Assault victim Christy Mac (left) and  mixed martial arts fighter War Machine (right).

Assault victim Christy Mac (left) and mixed martial arts fighter War Machine (right).

If we needed a reminder of how women the world over are treated like property, we needn’t look much further back than this week. There is the utterly horrifying ISIS kidnappings of Yazidi girls and women in Iraq, with families uncertain whether or not their daughters will be forced into marriage or used as sex slaves. Then there is the violent assault of actress Christy Mack, who posted photographs of significant injuries allegedly inflicted on her by former boyfriend, War Machine, an MMA fighter who has previously joked about raping Mack on Twitter and who claims to have been going to her house that night to propose. One of these things is not exactly like the other, but they do share common motivations.

In light of both, the past couple of days have been interesting ones in social media land. Because at the same time as fielding obnoxious demands from anti-feminists to know exactly what I was doing about the whomen living under ‘real oppression’ in the world - women like the kidnapped Yazidis - I was also engaged in deeply upsetting conversations with men who felt that Christy Mack had ‘asked for it’.

The logic of the first is easy to dismantle. People opposed to feminism but unwilling to admit they actively oppose women’s rights look for an easy way to deflect and justify their own hostility. The subtext is always that we should feel lucky for being treated so well, as if the beneficiaries of patriarchal power are doing us a favour by not stoning us in the streets.  

And that leads to the second issue. People racially motivated to criticise, say, the Middle East love to cite the treatment of women as evidence of oppression. “We don’t treat our women like that!” come the cries, as if the benevolence they display in allowing us to live somewhat freely is worthy of daily reward and gratitude. “We respect women!”

(Oh, except when we hold them responsible for their own rapes, blame them for staying in abusive relationships, call them ‘c-m guzzling sluts’ and increasingly limit the control they have over their reproductive choices.)

Or, in the case of Christy Mack, argue that she wouldn’t have been almost killed if she hadn’t ‘cheated’.

Yes, amazingly some people have found a way to pin blame for a violent assault on a woman currently lying in hospital with 18 broken bones around her eyes, a nose broken in two places and several missing and broken teeth. That Mack is also being held accountable for being a porn performer is key. According to the logic, because she has sex on camera for money she’s a ‘slut’, and ‘sluts’ don’t deserve to be protected from violence.

Look, let’s just get this out of the way right now - there is no scale of justification when it comes to violence against women. It is no less criminal and abhorrent to beat a sex worker than it is to beat a virgin librarian, and if you think that then you need to seriously examine your own deeply ingrained misogyny. Violence is violence, and outside of consenting BDSM relationships, nobody asks for it.

But in the hours since news of Mack’s hospitalisation broke, I have seen her variously described as a ‘slut’ and a ‘whore’, a ‘cheating bitch’ who should have known what was coming to her and, chillingly, ‘lucky’ that she wasn’t killed for her supposed egregious behaviour.

After challenging a tweet in which a man wrote, “Not condoning hitting females but let [sic] my girl have done this she woulda been looking like Christy Mack”, he told me I was overreacting and taking too seriously what was meant to be a joke. Male pride, he and his friends informed me, was a powerful thing and ‘bitches’ best not be insulting it.

Even now, people are still offering their support to Mack’s alleged abuser, sympathising with the hurt she is thought to have inflicted on him. Currently on the run from law enforcement, War Machine has taken to Twitter to lament the situation, arguing that if Mack had only been alone at home that night then they would be happily engaged by now.

Because remember - it takes two to tango.

One woman is killed every week in Australia by her partner or ex-partner. One in five women have experienced some form of sexual violence. Women are advised repeatedly to modify their behaviour in public to avoid rape, because short skirts are apparently better able to communicate consent than a woman’s own voice. And when women are raped, as they heartbreakingly are week after week, they’re often too afraid to report it because we are overwhelmingly bombarded with the message that rape is something women provoke, not something that rapists do.

What is this ‘male pride’ other than the absolute entitlement of believing women are the property of men? What distinguishes the viewing of large groups of women as subject to sex trafficking from the absolving of alleged abusers because women ‘asked for it’?

The answer is nothing. Both are predicated on the belief that women’s bodies - and particularly women’s sexuality - is something that belongs to men. In the minds of people justifying the abuse of Christy Mack, she took something that didn’t belong to her - her body - and gave it to someone who didn’t own it. In this collective narrative, she stole from a man and he had no choice but to punish her for it. Never let it be said that we don’t practice our own versions of honour killings.

But still we are told that we are lucky. And it is deeply frightening to see how many people believe this, even while demanding that feminists shut up about ‘made up’ oppression and focus on ‘saving’ the women who understand what real misogyny looks like.

* Support is available for anyone who may be distressed by calling Lifeline 131 114, Mensline 1300 789 978, Kids Helpline 1800 551 800.