Thursday, 19 March 2009

Violence against women: the language of the courts and media

Ok, I promise that someday I'm going to stop being annoyed by the idiotic ways in which journalists write about violence against women, but apparently today is not that day.

I came across two articles in the Nation this morning. The first covered the pre-sentencing hearing of a man in Barbados who confessed to 'unlawfully killing' his wife in 2007. (Can you lawfully kill someone? Perhaps this has to do with the language of the legislation, akin to manslaughter versus murder, but it sounds bizarre.) And the second describes a murder/suicide committed by a man in Trinidad, in which a 15-year-old child was the murder victim.

Here is how the first one begins:
RESTRAINT in the face of adversity.

This, according to two lawyers, best describes wife-killer Marvin Harmon's attitude towards his blatantly cheating wife until he lost control of his emotions and snapped.

And the second one:
PORT-OF-SPAIN - Driven out of his mind by an obsession with a teenage schoolgirl, a 27-year-old PH driver beat her to death and then drank poison, police said Tuesday.

Do we notice what is happening here? In the first case, the woman contributes to her own death by cheating. And in the second, the child contributes to her own death just by being. There isn't much agency or responsibility represented here on the part of the murderers: men can't be expected to control their baser natures when women are traipsing around being adulterers and...teenage schoolgirls.

The first article goes on to describe the victim's alleged cheating, along with the contention that she attacked her killer first, which makes me wonder why this is not a case of self-defence, if this account is to be believed. Now obviously there are such things as mitigating factors. I'm not saying that in no cases that result in the murder of a woman are there times when a man has 'snapped' under emotional abuse. But it seems as if the traditional message in the media is that man on woman violence is a response to provocation by women who are always cheating or nagging or checking men's messages.

For crap's sake. Raise the level of dialogue, please. Look at the behaviour of the perpetrator rather than the victim. Try some responsible adjudication and journalism for a change.


  1. The though media is an agent of socialization in many cases they are parroting what has come to be understood as normalized discourse. Violence is just one of the many ways in which patriarchy maintains its control. If we were to hold men truly accountable for their actions we would destabilize one of the ways in which women are constructed as less than. It is catch 22 isn't it? Men are not accountable for their actions and yet exist with the God given right to rule the irony in this would be laughable if the reality did not result in the deaths of so many innocent women and children.

  2. Men are not accountable for their actions and yet exist with the God given right to rule.

    Yes yes yes. You put that very neatly. Thanks for all your comments, Renee.


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