Friday 4 June 2010

There's nothing edgy about violence against women.

Popular culture fosters the delusion that violence against women is edgy art rather than daily reality. This week, as the bodies of murder victims in Bradford and Brighton are picked over by the courts, cinemas, magazines and catwalks are teeming with glossy images of the rape, battery and dismemberment of pretty young ladies who appear artfully complicit in their abuse.

Michael Winterbottom's new two-hour murder-porn epic, The Killer Inside Me, hits cinemas next week, and advance reviews have already carried gushing descriptions of its graphic denoument, in which Casey Affleck's sheriff Lou Ford (pictured above) beats his lover to death with his bare fists, whispering how sorry he is over the sound of crunching facial bones. How terribly edgy.

Apologists for this type of thoughtless sexualised violence have described The Killer Inside Me as iconoclastic and challenging.

The photographer Tyler Shields responded with similar righteous indignation to criticisms of his latest series of stills, which feature a bestockinged Lindsay Lohan covered in blood and flashing bedroom eyes at the muzzle of a gun. Shields and Lohan defended the shots as art, but they look suspiciously like bland, mass-market, coffee-table misogyny of the type you can buy at Urban Outfitters for a fiver.

Art can shock in all sorts of valuable ways, sometimes by reflecting real life and sometimes by conjuring uncomfortable fantasy. But art that tries to get a reaction by dressing everyday misogynist brutality in a lacy thong and sexy lighting has lost its utility as social commentary.

The whole discourse is a lazy fallback, a stand-in for authentic subversion when creatives can't be bothered to do anything new.

After even the screechy million-dollar engineered catfight America's Next Top Model has featured a high-profile fashion shoot of young girls posing as murder victims, representations of violence against women can no longer be considered iconoclastic. They are consummately mainstream.

The relentlessness of these images normalises sexual violence, fashioning kinky little set pieces out of the abuse of women on an industrial scale.

Also in cinemas this week is Robert Cavanah's Pimp, a juddering fairground ride of beatings and buggery whose sharp-suited, snarling hero deals out disciplinary rapes and executions with a flick of a prop-box cane. The protagonist is played without a shred of irony by Danny Dyer, in whose name a column appeared in last month's Zoo blithely advising a reader to cut his ex-girlfriend's face "so no one will want her".

Meanwhile, yesterday's Telegraph carried the following headlines: "Woman and son murdered in Derbyshire village"; "Remains of second prostitute found"; "Spanish imam's 'prostitute jihad' ". The paper couldn't even find space to mention the ongoing trial of the man accused of killing Andrea Waddell, who was found strangled and burned in her Brighton flat last year. [read the rest at New Statesman]


  1. I was going to post this more detailed comment over at your New Statesman blog:

    "violence committed against men by intimates is even less likely to be criminally prosecuted than violence committed against women" -- (p. 51)

    I just want to expand here, to say that I think that disparity in prosecution may be at the root of the problem. I've talked to experts on the subject here in the U.S., and they say women are more likely to hit first, but men hit harder when they get to a breaking point.

    If justice were equal in this regard, prosecuting violent attackers of either gender without regard to their gender, would violence against women decrease, or increase because of the limited resources available for prosecution?

  2. Thank you for this Laurie.

    Away from the screaming, prurient headlines, view here to learn about the real Andrea as she is mourned by her family:

  3. Your link claims to be 'vhttp' rather than 'http'.

  4. I don't think The Killer Inside Me is meant to be edgy, it's meant to be horrific, and in every interview, Michael and Casey have been saying that it's horrific and it's in no way a sexualised violence - that violence is violence, and just because he had violent sex with these women, does not take away from his sadism and subsequent murder of them. To me, it's a movie that happens to have the murder of women in it - much like there are plenty of films with the murder of men in it. Given that it's more likely that men between 18-25 will be killed or violently attacked than women, I would have said that maybe we should be outraged at the number of films making that normality 'edgy'.

    Violence against women happens, and I'd rather they show graphic depictions of it so people understand how bones sound when they break than some 'violence' that has no consequences or is cleaned up for the masses.

    I do completely agree with you on the models as dead things - there is a blog tracking the rise of models depicted as dead things and I find it both ludicrous and worrying - like the only way to sexualise women in a commodity capacity is to take away their agency thoroughly.

    Awesome to meet you today, by the way. We should drink sometime :)

  5. Dead right - and no tasteless pun intended.......shower scene from psycho is edgy and its 50 years old- I can't stand this stuff as entertainment. Those who defend it - and the "artists " who make it- are almost invariably people who don't deal with this in real life. I suspect if the makers of this spent an evening in a police patrol car , in an emergency ward or women's shelter or a day in court or gaol- you would get very different "art".

  6. There is a "v" in front of the "http" in the "[read the rest at New Statesman]" link, breaking it.

    And I am sad you haven't seen fit to unmoderate my question about whether prosecuting violence against men and women equally would decrease violence against both.

  7. Excellent article, as usual. I can never figure out whether it's simply that these people don't realise the profound and horrific effect they're having on the cultural landscape, or it's a deliberate attempt to damage the popular views and attitudes towards women. Part of me hopes it's just ignorance, but that seems less and less plausible the more one examines the evidence.
    I think there's an element of seeing talking about it or depicting it as "just another taboo", and there's obviously nothing more edgy that breaking and devaluing taboos.
    There's also the problem that people always confuse symmetry with equality, thus they bring out the "we have no problem depicting violence against men, if they want equality, why shouldn't we depict violence against women as well?" argument, hollow and idiotic though it may be.

  8. Walton Boy John7 June 2010 at 11:18

    British television is almost as bad as the cinema you mentioned. Have any of you watched "Luther" on BBC1 (last episode tomorrow night at 9.00 p.m.)?

    I began watching this due to the calibre of actors cast in the series main roles, e.g., Idris Elba (Stringer Bell from "The Wire") as the eponymous main character, a brilliant intuitive police detective, and Ruth Wilson as a genius-level psychopathic murderess who, brutally murdered her parents and the family dog in the first episode and with whom Luther has a intensely bizarre non-sexual relationship throughout the series after failing to convict her of the crime he knew she had comitted.

    Throuout the series there have been shocking depictions of violence, e.g., a mother kidnapped from her home, tortured, drained of blood, which is then consumed orally by the villian, before being confined inside a refridgerator and frozen to death.

    Harrowing and very unpleasant.

  9. Your writing is so forceful its amazing! I am just starting out in writing on women's issues. If you can, do check out my blog at . I would love to hear from you about it!


  10. It took me ages to work out how to do a link on blogger, despite someone's kind advice. Click here for Lucy Fur's blog

  11. That Zoo thing about disfiguring an ex-girlfriend's face was a joke! It wasn't real advice or supposed to be taken seriously. Get over yourselves.

  12. Thanks for the post! More needs to be done to highlight the links between the 'casual' misogyny of the films/mags you mention, and the real-life violence that strikes women around the world each day... when we allow the former to slip into the mainstream discourse, the latter always seems to follow...

    ...As vile as Danny Dyer's Zoo commentary was, I can proudly say that some of us have turned the offensive advice, his flop of a new film, ‘PIMP’ + some online technology, into an off-the-cuff fundraising campaign that has tripled PIMP’s opening weekend box office take, in donations to Solace Women’s Aid!

    Feel free to check out the fundraising page, make a donation, and share it around here:

    Or read my write-up of how it happened, here:

    Always nice when a silver lining can emerge from such a nasty situation!

  13. I havent seen the Killer Inside of Me.
    I don't think I want to. I agree that the scale of violence in film against women is too much and serves to normalise violence. But I also think violence should be shown and not censored.

    'The relentlessness of these images normalises sexual violence, fashioning kinky little set pieces out of the abuse of women on an industrial scale'.

    I am not sure about the use of the term 'kinky' here. As someone who identifies as 'kinky' and who plays with violence in a consensual sexual context, I find references to 'kinky' in articles such as this have an underlying negativity.

    As for Dyer: Liam's post above says it all. It is worth celebrating that nobody wanted to see Pimp, and that our earlier campaign against his Zoo column probably had an impact in their decision.

  14. I find it really bizarre that anyone thinks that the fact that young men are statistically more likely to be violently attacked than women in some way undermines and delegitimizes feminist anger. Because who exactly is attacking these men? On the whole, other men. So men attack men and women. Great. That changes everything. So violence is the language, and is presented as the language in so much of pop culture. Every day, in 1 million tiny ways, this passes without a challenge.

    That (many of )the actors and directors of films such as these make a point of underlining the horror they apparently feel as the point they are trying to make is absolute fucking crap. Most commercial films are written and directed by men. They are produced by men for Companies who’s CEOs are, by and large, men. These are male structures which routinely perpetuate the sex-violence motif. This shits all over any conceptions of autonomous female sexuality or female conceptions of their own brutalization. What continues to baffle is the shamelessness of this stuff. If Hollywood churned out picture after picture of gratuitous racist violence, lynching’s and executions and beatings of black men, horror films sold on the premise of race-related-torture , if lynching remained a popular motif by which to sell cinema tickets and sell perfume ( do see mark Jacobs 'daisy' advert and Stella McCartney advert, which both show pubescent girls playing naked and dead in fields), if Klansmen were consistently portrayed as troubled souls rather than racist thugs, i feel somebody might point out the errors of this. I am NOT saying we don't still live in vilely race-biased societies and i hate to be reductionist, but at least most people treat overt racism with genuine disgust. A raped woman. A raped woman who was asking for it. A raped prostitute, barely a woman but defiantly a female. A dead prostitute, barely even a life. This is what a woman is. That is the constant re iteration. And yet still we ask; why do women starve themselves to death? Why do so few
    Anyway, nice article.

  15. Is there a way to test whether a de-escalationist stance is effective for violence against both genders? If feminist anger were undermined with de facto gender equality, that would help.

    With regard to the comment that the New Statesman won't let me post to the article on unifying our personal battlegrounds into plowshares:

    Is it that it feels harder to make any progress after the single payer healthcare stage? Here in the U.S. we aren't there yet --

    We all still need and along with various things like and

  16. I fail to see why violence toward one particular gender group is even an issue: colour me insensitive.


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