On Feb 22nd, Oscar Pistorius was granted bail for the shooting of Reeva Steenkamp.
With all the attention violence against women is getting in the news lately, from the skyrocketing reporting of assaults on women in Manitoba to the rape and murder of aboriginal women by police in BC, Pistorius' bail offers no break from the well-deserved coverage of women’s issues.In fact, this breathing time gives many of us a chance to asses, and fully form or opinions and compartmentalizasations of what this means to us individually. This might mean a strong word from us feminists, or a doubtful headshake from those doubting Pistorius’ guilt. Whatever the case may be, I think it’s important that we are careful not to put the Steenkamp case on a pedestal as “Supremely Horrifying and Outlandish Things That Don’t Happen Very Often.” I’d stand to argue that something in the DNA of our patriarchal (oh no the P-Word!) society --that is far and wide on this planet-- gives room for said Horrifying Thing.
Particularly important, is the way that men come to understand, internalize, and regurgitate the Steenkamp tragedy. Me, a female, has never claimed to be a full-on expert on generalizations of the male thought-process (partially because I only believe in human thoughts and learned gender-ingrained societal differences, not biological traits), but this does not mean that I cannot recognize the significance of how men come to view the Steenkamp case.
And so I do my best to put myself in the gender-prescribed idea of Male. And in order to properly clump around in my new comfy man-shoes, I tend to picture my dad’s reaction to the atrocity (sorry in advance, Dad). I picture his groggy stumbling to the coffee pot, pouring a straight black mug-full and patting my little step-sister on the head. He happily remembers it’s Sunday and picks up the paper. Pistorius’ name is plastered across the front page, his dead girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp featured a third of the way down.
“Ugh. Can you believe what a psycho that blade-runner turned out to be?” he says to his partner.
Boom. The discussion that follows is a back-and-forth about how crazy Pistorius must be, including speculations that maybe he was on roids and comments about his childhood/history and any other information that seeped into Dad’s brain.
I’m not a psychic, but this is how I see things going. In this hypothetical situation, my dad hypothetically did what a lot of men( and women) would do: he distanced himself from the perpetrator by labeling him. Not only did he call him psycho (which clearly separates him from the rest of sane mankind), he called him Blade-Runner, a nickname, which, given its negative context, dehumanizes the guy. And I don’t blame Dad’s hypothetical choice to do so. None of us want to seem even slightly relatable to a guy that shot his girlfriend three times.
I’m sure there is a kitchen somewhere on this end of the earth where this hypothetical situation was a reality. In fact, I’m willing to bet there were many. People seem to assume that by giving Pistorius the hefty “psycho” label they are solving an unanswered question. Whether subconsciously or not they are saying, This girlfriend killing thing is just a one-off, cuz that guy was a disabled looneytune”
This is the wrong answer to the unsaid but well known question of, is abuse an individual or a world-wide,societal problem?”
It’s the wrong answer because the Steenkamp case is not an isolated instance. Visit any emergency shelter. Step foot in any violent-partners women’s group. In either setting, you’ll find handfuls of girls who escaped just before the gunshots. You’ll meet women who were made to feel loved, adored, until they took on his last name. You’ll hear the stories of women who tried to leave many times but were consistently stalked, threatened, or lied to until they returned, more confused than ever. You'll come to know women who were slowly, and surely degraded over time, each blow compensated for by intense apologies and loads of flowers and phone calls.
Labelling abusers as insane helps us ignore a key factor in the problem of abuse: Something about the gender gap, the manliness which both sexes are taught to accept, allow us to--on some level--expect and accept an imbalance of power. And until that gap is met, different kinds, types, and extremes of partner abuse will continue to occur.
So next time you’re tempted to deconstruct Pistorius into little pieces that put him in that 2% population of psychopaths, remember...he was raised on the same earth, at the same time as you, I, and Chris Brown.