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.