DontMancriminate; how not to start conversations about Mens issues

So a post appeared on my Facebook wall recently, shared by a number of people, under the hashtag #DontMancriminate. It was a series of pictures depicting men being gagged with a little slogan and statements supporting the slogan and were doing the rounds on social media last year. I think I’m going to file it under “perfect example of missing the point” or possibly “how to completely trivialise real issues faced by men and women”. The fact they’ve made a re-appearance suggests that people think they have a point so here’s my take on them.

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Men can (and indeed do) wear heels or even large heeled shoes and wear makeup. Problem is doing so usually results in bullying from other men!!!! Companies usually make products to fulfil demand so perhaps the reason these products don’t exist is because men don’t feel comfortable wearing them due to social pressures? The same social pressures that make women feel forced to conform to strict beauty standards, which is why they wear make-up to avoid being branded ugly? As for stupid men being blonde, I know many blonde men who fit the stereotype and if men want “dumb men” jokes to be equal I’m sure there’s a comedian out there happy to oblige. But why would you want jokes made matching your hair colour to your I.Q?

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Here’s the thing with these 2; holding a door for someone, carrying their bags or giving up your seat is called courtesy; doesn’t matter if they’re a woman, elderly or disabled; but what have these got to do with this “It’s a man’s world”? Men haven’t had to fight very hard for rights , more often than not men are in power, men get portrayed as powerful in movies/books, men don’t get regarded as inferior purely because of their gender. Here’s the funny thing about these though. Women get free drinks because men buy them for them!! Women are completely able to buy their own drinks or buy them for men. Women get free entry because men let them in for free!! Women are able to pay for themselves or pay for men to get in for free. No one is forcing men to do this though and perhaps we should be asking why men feel compelled to act in this way toward women. Is there a sense of entitlement that some men feel, that when they buy a woman a drink they expect sex in return? Do men like to feel impressive and in control so they buy the woman a drink? How many woman actually enjoy the unwanted attention and are perfectly happy being left alone?

The last statement has the same root cause as the others above. Men don’t get sympathy because men have made it shameful to be weak!! As with wearing heels, men get bullied by other men for expressing emotions like fear, sadness etc. We’re told that men have to be strong and be the provider which is why they buy women drinks, let them in for free, give up their seats etc. Women accept these because they’re told they’re weaker than men and standing up to men often results in fairly dire consequences. If men are unhappy with women getting these things, then breaking the lies is the first step.

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Let’s get this bit out of the way. Yes, men are judged based on the size of their penis. Women judge them, but usually it’s other men judge them because the size of your penis defines you as a man according to society. For every article penned by a woman saying “size does matter” there are an equal amount saying it doesn’t. Also this picture is just flat out lying because men do discriminate against a “pussy” and we probably have pornography to thank for both problems. Rates of vaginal plastic surgery are huge and growing, far outweighing any equivalent seen in men. Much of this is brought on by porn and men claiming that vaginas need to look a certain way to be “clean”. They do nothing but reduce the value of a person to the size and appearance of their genitalia. This is an issue that does affect men but pitching it against women, especially lying in the process, is just not going to help anyone. We need to get away from us vs them and start having the conversation about body shaming and how it affects people.

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This is an awkward one because I actually agree with this one, but it also seems to trivialize the very real issue of domestic violence. Men suffer abuse at the hands of their partners, but don’t report it for the reasons I’ve said earlier: it’s too shameful and tied to a toxic masculinity. This is why it’s woefully under reported and men don’t get the support they need. When a woman attacks her partner and vice versa, it needs to be classified as domestic abuse. Domestic abuse is about power and control, far more than it is about rage and anger issues and women initiating violence towards men (statistically far less prevalent than the other way round) is usually also to do with control and domination. In which case, the phrase “I was wrong” is correct but is also equally correct for the male if he is the perpetrator. Instead the man simply repeats the all too common trope of “you made me hit you, look what you made me do, if only you had listened to me” etc. etc”. These can be used both ways but due to the ongoing stereotype of the man being the dominant partner in a relationship, are more common in men.

Now some will cite self-defence as a reason, I don’t have too many issues with this but possibly linked to the picture is this; what’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear a story of a woman slapping a man? Now what about a man slapping a woman? Was it “self-defence” in the first instance and “assault” for the second? Domestic violence is a massive issue for all genders and pitching the 2 genders against each other in this way again blocks the very necessary discussion of how to tackle this problem. Why do people feel it’s OK to hit their partners? Many men have “anger issues” because anger is the only emotion that other men deem to be acceptable to express. Women can be abusers, let me be clear on that, and yes there is a disparity in how abuse is seen depending on who the abuser is, but instead of pitching this a gender equality issue, lets tackle the actual problem of abuse.

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As face value this one seems absolutely spot on. It seems very much the case that women get half the men’s savings in most divorce cases regardless of the reasons for divorce. However, a quick investigation (google search) into this showed that the situation is infinitely more complex. It seems studies have shown that women are usually much worse off after divorce and there are other factors in how the monies are split .

There’s also custody battles that come with this and statistics show that in the vast majority of cases women win custody of the children but again, this seems to be more complex than face value. This seems to be largely down to traditional gender roles which encourage us to see women as the automatic carers over men. This obviously needs to be challenged but when custody is court-ordered, Men Rights Activists etc. often blame this on feminism. Our court system is anything but feminist, never over the past few hundred years has it ever been feminist. The judiciary is arguably the most patriarchal of all our current institutions with a huge amount of judges being not only male, but also white and privately educated. I think the whole issue of divorce and custody are aspects that needs to be looked at but I guess my message on this one is things are not as simple as this makes out.

That last sentence, “things are not as simple as this makes out” could have been applied to all these pictures really. They oversimplify complex issues by ignoring root causes and instead of helping their cause of highlighting areas that men are impacted to help solve them (assuming that is their aim), actually damage it. All too often these discussions get dragged into “our issue is worse than yours” and these pictures just fuel the persecuted mentality some have developed. Men suffer many issues in this world and these need to be addressed, but pitching this against women’s issues or suggesting it’s women’s fault is just throwing up smokescreens. Until we acknowledge that whatever the root cause, it’s affecting everyone, we go nowhere.

 

Maybe we deserve to be treated with suspicion

So in a recent article on Premier, Andrea Williams from the Christian Legal Centre is quoted as saying “We are seeing a worrying trend, whereby Christian parents are being treated with suspicion because of their faith” and my immediate thought was “well, maybe we deserve to be”

Looking through the articles I’ve shared on the Facebook page, the majority have been along the theme of the mind bogglingly stupid things Christians have done and come out with. From trying to restrict the rights of same-sex couples by banning them from marrying or adopting children and then disciplining churches who stand for equality, to completely ignoring modern science and history regarding…..well, everything pretty much and trying to get our religious views into law to force onto everyone, topped off with details on disciplining your wife and covering abuse claims; and these are just the ones I can remember. Is it really a surprise Christians are treated with such suspicion?

Now I know there are many instances of Christians not doing these and it’s unfair to tar everyone with the same brush, but maybe we’ve reached the tipping point where our lunacy is outweighing any good we are doing. Even if it hasn’t, things can’t simply be swept under the carpet simply because they’re inconvenient and/or we don’t want to listen.

Maybe we deserve the contempt we get and if that isn’t sobering then perhaps we deserve even more.

Turning a blind eye when it suits; why is no one angry that Clarkson is back so soon?

I love the show Top Gear. I own many of the DVD’s, went to see the live show in Birmingham and for a Christmas present, my family all chipped in and bought me the opportunity to be driven around the Top Gear Test Track by The Stig.

 

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Me with the Stig in a Porsche GT3

When the show was cancelled after Jeremy Clarkson punched a producer, I was gutted but I fully understood why the BBC did it. It wasn’t just a case of it being Clarkson’s last chance, but he assaulted someone. In any line of work that’s a sackable offense (though technically he wasn’t sacked, the BBC simply chose not to renew his contract)

So you can imagine my excitement when it was announced yesterday that Jeremy, along with fellow ex-Top Gear presenters James May and Richard Hammond, are making a new car show to be shown on Amazon Prime. I was ecstatic. I couldn’t wait to see what these guys were going to come up with. I saw no issues with it. Amazon are well within their rights to offer him a new contract and my response to those who say “he punched someone, I wouldn’t be working again” was “you wouldn’t be working for that employer, it doesn’t mean that you would never work again. Same here for Clarkson” But note the past tense.

As I was discussing this on Facebook with Sarah and a mutual friend, something dawned on me; there seems to have been virtually no uproar to this. No petitions, no angry blogs; nothing and then the thought struck me. If Clarkson had assaulted a woman, what would the reaction to yesterdays news have been? I suspect the answer to that would be the polar opposite to now; miles and miles of opinion columns dedicated to it. It would be very easy for me to now take the moral high ground and get on my soap box about how assault is assault and just because it was a man that was assaulted doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter. But I can’t because my response was not one of anger, as I said I was excited at the news; and I know I would be all over the angry blogs and petitions if it was a woman that Clarkson assaulted. But because it wasn’t, my reaction shows that its OK because it was a man that got assaulted. My work with the Great Men Project is partially about showing boys that there are other ways than resorting to violence, that men and women are indeed equal and assault does matter regardless whether a man or a woman is the abuser or the victim My reaction to Clarkson coming back actually undermines all this as my friend made me painfully aware of. It’s case of me contributing to the very problem I’m trying to solve.

There have been many things written about how public figures can assault people and seemingly not lose any status, can come back to the public limelight almost immediately and this is what has happened here. As my friend said, what does rewarding this kind of person teach people? The answer is that if you are a popular celebrity, you can get away with almost anything. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big believer in second chances when people have admitted guilt and are working to change; this is why I had no problems with Dwain Chambers coming back to compete after his ban for failing a drugs test. Jeremy Clarkson admitted he was in the wrong but that doesn’t mean he should be able to effectively pick up where he left off. If the message that assaulting a woman doesn’t mean you lose your status, the non-reaction to yesterdays news that actually assaulting a man doesn’t mean a loss of status either has now joined that message.

The Independent, to it’s credit, is asking whether people should cancel in protest but how many will and how many more will subscribe because they have Clarkson making a show for them? For my part I won’t be subscribing to Amazon Prime though I’ll probably going to end up watching the new show by another method because I love the work the 3 of them do, probably further proof that I act on my convictions when it suits me so I can’t really be surprised or angry when I’m not the only one to do so. But maybe I should be angry at myself, maybe we should all be angry that a man who carried out an assault is now pretty much immediately back in the limelight and be asking Amazon to reconsider their decision.

But I’ll take at least anger as a starting point.

Something has got to change

Some people may have seen this article in the Telegraph. Short story, it’s a great exercise in how to completely miss the point.

As many will I know I am a volunteer facilitator for The Great Men Project, one of the organizations the author takes a shot at, and I really have no idea where they get the idea we are about indoctrination from. They’ve read the website and……well, that seems to be about it. I’m pretty sure they’ve never attended a workshop so what is his information based on? Probably the same scare-mongering information that many Men Rights Activists (MRA’s) like to spread so here’s what actually happens during a session.

First thing is a word race where the boys write down as many words that come to mind when given a word. Those words given are usually “Man” and “Woman”. The aim is to see what they have in mind when they think about men and women. This essentially drives the conversation from then on. Next up is a discussion session where a statement is given, they stand in different parts of the room depending on whether they agree or disagree with the statement and the conversation goes from there. The role of the facilitator is to essentially keep order and ensure everyone who wants to say something gets the opportunity to do so. We may step in to challenge certain statements if they are homophobic, racist, etc. in nature, but usually it’s just to ask questions to get them to think about the topic of gender equality, masculinity and to ensure a safe space for them to express themselves.

The author mentions videos. Yes we show videos, they’re on YouTube and you can check them out yourselves (they’re here and here) but please do more than the author has done and get beyond the title. The second part after lunch is about thinking about some statistics and since the author loves statistics, here’s some more:

  • Most common cause of death in men under 35 is suicide
  • 1 in 4 girls across the globe have experienced sexual violence
  • 94% of the prison population is men

Towards the end we ask them what they can do to help lower these statistics, to make their schools a much safer place for everyone. And then they go home. Now I don’t have a degree in English language, but none of that sounds like indoctrination to me; but since when has teaching and indoctrination ever been the same thing? The aim is to provide a space for boys to think about difficult issues (most adults struggle with these) to express their views and work through them. There is no exam, there is no pressure for them to say anything, to get involved; but if it gets them thinking about it then it’s job done. The statistics above are shocking, so are the ones in that article, but this is not about men vs women. This is not about putting womens rights above mens no matter what many MRA’s want to claim, this is about making society as a whole a better place for everyone. Indeed 2 of the 3 stats above are about the pressures and issues facing men.

This is not about making them feel bad because they are boys. The exact opposite is true, it’s about breaking down those fears that they are less of a man because they do or don’t do certain things that society expects them to; and the boys openly express such pressure. The notion that groups such as Great Men make boys feel bad for being boys and label them a potential abuser is frankly nonsense and insulting. In the training each facilitator receives it is stressed that we absolutely do the exact opposite because we don’t even see them as that (never even crossed my mind to) we see people who can make a difference and unless you’re happy with the current situation, we need to be empowering the next generation to go out to show a better way. Sadly from the article itself and the comments on it, it seems many are happy with how things are and don’t like people trying to change the status quo (and almost everyone who benefits calls what we do indoctrination) which means we have much work ahead of us.

So why aren’t there programs like this for girls? Probably because no one has set one up so maybe the author should think about starting a Kickstarter campaign and start raising money to do just that. I’ve not exactly been polite to that article, we do seem to share similar concerns regarding the issues men face, but completely misrepresenting organizations trying to do something about it is not the way to go and unnecessarily clouds the issue .

If you want to know more about The Great Men Project, get in contact with them, they’ll be happy to answer any queries and many are covered in the Info section. For me though, I’m going to keep doing what I do because I see a problem; a problem that is affecting men and women and causing great harm to both; and something has got to change.

How do I break out of the system?

Steve Chalke has recent published a new book and among other things in it, he has quoted theologian John Howard Yoder as an example of good theology regarding pacifism. It’s created some controversy as Yoder has been accused of sexually assaulting over 100 women. Chalke has faced criticism of ignoring these allegations and putting a man who sexually assaulted women on a pedestal, and his response has been that there was a “clear gap” between “who Yoder is revealed to be and what he espoused” but added “There’s always a huge gap between our aspirations and behaviour.” The “we all make mistakes” defense.

Appreciating someone for their talents despite everything they have done is something that I can relate to and indeed have done myself.

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That is me posing with and shaking hands with former heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson. Tyson was certainly one of the best boxers of his time and arguably one of the best of all time. His boxing achievements are numerous, matched only by his ferocity in the ring.

He’s also a convicted rapist and I knew this before I paid to have the photo taken.

The fact he was booked/invited to attend the show this picture was taken at did cause some controversy, and since then he has been refused entry to the UK, but whilst I was aware of their objections and understood them, I went ahead because I wanted to meet him because of this achievements in the boxing ring. Plus as far as I was concerned, he had served his punishment so that was the end of the matter (as a side note, this is why comparisons to Ched Evans fail because he is out on license, he hasn’t served his punishment). Since all this controversy with Steve Chalke has kicked off, there have been many blogs written in response but this one from God Loves Women has really stopped me and forced me to asked certain questions; Was I right to have the photo? Am I ignoring the woman he raped by doing so? Am I perpetuating the cycle (to quote God Loves Women) of “over and over again women’s freedom, liberty and rights are discarded in favour of “the greater good”? At the time, these weren’t questions that I remotely entertained, they didn’t enter my mind – I didn’t see the problem.

Now they have come into my mind and looking around at myself, this picture is not the only instance where I am guilty of the charge of ignoring peoples crimes against women. I love darts; I love playing it, I love watching it. Phil Taylor is 16 times world champion, he’s won every honor in the sport including the PDC roll of honor, and will go down as the best player ever…but he was also found guilty of indecent assault in 1999 and had his MBE nomination annulled. Now, I didn’t make Phil Taylor 16 time world champion or put him in the hall of fame, but I help make him a star by the way I’ve supported him, been inspired by him, knowing full well of his conviction. My rationale was the same as with Tyson; I appreciate his talents in the sport.

There are many famous people who have carried out a variety of crimes and been allowed to continue in their jobs without public uproar. This though does raise a very good question; what does someone actually have to do to lose their status? Since writing this, it’s been announced that Mark Driscoll has been booked to speak at the Hillsong conference. Driscoll is a very controversial figure with his very woman-demeaning theology and had ‘resigned’ from Mars Hill. Now he’s back, pretty much picking up where he left off. Charisma News seems to think that is absolutely fine as he’s served his time and repented but one tweet in particular articulates a problem with this stance; forgiveness does not mean a restoration to celebrity and power. 

So what about me? I can’t change the past in terms of how I thought then, but I can do something about what I do going forward. That involves starting to answer those questions about that photo with Mike Tyson:

Was I right to have the photo?
Am I ignoring the woman he raped by doing so?
Am I perpetuating the cycle of “discarding womens freedom, liberty and rights in favour of ‘the greater good’?

My answers to all three are ‘I don’t know’, and whilst it’s a step on from where I was, I can’t deny that part of me just doesn’t want to admit that the answers are ‘No’, ‘Yes’ and ‘Yes’.  I’m not going to pretend that I can understand how it must feel for their victims to see me hold their abusers in such high regard; this is actually the first time I’ve given it any thought. This in itself makes me part of the system that marginalizes and silences victims, part of the problem. People such as God Loves Women have spelled it out so clearly that it seems so easy; just don’t do things that dismiss abuse victims and put their abusers on a pedestal. But me, being me, isn’t finding it that simple because even more questions come to mind. Does someones crimes invalidate everything good they’ve done? What crimes should result in everything being wiped out? Do their crimes define how they should be regarded? Do people with celebrity status get away with more than if they were just a member of the public?

I have absolutely no idea. This is a massive topic with a lot of grey areas, but once again I find myself stuck in the middle and very much not the good guy in all this.

Bouncing between sides; why I’m not the good guy

See, one thing about Scofield is that for those that he cares about, he’ll do just about anything. But he’ll screw you three ways to Sunday if he doesn’t. – Alex Mahone, Prison Break

Over the last few weeks, there have been a number of articles on how people should react to abuse claims in light of such claims made by Julie McMahon against her former husband Tony Jones. The overwhelming point being made is that you should always believe the person making the claims, always believe the abused. Sounds pretty obvious, a no brainer; but there have been some things that have gotten in the way and made me uncomfortable when voicing such support; and after writing this I’m not sure they’re particularly good ones but we’ll come back to that.

From where I am, I was being presented with this; take the word of someone you don’t know over the word of someone else you don’t know. Whichever side you take, there are extending consequences. If you take the side of the accused, you’re saying the accuser is lying and you run the risk of disbelieving a victim of abuse and if they are to get support they need, and for others to speak up, people to believe them. If you take the side of the accuser, you’re saying the accused is guilty and should be punished accordingly. To punish someone on nothing but another persons word seems totally absurd to me. Both situations leave me very uncomfortable. Note the latter situation is not saying the accused is innocent, I need more than just someone’s word before labeling someone guilty which brings me to a big problem.

Evidence. Having evidence is usually absolutely great, needed and something I encourage people to get in most situations. In the vast majority of abuse cases however, there isn’t much (if any) evidence that abuse has taken place. Very often it’s one word against another which is why cases rarely get to court and even fewer result in successful prosecutions. This isn’t the argument that’s being made though, what many are saying is “why do we even need evidence? We have the word of the victim, that should be enough“. It certainly isn’t for the courts under the current system and the only way around that is to change the emphasis to guilty until proven innocent. Since that’s a huge can of worms and not likely to happen, the whole situation gets played out in social media, guilt and innocence are decided and I feel much stuck in the middle being bounced back and forth, especially since it’s been made clear that neutrality is not an option. At the moment, I need more than someone’s word, especially if I’m going to be calling for action against them.

Here’s the kicker though, if one of my friends came to me saying they’d been abused, everything I’ve put above about needing evidence and not judging on the basis of someone’s word goes out the window. It wouldn’t even enter my mind to do anything but believe them. Loyalty is something I strive for, I would do anything for them but it may work against me. If one of my friends were accused of abusing someone, I’d have it out with them but until then, I would defend them because they’re my friend. I can already hear the cries of “you’re supporting abusers” and “maintaining the status quo“. I want to be doing the opposite but my sense of loyalty would mean I defend them to begin with. That may change if I’m convinced they have in fact abused someone, but then I’m still stuck with consequence 1; disbelieving an abuse victim. If one friend were accused of abusing another, well……I’m not even going to finish that sentence.

I know whether I know someone should not affect whether I support them, but it does and has. Because I didn’t know Julie McMahon, I had no reason to believe or disbelieve her, but I had no reason to believe or disbelieve Tony Jones either. When Julie McMahon first made her allegations, it was in a comment section of an internet post. She was an anonymous username to me, one among millions on the internet. Experience has taught me to be cautious when dealing with people on the internet and those that make claims, particularly in comments sections. I’m usually skeptical and I was wrong this time, but 9 times out of 10 I wouldn’t have been wrong to be skeptical, in the same way by believing those who claim to have been abused I won’t be wrong 9 times out of 10 either. Next time…..yeah, next time I might not get more evidence other than comments on the internet.

I’m under no illusions that to many I’m not the good guy and not in the Dark Knight “being a bad guy for a greater good” kind of way. I’m not sure they’re wrong in that perception either. I know many won’t trust me to believe them when they claim to be abused, many see me as unsafe because I didn’t believe Julie from minute one; and they may not be wrong on that either. That is something I’m just going to have to live with for the moment. For what it’s worth, I’m sorry I didn’t believe Julie McMahon from the outset, no matter how justified other feelings felt. I can’t ignore what people are saying about handling abuse claims, but I can’t seem to get over these hurdles regarding pronunciation of guilt either. It seems whatever side I go, I’m proclaiming someone guilty of something.

All I can do is keep doing what I’m doing, keep trying, for better or for worse.

Did reasonable doubt fail Reeva Steenkamp?

I’ve been debating with myself for the last few months whether to write a piece similar to this, and over the last few days on whether to actually publish this very blog. I have tried to be mindful about getting this right or will it just be another example of a man not getting it and being complicit in the abuse women have to suffer. I guess I have to leave that judgement up to you.

The last couple of days have been mostly focused on the trial of Oscar Pistorius, as the verdicts on the charges of murdering Reeva Steenkamp were delivered by Judge Thokozile Masipa. Oscar Pistorius was cleared of murder but found guilty of culpable homicide (manslaughter). Essentially, it was ruled he did not set out to kill Reeva Steenkamp that night but his actions caused her death. Given the surrounding accusations that Reeva Steenkamp was afraid of him, there has been rightly a lot of focus on women and patriarchy and how women are regarded; not just in South Africa but in around the world. The fact he was cleared of murder has been met by some as suggesting Reeva Steenkamp didn’t matter and that the perpetrator is once again being protected. Let me be clear; patriarchy, misogyny, sexism are all very real and result in women being abused and men justifying that abuse. But in this court case, Reeva Steenkamp has not been failed by the patriarchy system, she has been failed by reasonable doubt.

The whole case has been tried within the very well established practice that the accused is innocent until they are proven guilty. In the words of Judge Masipa; “The onus is not on the accused to prove that he’s innocent but on the state to prove that he’s guilty” With many attacks on women, it is done in private with no witnesses and often the accusations come down to “the mans word versus hers”. The patriarchy would say that the woman did something to provoke the man therefore deserved it. The legal system would say “we need more than just your word”. The woman can’t win either way. There is no justification, regardless of whether the victim is a man or a woman, for beating someone. Sadly, the testimonies of women show a clear picture that the police don’t always seem to take accusations from women that seriously and ask questions to suggest that she did something to provoke him. The cases very rarely get to court.

Oscar Pistorius was in court though to face charges of murder, culpable homicide and other gun related charges. It was never in doubt that Oscar Pistorius shot his gun at the bathroom door and as a result of her injuries sustained from those gunshots, Reeva Steenkamp died. The question that the court had to decide on was did Oscar Pistorius deliberately shoot Reeva Steenkamp through the bathroom door knowing it was her and intended to kill her, or was it an accident where Pistorius believed it was an intruder which is the explanation he gave.  According to the CPS website:

Subject to three exceptions (see Voluntary Manslaughter below) the crime of murder is committed, where a person:

  • of sound mind and discretion (i.e. sane); 
  • unlawfully kills (i.e. not self-defence or other justified killing);
  • any reasonable creature (human being);
  • in being (born alive and breathing through its own lungs – Rance v Mid-Downs Health Authority (1991) 1 All ER 801 and AG Ref No 3 of 1994 (1997) 3 All ER 936;
  • under the Queen’s Peace;
  • with intent to kill or cause grievous bodily harm (GBH). [1]

As is his legal right, he had a hearing in front of a judge to make the decision on whether his actions fell into the above. For it to be deemed murder in the legal sense, it has to be premeditated. If he did not intend to kill her, then he cannot be found guilty of murder. As I stated above, it was down to the prosecution to prove “beyond reasonable doubt” it was deliberate. Pistorius did not have to prove his version of events to the court. How though do you prove beyond reasonable doubt that an act that was deliberate when the only 2 witnesses involved were the accused and the woman that he shot and killed? It seemed proving premeditation was always going to be difficult. And so it proved. Whilst delivering her judgement,  Judge Masipa says “the state failed to prove its allegation that Oscar Pistorius deliberately murdered his girlfriend after an argument, providing…. only circumstantial evidence which was not strong. …..his actions were not consistent with someone who intended to commit murder.”  There is outcry at the decision, many see it as another case of a mans word being taken over a womans yet again and there are experts who believe the judge came to the wrong decision etc. But I see it as Reeva Steenkamp being failed by the way the legal system is set up. We want to believe the victims, we want to side with them, we want them to get justice. We can voice our views freely and rally around them. Judges don’t have that luxury and that is not what they are there to. They are there to listen to the case, listen to the arguments, determine the facts, look at what the law says then make a decision. As former judge Willem Heath put it:

[Many] lawyers think that she missed the point, that she did not interpret the law correctly, that she did not analyse the facts correctly, but when you consider the judgement, it is evident from that that she considered the facts, that she considered the law, and that’s all that she’s required to do. There’s a lot of criticism, they thought she should have convicted the accused of murder, therefore there’s a lot of unhappiness. But I’m of the view that that’s really subjective. If the lawyers would apply their minds as they’re supposed to do, they should analyse the circumstances and find themselves in the same position she found herself in,”

Pierre de Vos, Cape Town University law professor tweeted: “The law is not an exact science. Reasonable people can disagree on how it should be applied in a case” and legal experts (and non legal experts) will debate this endlessly I suspect. It’s very easy to sit on the sidelines and theorize what we would do if we were the judge.  I think my friend may be being a bit harsh when he posted “From what I’ve gathered the main problem was Pistorius being judged not guilty in a court of law, rather than guilty by the mob rule expressed on Facebook. I didn’t realise the good people on here were such experts in the fine detail of South African trial law…” but I think he’s right; we can judge using our emotions, law judges can’t. Oscar Pistroius still faces a potentially lengthy prison sentence for being found guilty on the (admittedly lesser) charge of culpable homicide, so I can’t buy into the argument that him being found not guilty of murder shows that women don’t matter. Not guilty doesn’t necessarily mean he is innocent, just that there wasn’t enough evidence to find him guilty.

When it comes to cases that reach court though, I’m not sure what the options are. Less than 1% of rape and abuse claims have been shown to be made up so the odds of a woman lying about it is extremely remote so do we re-define what reasonable doubt means? Do we push the emphasis onto the defendant to prove their innocence? Whilst mindful of the slippery slope fallacy, I don’t like where those would potentially lead.  We may not like it but people being accused of things are entitled to a fair hearing, where their version is heard and all the evidence is brought together to be ruled on by a legal expert or before a jury of their peers. As I put above, there is often not much additional evidence beyond the victims word. Is declaring someone guilty, and all the consequences that come with that, solely on the word of their accuser and dishing out punishment where we want to head?

The conclusion of this case has left us exactly where we started really. Women are still being beaten, abused and killed because they are women; men and women are told they must act in a certain way in order to be a man and a woman and are bullied (or worse) if they do not conform to society’s demands. All the while society doesn’t see anything wrong in that because it has always happened. There is a massive re-education project that needs to happen to get society to open its eyes and do something about it. Whilst excuses are made, nothing will change and waiting for these instances of abuse to reach court is far too late. We need to do more than reduce abuse cases by putting abusers in jail, we need to change everything about the way women are seen and treated, and the way men feel they have to act in order to be men.

I get the anger at the decision, I get the comparisons to defenses men have made to justify their actions when abusing women; but I’m also a big believer in judging each case on its merits. Reeva Steenkamp was failed because the prosecution was not able show beyond reasonable doubt on premeditation which they were required to do under the eyes of the law. Judge Masipa did not rule that Reeva Steenkamp caused it to happen, the blame lies squarely at the feet of Oscar Pistorius.

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