Tag Archives: violence against women

Reporting Oscar Pistorius and Reeva Steenkamp

There’s something quite sinister about the way the mainstream media reports violence against beautiful women. The focus on the woman’s appearance always has a touch of “she drove him mad with her beauty” (he couldn’t help himself) or “he loved her so much he had to kill her” (aww, romantic) that sits very uneasily with me.

Reeva Steenkamp was killed yesterday. Her boyfriend, Oscar Pistorius, has been charged with murder. I can’t imagine the grief and the loss that her friends and family are feeling, and I really hope that blogging about the coverage does not cause them more tears. I decided to blog about it because I think there’s something sick about the words that journalists are using.

This is the way smh.com.au presents the story on their homepage:

The caption reads: Pistorius murder 'shock': Police attended previous "domestic incidents" before "Blade Runner" allegedly shot dead girlfriend

The caption reads: Pistorius murder ‘shock’ Police attended previous “domestic incidents” before “Blade Runner” allegedly shot dead girlfriend.

Reeva Steenkamp is the main image, but she isn’t even named. I’m quite surprised they didn’t get “model” in there somewhere – “Model ‘murdered’ by Olympian” is more their style.

This is the headline: ‘Obviously we are shocked’: Pistorius charged with murder of model girlfriend. Again, no mention of Reeva’s name, she’s just a model girlfriend. An interchangeable pretty woman. But there’s something else going on here. The art of headline writing is lost online, because journalists include every term that someone might plug into a search engine to find the story (just as I have included both names in the headline and tags of this post). Which means the journos at smh.com.au don’t think anyone would be searching for Reeva Steenkamp’s name. Why is that?

This is how the story refers to Reeva Steenkamp, from the first par to the last:

South African police have charged Olympic amputee sprint star Oscar Pistorius with the Valentine’s Day murder of his glamorous model girlfriend, but played down reports she was mistaken for a burglar… charges of killing 30-year-old model Reeva Steenkamp… The blonde was shot four times… Steenkamp, once a FHM magazine cover girl…

These are the only mentions by the journalist in a 736 word story about her death. (There’s a quote from Pistorius’ father – “Our thoughts are with the family of the woman involved in this tragedy” – and a quote from Sarit Tomlins at Steenkamp’s management agency – “the kindest, sweetest human being; an angel on earth” – but I didn’t include them because they’re not the journalist’s words.) Keep in mind that of those 736 words, the last 383 are about his “colourful private life full of model girlfriends, guns and fast cars” and his achievements as an athlete.

Smh.com.au has a second main image on this story as well:

The caption reads: Reeva's final love tweet: She was excited about Valentine's Day. Hours later the girlfriend of Oscar Pistorius was dead.

The caption reads: Reeva’s final love tweet: She was excited about Valentine’s Day. Hours later the girlfriend of Oscar Pistorius was dead.

The story – ‘A day of love for everyone’: model tweeted before being shot dead in home of Pistorius – is fucking appalling:

The leggy blonde model tweeted that Valentine’s Day should be “a day of love for everyone.” Instead Reeva Steenkamp was shot dead in the home of her boyfriend, paralympian superstar Oscar Pistorius, who was charged with her murder… the glamorous South African celebrity… The freckled blonde who appeared in scanty bikinis on magazine covers and sashayed down fashion ramps…

Wow.

This is how dailytelegraph.com.au presents the story on their homepage:

The caption reads: Paralympic and Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius has been charged with murder over the shooting death of his model girlfriend.

The caption reads: Paralympic and Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius has been charged with murder over the shooting death of his model girlfriend.

Although Steenkamp isn’t mentioned in the caption, the main image is the person charged with the crime (as is the case with every crime story, unless the victim is an attractive woman).

The headline is Oscar Pistorius charged with murder of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp and this is how the story refers to Steenkamp:

PARALYMPIC superstar Oscar Pistorius has been charged with the murder of his girlfriend who was shot inside his home in South Africa, a stunning development in the life of a national hero known as the Blade Runner for his high-tech artificial legs… Reeva Steenkamp, a model who spoke out on Twitter against rape and abuse of women, was shot four times… Police have played down reports that Pistorius shot dead Steenkamp thinking she was an intruder, saying they had dealt with domestic incidents at his residence and will oppose bail… Pistorius was at his home at the time of the death of Steenkamp… earlier reports that Steenkamp may have been mistaken for a burglar by Pistorius did not come from the police… Capacity Relations, a talent management firm, earlier named model Steenkamp as the victim of the shooting.

The dailytelegraph.com.au story shits all over both smh.com.au stories and I recommend reading it. It’s less sensational and doesn’t focus on Steenkamp’s appearance. It’s by “staff writers” who have brought together copy from several sources, and whoever did it, well done.

(As an aside, here’s something that I just can’t comprehend: according to saynotoviolence.org, in South Africa “a woman is killed every 6 hours by an intimate partner”. Holy fucking crap.)

The version on the ABC website (from Reuters and AFP copy) starts well, but in the end has more words about how it might affect Pistorius’ sponsorship deals than it does about anything else. And, oddly, this bit:

Steenkamp, a model and regular on the South African party circuit, was reported to have been dating Pistorius for a year, and there had been little to suggest their relationship was in trouble.

Um, does that mean that if their relationship had been in trouble then the crime would make sense?

Journalists really need to think about the words they use. Because when I look at the coverage of this story on the websites of the ABC and a supposedly intelligent broadsheet, the impression I get is that journalists believe Reeva Steenkamp’s appearance/job is good for getting clicks, but it doesn’t matter that she was killed because she was just a model. If that’s really the way that Australia’s online journalists think about women – and keep in mind that most online journos are under 40 and tertiary educated – then it’s not just the crusty old guys in the industry who are the problem.

Update 16 Feb: Ok, since I’m criticising the SMH for their coverage, this is today’s story, these are the actual first five sentences of Pistorius breaks down at court appearance:

A tearful Oscar Pistorius has been remanded in custody after being formally charged with the murder of his girlfriend.

He was wearing a dark suit, tie and blue shirt when he appeared in the Pretoria magistrates court on Friday.

He broke down in the dock as magistrate Desmond Nair formally charged him with the murder of Reeva Steenkamp, 29.

A sobbing Oscar Pistorius has been formerly charged with the Valentine’s Day murder of his model girlfriend.

The 26-year-old Paralympian gold medallist wept on Friday as Pretoria magistrate Desmond Nair announced a single charge of killing blonde covergirl Reeva Steenkamp.

I hope no one actually read that before it was published, because if they did they should get their arse kicked. (The story is dated yesterday, so it’s been online for at least 12 hours like this.)

Homelessness – the new lifestyle choice (according to Mr Abbott)

Hi Lexy here not NWN, after commenting non stop on NWN’s pieces I finally get my own chance to have a good ole rant!  Disclaimer: I am NOT a journalist and this is my opinion not NWN’s.

 So he-who-shall-not-be-named, otherwise known as the Dark Lord, head-Poombah of the Order of the Dickstickers and occasionally as Tony Abbott has waded into another debate on which he has an opinion yet is woefully under resourced in fact. He has also attempted to be a ‘journalist’ again (and I use that word under advisement in this context) which gives me an option to critique his article.

This time he has chosen homelessness not the sanctity of his teenage daughters’ virginity or ‘Ironing 101’ lectures for housewives. This is win-win for Mr Budgie Smugglers as the homeless are not likely to vote for him in the first place and it has never traditionally been a vote winning and glamour area of social policy.   It is a handy little area for youknowwho though because it allows him to take the moral high ground and make sweeping and inaccurate statements that neatly dismiss homelessness, and its causes, as being a ‘lifestyle’ (don’t you just hate that word) choice. For a small minority it is a choice but they really are the minority and arguably only accepting of the street culture lifestyle due to years of institutionalised homelessness and few available exit options.

 Better still, it is also a useful way to reiterate Catholic mediaeval doctrine on the deserving and the undeserving poor.  What youknowwho doesn’t acknowledge is that the homeless are not just:

 “a shape huddled under an awning on a wet night or a sad figure begging in the street”. 

as he sees them, but  people in boarding houses with no security of tenure or even a bathroom, refuges and crisis accommodation, caravan parks, cars and sofa surfers gradually running out of mates places to stay. They are families made homeless by unaffordable housing and the lack of investment in social housing during the Howard years.  The previous Coalition Government consistently reduced (in real terms) the Commonwealth State Housing Agreement. The ‘new homeless’ are often the Howard battlers that youknowwho is still gunning for.   

 The biggest causes of homelessness are family breakdown and women fleeing domestic violence. Youknowwho comments that:

The Howard government established a national network of family relationship centres to try to keep families together or to take some of the bitterness out of breaking up.”

 Oh right so if these women had only stayed with their abusive partners they wouldn’t be homeless in the first place.  Well technically being beaten or being homeless (note to Tony – a refuge is not a home) is a choice but a third choice might be nice.   I am not suggesting that prevention of family break down where possible has no merit (and not all breakups are violence related of course) but a spot of marriage counselling is not the resolution to homelessness and domestic violence.

Most interestingly though, he demonstrates that he is totally out of step with all the research (domestic and international) and thinking on tackling homelessness, such as successful ‘Housing First’ models in New York.  What is needed is more long term housing solutions not more refuges and soup kitchens (the charitable response that he likes so much).  They are crucial in helping homeless people but dont actually reduce homeless numbers. Over the last few years homeless numbers have stayed stable despite all the hard work , so we have been throwing money at the issue but not making any headway in reducing the long term problem.  Both state and commonwealth responses are actually trying to reduce the number rather than just maintain the status quo and give them a bowl of soup and a blanket from time to time.

 There are some serious targets proposed which includes a 25% reduction in rough sleeping in NSW by 2013.  Ambitious yes, but better than the do nothing approach youknowwho proposes where homeless people continue to struggle and health/police and other state and federal resources remain under pressure.  Where would you rather your taxes went?

Charlie Sheen and cowards who hit women

In today’s Daily Mail: The vengeful wives who want to wipe the floor with Mr Sheen. The way they’ve included a housework reference while implying they’re nasty bitches is almost impressive. (Although isn’t it odd that vengeance is about justified retribution, but ‘vengeful wives’ doesn’t sound like the payback is justified?)

Anyway, back to the Daily Mail:

Amid the fake snow of a ritzy farmer’s market favoured by health conscious locals in the Los Angeles suburb of Brentwood, two tanned blondes are lunching on salad and designer water.

To the casual observer it is familiar scene – a couple of young mums sharing gossip about husbands, children and shopping.

But it is an image likely to send a chill down the spine of the man who, for most of this two-hour, pre-Christmas lunch date, has been virtually the only subject of the pair’s hushed conversation.

The two women are Denise Richards (Charlie Sheen’s ex-wife) and Brooke Mueller (no doubt also soon Charlie Sheen’s ex-wife). But it’s not until we get to the SEVENTH paragraph that there’s any mention of Sheen being thrown in jail:

All of which can only add to the problems facing the actor, who spent Christmas in jail after allegedly attacking wife number three, Miss Mueller, in a drunken rage.

He also allegedly held a knife to her throat. But no, the Daily Mail thinks the two women are more of a problem for Sheen. It’s not the first time he’s bashed a woman. (And as I write this, I’ve just been with a friend who has taken out a restraining order against her ex because he beat her black and blue, and I’m fantasising about giving him an earful in front of his mates about how he’s a coward who hits women. AND the fuckstick is involved with the White Ribbon campaign. I want to punch his lights out, but using violence to make my anti-violence point would be a tad hypocritical.)

The caption on Sheen’s mugshot:

Charlie Sheen: The highest paid actor on US television is said to be ‘panic stricken’ that his wives might conspire to bring him down.

No Charlie, your downfall is your own doing.

Mark Dreyfus, I’d vote for you if I could

Never heard of Mark Dreyfus? He’s the member for Isaacs (in Victoria, which is why this Sydney woman can’t vote for him). You should get to know him. Here’s a bit of what he said in the House of Reps yesterday ahead of White Ribbon Day:

It was a recognition that for gender based violence to be eliminated men need to take responsibility for that violence and to work to prevent it.

Preventing violence against women requires us to address the underlying issues of sexism, lack of respect for women and a sense of privilege that many men enjoy. It requires us to work to change attitudes, emotions and behaviours that support violence such as sexist jokes. Beliefs that women are inferior or that some women ‘deserve it’ or were ‘asking for it’ do not simply encourage violence; they create a culture in which silence becomes the acceptable response to violence against women.

Tomorrow, male politicians will have the opportunity to join the My Oath campaign:

I swear:
never to commit violence against women,
never to excuse violence against women, and
never to remain silent about violence against women.
This is my oath.

It will be interesting to see who doesn’t.

Things that shit me

I had a shit day at work. And I’m pissed off that I’m still in a shitty mood, two hours into my own time.

You know what else shits me?

Listening to the bullshit that goes on in Parliament as the Opposition tries to score points on asylum seekers. They’re desperate people. Pull your head out of your fucking privileged arse (yes, Julie Bishop, I’m talking to you – not only have you played the immigration queue jumper card, but now you’re saying the Sri Lankans on the Oceanic Viking will jump the public housing queue. You are making me very, very cross).

People who think asylum seekers are queue-jumping terrorists rolling in money.

The sales people at work who are never on the phone selling anything and then go shopping at lunch because they earn a shitload more than I do, yet I’m the one creating the product they sell (or don’t/can’t sell, as the case often is). And then when money’s tight, the journos are the first to go.

People who blame women for violence against women.

That the snails aways get to the strawberries before me, no matter how many snail pellets and beer traps I use.

And that the neighbour’s cat shits under our window. And it got in last weekend and pissed in the living room in a bag Man Friend’s step mum brought back from France for us. I hate that cat.

Got something you want to add? Go on, let it out.

Paul Sheehan will dull your passion

I was out of the news loop today, so I didn’t see that Paul Sheehan had his feminist* hat on again until I was reading A Big Life.

Sheehan is writing about violence against women, which is something men should be talking about it – that’s the point of White Ribbon Day – but my goodness, could he make it any more boring? If women tune out before they get to the end, what hope is there of men reading it?

Yes, violence against women is disgusting and should be stopped – that’s a no-brainer – but I have a couple of problems with articles like this. Firstly, the discussion around them tends to focus on sexual assaults, female genital mutilation and how Western feminists don’t care about their Muslim sisters, which is an accusation always levelled by a man to dismiss anything an Australian feminist says. Secondly, it implies that violence against women is the only problem women face. And thirdly, that it’s only important enough to talk about once a year on a special day.

Now, there’s quite a few of you who like to sit quietly up the back, but I’d really like to know what you think about this. Don’t be shy.

* Paul Sheehan is not a feminist

Re-writing the pro-rape Facebook story

I wasn’t going to blog about the “Define Statutory” Facebook page set up by some male students at St Paul’s college at Sydney University. It’s a disgusting story about some privileged misogynistic wankers who think it’s cool to be sex offenders.

But what I do want to write about is the way readers’ opinions are shaped by the way stories are written. It’s an SMH story, but News.com.au did a re-write. (AAP would have also done one.)

What News.com.au left out was that the group tagged the page as “anti-consent” and “pro-rape”. Look at the comments on the News.com.au story – it’s an ill-informed debate about statutory rape because the “anti-consent” description is missing, and readers are dismissing the “pro-rape” in the headline as a media beat-up. (I guess I don’t need to point out the higher quality of the comments on the story at smh.com.au.)

The problem is that News.com.au readers – and readers of any site with an inferior re-write – will have a completely different understanding of the story, and each time it happens, readers will dismiss rape stories as just media beat-ups.

Update: Jezebel has a great piece on how Facebook allows this “hilarious” pro-rape group in the “Sports and Recreation” category, but doesn’t allow women to post photos of themselves breastfeeding.