Saturday 24 January 2015
Last week, I took part in a comedy night to raise money for the charity Refuge, which supports women and children who have experienced domestic violence. It was a great night: partly because it raised several thousands of pounds for the cause; partly because it was sponsored by Benefit cosmetics, and the idea of a benefit being sponsored by Benefit pleased me greatly; and partly because standup comedian Bridget Christie finished her act with a plea for all laydeez to stop waxing, spraying, deodorising, strimming and surgically trimming their – well, let’s call it “that part of ourselves historically judged to be the seat of all our femininity and womanly powers” – and instead celebrate our individuality by thinking of those parts as “unique, special – like snowflakes. Made of gammon”, which was both a new thought and a new image, neither of which has left my mind since.
Less uplifting, however, was the number of times I heard, when I mentioned Refuge to people, some variant of: “But what I don’t understand is – why don’t these women just leave?”
We don’t need, I think – I hope – to detail too extensively here the exact answer to that question. Bullet points: an immediate fear of being punched, kicked, bitten, gouged or killed, and of the same happening to your children, preceded by months or years of exploitation of the weakest points in your psyche by a master of the art; an erosion of your self-confidence, liberty, agency and financial independence (if you had any to begin with), coupled with a sense of shame and stigma and a lack of practical options; no money, no supportive family or friends, nowhere to run.
So, let’s concentrate instead on the lack of imagination, the lack of empathy inherent in that question. Because it shapes a lot of questions, and particularly those that animate government policy and the political discourse that will start filling the airwaves more and more as we move towards the election.
Listen, I always want to say, if you’re genuinely mystified, answer me this: have you never had a really bad day and really wanted – nay, needed – an extra glass of Montrachet on the roof terrace in the evening? Or such a chaotic, miserable week that you’ve ended up with a takeaway five nights out of seven instead of delving into Nigella’s latest?