CITIES, how the world works, spatial poetics, travel notes

A note on violence

13 June

As I’m writing this, the first gay pride parade in Split (second biggest city in Croatia, biggest coastal, smack-bang in the middle of the area that was heavily bombed during the war, therefore, somewhat predictably, somewhat right-leaning) resulted in a violent riot, as the parade (of 200 mainly non-gay people – activists, intellectuals, supporters) was met by a rock-hurling counter-protest (of about 10,000 by the police estimate). Croatian media are exploding with commentary, all condemning the violence in the harshest possible terms. This is great improvement since the LGBT issue was first raised, only about 12 years ago, when no one spoke about it, and the general opinion was not far from an assumption that there are no homosexuals in Croatia. But, in a very strongly masculine culture, homosexuality is, of course, destabilising for a whole series of cultural paradigms. As one journalist wrote:

“Split Pride was in many ways a clear dividing point of worldview for the host city. Contrary to the expectations, the parade consisted mostly of local residents. The fence and the police cordon were literally dividing families: one of my acquaintances who participated in the parade recognised her brother-in-law among the militants, while my wife saw a lady who was a household friend in her childhood.”
Split: Gay Pride Under Attack (c) Vojko Bašić/CROPIX

I will be in Croatia for the Zagreb Pride this Saturday, where I can take my little sister and her school friends, who have been outraged the way teenagers get outraged at injustice and moral wrongs. I haven’t been confronted with a shouting skinhead mob for a long time, but I’m looking forward to seeing some clear-cut violence. Or, rather: to seeing the face of clear-cut violence. Lately, in Melbourne I’ve been witnessing mainly subterranean intrigue, malicious gossip, manipulation, attacks on the weak.

Carolyn posted a link to Hollaback, a website where women can post stories of sexual harassment and abuse, in a kind of name-and-shame procedure. Reading through the stories, and the frustrated, impotent anger these incidents provoked in women who nonetheless didn’t react because almost all were ‘scared’ that the man might become ‘violent’ made me realise I know something they largely don’t: that men who harass women are cowards. And something else: that men who harass women, and are cowards, are helped in their behaviour by two learned responses women have – shame and silence.

Women automatically feel guilty for the kind of underhanded violence they receive, and try to be as quiet as possible about it. Men rely on that a great deal. It is inculcated in us, right from the start, that speaking up against this sort of behaviour is dobbing in if it happens to us, that it makes you a bitch if it’s done by your boyfriend, and that it’s none of our business if it happens to someone else. But because so much of this sort of abuse is actually not publicly condoned by our society, it relies on secrecy, on quietness. Making a huge fuss about harassment, be it workplace harassment or someone wanking on a bus, ranging from spreading information to shouting ‘Ew! Ew!’ on the bus, is often enough to dispel the bubble of safety that allows these men to continue in their behaviour, such as it is.

Which is to say, women get taught to be the better man in these situations quite simply to protect the perpetrator.

I don’t think that the best response to a rock-hurling crowd is to hurl rocks back, to be entirely honest. There is something to be said for good behaviour of symbolic resonance. But I think that being faced with a physically violent crowd (as has happened to me a few times in Croatia, usually related to some leftie beliefs I was clearly manifesting with my clothes or haircut) makes you realise just how cowardly a manipulative man, or a flasher, or a wife beater is, and what low level of immediate danger he poses; how much of their courage comes out of having isolated the woman, or having badly damaged her self-esteem, or having manipulated her into feeling guilty. It puts things in perspective, too: it gives you something tangibly, uncontrollably dangerous to measure a single wanking, manipulating or emotionally abusive man against.

In the case of violent crowds, for sure, a lot of the courage comes from the numbers – as does the courage of a Pride protest. But there is a cleanness there, an honesty in acting and in expressing one’s beliefs, that I am looking forward to.

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Reader:

Human Rights First
AFP
Radio Free Europe
Video of the Split Gay Pride parade violence

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