A year ago I had the dubious honour of presenting the Write To End Violence Women Wooden Spoon Award. The Wooden Spoon is often awarded not for the stories themselves but for the way they are told – to journalism which is at the other end of the spectrum from the high quality work which the Write to End VAW Awards have been honouring annually since 2013.
Read Annie MacLaughlin’s Wooden Spoon Award presentation 2017
It was highly fitting that the 2018 award ceremony took place in the Storytelling Centre in Edinburgh, in the shadow of Big John – oh the irony – to celebrate the importance of stories about women; to honour excellent journalism and the formidable journalists whose business is to tell the important stories about women’s lives – the difficult stories about violence against women.
To set the scene, let me take you to another land, one which is not so far from here but where things are not quite what they seem. Let’s go through the patriarchal looking glass to a parallel universe much like our own but which looks at life back to front. There are gaslights everywhere and it is populated by men who do no wrong, where domestic abuse, rape, sexual harassment, commercial sexual exploitation, murder and cruelty don’t exist and anyone who says they do is exaggerating or not in possession of all the facts.
Amid the smoke and mirrors of this distorted topsy-turvy world the men who do these awful things are quickly transformed, as if by magic, into the real victims, their crimes minimised or denied all together; where other factors or people, not infrequently the women themselves, are usually blamed.
These lords of humankind, viewed through the patriarchal looking glass, are pillars of their communities, decent chaps who wouldn’t harm a fly, who can suddenly, and completely out of character, lose control in a moment of weakness or madness, faced by oh… I don’t know, pick your external locus of control…betrayal, his wife leaving him, a difficult childhood, bankruptcy, drink… they do completely random and uncharacteristic things like abuse, humiliate, rape or kill the women and children in their lives. Sometimes they even kill themselves. They commit one-off crimes, they would never prolong abuse over days, weeks, months or years. There’s no such thing as ‘a course of conduct’ in this world.
By an extraordinary sleight of hand, these upstanding public men, are transformed by a particular media magic called himpathy into devoted dads, salts of the earth, respected members of their communities.
he would do anything for anyone
They can be an esteemed football coach, a community leader, a successful business man, TV personality…men with great careers both behind and ahead of them, high ranking politicians or even… presidents. The world on this side of the looking glass may end up reading highly distorted stories which mask private tyrannies and blank out or deny women and children’s lives and experiences.
‘twisted act of love’
Crime reports become eulogies to a nice bloke who has usually left his community and local police mystified; these stories serve to help resolve the collective cognitive dissonance people are left with about a man they thought they all knew well but whom they can’t quite believe was such a monster. The mask worn by such men in public hide the private tyrant known only to the women and children in his life. It’s a common thing.
They were a lovely family. I’m honestly shocked. Lance couldn’t do enough for you. He helped me with DIY in my house, did all his up from scratch.
The patriarchal looking-glass world is perpetually spinning in what Judith Herman calls the social dialectic of trauma – where the desire to speak about horrible events is accompanied by a simultaneous desire to deny they happened at all. Instead of seeking to investigate the true motives for violent crimes against women, this journalism delves no deeper than the benign masks on the public face of these lethal hypocrites. Luke and Ryan Hart whose father brutally murdered their Mum Claire and sister Charlotte think the media narrative sets the bar far too low for men accused of violence against women and prefers to blame anything at all for the violence but the agency of the man responsible.
The 2018 Wooden Spoon award was a group award. In an announcement proclaimed with absolutely no pleasure at all, the 2018 Wooden Spoon award went to all those NICE GUYS. The upstanding blokes who had reasons for acting out of character and for committing these heinous crimes against women. Now that they’ve been rumbled, we should turn off those big gaslights, drag them back through the patriarchal looking glass, shine a bright new LED spotlight on their lives and tell the full backstory of these men and the women they murdered; tell us too about how much the women were loved, what they did in their lives and the loss suffered needlessly by all who loved them. So far in 2019 at least 90 women have been killed in the UK by men (or where a man is the principal suspect). Tell us about these women and their lives, their lives count too while sadly the death toll continues to rise.
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