Vicky Jackson shares her thoughts on the epidemic of violence against women and girls…
‘Violence against women and girls (VAWG) is an umbrella term used to cover a wide range of abuses against women and girls such as domestic homicide, domestic abuse, sexual assault, abuse experienced as a child, female genital mutilation (FGM), forced marriage and harassment in work and public life. While men and boys also suffer from many of these forms of abuse, they disproportionately affect women.’ https://www.ons.gov.uk
Where do you even begin on the highly emotive and expansive topic of violence against women and girls (VAWG). Honest answer is I don’t know, but reading about the latest alleged high profile incident recently on social media concerning Manchester Utd footballer Mason Greenwood has left me, and no doubt hundreds and thousands of other women across the country utterly disgusted, sad and tired.
I felt compelled to put pen to paper (well, fingertips to laptop in this case) to summarise my thoughts, feelings, and my deeply frustrated anger about the state that we still find ourselves in in 2022. Some people might think tired is a strange feeling to attribute to VAWG, but as a collective I know women are tired of fighting this age-old discrimination, abuse, and misogyny. I am by no means an expert on this area, and as I write this I feel nervous about the reaction it will generate and I am mindful of causing distress or anger to survivors of any type of VAWG, as there are far more experienced, researched professionals out there who could articulate and attempt to deconstruct this vast, complicated topic. Nevertheless, as a female pushing 40 years of age I have racked up my fair share of incidents and ‘experiences’ at the hands of some men and feel slightly qualified to give an opinion piece as food for thought.
I feel we have got to increase and develop more constructive discussions around VAWG, its roots, causes, and the many forms it takes on. For this to be effective we must do this as a united human race, openly and honestly, to find varied and multiple ways of deconstructing how some men view women, how they treat women, and what they think is acceptable and appropriate behaviour towards us. ‘Not all men’ I can already hear some cry. Maybe so, but let’s look at some of the shocking and frightening statistics around VAWG:
- Almost one in three women aged 16-59 will experience domestic abuse in her lifetime. (ONS 2019)
- Two women a week are killed by a current or former partner in England and Wales alone. (ONS 2019)
Now, somewhere on the spectrum of anything from catcalling, up skirting, coercive and controlling relationships, stalking, and domestic abuse, all the way to the devastating murder of a female, are a set of entrenched and often subconscious values, beliefs and behaviours that are to blame. If we want to make any kind of dent in the horrific numbers of murder cases, domestic violence cases, or stalking incidents then we must take this seriously. It cannot be simply brushed off as just one or two bad apples; it is an institutional, systemic, worldwide problem and I believe its origins are instilled in both men and women from an early age. Just look at classic kids movies like Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, etc casting women as defenceless, subordinate characters who need rescuing by men in order to have a better quality of life, or the plethora of arguably sexist movies like the James Bond franchise which encapsulates the idea of the man who has it all, including a woman in every port; a ‘trophy’ one night stand to be discarded by morning.
There are too many countless and longstanding examples of misogynistic institutions, practises, industries, and attitudes for me to address in this short article. There are many books written on the subject by various psychologists and feminists, but the point I am trying to make is we must break down these ideas to realise how they manifest in all of our belief systems and how they contribute and result in VAWG.
I read a tweet a few weeks ago after another tragic death of a young woman in Ireland, Ashling Murphy, who was murdered whilst out jogging in broad daylight. It read ‘I always find it really f*cked up when you have to ask men what if she was your sister, daughter, or mother in order to make them see women as valuable human beings’.
It hit the nail on the head for me. It needed no explanation. But what I would expand on is that this doesn’t just apply to the horrific and violent murder of a woman. This logic should be applied to the treatment of women and girls in everyday life and relationships. From the girl on a bus being harassed and touched inappropriately to the girlfriend who is not allowed to go out or wear certain clothing who is told what degree subject she can or cannot study. Or the traveller who is followed home and accosted at her hostel door because she kissed a guy in a bar but wouldn’t go home with him, to the women who is being stalked and bombarded with texts/emails/messages from made up social media accounts and followed around a local park (all examples I have personally experienced).
Why aren’t all these behaviours challenged, punished or talked about with the same concern or alarm? Surely it doesn’t take much to join the dots and conclude that these behaviours, however small or insignificant you think they might be, are all examples of VAWG and can escalate into much darker and sinister behaviours.
Reading the allegations made by Mason Greenwood’s partner and listening to the voice recordings sent a shiver down my spine and made me despair yet again at how some men treat women. She sounded so used to this type of behaviour. So trapped in this toxic and abusive relationship. I don’t want to go into detail of the violent and sexual allegations made; I don’t want to trigger anyone who’s experienced this kind of abuse, but it just makes it even clearer to me that education is key to tackling these crimes.
This sort of violence often doesn’t happen overnight. It will build subtly, and if it is not addressed it will escalate. But what I want to know as a woman is at what point do we stop being a sister, daughter, or mother? At what point do we go from being a friend, colleague, or stranger that you would normally show respect, to being an object? An object to discard, mistreat, abuse, harass and murder. Is there a precise point during a relationship when men stop seeing their partner as a human being worthy of the most basic levels of common decency? And this is what I think we need to get to the bottom of and understand because we can’t keep lying to our friends as to why we can’t come out, make excuses for unhealthy relationships, cover those bruises, not walk after dark, or light more candles at vigils.
I would argue we need a two-pronged educational approach. One: we need to teach potential victims of VAWG to recognise the early signs where it applies; to have certainty and confidence that certain behaviour is not acceptable. We need to teach people the difference between a healthy relationship and a toxic, dangerous one and empower them to have the courage and self-love to leave these situations. And two: we have got to start educating our young boys now, whether that be at home or in the education system itself. These high-profile cases are not an anomaly. VAWG happens in various forms and settings across the country every day. It feels so normalised that unless it involves celebrities or is so extreme it ends in a brutal murder (think of the more recent cases: Sarah Everard, Sabina Nessa, sisters Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman), most of it doesn’t make the news or papers and more upsetting, barely makes a conversation to friends or family when experiencing it yourself.
The #MeToo movement in 2017, following the exposure of the widespread sexual-abuse allegations against Harvey Weinstein, highlights a period in time were conversations around VAWG was forced into mainstream news and household conversations and it was great to give victims a feeling of empowerment in exposing these perpetrators, but I feel little has been done off the back of it, especially considering the gravity of severity of the problem.
Another important and uncomfortable factor to discuss is the accessibility of hardcore and violent porn. Back in the day, porn was generally a lad’s ‘thing’ and was quite difficult to get hold of without having a big brother or knowing where your dad’s secret stash was and waiting till everyone had gone to bed to use the VHS player. Now, kids can view and be sent the most disturbing and graphic videos at the touch of a button any time of day and night. It frightens me to think of what this younger generation are being exposed to and how it’s going to shape their views on many things.
I know from school teacher friends that this is a massive problem for young boys. I’ve been told of conversations that involve lads disclosing that the pressures on them to perform and act out what they see in these videos is immense and petrifying to some. They feel that what they’re watching is how sex is supposed to be and these violent, unhealthy relationships are normalised. Add to that the dehumanising and objectification of females, and the unrealistic expectations and dangers this puts young girls in and it’s a recipe for disaster. If things are this bad now, how much worse is it going to get over the next few years as these youngsters become adults?
Utterly depressing and heart-breaking.
So, in the absence of any real campaigns or education roll outs that I can see, or an overnight seismic shift in attitudes and behaviour towards girls and women, let’s look at our own behaviour, and our friends and family’s behaviours. Let’s call out what we know is not right, look after our sisters, daughters and mothers. We are friends, lovers, doctors, nurses, teachers, activists, carers, politicians, sportswomen, lawyers and so much more.
Please treat us with the love and respect we deserve.