Warning: nothing whatsoever to do with Eating Disorders or depression. Totally off message. And very probably ranty and disjointed too. You have been warned
I probably shouldn’t have watched any TV recently. When a mirror is held up to the deepest recesses of humanity, it is often abhorrent. But for some reason, like many, I have been drawn into the tale of Michael and Mairead Philpott and the tragic deaths of their six children. Much of the time I have felt a sense of horror and disgust. At the actions of the two parents and their accomplice; but also at the commentators who blame the deaths on the welfare state, using a tragedy as an opportunity to promote the savage changes to welfare which will blight so many lives, in the same week as many high earners will be even better off due to tax cuts.
But this isn’t a post about welfare, it is not a rant about the reality at the majority of welfare is paid to pensioners, ie people who have fought for and built a state which places the ‘welfare’ of its people as a priority. It is about the sad reality, that while the Philpotts crime is extreme and shocking, the biggest risk to children is from those who are closest to them, just as the biggest risk to women is from their partners. The media may portray sex offenders as sad lonely men living in squalid bedsits and hanging around parks, but the vast majority of sex abuse cases take place within the family. The age at which you are most likely to die at the hands of another is before one year old, at the hands of a parent or step parent. Women are cautioned to stay safe and not walk home alone, but the grim truth is that women are safer statistically on a dark street than in their own homes. And of course, this doesn’t mean every man, every parent or every home, because most of us are lucky. We live with parents who love us, have relationships with those who cherish us and expect everyone to be as fortunate. But they are not.
What on earth does this have to do with patriarchy though? What I found most sickening about Michael Philpott was his arrogance and sense of entitlement – not to benefits, but to power over women and his children. He swaggered on television, flaunting his wife and his mistress, describing how he chose one to sleep with each night. He controlled everything from money, to where everyone was and how they behaved. He forced his wife to have sex with their accomplice, and was proud of her because she knew he didn’t want to. And in his twisted mind, he was this way, because that’s how men behave, they are in charge, no one argues, everyone does as they are told. He was the man of the house and his word was law.
As I said above, this is an extreme example. But across the country, tonight and every night are men who seek to exert control and power over their ‘loved ones’ whether through violence or bullying threats. They attack those who cross them or seek to leave. They control and intimidate and the worst thing of all is that many of us don’t want to intervene. At the heart of our culture is a belief that home and family is sacred and behind the closed doors of a house it is for the family to decide the rules. We are outraged if doctors were to suggest that smoking be banned in private homes – the worst kind of nanny state. Those papers full of outrage now are the same ones outraged at the thought of banning smacking of children. A smack never did anyone any harm, they proclaim, but what about a punch, or a hard slap? When we see children being smacked or sworn at in the street, do any of us intervene? Generally no. Because children belong to their parents and we don’t interfere. But this is the same culture that is based on to interfering between a husband and wife and whether we like it or not, it comes from patriarchy, a system that places men at the head of families and society. They are in charge.
Does this mean patriarchy killed the six Philpott children? No. Of course not, no more than welfare benefits did. Michael Philpott, his wife and best friend killed them and they did so, because it was more important for him to regain control of ‘his’ children and to punish the woman who left him, than it was to keep his children safe. It was more important to Mairead Philpott to keep her man happy than her children safe. the coming weeks will see the usual wringing of hands about social workers and how they obviously should have known and failed the children. But while we all sign up to a consensus that sees the home and family as private, as nothing to do with the rest of us, we are all making it harder for social workers to knock on the door of a home where a child may be harmed and it will remain easier for men like this to continue a reign of tyranny inside.