Coverage of the murder of Kasandra (Kasi) Perkins by NFL linebacker Jovan Belcher has been incredibly brutal over the past few days as we bear witness to mainstream news sources rushing to defend Belcher's character and erase any whiff of 'male violence' or 'domestic abuse' from the conversation. Most media that covered the story over the weekend barely mentioned her, headlines reading" "Chiefs LB Belcher kills self", "NFL tragedy: Chiefs chairman says Jovan Belcher murder-suicide ‘incredibly difficult’", "Jovan Belcher murder-suicide leaves Chiefs in shock", "Kansas City Chiefs’ Belcher in fatal double shooting"... You get the picture. Something about a football player. The NFL is taking it pretty hard.
Fox Sports went out of it's way to find people to defend Belcher's honour:
"He was a good, good person ... a family man. A loving guy," said family friend Ruben Marshall, who said he coached Belcher in youth football. "You couldn't be around a better person."
"He was someone who took genuine pleasure in bringing happiness to others," [Dwayne] Wilmot said."
CTV News quoted Kansas City Mayor, Sly James, who urged people not to 'judge' Belcher:
"I hope people will look at the situation and try not to judge the person. There are a lot of people hurting. There's a young baby right now without parents,"
The New York Times stacked their piece with quotes assuring us that Belcher was a good man:
"I had every reason to believe he was a well-spoken, articulate man who exhibited a lot of genuineness"
"I didn’t want to believe it. He was a good man. A good, loving father, a family man."
Numerous mainstream news outlets who covered the events framed the whole thing as a baffling tragedy.
"It feels like an infinite number of lives directly impacted by the decision of one person. And for now, no one knows how or why he came to that decision. All anyone knows is that he did." (Aol Sporting News)
"There's going to be unanswered questions, the why's of this tragedy. It'll never be truly known to us." (Fox Sports)
And indeed, it was a tragedy. But while the media obsesses over the death of a young athlete, wondering how such a crazy, crazy thing could happen, they miss the most obvious thing. That is male violence against women.
What this situation isn't, in fact, is baffling. Because violence against women is a global epidemic. In Canada alone, a woman is killed by her intimate partner every six days. Global research "suggests that half of all women who die from homicide are killed by their current or former husbands or partners." In England and Wales, two women per week, on average, are killed by a partner or ex-partner. In the U.S., between 1980 and 2008 the percentage of women killed by intimate partners went from 43 per cent to 45 per cent. For men it went from 10 per cent to 5 per cent. A blog post over at What About Our Daughters points out that "black women ages 25-29 are about 11 times more likely as white women in that age group to be murdered while pregnant or in the year after childbirth."
And we are baffled when it happens again? This 'double shooting', this 'murder-suicide', this 'unthinkable tragedy'? We don't know how this could have happened? Really? Take a guess.
Instead of stating the obvious -- that this was yet another case of male violence against women, we feign confusion.
But there's nothing confusing about the situation. We can even, simply, look to the way in which media has framed this incident, to see why this continues; to see why women continue to be abused and murdered by their partners. Domestic violence is prevalent because we clearly don't take it seriously. We are more concerned about the loss of an NFL player than we are about the fact that this was a violent man who took the life of his partner.
Oh. And as pointed out by Jason Whitlock, the Kansas City Chiefs decided not to cancel their game the very next day. A woman is murdered by one of their players, but god forbid they postpone their Sunday celebration of masculinity and violence. And let's please not pretend that the male-centric culture of professional sports like football and hockey don't centre around violence and aggression. That it isn't a blind celebration of patriarchal capitalism. Let's not pretend like the NFL gives a shit about women.
"The Chiefs issued a statement that said their game Sunday afternoon against the Carolina Panthers would go on as scheduled, even as the franchise tried to come to grips with the awfulness of Belcher's death." (Fox Sports)
And then, of course, almost on cue, there's the victim blaming.
While the New York Times was bad, including leading quotes like: "What could have caused him to make him do that?” "You never know what would trigger that." "We had heard that they had been arguing in the past," Deadspin managed to post the most disturbing coverage of them all, quoting from an email sent to them by an anonymous friend of Belcher's.
The relationship had "soured" this friend said. The couple had been "arguing". We shouldn't focus on this "isolated incident", the friend stressed, this had been building for some time. Oh. And did we forget to mention the obvious? That Perkins was after Belcher's money?
"...she made it clear that she was leaving and [would] contact a lawyer to "get as much money as possible."
And as if this 'friend' had not gone far enough, here's the kicker: Perkins was, according to this source, "the catalyst to this incident."
The friend (as well as other sources) mentioned that Belcher had substance abuse issues and had suffered a number of concussions. So looks like Belcher was the real victim here.
I have no idea what could have inspired the folks at Deadspin to print this (seemingly libelous) garbage. It seems unnecessary. Detrimental even. Why contribute to a culture that is clearly so desperate to avoid holding men accountable for incidences of domestic violence? Maybe Belcher had problems. In fact, I'm sure Belcher had problems. And one of those problems was patriarchy and a culture that feeds, encourages, and understands masculinity to centre around aggression and power. Belcher's problems are real. But so is patriarchy. And men aren't the primary victims of that system.
None of those quotes Deadspin featured will sound new to anyone who's ever come out about abuse or to anyone who's known a woman who's gone public with her experiences of male violence. Not one. I myself have been at the receiving end of all of them and more. The "Oh, but you two were fighting, weren't you?", the "She pushed him to do it. You know... she's kind of a bitch...", the "She's just trying to get revenge/money/attention/whatever". I've heard the same said about my friends. I've heard the "Well you went back to him...", the "He was drunk", the "She's crazy." I could go on.
The point is that this has to stop. We pay lip service to domestic violence or 'family violence' (the newest in terms the state uses in order avoid describing the truth of the matter), removing gender from the discussion and presenting violence against women as a private matter (a 'family' matter) -- 'they had problems', 'oh, it's none of our business' -- yet we are so clearly committed to doing nothing. We are unwilling to admit that this is a systemic issue and that this is about gender. Because we don't give a shit. We care more, as a society, about sports than we do about violence against women. We are still representing women as conniving gold diggers who 'ask for it'. Who push men to violence. Who are the 'catalysts' in their own murders.
The media is not innocent in this. They aren't simply 'reporting the facts'. The media is shaping the conversation and they are shaping it in a way that excuses and erases male violence against women.
The media and journalists make choices. They can say 'bullying' or they can say 'misogyny'. They can say 'sexting up kids!' or they can say porn culture. They can say cyber harassment or they can say sexual harassment. They can say 'murder-suicide' or they can say 'domestic violence'. They can say 'family violence' or they can say 'male violence against women'. They can choose to quote people who accuse Perkins of being a gold digger or they can quote people who are critical of an unequal and oppressive society (but that probably won't be quite as popular) and of a male-centric culture that celebrates and idolizes violent men. Certainly they can choose not print quotes that reinforce that which so many already want to believe -- that women deserve the violence they are subjected to. That somehow there is no one to blame. Just another isolated incident wherein a woman happens to die at the hands of a man. "What can we do??" We ring our hands. It's all just so baffling, isn't it.