By Megan Sherman
[content note: domestic violence, abuse]
Murderer Mick Philpott’s judicial and media trials could have given his victims the dignity and justice of a frank discussion about the social disgrace of gendered violence which formed the crux of the case, but by men’s politicking and posturing in the media, the sadistic abuse of women and children has been denied the oxygen of public debate. In its place hard-right rags pulled Philpott’s state benefits centre-stage and the left by necessity took the bait, calling bullshit on the most cynical of anti-welfare propaganda.
The welfare issue dominated post-trial analysis at great expense for feminism. Facts about Philpott’s profile as an abuser and the heightened vulnerability of women whose key support services are being cut and closed wilt from the public scene. A scrap of information here and there in the New Statesman and Daily Mirror sadly doesn’t drown out the din of the talking heads of privilege, aka. the Tory commentariat, the morality makers in an age of corporate owned, right-wing mass media.
Imagine an objective documentary of Philpott’s crimes (trigger warning): over the course of the protagonist’s life, his chronic, violent hatred for others mutates. He becomes ever crueller and humiliating to the young women he romances. First he beats one with planks. Later he’s imprisoned, after repeatedly stabbing a girlfriend who threatens to leave him, puncturing several of her major organs — an outcome which only at the hands of somebody as nasty as Mick Philpott one could entertain the thought of calling something glib like a ‘lucky escape’.
After being released, Mick continues to charm and exploit multiple partners, living with many of them in the same house at the same time. He attempts to control their reproduction, manipulates them for his own material gain, and, not content with beating women himself, he teaches children to hit their mothers. It’s a rotten life. Finally, he burns down a house in which six children are asleep for the very last time, incensed by his partner’s threat to emancipate herself from his tyranny.
It’s a sad account of callous abuse and control which reflects a bloodcurdling reality for women in Britain. Two women die each week as a result of domestic abuse, and countless more cower through a life immediately threatened by the terrifying sadism of their partners. Society’s ethic can be gauged as much by what’s ignored in public debates than by their obvious content. Silence, fear and ignorance gives power to domestic abuse, and still frank conversations about misogyny are largely uncharted by — actively avoided by some of — the mainstream media.
Only the most decadent tabloid consumer would look at the facts of the Philpott case and bark questions about the abuser’s benefits as if they were a determinant of criminal action case. His criminality was symptomatic of a particularly extreme and violent misogyny, not welfare — a seemingly obvious point which events have shown it’s sadly necessary to continue pointing out. It’s worth noting however that the link between socio-economic poverty and imprisonment can be supported, and, crucially, it reflects entirely on the deep-seated problems of intersecting inequalities and not at all on the wisdom of supporting those trapped in the peripheries of the social net.
Conservatives — who in the same breath endorse cuts to Sure Start, rape crisis centres, domestic abuse shelters, and stigmatise single or poor mothers — laughably demand with indignant fury that all feminists languish in the putrid memory of Margaret Thatcher, macho-power incarnate, hetero-normative nuclear family extraordinaire, who wheeled back just about everyone’s rights, stigmatised LGBTQ identities and upheld the most calcified prejudice in public, not least calling feminism ‘poison’. That the media could wheel out feminism in their inevitable slip-shod hagiography of Thatcher, but barely mention it during the post-trial analysis of Philpott highlights the ignorant, lax attitude towards gender equality in Tory Britain.
It’s depressing that the politicking of men in the media drowns out the most salient feature of the Mick Philpott narrative, the safety of women and children. In the long term, any media model with a chance of being socially progressive must move towards democratic control, by which the marginalised can allocate resources to media that can prove it is acting in the public interest, best representing diversity, giving scope to the fullest possible range of narratives and discourse, and, ultimately, actively busting stereotypes and prejudice. Until then it falls upon feminists to keep on challenging anyone who denies that it’s Mick Philpott’s violent misogyny, not his welfare status, which makes him a burden on society.