men, masculinities and gender politics

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Never just “an isolated incident,” violence against women impacts us all.

 
The other day I heard about yet another domestic violence homicide.  And the news report sounded a hauntingly familiar refrain…

“A woman’s lifeless body was found in the home.  Police have a man in custody.  They consider the death to be an isolated incident.  They do not believe that the public is at risk, and they are not looking for any other suspects at this time.”

An isolated incident?  Just take a second to think about how often we hear that phrase when it comes to describing an act of violence perpetrated against a woman: that it was “an isolated incident.”    

And what they actually mean by “an isolated incident” is this: that the specific male suspect was only going after that one woman.  That everyone else is “safe.”  That everything is well under control.  They’re saying: “Move along, everyone, there’s nothing to see here.”  And even though the police couldn’t save that woman’s life, still they assert that no one else is at risk.

Well, guess what?  When a man kills a woman, it’s not an “isolated incident.”  It never is. Men’s sexual and physical violence – acts that actually reach the level of a crime – directly victimize anywhere between 30 and 50 percent of women in modern society.  And if we take just a half-step back, and widen our scope to include all acts of sexual aggression – street-level harassment, unwanted touch, leering, staring, lewd comments, indecent exposure, overt and covert threats – then men’s sexualized violence impacts nearly 100% of women and girls.  And I’m not talking about in some regressive fundamentalist theocracy.  I’m talking about in Toronto.  In Manhattan.  In Seattle.  Santiago.  Sydney. Melbourne.  Auckland.  Tokyo.  Tel Aviv.  London.  Paris.  Rome.  Moscow. Johannesburg.

In all “modern” industrialized cultures around the world, women are still being subjected to continual social reminders that they are second-class citizens.  They are underpaid, overworked, and widely harassed.  And all around the world – no matter how “developed” the country – women are still dying at the hands of men. 

This is the context in which a woman’s murder is still regularly called “an isolated incident”!     

And maybe that’s part of the problem.  Maybe that’s part of the reason why we have been unable to put an end to all of the slaps, the punches, the gropes, the rapes, the murders of women that continue to plague our world.  Because our law enforcement agencies, our justice system, the media, and even society itself are all still so damn eager to treat the epidemic of violence against women  as if it were all just a bunch of isolated incidents.  As if all of these acts are somehow unrelated to one another. 

Men’s violence against women does not occur in isolation.  It has its roots deep in a patriarchal society that still sees women as disposable whenever they irritate, inconvenience, or enrage men. 

No one else is at risk?  Whenever a woman is killed by her man, police say that they do not believe that anyone else is at risk.   Why would they say that?  In my opinion, that is because the police are under intense political pressure to make us all feel safe, despite the fact that murders occur around us all the time.  Even here, in the comparatively safe country of Canada, there is still a steady stream of killing.  And although the rate of general violence here is a lot lower than, say, in the U.S.A., the rate of violence against women is nearly the same.

So the idea that no one else is at risk is a lie.  It may make us feel better but it does not actually mean anything other than that for the time that specific man is in custody, his ability to kill someone else is greatly diminished.  (Until he gets out.)  And it says nothing about the relative safety of other women at the hands of other men.

But other women are still at risk.  The police couldn’t keep the murdered woman alive, so why should we believe that they can prevent any other woman from being killed? 

Of course the safety of women in society is not solely the responsibility of the police.  It is the responsibility of all of us!

Police are not looking for anyone else at this time?  Perhaps this reaction to femicide is part of the problem as well.  Police forces are reactive by nature.  They freely admit this.  But their stance is an unfortunate one.  Because merely operating in a reactive context greatly impairs anyone’s ability “to protect and serve.”

Domestic violence is one of the most commonly perpetrated crimes in modern society.  It is happening all the time in our communities.  At least 1 in 3 marriages are marred by physical violence.  So while the police will (hopefully) show up after an incident of violence has occurred, I think they should be doing more work to prevent the violence from occurring in the first place. 

Some jurisdictions have begun to be a little more proactive, doing things like putting bumper stickers on their patrol cars that say “There is NO excuse for domestic violence!”  And that’s great.  But I think the police should also always be on the lookout for possible perpetrators.   As we all should be.  Because I can guarantee you that there are men you know – men who are currently in your social circles – who are abusing the women in their lives.  And I also guarantee you that these guys are hiding their behavior from nearly everyone.  And if and when you do find out, you will be very surprised.  Astounded, even. 

I am not suggesting that we should be paranoid.  That we should suspect every man of being a batterer.  But what I am suggesting is that we need to be open to the very real possibility that our female friends and relations are being abused by the men in their lives.  Abusers move among us.  And most have yet to be caught.  So, contrary to the messages contained in the typical news reports we hear about domestic violence murders, I believe that:

The police should be looking for other perpetrators.  Always.

The public is at risk.

And domestic violence is never an isolated incident.