Tuesday, February 19, 2013

When a man shoots a woman, is that a case of violence against women?

Update: In view of the comments, I acknowledge that this post was not very well-considered. I'm leaving it up because my policy/approach is to delete things only rarely (though I have done it on occasion). In blogging I find there's a line one walks between off-the-cuff reactions and considered reflections; generally I prefer the latter but I have sometimes posted the former as well. In general -- though, again, I have occasionally broken this rule -- I try not to venture with confident-seeming pronouncements into terrain where I don't have enough facts or knowledge to warrant that.          

The answer to the question posed by this post's title is, I venture to suggest: maybe, but not necessarily and not always.

The occasion for the question is the NewsHour report I just heard on the Oscar Pistorius case, in which the South African journalist being interviewed said that some groups in the country are using the case to highlight the problem of violence against women. Granting that violence against women is a problem in many places, South Africa no doubt included, one might nonetheless ask whether a man shooting a woman, who was his girlfriend but who he claims he thought was an intruder, is a good vehicle for making a point about violence against women.

This is not, it seems to me, much like, for instance, the horrible, brutal recent gang rape in India of a young woman who then died of her injuries. That was a crime of violence and a clear instance of violence against women. In the Pistorius case, all that appears to be known is that a famous athlete shot his girlfriend and claims it was an accident, while the prosecution is pursuing a charge of premeditated murder. Was it the result of an argument? A crime of passion, to use an old-fashioned phrase? A mistake? It's not clear, judging from the report I just heard. In these circumstances, to jump to the conclusion that this is an instance of the category 'violence against women' seems somewhat unwarranted. Unless, of course, you think that every crime in which the victim is a woman constitutes an instance of 'violence against women,' in which case 'violence against women' stops designating an identifiable type of gender subordination and becomes simply a descriptive (and perhaps not very helpful) phrase.


Anonymous said...

Given that domestic violence was an express target of the U.S. "Violence Against Women Act," I would have to say that, from an American standpoint at least, it's an appropriate example.

LFC said...

Fair enough. But I guess my objection was (partly) that it's still not entirely clear what happened in this particular case.

LFC said...

And until it *is* clear, perhaps best to be cautious. Not that I want to come off as too lawyerly, or anything like that. ;)

Anonymous said...

You present the grey, bleak prospect of an internet without baseless speculation! Which would be a much smaller internet.

Many of the same caveats apply in this case as in the Trayvon Martin shooting ... and for comparable reasons, many are unwilling to give those caveats much force. "I accidentally shot my girlfriend to death through the locked bathroom door" is not the strongest defense I've ever heard.

LFC said...


Nick said...

If the version of events presented by the prosecution is valid, a fact that remains to be proven and is denied by Pistorius, then what occurred was an incident of domestic violence cumulating in premeditated murder.

If that is what happened, then that would constitute 'violence against women' in my book. A shooting that occurred during a mugging would not. The relevant difference is that individual acts of domestic violence against women occur against a background of structural inequality. Violence against women within the private sphere has historically been treated as more acceptable, and less worthy of the attention of the police and the courts, than violence between adult male strangers. I'd also argue that female-on-male domestic violence is 'violence against men' as similar social norms make men less likely to admit to being battered, less likely to believed and taken seriously etc.

Goes without saying that allegations against Pistorius are just that and the burden of proof is on the prosection.

LFC said...

individual acts of domestic violence against women occur against a background of structural inequality. Violence against women within the private sphere has historically been treated as more acceptable, and less worthy of the attention of the police and the courts, than violence between adult male strangers.

OK, that seems right.
I guess I shouldn't have written the post w/o familiarizing myself more thoroughly w the details of the prosecution case.

Nick said...

I don't think that the post was ill-considered - apologies if my comment came off as sharp. These are complex issues that deserve critical reflection. Assertions about structural inequality, institutionalised oppression and violence are powerful claims and deserve scrutiny.

LFC said...

No apology needed at all.

I agree the issues are complex. My short post couldn't begin to do justice to that complexity.

It occurs to me (just thinking aloud here) that one might distinguish between (at least) two sorts of violence against women: "private" male-vs.-female violence which is, to one extent or another, probably a problem virtually everywhere; and violence vs. women that is intended to make a fairly direct religious-cultural-political statement and is rooted either in state policy or in milieus which take women's inferiority as a basic assumption. (I'm thinking here, for example, of the notorious shooting, some several months ago, of the teenage Pakistani girl who was an outspoken advocate for girls' education.)

I'm sure that this kind of distinction is discussed (or criticized or theorized or whatever) in many places in the doubtless enormous literature on violence
and discrimination vs women, but I really don't know that literature.

From within IR, I'm familiar with a bit of the work on 'militarized masculinity', women-and-war, war-and-gender, but it seems to me that that addresses either a somewhat different group of issues -- being focused on men as much as (if not more than) women -- or, at best, a subset of a broader set of problems. (And of course there's a lot of work on sexual violence during war and conflict, most of which I don't follow -- though I did read a couple of the blog posts written during the controversy last year over the claims in the latest Human Security Report.)