How to suppress feminist voices on domestic violence

With apologies to Joanna Russ.  Content note: domestic violence, sexism.

Domestic violence isn’t gendered. Shut up.

Domestic violence is gendered, but it’s biology – men are naturally stronger, bigger, and angrier, and women are naturally more attracted to violent men. It’s your fault.

Men aren’t more violent, but they have to act that way to attract women. It’s your fault.

Women are just as violent as men. Maybe she started it. It’s your fault.

 If she didn’t start it, she also didn’t leave before he got too violent. It’s your fault.

He got too violent, but couldn’t help it because feminists always blame men, so he had no other options. It’s your fault.

Domestic violence is gendered, and it’s feminists’ fault. Shut up.

Tony Veitch is a danger to women

[Content note: violence against women, intimate partner violence, graphic images]

Things you can see on Tony Veitch’s Facebook page right now

This image, shared by Tony Veitch himself:

veitch 1

This comment by Tony Veitch himself:

veitch 3

This image shared by a fan of the page, liked by 11 people, and not moderated or removed 12 hours after it was posted:

veitch 2

And this self-pitying tirade by Veitchy, referring to his struggles “rebuilding his life and career” after “what was a hideous relationship”:

veitch 4

Then there’s this post (now deleted; see below) accusing media who are reporting this story of just being jealous because he turned down a job offer.

veitch media attack

Things you can’t see on Tony Veitch’s Facebook page right now, or ever

  • Any kind of acknowledgement that he committed an act of violence which broke a woman’s back and put her temporarily in a wheelchair
  • The fact that the “hideous relationship” he’s claiming to be the victim in may have involved long-term abuse and physical violence committed by him.

This cannot surprise us. This is how our society treats violent men who have the privilege of whiteness and an association with the cult of sport.

Take this 2013 article about how awesome Tony Veitch’s year was. It never mentions that he broke a woman’s back. It talks about a “bombshell” – but only in reference to the hush money he tried to pay his ex partner. And only after 8 paragraphs painting him as a tragic hero, fighting so hard to rebuild his whole life after … well, nothing really, just “one charge of injuring with reckless intent.”

And check out this bio on the Newstalk ZB website:

veitch bio

Do you see the problem? I see the problem.

Maybe Tony Veitch is no longer the kind of guy who allegedly chases his partner through a house, pins her to beds and punches her. But he is a man who casually uses violent language. A man who is utterly, utterly unrepentant about his own violent history. A man who jokes about violence and encourages jokes about violence. A man who stands as an example of what you can get away with if you’re rich, famous and white enough.

Not only was his “apology” a litany of excuses. Not only was he almost immediately granted “a second chance”. He now, unapologetically, deliberately, defiantly encourages people to joke about violence, including domestic violence against women. He is an active creator of toxic masculinity.

He may not be a direct threat to the women in his life, now. But he’s a danger to every woman in society.

On John Key’s “fetish”

In the case of the Prime Minister and his habit of sexually harassing a young woman at her workplace, far too many people have instantly jumped on the “he has a ponytail fetish! LOL!” bandwagon (and even a few on the “I bet he’s a child abuser!” bandwagon).

This is simply inappropriate – and harmful. For a start, none of us know John Key well enough to say what floats his boat; for another, it’s a totally inaccurate definition of what a fetish is. Someone with a fetish is quite as capable as anyone else of understanding consent and the word “no”.

But the kicker for me is how this response casually erases the commonplace, everyday nature of sexual harassment.

When we see an unmistakable case of a man harassing a woman in her place of work, manipulating the power difference between them, it is far too easy to say “oh, he’s a deviant. He’s not normal. Normal people don’t do that.”

It’s a very common reaction. It leads to a huge number of rape myths – all rapists are scary scruffy thugs, not that nice young man, that doctor, that priest. It leads to the downplaying of violence when we refer to certain abusers and murderers as “pillars of the community”. It leads to the immediate cries of “Aspergers!” or “Insane!” when nice young white men from Good Families murder dozens of people.

We want to separate the world into group A: Those Terrible Freaks Who Abuse People and group B: Normal People Who Don’t Do Bad Things. We categorise some crimes as “not that big a deal” when the person doing it can be slotted into group B; we categorise people as group A when their offending is unquestionably over the line.

And so we end up making armchair diagnoses of John Key’s sexual predilections and even accusing him of horrific acts of sexual violence rather than owning the truth. Men sexually harass women all the time. Customers objectify wait staff all the time. Sexism is all around us. It is not the province of “freaks” and “deviants” and “those kinds of people”.

Perfectly ordinary men can be abusers. Perfectly chummy politicians can be harassers. Perfectly nice young men from good white families can commit terrible acts of violence. And plenty of women who have worked in hospitality can share identical stories of customers who thought it was hilarious to harass them.

I don’t know what turns John Key on. I don’t want to know. But the fact is that he has sexually harassed at least one woman in her workplace and showed absolutely zero genuine remorse for it. He’s still making excuses even as he “apologises”. And he’s not the first sexual harasser to do it. Not even the first senior New Zealand public servant to do it.

This is a story – at the moment – about one woman’s repeated experiences of harassment. A story which highlights our terrible attitudes around consent and power and gender and privilege.

Of course it’s much easier to make this about undermining John Key’s masculinity by implying he’s sexually dysfunctional. It’s far easier to slot him into group A and hurl accusations of even darker deeds than address the widespread, ever-present misogyny of our society.

But we should resist the impulse, and we can. Just like John Key should, and could, have kept his hands to himself instead of being a perfectly ordinary, abusive creep.

(It should go without saying but I will not publish any comments along the lines of “but he totally DOES have a fetish though!!!”)

How the Dirty Politics machine continues to do its work

“There are a few basic propositions with negative campaigning that are worth knowing about. It lowers turnout, favours the right more than the left as the right continue to turn out, and drives away the independents.”

Simon Lusk, email to Nicky Hager reproduced in Dirty Politics (p18)

One of the many dispiriting things Nicky Hager described in Dirty Politics was how attack blogs like Whaleoil and two-dimensional shell organisations like the Taxpayers’ Union have been deliberately created by the right to push their narrative on New Zealand politics.

From page 103:

Like the blogs that ‘need not be associated (in name) with your party or campaign’, the NZTU is an example of a supposedly independent organisation designed to back up the work of a political party. Its launch press release described it as a ‘politically independent grassroots campaign’, but it is no more politically independent than the election finance and anti-MMP campaigns. In fact, it was like a rerun of the anti-MMP campaign, with Jordan Williams once again as frontperson and [David] Farrar as founder and main strategist.

The strategy works on a big or small scale. Sometimes it’s specific stories – like Len Brown’s affair, which was “broken” on Whaleoil – and sometimes it’s just general ideas and memes which benefit the right – all politicians are troughers, government spending is out of control, unions are evil.

The point isn’t to stir up the Whaleoil or Kiwiblog commentariat into ever grosser expressions of racism, misogyny and generalised hatred. It’s to make headlines in the mainstream, offline media. To get specifically-chosen language into the common vernacular.

And here we are today, with the Taxpayers’ Union pointing fingers at MPs’ travel expenses – always an easy target and one which literally everyone, besides the MPs themselves, are happy to throw shade at – and specifically, at the extension of those perks to partners. Or as they put it:

‘WAGs’ Should Stay at Home

WAGs is a very particularly British term, applied to the partners (“wives and girlfriends”) of professional football (soccer) players. It’s pretty obviously demeaning and dehumanizing – you’re not a person, you’re a vagina attached to a famous man – and feeds into any number of boring sexist tropes about women as pointless accessories whose “proper” place is in the home.

In this day and age, and when applied to the partners of New Zealand Members of Parliament, it’s also wildly inaccurate, since:

  • Not all MPs are men
  • Not all male MPs are heterosexual
  • Not all women partners of MPs fit into the categories of “wife” or “girlfriend”

But it is a snappy headline, precisely calculated to create indignation among one part of the population (containing me and my very best Killjoy Feminist buddies) and Daily Mail-esque class resentment in another.

And thus it was copy-pasted straight onto an article at Stuff:

MPs’ Europe trip: ‘WAGs should stay home’

And that’s how the machine keeps on ticking.

The irritating thing about it is that there is an important issue to explore here. The idea of partners (who yes, historically were assumed to all be wives) getting subsidised travel, even being automatically included, in work-related travel is a pretty archaic idea, still barely clinging on in some sectors and industries.

But that honestly doesn’t matter to the Taxpayer’s Union. They – and it feels somehow inappropriate to use a plural pronoun – weren’t created to fight issues of government spending on principle. They were created to sow National Party-favouring ideas into mainstream political discussion, and they’ll do that by any means necessary.

Specific reform of MPs’ expenses isn’t the goal. It’s about getting widespread acceptance of the idea that all politicians are troughing scum and all politics is dirty and why bother voting, it just encourages them.

Just like Simon Lusk said.

International (Working) Women’s Day

It’s hard to know what to write on this International (Working) Women’s Day. The issues facing women living under patriarchy remain pretty much what they always are: there’s a basic structural power imbalance, leveraged against women, against people of colour, against people with disabilities, against the working class, against GLBTQ people. This is reflected in how our labour is valued (what jobs we’re allowed to have, how much (less) we’ll be paid, how high we’re allowed to rise), in whether crimes against us are (not) taken seriously, in the fact that people from those groups live life on a higher difficulty setting than others.

The gender pay gap is in the spotlight again, both in terms of blatant women-getting-paid-less-than-men-for-the-same-job discrimination, and also the issue of women’s work, especially “nurturing” care work, being paid less than comparable “men’s” jobs. And when you break gender pay discrimination down by ethnicity, it gets a lot worse if you’re not Pākehā.

The government’s consistent undermining of work rights, refusal to even consider the concept of a living wage,  disprorportionately affects women. The focus by our Ministry of Women’s Affairs (and other groups like the National Council of Women) is still on getting more women onto boards, as though benefiting a few overwhelmingly white, well-off, educated, middle-aged cis women is going to trickle down some equality to the rest of us.

It’s definitely a problem though, given that in a survey of 1,500 large US corporations, there were more CEOs called John – or David – than there were women. With any name.

Women still carry the majority of the burden for housekeeping and child-rearing, which impacts on their careers and financial independence:

About 35 percent of New Zealand women work part-time because they also need to do housework and care for children and other dependents. Even though New Zealand men participate in domestic work more than men in other industrialised countries, women in New Zealand do more than double the unpaid house-work and care.

The issue of our corrections system imprisoning trans women in male prisons has gotten some long-overdue attention – and the violence which is doled out to people who stand against the mainstreaming of once-radical events.

It’s still probably going to take me longer to repay my student loan than my partner – even though his was about double mine when he finished uni.

One could go on and on listing the ways that sexism, and other types of prejudice, impact women’s lives. There’s a concerted campaign online to push women out of gaming and the tech industry. In this year’s Academy Awards there were no women nominated for directing, screenwriting, or cinematography, and no actors of colour. New Zealand’s abortion laws are still stuck in 1977. Our Minister for Women’s Affairs thinks that beauty pageants, which still primarily exist to reinforce narrow stereotypes about women’s value, are great ways to build women’s confidence (presumably so they can get on boards.) Our Prime Minister retracted his promise to apologise to a rape victim after he found out her politics were leftwing.

There has been some progress, absolutely; but there’s still a very long way to go before any of the most damaging effects of patriarchy can be considered cured, or even particularly dented.