The Mick Philpott case has provoked a rather repulsive reaction. The Daily Mail’s now-famous front page blaming benefits has had its sentiments echoed by Osborne and Cameron. Meanwhile, the BBC has taken a different tack, and decided to blame polyamory.
Yes, really. Apparently, according to an expert who cannot tell the difference between polygamy and polyamory, repeated by a journalist who also cannot tell the difference between polygamy and polyamory, the relationship between Mick Philpott, his wife, and his lover somehow “sheds light” on polyamory. Here’s a little snippet of a quote from our resident academic expert in polyamory, Dr Thom Brooks.
“The two are practised very similarly and [are] almost always a relationship of one man with two or three women, with the man at its centre,” said Dr Brooks, of Durham University.
Er, no. I’m not quite sure where Dr Brooks has been getting his data from, but it looks like he’s only been bothering to investigate “polynormative” relationships and ignored the vast rainbow of experience of polyamory (however, it might explain why he seems to think polyamory and polygamy are interchangeable). This goes a long way to explaining the drivel he and the article’s author spout to try to paint Mick Philpott’s relationships as in any way representative of the poly community.
Yes, in some poly relationships there is a gender and a power problem, and in some poly relationships there are partners who just go along with it because they feel as though they do not have any other options. This is not a problem with polyamory. This is a problem with patriarchy.
Tellingly, what’s missing from this article–and, indeed, from the rags and politicians’ blaming of benefits–is block any attempt to address what was actually going on. The words “domestic violence” and “abuse” do not even appear in the BBC article, and probably don’t appear in any of Osborne regurgitating the Daily Mail and pretending it’s politics.
And that was what was going on. Abuse.
To ignore it, to clap your hands and say “hey, look, over there!” is to block addressing any discussions of the shocking prevalence of domestic violence, to ignore how frighteningly common this gendered abuse is. It is hardly surprising that they are doing this: there are agendas at play here.
For benefits, it is clear that those with the power wanted to attempt to smear any person requiring support to survive so they can continue to get away with their economic violence against vulnerable people. And for polyamory, it’s the same old bigotry and hatred against any sexual relationship other than the state-approved monogamous relationship between the “right” sort of people (usually these couples are a cis man and a cis woman, but they will grudgingly make concessions for trans people and same-sex couples who don’t rock the boat too much). It is a powerful tactic to associate whatever target it is with someone who killed children, and it is a foul tactic, instrumentalising the deaths of those children to make an attack.
The other agenda is that, horrifyingly, there is nothing newsworthy and exciting for the increasingly-irrelevant traditional media about yet another instance of abuse. It is something that happens every fucking day. It does not titillate, nor thrill, so they seek out more sensational angles, no matter how far they are from reality.
Ignoring the abuse ends up normalising it. It is something which passes almost without comment, as it has been so thoroughly obfuscated by the sensationalist line. It screams “this is not worth addressing”. And in ignoring it, it almost excuses it. It is apologism by neglect. It is a failure to draw attention to abuse and the structures in society that support it, the horrible frequency of these experiences which differ only in scale rather than substance.
This is, in its own way, another agenda in and of itself. To protect the system which allows men to exert power over women, and there are those who are relishing the conspicuous media silence. I don’t doubt some of these people actively brainstormed distractions from addressing the abuse.
It is often said that it is silence which allows abusers to keep abusing. This is as true in the orchestrated distraction from abuse as it is anywhere else.