Nigella Lawson, Charles Saatchi and the ugly face of patriarchal power
This is an excellent piece about the recent, sickening Lawson case.
A man places his hands round his wife’s neck in a public place. He is very rich and powerful which perhaps allowed him to think that there were no limits to what he was permitted, or that since the world was in any case always watching, it would only ever admire, never critique. Perhaps he thought that he was outside the law.
Clearly taken aback by the public response – shock followed by more or less undiluted support for his wife – he argues that it was a light-hearted tiff (the images far worse than the reality), that his wife could just as well have had her hands around his neck (as he insisted she often did), and then that she has slandered him by not coming publicly to his defence.
It does not take much to see that these three responses, taken together, make nonsense of each other. He did it but it was nothing; she is as culpable as him; she is the only guilty party in the whole affair. Flailing around in his own arguments, he made himself ridiculous. Her silence was, therefore, not just dignified, or – as some commentators suggested – the classic muteness of women in the face of male violence, but wise. The fact that he had to accept a police caution made no difference. Up until a short while ago, he was still threatening her with legal action for not having spoken out on his behalf.
The events at Isleworth crown court of the past three weeks strongly suggest that this is a case where a man who has committed a crime against a woman is determined that she will be made to suffer, indeed that she alone will be the target of moral and legal blame. More simply, she must be criminalised. The prospect of this wrecking her career is clearly of no significance – indeed, at moments it has appeared to be the incentive. “My wife is my property” is how the dramatist Bertolt Brecht summed up the message of Othello when challenged to give a summary of Shakespeare’s great tragedy in a single line. It is a mantra of the super powerful that what you cannot own you destroy. Despite his protestations in court – that he is heartbroken and still adores his former wife – Charles Saatchi has conducted himself like a bull in a china shop, except that the “porcelain” he has seemed intent on shattering to smithereens was once the lover, companion, wife who graced his home. The victim – although Nigella Lawson is no victim and would not, I suspect, wish to be seen as one – is effectively placed in the dock. “I felt I would be put on trial,” she said in court, “and this is what happened.” She was cross-examined for 10 hours. Rest: commentisfree.