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“Misogynist Myth-Making”: The Reality of Domestic Violence Is No Amount Of Story-Telling Will Stop The Killings

Here we go again. Another woman shot dead by her partner, another round of media coverage fawning over the killer. Just over two months ago, it was Jovan Belcher—he was called a “family man” after shooting and killing Kasandra Perkins, his girlfriend and mother of his newborn daughter. Today its South African Olympian Oscar Pistorius, who has been charged with the murder of his 29-year-old girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.

Just one day after shooting Steenkamp four times, Pistorius has been called “calm and positive” and “inspirational.” (Steenkamp? She’s been called “a leggy blonde.”)

One reporter at The New York Times who spent a week with the double-amputee athlete, wrote that Pistorius was “not as cautious as he always should be…but I didn’t see anger in him.” The headline is “The Adrenaline-Fueled Life of Oscar Pistorius.” He was just an impulsive guy!

Give me a break.

Early media reports speculated that Pistorius shot Steenkamp mistakenly, believing she was a burglar. But prosecutors don’t share that view. After all, the police had been called to his home multiple times in the past for domestic altercations. We’ve seen this happen before—many, many times before—yet still we insist on lying to ourselves. This murder may have happened in South Africa, but the misogynist response to the crime has become a familiar theme here in the United States.

The national conversation around domestic violence murders is not a discourse as much as it is a fairy tale—a narrative we create to make sense of the madness. After all, it’s more comforting to believe that Belcher had brain damage than it is to admit that someone people so admired was a controlling, violent abuser. It’s easier to think that Pistorius accidentally shot Steenkamp than realize the murder is a foreseeable end to a violent relationship.

It’s why we blame dead women for the unthinkable violence done against them—mostly because of misogyny, but also because it provides a false sense of safety. In the days after her murder, Perkins was criticized for staying out late (the nerve!), accused of trying to leave him and “take his money.” Given the sexualized descriptions of Steenkamp, I’m sure it won’t be long before someone suggests she somehow brought this on herself—she was making him jealous or flirted too much. We need to believe that these women did something to cause the violence, because then it means the same thing would never happen to us. (We’re not like “those girls!”)

Our culture is so attached to this myth making that some are willing to forgo all logic and ignore all facts. In the wake of Perkins’ murder, and now after Steenkamp’s, conservatives and gun enthusiasts insist that if these women were armed, they would still be alive. Never mind that both women lived in a house where guns were available, and yet they still died.

When I was a volunteer emergency room advocate for victims of rape and domestic violence, the first question we were trained to ask women who had been abused by their partners was whether or not there was a gun in the home. Because we knew that women whose partners had access to a gun were seven times more likely to be killed. In fact, women who are killed by their partners are more likely to be murdered by a gun than all other means combined.

Despite this tower of evidence, people will continue to insist that these women could have somehow stopped the violence. (Inaccuracies aside, the idea that women have a responsibility to keep someone from killing them rather than an abuser not to commit murder is baffling.)

The more we tell ourselves and others these lies, the more cover we give to those who would do violence against women. We create a narrative where victims are to blame and abusers heroized. And perhaps worst of all, we create a culture where we fool ourselves into thinking these murders are something that just happens—unforeseeable tragedies rather than preventable violence.

The reality of domestic violence murders is stark and scary—but it is still the reality. And no amount of story-telling will stop the killings. Only the truth can do that.


By: Jessica Valenti, The Nation, February 15, 2013

February 17, 2013 Posted by | Domestic Violence | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Life Is Not A James Bond Movie”: Bob Costas Was Right To Denounce Gun Violence

There is a manufactured debate over whether Bob Costas should lose his job for questioning the “gun culture” Costas suggested was responsible for the deaths of an NFL player and his girlfriend. That’s not a real issue; Costas isn’t a news anchor. He’s a sportscaster and commentator, and weighs in all the time on the athletic performances of players and teams. Failing to talk about the role of a firearm in the tragedy would have been a glaring omission.

Had Kansas City Chiefs player Jovan Belcher been responsible for only one death—that of Kasandra Perkins, his girlfriend and mother of their now-orphaned three-month-old daughter—the conversation might now be about domestic violence. It might be about whether aggressive sports competitions foster aggressive action in other arenas. It might have brought more attention to the problem of violence against women in general.

But Belcher turned a horrible crime into an even more horrible tragedy. He went to the Chief’s practice facility, admitted the murder, thanked his coach and general manager, and then—with the coach and GM watching—shot himself in the head.

It is impossible not to have a conversation about guns, given the circumstances. Belcher might have been able to harm, even kill, Perkins without a gun. He would not have committed suicide in front of two people if he had not had a firearm.

Many people like to believe that if we all had guns, such tragedies would not occur. The theory is that if someone breaks out a weapon—at a Virginia campus, a Colorado movie theater, or a home—the would-be victim could fight back, evenly armed. It’s easy to acquire that delusion when one watches action movies. Many of us would like to believe we would respond that quickly and calculatingly in the event of an armed assault. In real life, things do not happen that way.

In 1999, I was covering the civil conflict in Kosovo, where danger came from several camps—the Kosovo Liberation Army, the police, the paramilitary, the Serb soldiers, and the most dangerous of all—drunk civilians with guns. One day, two radio reporters, a translator, and I were headed back to the provincial capital of Pristina. We saw, up a hill to our left, that a village was being burned down. Foolishly, we drove toward it to see what was happening. Halfway up the hill, I heard a loud and quick series of click-clicks, as Serb paramilitary surrounded our car and pointed machine guns at us.

It took about 20 seconds even to realize what was happening—and this was not in a movie theater or campus; this was in a war zone where such developments are not completely unexpected. My friends put up their hands. I, incomprehensively, lowered my head, protecting it with my hands (did I imagine that would stop the bullet? I have no idea—it was an automatic reaction). They dragged us out of the car, held guns to our heads, and finally let us go, after a long negotiation and a realization on their part that we were just four hapless, unarmed journalists.

People have asked me if I wasn’t sorry I didn’t have a gun. I am not. Had we been armed, we would have been killed for sure, as we would have been seen as combatants. But more importantly, we would never have been able to respond quickly enough to stop any attack. Life is not a James Bond movie. With the exception of trained police and soldiers, none of us is going to be able to respond quickly and accurately enough to stop someone from shooting a gun.

The murder-suicide is a wrenching tragedy, and it should indeed engender all sorts of conversations about domestic violence and the head injuries which can affect football payers’ behavior. But refusing to talk about the role of firearms in the deaths of two young people is another tragedy. And it would create more.

By: Susan Milligan, U. S. News and World Report, December 4, 2012

December 5, 2012 Posted by | Guns | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment


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