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Oscar Pistorius and the Global System of Deadly Misogyny
by Dave Zirin
February 20, 2013
Just as with Belcher and Perkins, we will learn more than we ever wanted or needed to know in the weeks to come about the nature of Pistorius and Steenkamp’s relationship. We will learn about the “allegations of a domestic nature” that had brought police to his home in the past. We will learn about Pistorius’s previous allegedly violent relationships with women. We will learn about the variety of guns he kept at close hand. We will surely discuss male athletes and violence against women: the sort of all-too-common story that can create commonality between a football player from Long Island and a sprinter from Johannesburg. We might even ponder the way these gated communities, one of which was also the site of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin’s murder two years ago, become throbbing pods of paranoia and parabellums. We will learn about everything except what actually matters: there is a global epidemic of violence against women, and South Africa is at its epicenter.
Two days before Steenkamp’s death, there were protests outside of the South African parliament about the failures of the state to adjudicate the unsolved rapes and murders of women across the country. As the executive director of the Rape Crisis Centre Kathleen Dey said on February 12, “There are no overnight cures to the scourge of rape that is affecting South Africa. We have the highest instance of rape in the world and we cannot continue in this way.” The official statistics are shocking. Every seventeen seconds a woman is raped in South Africa yet just one out of nine women report it and only 14 percent of perpetrators are convicted. The Rape Crisis Centre and other organizations are starved for funds, with the demand for social services, counseling and even HIV tests far outstripping their capacity.
There have also had to be demonstrations against what the Women’s League of the African National Congress has termed “femicide.” In this country of 50 million people, three women a day are killed by their partners. When news of Steenkamp’s death became front-page news across the country, it pushed out ongoing headlines of the February 2 Western Cape gang rape and mutilation of a 17-year-old girl named Anene Booysen. Before her death, Booysen identified one of her perpetrators: it was someone she both trusted and knew.
This is hardly a South African problem, of course. We are confronting nothing less than a global system of brutal misogyny. Too many men across the world see too many women as repositories of their rage, frustration, narcissism or simply their will to enact violence. The World Health Organization’s reports that depending on the country, anywhere from “15% (Japan) to 71% (Ethiopia) of women report physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner at some point in their lives.” Like in South Africa, every statistic on this issue must be viewed with skepticism because of the transnational stigmas and shame that silence women who have survived.
In the United States, rape culture and the rape it produces have been normalized to the point where Notre Dame athletes accused of rape can take the field for a national championship football game without a peep from the sports pages. It’s a country where Fox News host Bob Beckel can ask incredulously, “When’s the last time you heard about rape on a college campus?” It’s a country, and a world, where people are now saying enough is enough.
It’s a global problem that will get solved only with a global response if we want to even dream of a world where violence against women is a relic of history. That’s the sentiment behind initiatives like “One Billion Rising to End Violence Against Women and Girls,” and this kind of brave solidarity and support is extremely welcome. This very solidarity was displayed by Reeva Steenkamp herself just before her death. Distraught over the murder of Anene Booysen, Steenkamp sent out an instragam message. It read, “I woke up in a happy safe home this morning. Not everyone did. Speak out against the rape of individuals in SA. RIP Anene Booysen.” Short of a billion of us rising, happy and safe homes will not be a reality for the women of the world. It should be. We have to act now unless we want to keep telling the stories of Kasandra Perkins, Anene Booysen and Reeva Steenkamp over and over again, only with different names.
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Where sports and politics collide.
by Jessica Valenti
February 15, 2013
Just one day after shooting Steenkamp four times, Pistorius has been called “calm and positive” and “inspirational.” (Steenkamp? She’s been called “a leggy blonde.”)
One reporter at The New York Times who spent a week with the double-amputee athlete, wrote that Pistorius was “not as cautious as he always should be…but I didn’t see anger in him.” The headline is “The Adrenaline-Fueled Life of Oscar Pistorius.” He was just an impulsive guy!
Give me a break.
Early media reports speculated that Pistorius shot Steenkamp mistakenly, believing she was a burglar. But prosecutors don't share that view. After all, the police had been called to his home multiple times in the past for domestic altercations. We’ve seen this happen before—many, many times before—yet still we insist on lying to ourselves. This murder may have happened in South Africa, but the misogynist response to the crime has become a familiar theme here in the United States.
The national conversation around domestic violence murders is not a discourse as much as it is a fairy tale—a narrative we create to make sense of the madness. After all, it’s more comforting to believe that Belcher had brain damage than it is to admit that someone people so admired was a controlling, violent abuser. It’s easier to think that Pistorius accidentally shot Steenkamp than realize the murder is a foreseeable end to a violent relationship.
It’s why we blame dead women for the unthinkable violence done against them—mostly because of misogyny, but also because it provides a false sense of safety. In the days after her murder, Perkins was criticized for staying out late (the nerve!), accused of trying to leave him and “take his money.” Given the sexualized descriptions of Steenkamp, I’m sure it won’t be long before someone suggests she somehow brought this on herself—she was making him jealous or flirted too much. We need to believe that these women did something to cause the violence, because then it means the same thing would never happen to us. (We’re not like “those girls!”)
Our culture is so attached to this myth making that some are willing to forgo all logic and ignore all facts. In the wake of Perkins’ murder, and now after Steenkamp’s, conservatives and gun enthusiasts insist that if these women were armed, they would still be alive. Never mind that both women lived in a house where guns were available, and yet they still died.
When I was a volunteer emergency room advocate for victims of rape and domestic violence, the first question we were trained to ask women who had been abused by their partners was whether or not there was a gun in the home. Because we knew that women whose partners had access to a gun were seven times more likely to be killed. In fact, women who are killed by their partners are more likely to be murdered by a gun than all other means combined.
Despite this tower of evidence, people will continue to insist that these women could have somehow stopped the violence. (Inaccuracies aside, the idea that women have a responsibility to keep someone from killing them rather than an abuser not to commit murder is baffling.)
The more we tell ourselves and others these lies, the more cover we give to those would do violence against women. We create a narrative where victims are to blame and abusers heroized. And perhaps worst of all, we create a culture where we fool ourselves into thinking these murders are something that just happens—unforeseeable tragedies rather than preventable violence.
The reality of domestic violence murders is stark and scary—but it is still the reality. And no amount of story-telling will stop the killings. Only the truth can do that.
A global movement to end violence against women, One Billion Rising, is taking off. Read Laura Flanders’s primer.
Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story reported that Pistorius claimed he had mistaken Steenkamp for a burglar. In fact, early media reports speculated that, not Pistorius himself. The story has been corrected.