Recently, American newscasts have uncharacteristically devoted lots of time to African stories. Okay, one African story anyway. No, not French intervention in Mali. Nor the election in Kenya. Nor even the food crisis in Lesotho. (Yes, there is a food crisis in Lesotho.) Instead, the focus has been on the tragic death of a white South African model at the hands of her white Paralympic sprinter boyfriend. Accounts of the killing vary, but what no one disputes is that Oscar "Blade Runner" Pistorius gunned down Reeva Steenkamp while she was locked in a bathroom stall in his home on February 14th.
In a front-page feature, the New York Times reported that on the day before Steenkamp died, she was preparing to give a speech "on a subject that she had known first hand and that is endemic in South Africa: violence against women." The article, however, proceeded to focus mainly on what the Times termed "Mr. Pistorius's less savory behavior" over the years, not the fact that South Africa is among the most lethal countries on the planet for women. It has "10 femicides per 100,000 female population," according to a 2011 "Global Burden of Armed Violence" report by the Swiss-based organization Geneva Declaration on Armed Violence and Development.
South Africa, of course, has no monopoly on violence against women on that continent. For example, a recent working paper by the Small Arms Survey, "Battering, Rape, and Lethal Violence: A Baseline of Information on Physical Threats against Women in Nairobi ," found that nearly "one-half of Kenyan women have experienced physical or sexual violence." The paper adds that "[e]xtreme and even fatal acts of violence -- targeting poor women in particular -- are common enough to be considered unremarkable, a non-issue for the media, the political class, the police, and by extension, the Kenyan state."
And the situation is similarly grim in much of the rest of the world. According to the "Global Burden of Armed Violence" report, "roughly 66,000 women are violently killed around the world each year, accounting for around 17% of all intentional homicides." Its analysis of data from 111 countries and territories finds that home is where the violence is and "the perpetrator is the current or former partner in just under half of the cases." Additionally, the findings suggest that violence against women, perhaps not surprisingly, follows overall rates of societal violence, since "countries featuring high homicide rates in the male population also typically experience high femicide rates." The report also finds that "one in every ten of all reported violent deaths around the world occurs in so-called conflict settings or during terrorist activities."
Then what about the country that generates so many of these conflict settings? And what about the men of its home front?
TomDispatch regular Ann Jones takes up these and other important questions in her latest provocative piece on violence, both in our war zones and back home. And she's just the woman to do it. For the last several decades, Jones has been on the frontlines of both -- reporting on abused women and children from the U.S. to the Congo and covering America's festering war in Afghanistan, including spending time with American troops on the Afghan/Pakistan border. As the U.S. wages semi-covert conflicts in the wilds of Yemen and Pakistan, Jones sheds light on another covert war hidden in plain sight. Whatever you choose to call it -- "wife torture" or "domestic violence" or a "war on women" -- Jones raises uncomfortable questions you're unlikely to hear on the nightly news, no matter how much Oscar Pistorius coverage you watch. Nick Turse
Men Who Kick Down Doors
Tyrants at Home and Abroad
By Ann Jones
Picture this. A man, armored in tattoos, bursts into a living room not his own. He confronts an enemy. He barks orders. He throws that enemy into a chair. Then against a wall. He plants himself in the middle of the room, feet widespread, fists clenched, muscles straining, face contorted in a scream of rage. The tendons in his neck are taut with the intensity of his terrifying performance. He chases the enemy to the next room, stopping escape with a quick grab and thrust and body block that pins the enemy, bent back, against a counter. He shouts more orders: his enemy can go with him to the basement for a "private talk," or be beaten to a pulp right here. Then he wraps his fingers around the neck of his enemy and begins to choke her.
No, that invader isn't an American soldier leading a night raid on an Afghan village, nor is the enemy an anonymous Afghan householder. This combat warrior is just a guy in Ohio named Shane. He's doing what so many men find exhilarating: disciplining his girlfriend with a heavy dose of the violence we render harmless by calling it "domestic."
It's easy to figure out from a few basic facts that Shane is a skilled predator. Why else does a 31-year-old man lavish attention on a pretty 19-year-old with two children (ages four and two, the latter an equally pretty and potentially targeted little female)? And what more vulnerable girlfriend could he find than this one, named Maggie: a neglected young woman, still a teenager, who for two years had been raising her kids on her own while her husband fought a war in Afghanistan? That war had broken the family apart, leaving Maggie with no financial support and more alone than ever.
But the way Shane assaulted Maggie, he might just as well have been a night-raiding soldier terrorizing an Afghan civilian family in pursuit of some dangerous Talib, real or imagined. For all we know, Maggie's estranged husband/soldier might have acted in the same way in some Afghan living room and not only been paid but also honored for it. The basic behavior is quite alike: an overwhelming display of superior force. The tactics: shock and awe. The goal: to control the behavior, the very life, of the designated target. The mind set: a sense of entitlement when it comes to determining the fate of a subhuman creature. The dark side: the fear and brutal rage of a scared loser who inflicts his miserable self on others.
As for that designated enemy, just as American exceptionalism asserts the superiority of the United States over all other countries and cultures on Earth, and even over the laws that govern international relations, misogyny -- which seems to inform so much in the United States these days, from military boot camp to the Oscars to full frontal political assaults on a woman's right to control her own body -- assures even the most pathetic guys like Shane of their innate superiority over some "thing" usually addressed with multiple obscenities.
Since 9/11, the further militarization of our already militarized culture has reached new levels. Official America, as embodied in our political system and national security state, now seems to be thoroughly masculine, paranoid, quarrelsome, secretive, greedy, aggressive, and violent. Readers familiar with "domestic violence" will recognize those traits as equally descriptive of the average American wife beater: scared but angry and aggressive, and feeling absolutely entitled to control something, whether it's just a woman, or a small wretched country like Afghanistan.
Connecting the Dots
It was John Stuart Mill, writing in the nineteenth century, who connected the dots between "domestic" and international violence. But he didn't use our absurdly gender-neutral, pale gray term "domestic violence." He called it "wife torture" or "atrocity," and he recognized that torture and atrocity are much the same, no matter where they take place -- whether today in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Wardak Province, Afghanistan, or a bedroom or basement in Ohio. Arguing in 1869 against the subjection of women, Mill wrote that the Englishman's habit of household tyranny and "wife torture" established the pattern and practice for his foreign policy. The tyrant at home becomes the tyrant at war. Home is the training ground for the big games played overseas.