Michael Beck: Why labelling men who kill as ‘non-violent’ is irresponsible journalism

Screen Shot 2017-08-26 at 09.06.42Every single week, 2 men in England and Wales make a choice to kill their current or former partner. Despite the fact that these men consistently have a history of domestic violence, the media insists on reporting comments from random neighbours claiming that these men are ‘caring fathers‘, ‘loving brothers’, ‘quiet neighbours’,  and, as above, ‘non violent’. Men who choose to kill are violent. It’s pretty much the definition of the word since murder is an inherently violent act. As a culture, we refuse to recognise that coercive control is a choice made by men who believe they are entitled to own women and children, and that men who kill are not aberrations, but representative of the consequences of patriarchy.

The Guardian’s coverage of the murder of Nicola Beck by her husband Michael Beck is a quintessential example of how not write about male violence. It insinuates that Nicola’s request for a divorce was irrational because Michael did want it and, therefore, Michael’s choice to murder was rational. They quote Michael’s brother-in-law Hugo Peel who said this at the inquest:

” … Beck was a gentle man. …He had a sort of hope in his heart that he could repair the damage. He was not a violent man, quite the opposite. … He was not courageous in social interaction or dealing with issues. He would walk away from confrontation, he felt unequipped to deal with confrontation.”

Family members and neighbours frequently do not see the violence women are forced to live with. Perpetrators tend to be highly manipulative and very careful with their behaviour around other people. It’s not at all uncommon for close family members and friends to have no idea just how violent a man is. Publishing these types of quotes without making the context of how perpetrators operate clear obscures and elides the reality of male violence against women and children. This is particularly important in the context of Peel suggesting Michael was incapable of dealing with confrontation as it implies, once again, that Michael had no choice; that he lacked the skills to recognise Nicola as a person and so was forced to kill her. It is utterly irresponsible for The Guardian to have published this statement.

The most dangerous time for a woman who has an abusive and controlling partner is when she tries to end the relationship. The risk of physical and sexual violence increases and this is the point when women are most likely to be murdered, frequently with their children, or when children are murdered to punish their mother. It should go without saying that a neighbour, whose entire relationship with a perpetrator is saying hello when putting out the rubbish for collection, or a family member who has not witnessed violence or controlling behaviour themselves, are not in a position to make evidenced judgments about whether or not a man is gentle, good, or kind. Media who report these types of statements are engaged in bad journalism completely lacking in research or reality.

This is a copy of Michael’s suicide as it was published in The Sun (who themselves concentrated on the Beck’s financial status rather than the murder, because it’s more important to note that Michael was rich rather than recognising the life of Nicola). Generally, we do not support the publishing of suicide letters. We have made an exception in this case because the letter is not only a suicide letter but a defence of murder.

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The Sun’s coverage is as senstionalist as one expects of the tabloid press. The Guardian uses less emotive language, but it also glosses over the evidence of Beck’s clear history of entitlement and financial control as written in his suicide note:

“I have spent my entire life fighting over money”

Yes, Michael was a stockbroker, but this quote is in relation to his marriage and not his career. It is not normal to spend one’s life “fighting over money”. The Guardian do quote the assistant Devon coroner, Lydia Brown, who makes it clear that financial control was part of the motive for this murder, without contextualising financial abuse as a form of coercive control. This is without the issue of Michael defining murder as ‘grubby’ and demanding his family punish Nicola’s family.

Where the Guardian truly failed was at the end of the article. They included the hotline phone number for the Samaritans (116 123, UK) but did not include the National Domestic Violence Hotline (0808 2000 247). The Samaritans media guidelines make it absolutely clear that the number should be included in any media coverage of suicide, but this was not just a case of suicide. Michael Beck clearly had a history of domestic violence and this was a murder where coercive control was a defining factor as Michael felt justified in killing Nicola because she tried to escape his abuse. The feminist organisation Zero Tolerance have written a comprehensive media guideline for reporting violence against women and girls that require the inclusion of the National Domestic Violence Hotline. Granted, Zero Tolerance’s guidelines are 42 pages long, however the The National Union of Journalists have written a 3 page media guideline on reporting violence against women and girls for those journalists unwilling to take out 15 minutes of their day to do some basic research. The NUJ make it very clear that it is essential to include the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

The question is: why did The Guardian prioritise the Samaritans hotline? And, why did they fail to recognise that this murder was a consequence of male entitlement and coercive control? When will mainstream media start to recognise that murder-suicides are almost always a consequence of domestic violence? That victims of domestic violence matter as much as people who are experiencing suicidal thoughts? That men who kill their children and/or current or former partners are not victims but perpetrators? Because the failure to include the National Domestic Violence Hotline implies that Michael is more deserving of respect and empathy than his victim. And, this is not an aberration but part of the conducive context in which male violence occurs and part of the continuum of violence against women and girls.

Nicola deserved better from The Guardian.

This was first published by Everyday Victim Blaming on August 27, 217.

Lisa Hilton’s Athenais: When spite is mistaken for women’s history

I came across this book in a charity shop. I’m glad it only cost 50p, otherwise I’d have to write to the publisher demanding my money back for mis-selling a deeply spiteful text as a “biography” of Athenais, mistress of King Louis XIV of France.

Whilst the premise is ostensibly biographical, it’s mostly a treatise on how ugly women deserve to be treated like pieces of shit. And, any man who cheats on his ‘ugly’ wife has every right to; especially if you are the King of France and like pretty things. Then you get to be as abusive, cruel, and selfish as you like. You can humiliate and insult your wife, pretend she doesn’t’ exist, and still be considered a good guy, Because, hey, you’re the king, And, even the ugliest guy doesn’t deserve an ugly wife. Even if they are violent and hateful and cruel.

Even Athenais is dismissed as irrelevant once she stops being beautiful. Her beauty gone because she got fat. After giving birth to 9 children and being in a relationship with a man who forced all of those around him to eat too much.

Below are three images of the snide way in which women are treated. Hilton’s misogyny was accompanied by the usual classism and racism, but I have just picked examples of her loathing of women.

Here we have the theory that Queen Marie-Therese was so ugly that King Louis XIV was required to cheat on her repeatedly.

The Dauphin’s choice of an ‘ugly’ woman was clearly because he was insane. As no proper king would choose such an ugly woman (except, obviously, his father who was also trapped in a marriage with an ugly woman). 

And, women are stupid. Therefore, completely deserving of being described as hysterical.

No one should bother reading this book, and I am now stuck between burning the copy I have, keeping it so no one else is forced to read it, or returning it to the charity shop I bought it from.

Burning it is my current default position.

Katie Hopkins: Misogyny and Women-Hating 101

According to the Huffington Post, a 14 year old boy called Harvey Cuffe asked Nick Clegg and asked him if he could have Hopkins killed or arrested. Nick Clegg suggested this was a “brilliant question”.

The Huffington Post is under the impression that this is also a great question. Because threatening to kill a woman for having offensive and criminal opinions is completely normal.

Clegg is already on record suggesting that Hopkins would make the best Bond villain, despite telling Cuffe that the best response to Hopkins is to ignore her. I disagree with this: Hopkins article on migrants was a hate crime. But, she wasn’t the only person to commit a hate crime in that incident. The editor of the Sun, which published it, should also be investigated for a hate crime. Every single media outlet that gives Hopkins to spew hatred is responsible for disseminating her opinions.

Hopkins also isn’t the only mainstream figure to hold such views. Hell, Nigel Farage holds similar opinions and he’s on the BBC so often they might as well hire him. Our current government ended rescue services in the Mediterranean to prevent migrants from drowning on over-crowded and unsafe boats. People actually died from this policy but I don’t very much Cuffe would have asked to have the people who voted for these policies killed. Nor, would Clegg have called it a “brilliant question”.

There is no way Cuffe would have asked a politician if he wanted to kill a man who made similar statements. And there are a whole load of men writing horrendously racist shit every single day: Brendan O’Neill, Richard Littlejohn and Milo Yiannopoulos spring to mind. I don’t see exhortations to have them killed or arrested. This is without addressing the misogyny these men also spew.

The very same people blathering on about free speech and #JeSuisCharlieHebdo are the same ones haranguing Hopkins. I have to wonder if the Charlie Hebdo staff were mostly female would we have seen the mass protests in support? Or, if there staff were non-white? Because, I sincerely doubt the Cameron and Clegg would have travelled to Paris for a march in support of the free speech of journalists in Saudi Arabia arrested for being critical of the government. Frankly, I don’t believe they’d celebrate the free speech of journalists and bloggers in the UK who are critical of ConDem policies.

Focusing on Hopkins is an easy scapegoat. It challenges nothing. All Clegg has done is tell a 14 year old boy that it’s acceptable to want to kill women he disagrees with. That’s misogyny. Not a discussion of free speech or an attempt to end systemic racism within UK media.

Katie Hopkins should be investigated for committing a hate crime, as should David Dinsmore and Hopkin’s direct line managers. But, 14 year old boys wanting her killed is as serious a problem as her statements about migrants are.

There is nothing brave about exhorting the death of a woman who writes criminal and offensive statements in the media. It’s just woman-hating 101. And it allows the structures of racism and misogyny to remain in place.

Real bravery would be holding the media accountable for publishing these statements.

Criminalising Pregnancy is simply Misogyny

(Originally published on Mumsnet as a guest post)

Right now, the Court of Appeal is deciding whether or not a council in the North-West of England can hold the mother of a six-year-old girl born with Foetal Alcohol Syndrome criminally liable under the Offences against Persons Act of 1861.

Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is an umbrella term for a number of diagnoses that result from prenatal exposure to alcohol. This exposure can cause problems with memory, attention, speech and language and behaviour, a weakened immune system, and damage to the liver, kidneys and heart. The long-term consequences include addiction, chronic unemployment, poverty, depression, suicide, and the criminalisation of the child themselves.

It is a horrible condition. I know, because my nephew has FASD. I have seen him struggle with his physical and emotional health. He finds everyday activities difficult, and his behaviour is very challenging. It is heartbreaking, watching him trying to navigate life with intellectual and physical impairments that could have been prevented. He finds school difficult because he cannot cope with unstructured learning, such as break time. He requires a very strict routine with clear instructions and finds choices difficult. He also has physical disabilities and needs a very strict diet – another control on his life that he does not fully understand.

As an aunt, I don’t want any woman to drink alcohol whilst pregnant because I worry about the consequences for their children. As a feminist, I am utterly opposed to the criminalisation of women’s bodies and any attempts to limit women’s reproductive freedom.

Criminalising mothers who give birth to babies with FASD would do nothing to support women, and would make accessing services even more difficult. How many women would inform their midwife of their alcohol consumption if they believe they’ll end up in prison? Even if women were to approach their midwife or doctor, there aren’t enough programs in place to help them. How many beds are there in rehab facilities that are appropriate for women with substance misuse issues? How many are there that cater for women with other children? I refuse to believe that criminalisation would be followed by investment in mental health services. Already, a vast number of women in prison are there as a consequence of trauma, and criminalising pregnancy would increase that number.

As an aunt, I don’t want any woman to drink alcohol whilst pregnant because I worry about the consequences for their children. As a feminist, I am utterly opposed to the criminalisation of women’s bodies and any attempts to limit women’s reproductive freedom.

The most frustrating thing is that there are so many other things we could do. Research has shown us how to minimise the effects of FASD. For example, we know that access to a healthy diet has a positive impact, which is why poverty remains a major risk factor. This isn’t because women living in poverty are more likely to misuse alcohol – it’s because a healthy diet can minimise the effects of alcohol on a developing foetus.

We know how to prevent FASD. It requires a properly funded NHS to provide support for women with substance misuse issues. Access to a midwife and GP who understand addiction and its causes is the most important prevention method. We can’t see alcoholism in isolation. Amongst women, it is frequently linked to trauma following male violence – and we need a social care network that understands the reality and consequences of this.

This is why criminalising women is not just nonsensical – it’s misogynistic.

Despite the fact that our economy would be destroyed if women withdrew all their labour, society still believes that women have less economic value than men. The control of women’s reproduction – from access to birth control to abortion, from prenatal care to maternity leave – is about controlling women’s labour. Preventing the “bad” women – the drinkers, the drug takers – from giving birth means that they are free to do low-paying jobs, rather than depending on the welfare state. Of course, criminalising them is much easier than fixing the root of the problem by providing better health and social care, and it suits those who should be stepping up to the plate: the local council, which is refusing to take responsibility for its failure to support a vulnerable woman appropriately during her pregnancy, and our society, which is refusing to take responsibility for the harm caused by misogyny and violence against women.

The only effective way to tackle FASD is to create a culture in which women have equal value to men, where male violence is eradicated, and in which women have access to free healthcare without judgment.

I don’t want any child to suffer the way my nephew suffers. I also don’t want to see women imprisoned for substance misuse. If we genuinely cared about women with substance misuse issues and children born with FASD, we’d be standing on the barricades demanding better investment in social care, the NHS and education – that’s where the support and intervention for pregnant women should be. They won’t get this support if they’re forced into the criminal justice system.

My nephew deserves better than the criminalisation of his mother. And his mother deserves better too.

Yet Another Example of Male Entitlement: Man demands access to women-only breastfeeding class

A male student midwife complained about being prohibited from attending a women-only breastfeeding class run by the National Childbirth Trust (NCT). You did just read that right. Chris Butt is pissed off because the NCT put the needs of their paying clients above a male student midwife. Obviously, he has felt the need to go off whinging about this. His article was published in a subscription only magazine, however the Daily Mail covered the story here.

So, Chris Butt went whining to the press because the NCT wouldn’t let him into a women-only breastfeeding support group. Here’s the thing, many women wouldn’t care about having a male midwife. Many women wouldn’t care about have a man in a breastfeeding support group. But, these women do. They joined a women-only group for a reason. We don’t need to interrogate each of them to decide which of them has a Patriarchy-approved reason for choosing a woman-only group. They did. Now, their choices need to be respected. It’s not like the NCT banned him from all their groups; just the woman-only one. And, yeah, as a midwife, he will get to see lots of women naked but these specific women don’t want him too. So, why should his desire to be in a women-only group trump the desire of these women to access support in a women-only environment?

Frankly, I can’t think of anyone I’d rather not have deliver my baby than a man who doesn’t get the need for women-only support groups. By putting his selfish desire above the wishes of a group of women who aren’t even his patients, Butt is demonstrating a distinct lack of empathy which I’ve always thought was necessary in the medical profession. Does Butt not understand that a large percentage of domestic violence starts during pregnancy? That these women-only groups are sometimes the *only* place a woman has to access support without the violent partner being involved? What about women who aren’t allowed to be in the presence of men they aren’t related to? Shouldn’t those women be able to access support too? Or, victims of sexualised violence who feel uncomfortable around men? Thankfully, the NCT said no but we shouldn’t even be having these discussions. There is nothing wrong with women-only groups. The fact that some men think there is says more about male privilege than it does about anything else.

And, doesn’t it strike anyone else as just a little bit creepy that this man is demanding the right to access a women-only breastfeeding group, even though, the NCT had offered him an alternative group that men could attend. I mean, why?