The Blame Game

As young women we are influenced by the world around us. Our perceptions of other people and how we understand ourselves is directly affected by what we see, hear, and experience in our everyday lives. We are bombarded with conflicting messages about what choices we should make and what it means if we follow a particular path. As a child you are taught that you are responsible for your actions and should therefore act accordingly, but what if you are blamed for something that is completely out of your control?

Last week television presenter Anthea Turner spoke out in defence of her husband Grant Bovey when it was uncovered that he had had an affair with another woman. Rather than scorn him for his infidelity, instead Turner chose to implicate herself as the guilty party. She admitted that she had worked abroad for most of the year and that this neglect had left him no other choice but to stray from the marital bed.

“…my decision to pursue my career in Canada doesn’t look so sensible now. Long periods apart are never good for a healthy relationship. But then we’re all fallible. We all make mistakes.”

It appears a six month stretch of fixing his own dinner every night was simply too much for Grant and he had to seek solace in the arms of 25 year old socialite, Zoe de Mallet Morgan. What Turner fails to address is the reason she had to work away for most of the year was due to financial problems caused by the collapse of her husband’s business.

While I know nothing of the dynamics of Anthea Turner and her husband’s marriage and I don’t want to appear to trivialise their relationship, I do have difficulty understanding her need to vocalise her admission so loudly. Is she suggesting that other women may also be to blame for their husband’s betrayal?

The debate was further flared when Daily Mail writer Angela Epstein appeared on ITV’s ‘This Morning’ show to support Turners theory of female liability.

Epstein opened the discussion by stating “I have seen marriages fall apart because the woman has taken a ‘man’s job’ and the man feels emasculated”

She further supports her view by declaring;

“Men are essentially hardwired to cheat because their biology makes them more vulnerable to temptation” and adds “Men are emotionally simple”.

She also warns that men are more likely to stray if they feel abandoned or vulnerable. I can just imagine the RSPCA style adverts for ‘abandoned’ men.

‘Here’s Bob from Norwich, his wife Linda has been on an accounting course for 5 days and Bob has only showered once and survived on ham and cheese sandwiches. He has also started eyeing up Vera next door, obviously.’

I’d imagine the men in Epstein’s world to be like small dogs or even young children. Attracted to bright colours and scared of loud noises. She cites “sex, food, warmth and uncomplicated situations” as men’s top priorities.

As well as being unbelievably patronising towards men, Epstein’s primitive views of the role of a wife reduces a woman down to little more than a submissive carer. One who is at fault of losing her man if she does not conform to these idealisms.

It is one thing poking fun at how seemingly simplistic Angela Epstein’s views are but when you consider the fact she writes for a national newspaper, it is alarming to think how many people she may be influencing.

In an equal partnership surely it is each person’s responsibility to appreciate each other, to remain attractive and interesting to that person, to continue to challenge and enjoy each other each day. I do understand that in certain circumstances a person might cheat because they are craving a love or attention they are not receiving in their relationship, but surely in that situation you both shoulder the responsibility together and work on it. It is something very different altogether to accept the entire blame for your partners damaged ego and subsequent infidelity.

Another high profile example is the David Beckham/Rebecca Loo’s scandal which was re-ignited last week after Loo’s gave an interview to a women’s magazine. For the duration of the scandal, the overwhelming opinion of many commentators was that Beckham had cheated on his wife of 5 years because she had been away touring as a solo artist and had abandoned him. This, along with her noticeable fear of smiling, meant she was given little sympathy. A failed career and a rocky marriage, should have stayed at home eh Vicky?

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Without playing to the tabloid inclination to sensationalise a story, Epstein may want to consider the repercussions of her comments.

This apparent blame culture is manifested in other areas of women’s lives too. A study about women who have suffered physical or sexual abuse showed that an overwhelming amount of these women felt they were partly to blame for the abuse they experienced. This is usually due to extremely low levels of self-esteem. An example seen here when Rihanna took to her twitter account to vent her frustration, this is widely thought to be in relation to the incident involving her on/off boyfriend Chris Brown who viciously assaulted her.

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I am not suggesting that Anthea Turner’s comments encourages a culture of violence towards women but quite often it is the gentle nuances which are the most destructive. Once you make it socially acceptable to blame women for situations which are out of their control you open the topic up to interpretation. It is actually these slight suggestions that appear unassuming and un-threatening which are the most harmful.

If a woman goes out on a Saturday night dressed in a short skirt and high heels, is she to blame for any unwanted advances? If a stranger puts his hand up her dress is that OK because she is ‘asking for it’ in that outfit?

Likewise, if you scream and shout at your boyfriend and he raises his hand to you, have you brought this upon yourself by acting unreasonably? Is it your own irrational behaviour which might lead to him attacking you?

A third of Britons believe a woman who acts flirtatiously is partially or completely to blame for being raped, according to a new study.

More than a quarter also believe a woman is at least partly responsible for being raped if she wears sexy or revealing clothing, or is drunk, the study found.

What an infuriating and unbelievably sad state of affairs.

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The UK has an incredibly low rate of conviction when it comes to rape cases. Ruth Hall, from the support group Women Against Rape, criticised “prejudices” in the court system, saying: “They still put the woman on trial, including her sexual history with other men, which is supposed to be banned and blame the woman for what happened to her and hold her accountable.

What the Anthea Turner story highlighted was the worrying trend for women admitting blame in circumstances which are out of their control. It is one thing having the blame thrust upon you, but it is something else to stand up and bring the entire weight of the situation upon yourself willingly.

So lets stop this cycle of blame. Let me respond on behalf of all women around the world when I say;

If you walk down the street in a short skirt and you are attacked; it is not your fault.

If a boyfriend raises his hand to you during an argument because he is angry; it is not your fault.

If your husband abuses your trust and sleeps with another woman because you chose to further your career; it is not your fault.

Anthea; It is not your fault.

Victoria; It is not your fault.

Ladies; It is not your fault.

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FASHION & WOMEN

A beautiful film by Jan Lisman investigating what it means to be a woman.

INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY 2013

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First and foremost, Happy International Women’s Day 2013! Since its birth during the Socialist movement, IWD has grown to become a global day of recognition and celebration across developed and developing countries alike.  It has been officially recognised since 1975 when the United Nations gave official sanction to, and started sponsoring it on the 8th March each year.

So…why dedicate a day exclusively to the celebration of the world’s women?

The United Nations states that, “In adopting its resolution on the observance of Women’s day, the General Assembly cited two reasons: to recognise the fact that securing peace and social progress and the full enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms require the active participation, equality and development of women; and to acknowledge the contribution of women to the strengthening of international peace and security.”

I believe that for myself and for the women of the world, the Day’s symbolism has a wider meaning: It is an occasion to review how far they have come in their struggle for equality, peace and development. It is also an opportunity to unite, network and mobilize for future meaningful change. 

Each year carries a specific theme, these have ranged from 2004’s “women and HIV/AIDS” to the 2012 theme of “Empowering rural women, ending poverty and hunger”

2013 sees us confront the issue of hostility and oppression with the theme “A promise is a promise: Time for action to end violence against women”  

On 16th December 2012 Jyoti Singh was abducted by six men on a bus in Delhi, she was beaten and sexually attacked. The rape that she suffered was so brutal she later died in hospital from her injuries. The main cause of her death was internal organ damage, caused by an iron rod which they used to sexually abuse her. It is difficult to even type that sentence, never mind racking your brain to even try to comprehend the unimaginable horror that woman suffered.  The initial worldwide uproar was a reaction to not only the extremely violent nature of the attack but also the government’s weak response in the aftermath of what happened. What the attack did was shine a light on India’s deep rooted and entrenched misogyny.  It further highlighted the social and political hurdles that Indian women face on a daily basis. In India female foetuses are often aborted and baby girls killed after birth, leading to an appallingly skewed gender ratio. Many of those who survive face discrimination, prejudice, violence and neglect all their lives, as single or married women.  If a woman is considered as vain or uncooperative she faces reprisal such as an acid attack or a beating. Jyoti Singh’s ‘crime’ was that she was accompanied to the cinema by a man who was not her husband. 

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But this is not a problem which is specific to India and it would disastrous for us to label such atrocities as particular to one country. How easy it would be to neatly box up those issues and consider them as someone else’s problem. 

In the UK, Katie Piper became a high profile figure in the battle against violence when she suffered a vicious acid attack in 2008. The attack destroyed all of the tissue on her face, leaving her permanently disfigured and blind in her left eye. As a result of what happened Katie was transformed from a sociable and confident 25 year old to a withdrawn and depressed recluse, all by an ex-boyfriend who could not control his violent and jealous tendencies towards women. 

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 The Katie Piper attack was particularly shocking to people in the UK because the victim was a white middle class British woman. This story seemed to invade people lives in a way that previous attacks hadn’t. The brutality and inhumanity of it occupied your living room as you watched the 6 o’clock news and it made your early morning cup of coffee that wee bit harder to swallow as you read the morning newspaper. This hadn’t happened in an unfamiliar place with a different language and a foreign outlook. It happened on our doorstep in North London, that cosmopolitan hub of opportunity and equality. 

Since the attack and consequent media coverage of the incident Katie Piper has become something of a heroine. After suffering the dark enduring months of reconstructive surgery she has achieved a sort of confidence she never thought she could recapture. She is successfully pursuing a TV career and has established the Katie Piper foundation. 

So maybe that is what I will take away from this year’s International Women’s Day. I will say a silent prayer for those who have and who will continue to fall victim to oppression and violence because of their gender and I will also celebrate those women who successfully cast their victim status. Whether is it women in India rallying against an archaic government, or a British woman refusing to be defined by her attack. 

My very first introduction to IWD was in 2010. I was fortunate enough to be visiting family in New York and was encouraged to go to the United Nations headquarters in East Manhattan to listen to the speeches that day with a family member who worked in the building. The room was filled with a multitude of women from different backgrounds, social experiences, ages and religions. I distinctly remember a speech from a Congolese woman. She was about the same age as my mum and she recounted stories of violence, rape, torture and abuse. These experiences were so foreign and shocking to me that I realised I could never relate to the suffering of these women, and how incredibly lucky that made me. 

That speech will continue to shape my actions and opinions towards women’s issues for the rest of my life. In the years since I first heard that woman speak, the exact stories she told have melted away in my memory (it’s interesting how your brain tries to block those things out) but what has stayed with me is her undeniable bravery. I remember how clearly and powerfully she spoke, she did not bow her head or avoid your gaze, instead she commanded the attention of a filled room and spoke with passion and dignity. 

That was because this woman refused to be a victim, and instead chose to be a survivor. She didn’t travel nearly 10,000 miles for our sympathy but instead for our education. 

So today I challenge all of you to choose one woman who inspires you. It could be your mum who raised a family while working full time because she had to, an aunt who overcame cancer or a friend who battled through a hard time in their life with grace and self respect. Today, of all days, is the time to celebrate these wonderful people who shape and influence our lives. 

 

HAPPY INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY!!!

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