Why Can We Live Together?

Corona Virus, or rather the measures necessary to stop its spread beyond our reckoning, will acquaint people with the best and worst of themselves. And the worst of men is deadly, mostly to women, mostly to the women they live with.

People have talked about the impact Corona is having on Domestic Abuse: people like Julie Bindel (@bindelj) and Karen Ingala Smith (@K_IngalaSmith), people more qualified than I. Qualified in the sense that this is their life’s work, to understand the viciousness, vicissitudes, vectors. The patterns, be they ethnographical or biographical. Some are qualified in other ways, frightening and personal ones. So why am I qualified? I am qualified merely to note how significant, how horribly unusually significant it is, that I am not. What follows is not inane privilege-checking (only sometimes a pertinent exercise) or, I hope, a smug boast. It is an attempt at gratitude, which is something that can only be achieved when context is soundly established.

This morning when I woke up I did what I usually do. I unplugged the cottony-lined pellets of wax from my ears, tucked my head under my boyfriend’s armpit, reached for my phone and pointed headlines at my face. Who needs an alarm when you have Alarm?  And after all the countries standing two meters a part at lecterns and the latest sterile advice and the numbers, the Spanish numbers, the French ones, the Italian ones, and after reading about how those numbers’ families would be unable to mourn the numbers properly at funerals, or how those numbers – any one of those numbers – had a name unless they also had – that most esteemedest of things – celebrity… I came across this.

Victoria Woodhall was 31, she was a mother of three children, and daughter. All women are that. She was a nurse for the NHS who had recently raised money for The British Heart Foundation by running fourteen miles.  Victoria Woodhall was, until Sunday.

The man who murdered her is her husband Craig Woodhall, a former soldier, with whom she had two children. I don’t know their names, that is quite right.

Not much is known about the specifics of the act itself, a part from the unnerving irony of it being so public. She was killed and then found in the street, having been stabbed multiple times. It was ironic that he murdered her outside because – although he is still on remand and not yet begun to form the semblance of a defence – he will say that it was being cooped-up with her that did it. He will say that, actually, he’s not a bad bloke, but that she wound him up, and that being locked-in with the woman for a week, the woman who grew his children in her body for 40 weeks (maybe the first few nauseating; the last few extremely uncomfortable), that one was just too much. The jury will be expected to at least try to understand this. There really will be – think of it – a lawyer (they’ll get a woman to do it, they always do) to stand and talk about the strain he was under. As though Victoria wasn’t; as though men’s hatred of women really can be mitigated.

It is undoubtedly Victoria’s moral unimpeachablity as an NHS hero that has meant that of the three or so women a week murdered in the UK (mostly by their intimate partner https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/newsbeat-51572665) we hear her name, not from that strangely inadequate societal erratum read out in the Commons by MP Jess Phillips (a totally worthy practice but a poignantly pathetic one), but in the newspapers. Please understand me when I say, there is nothing wrong with the fact that we know about what happened to Victoria: I do not regret for a second knowing her name and face and the service she gave. What is wrong is that we don’t know the others. But Victoria made me think of the others. Another thing to thank her for I suppose.

When you write something down, it should be clear why you’re doing it. Locating my need to write this has taken some doing. It is about a number of pretty prosaic things I guess. Namely a desire to remind people how dire this lockdown situation is for people in domestic abuse scenarios (though let’s face it, anyone who reads this blog is more than likely to understand that already), a broader plea to god or The Internet or whoever the fuck to notice how unbelievably fucking mad it is to live in a society where hate-crimes can only officially be committed against a person because of their disability; race; religion; transgender identity or sexual orientation and not their sex. As if we’re supposed to accept that the women who die at the hands of the men they loved best did something other than being female to warrant what happened to them.

There is too a need to order my own thoughts (mostly I write for this purpose), and it is also to do with a vague idea that I want to record my impressions of this cruel and unusual time in our most human history for posterity - for my children, should I have any. But in all honesty, I write this, for the most part, from a place of unadulterated guilt. This is a purging if you will.

People who know me and my partner keep saying how romantic it must be, being holdup together like this. And I wince and blush because they’re right and I’m ashamed at my own luck.

Being all but locked-in with someone you adore and adores you; living cheek-by-bowel-movement with someone who’s skin you like the smell of, who’s presence in a very small one-bedroom flat is like a talisman. Noticing it makes me feel desperately guilty.

I am not a nurse, not a key-worker, and while I do my best to negate the negative, I can’t honestly be sure I contribute much in the way of Good. And yet I wound up living with a man who has a fundamental respect for my personhood; who defers to me about things he can’t possibly understand (and teaches me things, when I ask, that I don’t: mobius strips; what geosmin actually is; how to wield a Bosch GSR 12V-15 FC Flexiclick Drill with 4x chucks so I could be useful as we built our bookshelves; how to make a curry taste like it’s been cooking complicatedly by someone who was taught to do it by a series of complicated elders for weeks in 2 hours; why Agnes Obel is even cooler than I thought she was; how to hypnotise a cat). Why do I live here with this man who respects and admires and even shores-up my boundaries and would sooner autofenestrate (a coinage of ours – we do lots of crosswords, I’m better at them: he doesn’t mind) than bully, belittle or frighten me. Why did I end up with him, and Victoria end up with Craig? I can’t get the appalling arbitrary unfairness of that out of my head. The thought of it is crammed in this tiny flat with me, and breathing too loudly.

But I suppose that is what they want. They want the women to wonder not only what it is they’re doing wrong but what it is that they are doing right, because really there is no difference. It’s the same wretched handwringing that has sapped female energy forever. Patriarchy would have us torment ourselves by whatever means and for whatever reason. Patriarchy wants this, wants me to feel bad that I live with someone who is not an abuser, wants me to think that is inherently unusual, wants me to obsess over whether there is something different about me and my sister Victoria… When there simply isn’t.

There is something different about my boyfriend and Craig Woodhall. One is a conformist and the other a non-conformist, and society is sufficiently fucked-up that it’s the non-conformist quietly cooking supper, and the conformist who’s going to go to prison. Where he’ll meet other men who allowed an idea of themselves to supplant themselves, and patriarchy rob them of their personhood, and so in turn rob us of persons, rob us of women they couldn’t hold a candle to, only a fist.

1st April 2020