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.

#WomenWrites: on prostitution, white supremacy, radical feminism, and Joss Whedon

Legalise prostitution? We are being asked to accept industrialised sexual exploitation, by @KatBanyard

… For all the ways it is marketed, the sex trade boils down to a very simple product concept: a person (usually a man) can pay to sexually access the body of someone (usually a woman), who does not freely want to have sex with him. He knows that’s the case – otherwise he wouldn’t have to pay her to be there. The money isn’t coincidence, it’s coercion. And we have a term for that: sexual abuse. Getting governments to facilitate a commercial market in sexual exploitation therefore requires masking it with myths such as: that demand is inevitable; that paying for sex is a consumer transaction, not abuse; that pornography is mere “fantasy” and that decriminalising the entire trade, pimping and brothel keeping included, helps keep women safe. …

“Who is the Ultimate Traitor? On Patriotism and White Supremacy”, by Crystal M. Fleming, Ph.D.

Among centrist Democrats and even some progressives, the argument is frequently being made that confederate statues should be condemned because confederates were “traitors”. While this might seem like a compelling argument, it very quickly becomes troublesome for the anti-racist. It is evident that throughout history, people who opposed racism (from anti-slavery agitators to the Black Panthers to the relatively moderate Martin Luther King Jr.) have been framed as traitorous, unpatriotic and even treated like domestic terrorists by the government of the United States. It is widely known that the director of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover, directly referred to Martin Luther King as an “enemy of the state” and, under Obama’s presidency, the same FBI targeted peaceful activists associated with the Movement for Black Lives—and refused to label white supremacist terrorist Dylann Roof a white supremacist terrorist. It should be noted that Barack Obama—the same man who insisted, against all empirical evidence, that racism is not “endemic” to the United States—also declined to acknowledge the fact that Roof was, indeed, a domestic terrorist. …

HOW I ENDED UP HERE, at Radically a Woman

As it is the case with many younger radical and gender critical feminists, I haven’t always been into such politics. I spent years on the opposite side. I’m familiar with liberal feminist and trans activist terminology, from DFAB to demi girl – although I’m sure dozens of new terms have emerged since I left those circles around Summer 2016 – so no trans activist argument is strange to me. That’s something trans activists and liberal feminists tend to forget (or knowingly ignore) when they argue with us or spread whatever rumours about us; our disagreement isn’t based on ignorance, it’s based on thorough understanding. …

Calling women ‘non-men’ isn’t inclusive, it’s sexism straight from ancient history  via @FeministCurrent

Last month, Teen Vogue published a how-to article on anal sex that defined males and females as “prostate owners” and “non-prostate owners,” respectively. The magazine may have thought that these terms were more appropriate for an audience that includes people who identify as transgender or non-binary, and who therefore don’t feel the terms “male” and “female” apply.

However, in their efforts to be inclusive, the magazine tacitly perpetuated a sexist, patriarchal perspective as old as Aristotle: that women are a type of “non-man” rather than a distinct type of human. …

Patriarchy or Male Supremacy? at Liberation is Life

Meeting Ground On Line has recently reprinted a short 1993 piece by Carol Hanisch on what is described as the unfortunate shift by feminism, from describing our current system as a ‘male supremacy’, to describing it as ‘patriarchy’.

As the Editor’s Note on the reprint remarks:

Patriarchy has all but replaced male supremacy and sexism as the preferred word for the system of discrimination and multi-faceted oppression that women face. The term patriarchy wasn’t used by most 1960s pioneers of the Women’s Liberation Movement and only came into popular usage as those founders were disappeared from view. The liberal and academic takeover of women’s liberation by women with access to the press and money led to the dropping of “liberation” from the name of our movement and to the rise of the word patriarchy to describe what is wrong with “the system” or “society”. Some claim it more accurately blames the system rather than individual men. We think it lets the class of men off the hook and is not applicable to current late capitalist conditions. The short piece reprinted here is an earlier argument against blaming a patriarchy for women’s oppression.

Joss Whedon and the Theater of Allyship, by Rebecca Barrett-Fox

Joss Whedon took a risk that reeks of male entitlement: to claim feminism but not give up his abusive behavior toward women. Maybe he’s a faux-feminist or a woke misogynist. Maybe he’s a liar who wanted to cash in on feminism. Maybe he can’t make the connection between the political and the personal. Maybe he’s doing what more feminist-identifying men would do if they were given the opportunity. The fact that he decided to speak like a feminist and act like a dirtbag suggests to me that he wanted the benefits of both—for him to be celebrated by women and also for him to have power over them. Like lots of men, he sees the advantages that feminism has for him, but he doesn’t want to give up the perks of sexism. It’s rather nice to have the tools of sexism—firing women for getting pregnant, marital infidelity—in your toolbox, just in case you might want to use them one day.

#womenwrites: “child prostitution, racism, capitalism, misogyny, and queer politics.

“There is no such thing as a child prostitute”: a review of the BBC’s Three Girls by Rahila Gupta at  openDemocracy

… The drama was careful to address some of the race, class and gender tropes that have coloured the national debate. Victim blaming is frequent in situations of male violence; in Rochdale it comes from the police who described the girls as coming from “chaotic, council estate backgrounds” (a euphemism for ‘white trash’). The drama’s writer, Nicole Taylor, is careful to counter this narrative by choosing Holly as her protagonist – she is from a middle-class family forced to move to a council home after her father’s business fails. “Chaotic lives” better describes Ruby and Amber whose parents are nowhere to be seen until episode two, when their mother suddenly appears to pick Ruby up from the police station.

The drama also rubbishes the trope that these girls were making “lifestyle choices” as the social worker alleges. Sara Rowbotham, a sexual health worker and the only member of the establishment these girls trusted, argues compellingly that “there is no such thing as a child prostitute, what there is – is a child that is being abused” in trying to get complacent social workers and police to take action. The widely-held view, encouraged by the police officers themselves, that the police were reluctant to take action for fearing of stoking racial tensions just doesn’t hold amid ongoing “stop and search” tactics which target black men, lead to very few arrests and even fewer convictions, and do cause racial tension. My view is that the race argument was a cover for a deep-seated misogyny that these girls were ‘slags’ therefore no police action was required. …

How academia uses poverty, oppression, and pain for intellectual masturbation by Clelia O. Rodríguez

The politics of decolonization are not the same as the act of decolonizing. How rapidly phrases like “decolonize the mind/heart” or simply “decolonize” are being consumed in academic spaces is worrisome. My grandfather was a decolonizer. He is dead now, and if he was alive he would probably scratch his head if these academics explained  the concept to him.

I am concerned about how the term is beginning to evoke a practice of getting rid of colonial practices by those operating fully under those practices. Decolonization sounds and means different things to me, a woman of color, than to a white person. And why does this matter? Why does my skin itch when I hear the term in academic white spaces where POC remain tokens? Why does my throat become a prison of words that cannot be digested into complete sentences? Is it because in these “decolonizing” practices we are being colonized once again?

The PWR BTTM debacle demonstrates why queer politics don’t protect women by Jen Izaakson

New York queer punk music duo PWR BTTM, a vowel-less take on “power bottom” (Google that term, if you like), have become the center of controversy, due to multiple allegations of sexual assault levied against guitarist and drummer Ben Hopkins.

On May 4th, Vice dubbed the group, who identify as “queer, non-binary, and transfeminine,” “America’s next great rock band.” One week later, on May 11th, Kitty Cordero-Kolin, a member of the DIY scene in Chicago, posted in a closed Facebook group, alleging that Hopkins had been seen initiating “inappropriate sexual contact with people despite several ‘nos’ and without warning or consent” at shows. This initial post was shared on Reddit, so the story spread, prompting swathes of PWR BTTM fans to come forward, accusing Hopkins of abuse, sexual harassment, preying on minors, and using misogynist slurs. One woman, referred to as “Jen,” told Jezebel that Hopkins raped her after a PWR BTTM show last year.

Nothing says misogyny like defining feminism as equality for all by Marcie Bianco

… In the age of celebrity feminism and performative male feminists, the idea that feminism is about “equality for all genders” has become increasingly fashionable. And yet, to me, nothing says misogyny like defining feminism as equality for all—as if focusing a movement, or policy, or activism on women alone is taboo. Or too risky. The knee-jerk, “all lives matter” refusal to center women in this latest iteration of feminism is, I believe, a significant cause of the stalled gender revolution. We cannot address or end the systemic oppression of women if we refuse to center women in that fight. And that means reconsidering what we mean when we talk about equality and power. …

“Why It Matters That the Portland Killer Was a Far-Left Extremist” by Val Perry Rendel

“Before you #notallBerniebros me, I’m not talking about people who preferred Sanders in the primary but voted for Clinton in the general election; those are known as “rational people.” I’m talking about the people for whom it is an article of religious faith that the primary was rigged, and they are hellbent on vengeance. Corrupt corporate crony capitalism, they cry; to them, the DNC is a bigger threat than Trump, and the entire system is rotten and must be burned to the ground before the new socialist order can be ushered in, or something.”

Whole Foods represents the failures of ‘conscious capitalism‘ by Nicole Aschoff

“Mackey has loudly declared unions akin to herpes and state regulation little more than “crony capitalism” – that all we need to solve things like the climate crisis are better, smarter, “conscious” capitalists. The crisis of Whole Foods belies this notion. There’s no way to “fix” corporations’ compulsion to produce ever more, ever more cheaply. It’s written into the DNA of global capitalism.”

Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race by Reni Eddo-Lodge

… “At best, white people have been taught not to mention that people of colour are “different” in case it offends us. They truly believe that the experiences of their life as a result of their skin colour can and should be universal. I just can’t engage with the bewilderment and the defensiveness as they try to grapple with the fact that not everyone experiences the world in the way that they do.

“They’ve never had to think about what it means, in power terms, to be white, so any time they’re vaguely reminded of this fact, they interpret it as an affront. Their eyes glaze over in boredom or widen in indignation. Their mouths start twitching as they get defensive. Their throats open up as they try to interrupt, itching to talk over you but not to really listen, because they need to let you know that you’ve got it wrong. …

Why there’s nothing racist about black-only spaces | Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff

” …. Some white people have got so upset about their exclusion from parts of the Nyansapo festival, an intersectional black feminist gathering scheduled for 28-30 July in Paris, that the mayor of the city called for the festival to be banned, until organisers clarify details with her, and anti-racist groups have claimed that Rosa Parks would be “turning in her grave” at the event.

In the same week that some men have kicked up a fuss over not being allowed to attend women-only film screenings of Wonder Woman it seems a discussion is needed as to why spaces that are centred around marginalised groups, whether they be women or people of colour, are not racist or sexist.

Unofficial safe spaces have existed for all denominations for centuries, and self-organising has long been a key part of anti-racist and feminist movements. As one of the editors for gal-dem, a magazine and creative collective written and produced exclusively by women of colour, I think about our position of racial exclusivity a lot. In some ways I appreciate it might be difficult to grasp why such spaces feel so necessary. The simplest way to understand why the Nyansapo festival has elements that aren’t open to white people (the festival is split into three areas, one specifically for black women, another for black people, and a third for everyone) is to acknowledge the racism we suffer in western society. There’s no moving forward unless we accept that racism against people of colour is deeply systemic. …”

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.