Last week the Sun launched its “Give Me Shelter” campaign in defence of women’s refuges. A member of campaign group Sisters Uncut speaks out against the paper’s hypocrisy.
Spread across the Sun’s front page last Monday were images of murdered women. The newspaper was right to report the shame of refuge closures and called on the UK government to end the domestic violence scandal. For many reading the Sun, it may have been the first they’d heard of refuge closures – yet Women’s Aid report that, on average, 2 women a week are killed by a current or former male partner. Getting the message out about the closure of refuges and opening the chance for a wide dialogue about the horrendous impact of domestic violence is something Sisters Uncut welcomes.
Yet, for the Sisters and for many, the Sun running this campaign sits very uncomfortably. Indeed, many spoke out and questioned the paper’s audacity in launching the campaign, given its sexist history. And many who spoke out were criticised for not being appreciative that women were finally getting a mention in a tabloid newspaper. As both a member of Sisters Uncut and someone who has worked for a range of organisations that support and advocate for domestic and sexual violence here is why we should make a fuss, have a right to make a fuss and will continue to very loudly question and challenge the Sun’s hypocrisy:
- Firstly, The Sun backed a political party that has violently taken away women’s rights with its austerity agenda. Refuges are closing because of that agenda and those that remain open have had their budgets squeezed horrendously. On top of this, the paper has contributed to a cruel narrative of blame to legitimise cuts to services. Its reporting on “scroungers”, the “idle” and “work-shy” reflects a lazy and dangerous narrative around deserving and undeserving people. We believe all people deserve what they need to live decent lives, regardless of employment status. By creating this ideological space for bashing those that access state support they have legitimised a roll back of the state. In so doing the Sun have directly encourages and facilitates the closure of refuges – this directly enables abusers.Cuts are also sexist by disproportionately affecting women (particularly poor women, women of colour and trans women) and women in difficult financial circumstances often find it even more difficult to leave abusive partners.
- Secondly, the women who were killed did not die alone: they died in a society and in a situation that interacts with and is shaped by a misogynist media and brutalising state. The Sun is a part of that media – it victim blames, holds women responsible for the violence inflicted on them, and is sexist to the core – these are precisely the views abusers often carry with them.
- The Sun also allows its columnists to write about migrants being “cockroaches”. It’s precisely these ideas that lie at the heart of anti-immigration policies and rhetoric that put women of colour – like those in Yarls Wood – at risk of state and interpersonal violence.
Let’s take day two of its campaign; while the main paper reported the harrowing stories of women fleeing violence, the S2 chose to run a story about a man who had fathered 16 children. In that reporting they described his refusal to wear condoms, his constant proclivity to get women pregnant and his history of domestic violence. On the same page they blamed his partner for allowing herself to be in his life; not taking into account the many complex reasons women end up in relationships with abusive people. This reporting does not empower women or survivors of abuse, it blames them and casually disregards them.
Pregnancy is often used as a tool of control; refusing to use contraception against someone’s will is a show of entitlement and is sexual assault; promising to change, but not, and offering love are all weapons in the arsenal of domestic violence. The paper was reporting on the early stages of abuse, it was enabling a violent and predatory perpetrator a platform. This is the Sun’s hypocrisy.
The paper is using its power and privilege to support a campaign about women and, in return, expects women to be grateful, to congratulate the Sun’s “heroic” behaviour. But people are using this campaign to silence those who want to criticise the Sun’s sexist hypocrisy. This is the behaviour of a perpetrator of violence and abuse. Because this newspaper, with all its vehement and gruesome ideology, suddenly offered something nice we’re expected to be appreciative and uncritical.
No. Sisters Uncut will not be made to feel grateful for a campaign aimed at helping women, launched by a newspaper that constantly exacerbates our problems. Freedom from violence is a right that we must win ourselves, not a gift to be offered by an institution that hits us with the same hand it’s trying to force-feed us with.
We must remember the women who have died, remember the women who survive, seek out their stories, their experiences and fight for our liberation. But we have to do that ourselves: on our own terms.