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Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Charles Saatchi and Nigella Lawson: Domestic Abuse in the News


I wanted to go slightly off topic from my usual subjects to talk about something that's been featured recently in the news. Whilst my blog has thus far focused on fashion, crafting, my daily life and the gothic subculture, it's also a place for me to share my views, and I want to post more on social justice issues in future which are close to my heart.

Last week, Charles Saatchi, advertising executive and art collector, was photographed holding his wife, the celebrity chef Nigella Lawson, by the throat whilst in the Mayfair restaurant Scott's (I won't feature the photos here as I would likely have to have permission, but if you search for The Sunday People you should find them). The couple were reported to have been arguing, and following this Saatchi left Lawson in tears and got into their car, followed shortly after by a still visibly upset Lawson.

These photos were first released on Sunday 16th June in The Sunday People, and on Monday Saatchi reported to a London Police Station to accept a caution for his actions. The BBC also confirmed on Monday that Lawson had left the family home with her children on Sunday.

What's truly appalling, however, is Saatchi's response to the public's shock; shrugging off the argument as a 'playful tiff' and stating that 'Nigella's tears were because we both hate arguing, not because she had been hurt', he claimed that there was 'no grip' in his hold, which was apparently merely meant to demonstrate his point. The caution he received was treated as an unnecessary inconvenience, which 'was better than the alternative'.

As a rule, domestic abuse and sexual abuse is not portrayed accurately in the media; it's something that only affects the working class, with a seemingly unredeemable perpetrator and drink stereotypically involved. Women are partially blamed for their partner's faults - why on earth is she in an abusive relationship anyway? Why hasn't she left it?

The British media have been completely shocked by this, virtually uniformly; Lawson is something of the second coming of Delia to many, and (possibly as a result of marketing helped by her husband's company) is portrayed as a homely, caring mother and cook. I don't know what their reaction would have been if she didn't have such a squeaky clean image, or if the photos hadn't been released (not that, of course, the reaction should have been any different), but I'm not confident that there would be such an outcry. 

Saatchi's publicity statements exemplify exactly how misogyny and rape culture treat this type of incident - by playing it down, by normalising it. It's a 'tiff', same as all couples have. He might explode occasionally, but it's just an ordinary marriage.

My father, king of conspiracy theories, thinks that the powerful position of Saatchi has lead to some newspapers and websites being hesitant to publish pictures; I haven't trawled enough websites to see if that's the case, but it wouldn't surprise me if it were. Downplaying domestic abuse committed by famous or influential men is a prevailing trend, from the Steubenville rape being treated as a foolish mistake by 'promising' young football players to Sean Penn beating up Madonna.

My reaction to this is perhaps a bit over the top; I am very sensitive towards domestic abuse and very protective of the victims of this type of crime. Arguably, it's not even certain that this is an abusive relationship - but I can say that in a normal relationship, you don't grab your spouse by throat then leave her in tears. I don't care even if the gesture of holding her throat was meant in a non-violent way; arguments should never transcend to physical actions, and perhaps if we made that clear in society then abusive relationships would be easier to spot.

I don't like condemning things and complaining all the time, because it makes me upset and feel like there's nothing that can be done and we're all doomed to life in an unjust kyriarchy. What I prefer is coming up with plans of action, of how things can actually change.

We're surprised at seeing such a wealthy, successful couple show red flags for serious domestic problems - we need to look at how we portray violence against women (and, indeed, all abuse within relationships; male victims of domestic violence suffer a lack of resources available to them) and male aggressiveness in the media.

Nobody alerted the restaurant at the time - we need to improve our attitude to bystander awareness and action (something I plan on posting about in future). While it can be a shock seeing this kind of thing in public, people need to be empowered to take action and know what to do.

I know that this is a very serious topic, and usually when I talk about feminist issues I prefer to take a more positive, change-is-possible attitude, but I felt that I needed to post on the issue. Less serious posts will resume once again. :)


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