It’s a dull afternoon in central Bristol. Jim and I have just left work for a meeting on the other side of the city. He’s driving and he knows all the short cuts, knowledge worth its weight in gold as the rush hour traffic begins to build. We’re in one of those streets that really ought to be one-way. The car coming towards us looks as if it would be more at home in a scrap yard, and the driver’s not paying attention. He’s fiftyish. Slicked hair greying at the temples. The way he’s driving he probably needs glasses, but he’s not wearing any. The girl next to him looks fourteen, but doesn’t everyone these days? Her hair’s scragged back from her thin face and she’s sitting just as far from him as she can get. Jim kisses his teeth.
I grit my teeth.
If it wasn’t for scabby men, there wouldn’t be any.
He looks sideways at me as he negotiates the gap between the car and the wall.
I’d never thought of it that way.
I’ve told the story on this blog before, but plus ça change …
I’ll hold my hands up. I’m way past having any personal interest in the tampon tax these days. I’ve paid my dues and whatever happens in the long run, I doubt you’re going to give me a refund, George. I’m guessing a lot of what I paid went on bombing Iraq. I trudged past the Houses of Parliament along with two million or so others on a freezing February day in 2003, but it didn’t stop Tony. My periods were crazy heavy then, on the run up to the menopause. Talk about having blood on your hands.
I’m guessing you think your latest plan’s a pretty clever wheeze, don’t you George? Take the fifteen million quid women pay each year for the privilege of not bleeding all over their clothing and soft furnishings once a month, throw it at women’s refuges and charities dealing with domestic violence. That way they’ll get a few pennies to drop into the gaping holes left by your cuts, and you’ll get to play the philanthropist. Job done. I’m not going to lie, even I was taken in for a fleeting moment.
But you know something George? This one’s roughly on a par with Jim’s reaction to the girl in the car. The penny dropped for him, but you still don’t get it. You think it’s a spiffing notion, women funding their own charities. Self reliance and all that. After all, why should men shell out? These nasty feminists do nothing for them. Some of them even want to take away their property … er … sorry, partners. Victim-blaming is the oldest trick in the book, and women have borne the brunt throughout history. What did Adam do when God asked why he’d eaten the apple? You’ve guessed it. He blamed Eve. But I’ll tell you now, if it wasn’t for scabby men, there’d be virtually no need for women’s charities.
At the risk of repeating myself, two women are killed every week by their partners or former partners in the UK. I can’t help wondering how you’d react if two people a week were dying in terrorist attacks. One woman in four will experience intimate partner violence during her lifetime. Internationally, that last figure rises to one in three. And still the perpetrators blame their victims. She wound me up … I couldn’t help it … If only she’d done what I wanted … The truth is, no-one deserves to be beaten and terrorised. No-one should have their freedom restricted, their motives questioned or have to live in perpetual fear of accidentally triggering an attack. That’s why we need these services. And before you get uppity, I’m well aware that around 40% of victims of intimate partner violence are men. I assume you’ll be requiring them to fund their own services through a tax on shaving products henceforth.
I’m sixty-one, George. I’m not going to pretend my life wouldn’t have been different if I’d been born a man. For a start, I wouldn’t have spent all those years working shit jobs, then coming home to a partner who sprawled on the sofa and hurled abuse while I did the housework. I wouldn’t have walked away with my self esteem in tatters and fallen into the arms of the first idiot to pretend to be nice to me. I wouldn’t have had to flee half way across the country, and spend two years without a home to call my own. I wouldn’t be battling to rebuild my life at a time when most people are exploring options for a cosy retirement. And I’d never have had to pay the tampon tax. I’m not saying my bad choices didn’t contribute to the train wreck. Of course they did. What I’m saying is that both the men involved managed to walk away more or less unscathed. Apart from pre-existing issues with alcohol in one case. That’s the nature of domestic violence. Perpetrator takes all. But you know what, George? I don’t want to play the blame game. The past’s dead and buried. All I’m asking is that domestic violence services for women should be funded properly, so that other women will have a better chance at life.
The problem is, your insistence on funding services piecemeal, through a gender-specific tax that might be abolished at any moment makes me feel you’re not taking the situation seriously. It makes me think you don’t care about the hundred or so women who die every year. It makes me wonder if you’ve even thought about the children who listen to their mothers bullied and insulted on a daily basis, maybe see them beaten, or even raped. I find myself asking if you have any idea what it’s like to be punched, kicked, bitten and strangled, and to have nowhere to run from your abuser. That’s reality for so many families, and failure to fund adequate domestic abuse services is only going to make it worse. More deaths, more injuries, more fear and intimidation. Is that what you want? You see, you witter on about austerity, but if we’re even considering dropping bombs on Syria, there must be money enough somewhere. Bombs cost a lot more than safe houses. One Tomahawk cruise missile was estimated to cost around £850,000 back in 2011, and I don’t think they do Black Friday offers. I suggest you take a long, hard look at your priorities, George. Because no-one should be forced to live with domestic abuse. No-one. Ever. Period.