Doing It for Themselves: the Mutiny in the Women’s Movement

Photograph Source: Rob Kall – CC BY 2.0

“There’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless’. There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.”

― Arundhati Roy

Older women from conservative, African societies found the women’s movement liberating, refreshing and affirming. Liberating because it showed us that difficult experiences we had grown up enduring, or unfair conditions in the workplace were in fact abusive situations; prolonged leering from people in authority over us, vulgarities directed at us on the street from taxi conductors, policemen and people from whom better was expected etc.

It was refreshing to find, however belatedly, that abuse could be resisted, that there were laws against it and that there was community support in the effort. Nothing was more affirming to the individual than to find she was not alone and that it was not her lot in life to risk humiliation every time she stepped out of the house. The learning curve is long but always empowering.

The movement grew and was championed by an ever-growing army of psychologists, journalists, lawyers, doctors, academia and gender scholars. So it has been an unpleasant experience to discover that after decades of being encouraged to learn to trust their instincts in recognising red flags of abuse, to speak up, take action and use the legal process – women are now being told to stop.

The line is being drawn at identifying potential female abusers and their male victims. A male victim who has followed the advice women have been receiving for decades; document instances of abuse, seek legal remedies and endure the short term humiliation for long term justice, is accused of using the legal system to prolong his alleged abuse. His former wife has admitted to being the serial instigator of physical altercations. She is heard on tape challenging her victim as a man, to publicly admit to being a victim of DV, “Tell the world Johnny, tell them, I, Johnny Depp, a man, I am a victim of domestic violence and see if the people believe or side with you.”

He did go to court to clear his name after she made a public declaration that she was in fact the victim. Some professionals, the self-proclaimed ‘voices of the voiceless’ have ruled that he has no cause. It is fascinating to read their long arguments castigating people – very many of them victims and/or survivors of DV –  for simply identifying red flags in the woman’s behaviour. Ordinary women are being ridiculed as ‘weird’ and accused of being crazy fans of the male complainant, rather than mature human beings repulsed by what they have seen and heard and campaigning for justice. Their agency and independent judgment are under attack.

There has been an abundance of evidence supporting the male victim’s claims including his ex-wife’s own recordings of her confessions and episodes of her abusive behaviour. Her psychiatrist confirmed that “physical violence” and “psychological aggression” were perpetrated on him. She has not presented similarly corroborated evidence of her being physically abused. Photographs of her alleged injuries were found to have been tampered with. Evidence from a doctor and witnesses who saw her at material times contradict her claims, but the rules are different in the context of male victims.

Voice Inc. has been in overdrive trying to silence women for whom they want to speak. In typical abuser fashion, it has resorted to bully tactics. In the last week of the defamation trial MSM articles have suggested that to rely on their instincts and experience in interpreting the evidence makes women guilty of killing the Me Too movement.

One can only conclude that the power dynamic between public figures in the women’s movement and ordinary women and men, has corrupted some of the leaders. Voice Inc. wants to continue to be the Keeper of the Template of abusive behaviour. Any evidence that doesn’t fit is deemed irrelevant and in fact subversive of the Voice industry. But the pushback has been massive. Online debates (or polemics) reveal a mutiny against the gatekeepers’ instructions to hear and see no evil in female perpetrators of DV.

If left to the women & men of Voice Inc., justice would only be available to those demographics that attract mainstream media coverage and grants, which in turn guarantee professional careers and (more importantly) raise the public profiles of people in advocacy.

Mary Serumaga is a Ugandan law graduate who has worked in public sector reform and spent several years in advocacy, and as a volunteer care worker for asylum-seekers. Her essays have been published in Transition (Hutchins Press), The Elephant, Pambazuka News, Foreign Policy Journal, Africa is a Country, the Observer (Uganda) and King’s Review. The Committee for the Abolition of Illegitimate Debt website carries her articles on debt.