked a lot of sense in the past"
Christina Odone couldn't talk sense if her life depended on it

Chubfuddler Wed 19-Jun-13 15:40:19

Don't write apologist drivel if you don't want to feel patronised.

And it was a genuine suggestion actually. You seemed to be suggesting that everything in the Lawson garden appeared rosey in the week that intervened between the incident and the photos being published. If you have more than a passing acquiantance with DV you would know that's exactly how things would appear.

onedomesticgoddess Wed 19-Jun-13 15:29:56

Some of you have vivid imaginations- I didn't say what you seem to be crediting me with.

I simply posted about the new pics in the DMail and the timeline and what THEY were suggesting my the new pics- not ME!

Talking about dim....

Please don't patronise me Chub- I don't need to google DV thanks.

BIWI Wed 19-Jun-13 14:43:47


WigglyBraddins Wed 19-Jun-13 14:42:43

Hear hear. This is an excellent post. I've also found this one interesting too

Tee2072 Wed 19-Jun-13 13:57:52

Thanks BIWI. Sorry, my 'Give me your email to subscribe' button had gone POOF! Now it's there, right hand side. grin

somebloke123 Wed 19-Jun-13 13:40:17

To have someone hold your neck like that is disconcerting even if it's clearly in play, which this clearly wasn't.

To be grabbed by the neck by someone known to throw violent temper fits is something else entirely. I can't see how she isn't in a more or less permanent state of insecurity and fear of serious injury or worse.

(Northernlurker Sorry to be pedantic but "He would, wouldn't he?" was Mandy Rice Davies, not Mae West.)

BIWI Wed 19-Jun-13 13:31:58

Tee - brilliant. How do I follow your blog?

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