Oscar Pistorius – trial by gender

I am as horrified as anyone by the tragic killing of Reeva Steenkamp. My heart goes out to her family and friends who must be so shocked, distraught and bewildered by the brutal way she died as a result of the actions of a man who was supposed to love her. There is no doubt that Oscar Pistorius shot and killed her. But what remains to be proved is whether he killed her or whether he murdered her.

From what I’ve seen online over the past week, the internet feminist community is absolutely certain Pistorius deliberately murdered Steenkamp. They’re convinced that the allegations of domestic violence are true and that there is no way Steenkamp’s death could be anything other than murder at the hands of a violent man.

South Africa is undoubtedly a violent country, with horribly high rates of murder, violent assault, sexual assault and rape (not that there’s a rate of those things which isn’t horrible). Feminists know that rates of violence by men against women around the world are shocking and sad and awful, and many of us are infuriated by society’s unwillingness to call it what it is – male violence against women and girls. There seem to be many people who will acknowledge that violence against women and girls exists, but they do not want to admit that the perpetrators of this violence are almost exclusively men and boys. They will admit there is a violence problem but not that there is a gendered violence problem.

It does seem to me that in their anger and pain and frustration about the millions of women who suffer at the hands of abusive men every day, some feminists can’t countenance any scenario other than that Pistorius deliberately murdered Steenkamp. And I think they’re wrong to be so adamant. What I’ve seen in the press coverage doesn’t seem to be conclusive. The police are saying one thing, Pistorius is saying another, various things both camps have said have internal contradictions, and all the things both camps have said are interpreted through the lens of our own prejudices, beliefs, anger and fears.

At this stage I don’t know if it’s worse if Pistorius murdered her or shot her thinking she was an intruder. Which is least awful? Either way a woman is dead who should be alive.

But whatever happened, I don’t think it helps anyone to assume Pistorius is a murderer. There’s no doubt he killed Steenkamp, but like any other person on trial, he should be afforded the courtesy of being treated as innocent until and unless he’s found guilty. Feminists are (rightly) outraged when women are assumed to be lying about being the victims of abuse and assault. I don’t think that means we should assume all men are abusers and Pistorius must be guilty. He deserves a fair trial as much as Reeva Steenkamp deserved to live.

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Awkward swim this morning

Was in the pool just after 6 this morning to do a km. It was pretty busy and lots of the people in the slow lane with me were very slow swimmers and obviously not confident in the water. That doesn’t bother me – everyone has different abilities and I’m sure I look as awkward to the fast lane people as some of the slow lane people look to me. The slow lane is a very mixed ability lane – it seems to range from almost complete beginners to competent swimmers who are slower than me, competent swimmers about my level and competent swimmers who are faster and fitter than me but not fast enough for the medium lane. I’m easily 15-20 seconds slower than the medium lane swimmers.

So, there were 4 or 5 very slow swimmers in this morning so there were times when I had to overtake or take over 2 minutes per length/risk sinking through swimming so slowly. I think I tried hard to be a considerate overtaker, waiting till there was plenty of space, passing as far over as I could and not moving back in until I was well ahead to minimise splashing/kicking people in the head. However on at least two occasions I was overtaking about 10m from the end of the lane and hindered by some of the less confident swimmers choosing to set off from the end I was approaching at exactly same time as they saw me passing the person I was overtaking, leaving me with no room at all. Now, I know you’re thinking “why bother overtaking so close to the end?” and my answer to that is “because these people repeatedly failed to let me pass at the end.” Seriously, even though I was giving them a 25m head start and still on their heels by the end of the length, they would not wait three seconds to let me pass them at the end of the lane. So I was trying to get past them where there was obviously room to do so to prevent a bottleneck going the other way. And there were lots of lengths where there was no space to overtake at all so rather than barge past I stayed behind people and floated along behind them hoping they’d let me past at the end (which they never did).

Anyway, after about 12 lengths the pool attendant called me over at the end of the lane and explained that some people had complained I was overtaking and asked if I wanted to move to the medium lane. I explained that I am way too slow for the medium lane and we had a chat about how the slow lane is a very mixed ability lane. I said I wouldn’t be happy in the medium lane because I know I would be holding up every single person in that lane, and he said fair enough, in that case you’re better off in the slow lane and overtaking safely. So I said well, I am trying to overtake safely and I hope I’m not being risky or selfish in my overtaking but if you have concerns about how I’m doing it, I’m happy to be told, and he said no, I’ve been watching and you’re fine with what you’re doing so carry on. So I carried on but it really felt awkward after that. It really bugs me when people in the slow lane charge past everyone just for the sake of it and overtake badly just because they have to get past and I try really hard not to do that, and it’s upset me to think people think that’s what I’m doing, especially when they don’t have the sense to wait two seconds at the end to give me time to get past them without overtaking. And really, you’d think people would understand that it’s possible for someone to be faster than them but still not fast enough for the medium lane.

One of the regular women I see most mornings asked me what was going on so I told her about the conversation with the guard, and she said I was fine – my overtakes were fine and I wasn’t swimming inconsiderately, and then she said it was probably one of the men who didn’t like being overtaken by a woman and then we laughed and then I did my last length and got out feeling a bit better.

It’s time for the “soar away” Sun to just fuck off

I’m certain most people are disgusted at the front page of today’s Sun. If you haven’t seen it, don’t bother looking for it. It’s vile. The Sun’s editor decided it’s appropriate to sexualise and glamorise the murder of a woman by her boyfriend. Reeva Steenkamp hadn’t been dead for 24 hours when the Sun filled its front page with a picture of her posing, pouting, in a bikini, with a headline of sensationalised violence. They tried to justify the picture by saying that Reeva was a model. Yes, she was a model, before she was killed. She was also a law graduate, entrepeneur, presenter and campaigner against violence against women and girls. The Sun could have depicted her in any of those guises, but they did what they always do – they went for the wank-mag shot. Even though the poor woman was shot dead the day before, the Sun still thinks readers should have the chance of a quick wank over her picture.

And the thing is, although I’m angry and disgusted, I’m not surprised. This is what the Sun does. This is how they see women. They don’t care about women as individuals, as human beings, as people with talents and achievements and flaws and real lives. All they care about is what women look like, how hot they are, how big their breasts are and how much skin they show.

Do we really need this vile apology for a newspaper? Isn’t it time the whole country said “no more”? The News of the World had to close after the public realised how badly it had behaved. Surely it’s time the public used their power to shut down the Sun.

Some of the Sun’s regular advertisers are BSkyB, Everything Everywhere, Argos, ASDA, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Vodafone and O2. I’ve asked them all to withdraw their advertising from the Sun. Why not do the same?

Another angry woman

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The woman, pictured in a bikini, positioned carefully by the editors to invite leering. She was killed. The headline, sensationalistic and lurid. The scare quotes, trivialising violence.

Her name was Reeva Steenkamp, not that you’d know from the reportage. It’s irrelevant to them.

This is hardly the first time I’ve been appalled by the lows to which this vile rag can sink. I am shocked and sickened, but not surprised. This is par for the course for The Sun. This is not new, merely different.

I have spent the last few days arguing with defenders of the No More Page 3 campaign, and when I see this I wonder how anyone can continue to argue that the page beneath this is the problem.

It’s how these bastards operate. I don’t doubt that this will sell well, and our disgust will be dismissed. It happens every single fucking time they do…

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Valentine’s Day Thoughts

It’s Valentine’s Day tomorrow and everywhere is full of adverts for what couples are supposed to be buying for each other, or more accurately, what men are supposed to be buying for their girlfriends/wives. There’s nothing like 14th Feb to promote the idea that women should expect men to spend money on them, and the more he spends the more he loves her – or the higher her self-esteem, the more she should demand. Women’s magazines at this time of year seem to portray women as shrill harpies who will (and should) dump a man, or at least give him a really hard time, if he doesn’t send 12 red roses, chocolates and a teddy holding a massive padded card with glitter on it to the office and follow it up by presenting her with diamond earrings in the most expensive restaurant in town.

It really makes me quite cross.

Quite apart from anything else, Valentine’s Day is – or was – supposed to be about people who are not in a relationship declaring their interest in another single person. Cards are – or were – supposed to be anonymous. They were about letting you know that somebody fancied you, giving you a clue as to the identity of the sender without being too overt. They were about mystery and excitement and the possibility of new beginnings, not about the opportunity for gloating because your boyfriend sent a “better” card than your colleagues got.

For established couples, I don’t think there’s anything romantic about cards/gifts/other traditional gestures just because it’s 14th February. Romance, for me, is about personal things, the little things that are meaningful within your own relationship, not 12 overpriced red roses because Interflora say that’s what you should give/expect to get on this date.

My boyfriend, who is awesome and wonderful in so many ways, has made it very clear he will never send me flowers. It’s just not something that he does. In some ways, that disappoints me a bit. I love flowers. I buy them for myself, but from someone else is even better. I’d rather have the non-killing-African-children type, as a rule, in the same way I’d rather have fairtrade chocolate, but I wouldn’t be churlish about any others. I wouldn’t recommend red roses though, at this time of year – the price goes up to ridiculous numbers, so if you’re willing to spend £50 on 12 red roses, I’d rather you spent the £50 on more of other flowers. (Not lilies though, for me, I’m allergic and the smell gives me the boak). The thing about flowers is they’re beautiful, they (should) smell nice, they’re impractical and temporary – they’re a luxury. Whether it’s a 50p bunch of daffs, or something one of the expensive and stunning hand-tied bouquets from one of the fancy florists, I’d be equally happy. (Sweetpeas are my favourite, but I also like good carnations that actually smell of carnations, all colours of roses, particularly the yellow ones with orangey-red edges, and white ones) and all the spring flowers). So to be told that he would never do something that would give me a lot of pleasure because it’s not just something that he does – well, that is a teeny bit disappointing.

But then I remember that he will help me sort my bike out when I ask him to without complaint. He’s helped me sort my computer out without complaint, and without being a dick about it either. He brings me a glass of juice in bed in the mornings on the days I don’t have to get up for work. If I’m cooking and realise I’m out of a vital ingredient, he will nip to the shop for me without complaint and sometimes he will bring Mars Bar icecreams back as a surprise. One day last year when my hip was sore and I wasn’t walking very well and the weather was absolutely shit and I really fancied some smokey bacon crisps, he went to 4 different shops to find some for me. All of those things are worth more to me than all the Interflora roses in the world. Someone who treats me with love and respect and kindness and thoughtfulness every day of the year is so much more romantic and so much more important than a poxy teddy and a padded glittery card out of a sense of “it’s February 14th so I have to do this.” And that’s why I’ve said to him every year since we’ve been together that I don’t feel a need to “do” Valentine’s Day.