|An unexpected face for|
Photo: Phil Guest
It’s been hard to miss the fallout from Nigella Lawson and Charles Saatchi’s divorce this week. Despite all of the dirty laundry being thrown around in public, I still find the defining image to be the photo of Nigella with her husband’s hands around her throat. Charles Saatchi’s initial explanation was that it was just a playful tiff. While I appreciate such images can be misleading, Nigella certainly did not look as if she was playing. The police agreed. Sadly it’s a scene that is regularly played out in other, less public, settings.
Nonethless, I take some positives from the case. We seem more reluctant to accept Charles Saatchi’s version of events than I could imagine us being 15 or 20 years ago. I grew up in a culture that blamed women for domestic violence. From the police response: ‘It is just a domestic issue’, through to the male tropes ‘she provoked me’, to the social worker’s verdict: ‘she is not protecting her children’; the message was clear. Women were responsible rather than victims. The campaigns of organisations like Refuge and Women’s Aid have done a great deal to increase our understanding of domestic violence and to change attitudes. They have also campaigned vigorously for changes in the law. Now we are ready to see Charles Saatchi as an aggressor, rather than a man exercising his rights; and Nigella as a victim, worthy of the full support of the law. We even have the Twitter hashtag #teamnigella to underline the point. Perhaps we can see allegations of Nigella’s drug taking, whatever the truth of them, as intended to undermine, rather than an indication that the victim is somehow to blame.
But the truth is that relationships are complex, especially when abuse is involved. Perhaps many of us have urged another to leave someone who seemed to be doing them more harm than good, even in situations where violence was not a factor. I wonder though, if in the effort to get across the message that men must take responsibility for their behaviour, a simple story of aggressive male perpetrator and innocent female victim often develops. Perhaps we ignore aspects of womens’ behaviour and responses which paint a more intricate picture. I have procrastinated in putting fingers to the keyboard because, frankly, it feels that a simple story of aggressor and victim is difficult to challenge.