Yesterday, the news broke that somebody’s life had been taken. On those facts alone, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who would take the side of the alleged murderer, and the majority of people would frown upon any jokes about the matter.
However, Reeva Steenkamp is a woman, and the man charged with her murder is famous.
Most of the mainstream media has concentrated on this man, which is why I’m deliberately not naming him in this post. The focus is on how “inspirational” he was, the loss to the world of sport, to the fans, to South Africa, to everyone but Reeva Steenkamp, to everyone but the victim. The focus is on how he cried in the dock, and how he denies the charges so they must be false; I’ve yet to see one article depicting the grief of Reeva’s loved ones, her family, her friends. The focus is on the possibility that he thought Reeva was an intruder; never on the previous “incidents of a domestic nature” because cases of violence against women are virtually always referred to as “isolated incidents”.
As for Reeva Steenkamp herself? It wasn’t until late yesterday afternoon that I even learned her name; even now, where her name is used, it’s mentioned once before shifting the focus back to the alleged perpetrator. Usually, Reeva is simply referred to as “girlfriend”; a victim with no name, the property of the man believed to have killed her. If her own life is looked into, the furthest the media get is “model”, accompanied by large pictures of her in a bikini.
The front page of today’s Sun, which I won’t link to, has been doing the rounds on Twitter for almost 24 hours. The headline is “3 shots. Screams. Silence.”; the remainder of the front page is taken up by a picture of Reeva Steenkamp in a bikini. The usual topless “Page 3 girl” was absent so Reeva was seen as a replacement, to be used for sexual gratification; also, I suspect The Sun are aware of the current debate surrounding the No More Page 3 campaign and have used this as a divide-and-rule exercise. The Daily Star uses a similar bikini shot, with the headline “Blade Runner Shoots Lover Dead”. Again, note that Reeva Steenkamp is referred to simply as “lover” whilst her alleged killer is referred to by a sports nickname. In summary, then, whilst the defendant is still portrayed as a sporting great and a national hero, his victim is nameless, an add-on to her boyfriend, a piece of meat to desire, an object.
I’ve read a few tweets pointing out that Reeva was a model, and claiming that the pictures just show her doing her job, which would be a good argument if murder victims were always shown doing their jobs. If Reeva had been, for instance, a librarian, would The Sun depict her putting a book on a shelf? If she was a shopkeeper, would there be a picture of her at a till? If she had worked as a surgeon, would they have used a picture of her fully covered by green overalls? As it happens, though, Reeva Steenkamp was a model; in addition, she campaigned against gender-based violence, she was scheduled to give a speech to students in Johannesburg, and she was a law graduate.
Personally, that last part struck a chord. Law graduate. All going well, that’s me in a few years. It could have been me. It could have been any woman, just because they are women; abused, killed, objectified even in death, the butt of jokes about “the worst Valentine’s Day surprise ever” whilst their partners are virtually celebrated. And it’s happening, right now, to women everywhere. If the man accused of murdering Reeva Steenkamp didn’t happen to be famous, none of us would know about her murder at all.
Yesterday, the One Billion Rising movement swept across the globe, and I am proud to have participated. Together, we showed the world that the systemic violence against women is a serious problem that cannot and should not be allowed to continue. Now, we have to turn that affirmation into real action. Reeva Steenkamp’s death must not be in vain.