There is a myth that I am sick and tired of being perpetuated time and time again, in all walks of life and industries and it is this: that women are somehow to blame for the actions of violent or misogynistic men. Or they aren’t to blame, but their pain or their experience is merely a prop, a lesson for the men in their lives to learn from.
It happens in movies, where rape or sexual assault or general violence against women is a convenient but tired plot device through which we will explore not the female character’s suffering, or thoughts, or survival, but as a way to aide the development of the male main character’s story. It is a plot point so common that there is even a term for it, coined by comic book writer Gail Simone, of “Women In Refrigerators” after the girlfriend of hero The Green Lantern was killed and stuffed in a refrigerator by his enemy.
It happens in the media, where just recently newspapers and people online asked whether the ex-fiancé of the newly accused Golden State Killer was somehow responsible for his spree — where he committed around 50 rapes and killed at least 12 people — because she dumped him, because she did not love him enough, because she hurt him.
It happens in online communities, where men gather to call themselves Incels (involuntarily celibates) and go on killing sprees, like the recent van attack in Toronto, because they’re bitter that women are not giving them the sex and attention they think they deserve. They are ‘forced’ into the life they lead and they blame women, not their own misogynistic thoughts and actions, for their reluctance to engage with them, and sometimes they go as far as to punish the women they see as doing them wrong. It doesn’t occur to them they might be wrong about women’s sex lives, or their opinions on men’s attractiveness, because they need to be blameless, they need it to be women’s fault so they can feel righteous and justified in their misogyny.
It happens in the art and publishing industry, where men like the poet Benjamin Zephaniah (someone I have long admired) can safely announce on a press tour for his new book that he used to hit his ex-girlfriend, and, whilst he doesn’t blame his girlfriend, he does frame the entire story about what he learned, how he felt, how it “got in the way of [his] meditation.” In fact, the creative world is full of women being treated as collateral damage, men suffer for their art and they make women suffer for it too, and then we are expected to forgive them because they have created something beautiful. We are expected to forgive them for their creative process because it brings about genius, but we are expected to forget the women they trampled on to get there, the women who’s voices could’ve been just as powerful or beautiful, if not more, if they hadn’t been destroyed in the first place.
Women are not only the victims but our own perpetrators. We don’t smile, we’re bitches. We smile, we’re asking for it. It is a clever game because it is one we will never win. And when something does happen, something horrible, we are both at fault and voiceless.
I am tired of it. I am tired of seeing this tired narrative play out time and time again, in fiction and in reality. I want women to stop being treated as collateral damage. I want the way we blame the violent and insidious acts perpetrated by misogyny on the women affected by it to end. With movements like #MeToo becoming more and more difficult to ignore, I pray that that is the case, but I am still not convinced. All the things I cited within this article happened this year, not in some long ago past we can forget about, and it only proves there is still work to be done. We must do the work of supporting victims and giving them the platform to share their thoughts, not to men who seek to bring them down or twist their work into being about their own journey. We must insist on calling out the narrative when we see it, even if it is uncomfortable, even if the person perpetuating it a friend or hero. We must try our best to change the culture, because anything else is not good enough.
Photo: Kat Jayne