When women are killed, we remain just as dead as any man in similar circumstances. It cannot be argued that we have not really died, that the bullet that went through our skull didn’t really hurt us. Our death is an objective truth. It’s just the years leading up to it – all those experiences, thoughts and feelings – that can never quite be verified. For how does one know whether a life has validity unless it was lived by a man?
A man’s story belongs to him. He is more than “just the women”. As Judge Thokozile Masipa said of Oscar Pistorius, not guilty of murder despite firing four shots through a locked bathroom door, “the accused is the only person who can say what his state of mind was at the time he fired the shots that killed the deceased”. His experiences are inviolable. And as for those of the deceased? Alas, she has but one experience: that of being dead, and before then, her experience was that of being the other half; the complement, the accessory, the essential blonde girlfriend in the Blade Runner Story. Oscar Pistorius Charged With The Murder Of Model Lover. What experiences would a model lover have, anyway? None, were it not for the man who magics her into existence. Look! There she is, on his arm! How clever of him to find one like that!
Reeva Steenkamp — model lover, deceased, whatever – confessed to fearing the man who would eventually kill her. It’s almost as though she had an inner life and words of her own, not that these matter. According to Judge Masipa, “normal relationships are dynamic and unpredictable sometimes”. Whatever Steenkamp felt came and went; it is not being felt any more. Meanwhile a man can rewrite the past. Oscar Pistorius did. Even so, the assumption that just because he was untruthful, he must therefore be guilty of murder “must be guided against”. Of course. There is, beneath the fog, some rock solid truth that no one on the outside may question. We simply cannot know.
When women feel anger and dismay at verdicts such as those delivered today, we are told not to generalise. We must stick to the facts. We must also be reasonable. Here are some things that are facts, not generalisations (whether or not they are reasonable is another matter):
- In 2009, 1024 women in South Africa were killed by intimate partner violence (one woman for every eight hours)
- In this year alone, male violence has seen three women beheaded in London
- Two women a week are killed by their partner or former partner in England and Wales (yeah, I know. That one’s got boring)
- In the UK, 30% of the female population have experienced some form of domestic abuse since the age of 16
- Almost 94% of murderers in the UK are men
- Six doors down from me, a pregnant teenage girl was killed by her ex-boyfriend. What about where you live?
You can piece together a story from this, if you want to. You can identify a pattern. Nonetheless, whatever you do you will be dealing with lives which don’t carry the same weight as the lives of men. They simply don’t make the same impression. As women we are used to being talked over, corrected and ignored. Even if we die a thousand deaths each one will be separated out and filed away neatly. A woman’s death becomes a detail in the life story of the man who kills her; god forbid that we group the many deaths together and see a different story, that of a culture which tolerates and excuses male violence again and again.
#Ibelieveher matters, not because women never lie, but because our stories are always seen as provisional and in need of external verification. If something happens to us and a man cannot confirm it, has it really happened at all? How can anyone be sure? The stories of women form a backdrop to the lives of men. When they become obtrusive or inconvenient, they can be discarded. It’s not rape if a reasonable person would have believed consent was given. It’s not murder if a reasonable person would have felt under threat. Men, of course, are reasonable; women, less so. When we hide in toilets, behind locked doors, when we profess to feeling scared – well, who knows what that means? Every word, feeling and memory is left hanging in the air, waiting to see if a man will walk past and give it shape. And if he doesn’t? Well, we might as well not exist.