Everyday Victim Blaming

challenging institutional disbelief around domestic & sexual violence and abuse

This Dear Is Not For Calming Down

Carol Sarler’s article ‘Calm down! Saatchi's no monster and Nigella's no battered wife’ in the Daily Mail on 25th June did anything but calm me down.  It is rage inducing stuff full of myths, stereotypes, victim shaming and blaming.  It reads like a long ‘check your privilege’ piece.

Firstly, the headline.  Aside from the patronising ‘calm down dear’, the use of the term 'battered' is totally misleading as domestic violence (hereby referred to as relationship violence and abuse) comes in many forms, not just ‘battering’. With google at our fingertips, a quick search would have produced Women’s Aid definition:

What is domestic violence?
In Women's Aid's view domestic violence is physical, sexual, psychological or financial violence that takes place within an intimate or family-type relationship and that forms a pattern of coercive and controlling behaviour. This can include forced marriage and so-called 'honour crimes'. Domestic violence  may include a range of abusive behaviours, not all of which are in themselves inherently 'violent'.

Such a narrow definition, as per the headline, is also a tactic that abusers use to deny their behaviour ‘well, I have never hit you, so STFU’.  I have actually heard specialists and professionals in the field state that abused women have told them that they almost wish that physical violence had been part of the abuse as they would have recognised it for what it was: abuse.

Ironically, Melissa Kite’s far more edifying and insightful piece was published in the same paper on 18th June.  Cleary Sarler has not researched the topic on which she writes, instead she peppers her piece full of myths and stereotypes.  She writes:

The time has come for all this to stop. The nation has thoroughly, if rather disgracefully, enjoyed itself by gossiping about Charles Saatchi and Nigella Lawson for quite long enough. We have pored over every ugly picture — and ugly they certainly were — and we have gaped and gasped to our national heart’s content.

Speak for yourself, I haven't encountered anyone who has 'enjoyed it' and the vast majority of people appear to be shocked and appalled. Domestic Violence Charities have reported a huge increase in the volume of calls since the publicity.

But what began as graphic titillation has started to smell altogether too much like a witch-hunt: a frenzy of speculation that is becoming as unseemly as it is unfair.

Charles Saatchi is being portrayed worldwide as a wife-beating monster on the basis of scant, if any, evidence.

Hmm, so photographic evidence does not count?  Never mind the endless red flags in this piece (we'll come to those later).  Again, note the use of the term ‘wife beater’.

Nigella Lawson, famously her own woman and a goddess to boot, is being characterised as a pathetic victim of domestic violence — which, try as I might, I just don’t buy.

Where do I start with this?  Well, goddesses can be victims too.  The use of the adjective pathetic here is also judgemental, pejorative and in my view, nothing short of victim shaming.  Famously her own woman?  STOP PRESS: male violence against women is universal and as Melissa Kite wrote:

I think there was a part of me that lacked self-esteem, and needed to win over a difficult man in order to prove I was worthwhile. Indeed, I believe that this drive to prove oneself is the reason that high-flying women so often end up in abusive relationships — because the same drive that shoots them up the career ladder propels them into the arms of a dangerous man, thinking: ‘I will succeed, I will change him.’

You can be surrounded by lovely things, but it means nothing if your partner is scaring the wits out of you. And, aside from the fear, it is so downright humiliating.

I heard and read similar dismissive ‘victim worthiness’  comments about Vicky Pryce who used the marital coercion defence during her trial.  I was also told to reserve my sympathy and support far more deserving women, ‘true victims’ of relationship violence and abuse.  You could almost hear the snorts of derision in the press and on Twitter; well she is so clever and successful therefore cannot possibly have been in an abusive relationship.

Tell me what all these women have in common:

Gloria Gaynor

Amanda de Cadenet

Kim Kardashian


Halle Berry

Tobin Givens

Mariah Carey

Pamela Anderson

Whitney Houston

Tina Turner


Vicky Pryce

Susie Boniface

Melissa Kite

Reeva Steenkamp

La Toya Jackson

Nicole Brown and Reeva Steemkamp, both of whom could have been described as ‘goddesses’ were not immune from partner violence.  Both paid the heaviest price.

And here come the red flags, emboldened in red:

Saatchi is indeed a volatile and physical man. Always has been. Back in the days when he began to make his millions in advertising, there were tales of him hurling items of furniture around the office like so many missiles, the better to ease any fleeting frustration.

We know, now, that he is pretty darned physical with his wife, too — far more so than you or I might find acceptable if we had married him. Heaven knows, I wouldn’t want my throat grasped Saatchi-style, or my nose ‘tweaked’.

Real victims of real horrors?  Is she the arbiter of who victims are and what horrors constitute 'real ones'?  And what is with the scare quotes around Domestic Violence?  FYI, ‘domestic violence and abuse’ is the recognised term, because, just in case you missed it the first time, not all abused women are ‘battered’.

Nevertheless, to put such unpleasantness into the catch-all basket called ‘domestic violence’ is to do grave disservice not just to this couple but also to the real victims of real horrors that happen daily behind closed doors.

Odd, as many people have wondered if Saatchi is behaving like this in public, they dread to think what is going on behind closed doors.

More red flags:

Of course I condemn physical violence by men against women and, for that matter, by women against men. But there is no reason to believe that Charles Saatchi, though he may have a volcanic temperament, has ever hurt his wife.

Indeed, it is telling that his previous wife, Kay — though no fan of his, this woman scorned — has gone out of her way in recent days to defend him on that score. Ill-tempered, yes. Controlling, yes.

Violent, never.

As already highlighted, relationship violence is not always physical.  And hurling office furniture around is well, you know, just letting off steam.  That’s not violence?  Thank goodness I didn’t work in advertising in the 80s.  My recommendation here would be to take up Tai Chi or get a stress ball and get on an anger management programme.

It is telling that his previous wife, Kay (pictured) - though no fan of his, this woman scorned - has gone out of her way in recent days to defend him

Who knows? Perhaps he objects to being eclipsed by his 2nd wife’s success and fame?  A kind of real life version of ‘A Star is Born’.

Nor is there reason to believe that Nigella Lawson fits the mould of the battered wife. I do not pretend to know her well, but we worked on the same newspaper many years ago and I found her perfectly affable, quietly ambitious and wholly able to stand on her own two feet.

What is this so called 'mould'?  Is there a one size fits all relationship abuse victim?

Her first husband, John Diamond, I knew much better, and of this I am sure: he was not a man likely to have been charmed by a dormouse.

Er, you don't have to be a dormouse (does she mean doormat?) to be a victim of relationship abuse, or rape or any kind of abuse.  This is such blatant victim blaming.

In short, there is nothing about Nigella that puts her in the class of subjugated woman. She has no need of Saatchi’s money, being worth many millions herself.

She is not without a place to run to should she choose to leave — her family is loaded, loving and influential — and the idea that Saatchi has somehow managed to strip her of self-esteem and independent thought is frankly laughable.

It is indeed laughable that this illustrates a total lack of understanding and awareness of the issues.  So, a woman who has independent means will have more options than one who hasn’t, however, her inner-turmoil, fear of going it alone, confusion will not be any less because of her bank balance.  Leaving an abusive relationship is as much an emotional wrench for those with means as it is for those without.  Ask any woman survivor who had means.

One in every four women will at some time experience relationship violence and abuse.  Is this every one in four some hapless individual with absolutely no money, competence or ability in any shape or form?

The truth about their very public quarrel is that only two people know exactly what happened, that they are never going to tell us, and that claims of an ‘assault’ lasting a full 27 minutes are, after all, only the claims of a paparazzo with pictures to sell.

All that the rest of us know, from seeing his pictures, is that at any point Nigella could have reached for her bag and left — yet chose not to do so.

And from another picture taken on another day, we know that the pair returned to the same table at the same restaurant a week later, which hardly suggests lingering trauma.

Really?  Again this displays a total ignorance about the dynamics of abusive relationships.  Again, I refer you to Melissa Kite’s piece.  It is highly complex.

Saatchi accepted a police caution — but that, likely as not, was a joint decision taken in the vain hope of damage limitation. She left the family home — but that, too, was probably a joint decision taken to protect their children’s privacy.

How they live is surely their choice. It is their marriage, after all. Yet still the court of public opinion will not let the matter rest.

It has even reached the stage where a marital tiff has become fodder for party political point-scoring. Nick Clegg says that if he’d been there he would not have intervened; Ed Miliband and Lord Kinnock both say they would — so nul points for the Libs and hurrah for the Labs, even if Nigella would no doubt have been first to tell the chivalrous creeps where to shove their ‘intervention’.

Marital tiff?  Would that be the same ‘playful tiff’ as described by Saatchi?

I do wonder, though, whether Messrs Miliband and Kinnock would be as quick to reach for the shining armour had the ‘assault’ happened the other way around. Had Nigella shoved her fingers up the Saatchi beak — do you think, then, they would have thought it any of their business?

No, me neither.

And it does happen the other way around. My guess is that if Nigella had been photographed slapping Saatchi’s face it would have been a two-day wonder in which she would have emerged as the heroine.

Indeed, mea culpa, I once entertained a packed and costly restaurant when I flung a large glass of vino over a companion’s head, and all I got as I stalked out were admiring winks from fellow diners.

Nice!  Mental note never to dine with this woman, although I cannot see that happening any time soon.

A critical difference, of course, is that the cultural mindset is these days so feminised that the automatic presumption in my case was that the man must have done something to deserve it (in my case he had, but never mind) while in the Saatchi debacle the equally automatic presumption has been that Nigella is a ‘victim’.

Nick Clegg says that if he’d been there he would not have intervened, Ed Miliband says he would have

Why? Because she’s a woman. It is both a marvel and a sadness that what, barely a generation ago, was a vibrant movement of women jumping up and down to yell about their strengths has dissipated into a perpetual whimper about poor little us, victims all.

Hmm, really?  Yes, we’re still campaigning and there is still a long way to go and pieces like this totally undermine all that hard work.

Victims of harassment, victims of discrimination, victims of husbands, victims of men.

Everybody is in on it: the police, the courts, the law-makers and, as we’ve seen here, even the politicians rush to join in.

Should a woman have any manner of altercation with a man, she is instantly labelled ‘victim’ until and unless his innocence is proved — the opposite of the way our trusty system has traditionally and properly worked.

Some women, of course, need our help and protection, and it is to our credit that increasing awareness and resources are poured in where necessary.

There is nothing about Nigella that puts her in the class of subjugated woman, and to call her a victim is insulting

Nonetheless, to confer the title of ‘victim’ where it is not warranted — and it is hard to think of a better example than that of Nigella Lawson — is worse than patronising; it is actually insulting.

I might feel slightly sorry for Charles Saatchi, insofar as the response to his behaviour, beastly and boorish as it undoubtedly was, has painted him far blacker than is probably appropriate.

But I feel a great deal more sorry for Nigella. Not because of what he did — she’ll take or leave that and make decisions about her marriage as she sees fit — but because she has become the subject of such prurience.

From the day those pictures reached the Sunday newsstands, all the hard-won, well-deserved admiration she has enjoyed for years for being a strong, independent woman faded to nothing in a tidal wave of public pity. And that, I’ll bet, hurts a lot more than her nose.

No, you are being patronising to all victims and survivors of relationship violence and clearly think that such women are pathetic creatures.  Classic  projection.  This makes it even harder for women (and men) to open up and disclose.  The fear of this kind of victim shaming as well as not being believed.

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One thought on “This Dear Is Not For Calming Down

  • shel says:

    well said. I am heartily sick of women enduring domestic abuse and violence being portrayed as “pathetic” as “Mouse” and as “Victims”.
    We do not know what threats, terrors or implied threats force women to stay in abusive relationships. People who have not endured that awful fear of learned helplessness, feeling that there is no way out except if (when?) he kills you, that there are no options available to you.
    I have seen too many friends in the same situation as I was, paralysed whit the fear that their partner would beat them up, or, god forbid, do even worse if they tried to get away from his abuse.

    I reject the terminology, “Victim”, because in my mind, it keeps me there, under his thumb, under his control, afraid…

    I am not a VICTIM of domestic violence, I am a SURVIVOR.