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.


10 thoughts on “Oscar Pistorius – trial by gender

  1. What annoys me most is the UK tabloids: a woman is shot and our most popular newspapers feel that an appropriate way to cover the issue is to stick a picture of Reeva in a bikini on the cover, in a pose that is designed to encourage leering. Absolutely disgusting.

  2. Yes, it’s vile. I covered that in a previous post and I’ve reblogged several other posts from people who feel the same way. I really wish those tabloids would just shut up shop forever.

  3. Thank you for this, I have been disturbed by the assumption of many feminists that because he is male he must be a murderer

  4. I can see why some people feel that way – violence against women is endemic and it’s so often trivialised, “justified,” and accepted as normal and commonplace, and women still have to fight so hard to make people understand what the problem is. When we see violence against women belittled everywhere we turn, it’s obvious why feminists don’t want any perpetrator to get away with it. But there are people who believe that all feminists think all men are murderers and rapists and they use that belief to deny that feminism has any validity or any legitimate grounds for complaint. “Feminists, huh. They think all men are rapists. I’ve never raped anyone so everything else they say is obviously shit too.” Oscar Pistorius might not have murdered Reeva Steenkamp, and to be so insistent that he did, on the basis of such conflicting stories and months before any trial, comes across (to me) as convicting him just because he’s a man. Violence against women is awful and much more prevalent than most people realise, but that doesn’t mean every man is a perpetrator and it doesn’t mean suspects should be assumed to be guilty just because they’re men.

  5. I’ve never equated feminism with man hating, I think a real and functional equality has as many benefits for men as for women.

    I really felt that The Last Leg summarised the situation best in that if Reeva Steenkamp was murdered it is a tragedy, if she was killed accidentally it is a tragedy. At this point we can’t know, if there is evidence that Oscar Pistorius is a violent and angry man seduced by his fame and hero status then the likely explanation becomes murder, if there is evidence that he was kind and loving to his girlfriends then it shifts to being a terrible “accident”. In a violent country with gun ownership mistakes will be fatal, there are lots of questions raised around why he didn’t make sure Reeva was where he supposedly thought, best case is he was reckless in resorting to the gun and opening fire. If this was the case it is culpable homacide, you can’t fire a gun and not believe there is a significant change of killing. As a reckless “accident” what normal person would want that on their conscience forever?

  6. There are feminists who do hate men, and there are men who believe that all feminists hate men and use that erroneous belief as justification for disregarding all feminists. And there are lots of feminists who would tell the men who point out that real equality has benefits for men and women that it shouldn’t need to benefit men – decent men should support feminism just because it benefits women without it having to benefit men too. Not everything has to be about men for it to be valid and worthy of attention.

  7. What I was inarticulately trying to express was that equality is basically a good idea for everyone, definitely not that feminism had to be about men to be valid.

    • Yeah, I know. But you get it. There are plenty men who will only engage with feminism if you tell them it has benefits for them too – the fact it makes life better for women isn’t enough.

  8. Continuing to read the Everyday Sexism site (thanks for the link) I think what men have little or no concept of is the unremitting relentless nature of attention/abuse to which women are subject and how men try to twist even that to being women’s responsibility.

    • I find myself reading that site every day and there are still more entries on it than I can keep up with. And it’s bad enough that the harassment happens, but to be told it’s just “banter” or “it just means he fancies you, it’s a compliment” – it’s horrible

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