Before I start, let me make matters clear: I am a feminist. It does not mean I am a man-hater. It means I want social, economic and political equality for women. It is not, and should never be, a battle of the sexes. It may come across as a challenge because the emphasis on women’s issues may be seen like interest accrued over the years, and it is now time to cash in and close the gap. Some of the crucial ways in which inequality persist are unfortunately dangerous, as we can see through the murder of Paulina Dembska.
So, what is feminism all about today? Many who dislike the term point to the fact that women have largely achieved legal equality, such as by having the right to vote, or a right against discrimination. However, masculine men never need to be careful about what to wear or to limit their activity to certain times of the day. They do not need to worry about walking unaccompanied in a parking lot, where they must look behind their backs. They do not need to carry keys in hand as if they are a potential weapon, rather than as just a means to enter their own home.
Her death brought a certain sort of man to the forefront. It is the type who tends to be most to blame for the issues we are talking about. These sorts of faux macho men chose this time to come out of their fragile shells, playing the victim, choosing this time to talk about their personal difficulties with evil women. In the context of Paulina Dembska’s brutal murder and rape, these ‘men’ chose to talk about their own struggles within Maltese society, and how they are viewed as an ATM to be leeched to by predatory ex-partners. This is not the time and place for these discussions.
By trying to steal the narrative and deviating the attention from the main topic one only enforces the idea that it is not men’s struggles in general which are what this is really about, but that one is not the centre of attention. It is about seeing women’s issues as a threat and as a challenge. It is a challenge to the idea that right now, women’s issues are not what we should be talking about. Hell yes, they are! Paula Dembska just became a victim of what women are most afraid of.
As more information is gathered about the alleged rapist and murderer of Paulina Dembska one thing is for sure: Paulina was let down by the institutions. No one prevents anything in this country. The predator, who harassed 14-year-old girls online, got reported and nothing was done. He also had mental issues, and his mother asked for help and hardly found any. What this guy seemed to have found was a pastor with a messiah complex who brainwashes people into giving him their money, while worsening their mental conditions and disassociating them from the rest of society. This charlatan thinks that he can convert gay people back to the straight and narrow. It is something that is illegal in Malta. But legality in Malta is as stretchable as the best yoga pants.
It is these same institutions that were present at the vigil for Paula Dembska, as if to shrug off responsibility. Not so different from the climate march to Parliament organised by university students some years ago, which was hijacked by MPs. Minister Owen Bonnici and Prime Minister Robert Abela attended the event in memory of Paula Dembska with their partners in tow. They felt compelled to come because they both have a daughter, they stated. Yet as these things always play out, it was a public relations stunt, and that is the true extent of the empathy at work.
That same empathy clearly runs into limits when one considers none was shown to Daphne Caruana Galizia when it actually mattered; a mother, a wife and a sister. It is the government’s job to take care of the most vulnerable and weak in society and to shield them from harassment and murder, but the real state of affairs is that those who are taken care of are those who buy influence, either with money or with their vote. A lot of women from across the full range of society are still falling victim to the violence of all sorts, because the system discriminates, and protects the powerful at the expense of the weak.
When will harassment of women be taken seriously? Do we have to wait for someone close to us to be affected, incarcerated, for the harsh reality facing so many to hit us? Do we really require wake-up calls, like the death of Miriam Pace, to feign action? What painful disappointments we continue to face! This was one memorial, at least, that was not cleaned up. What a sorry state we are in when it takes a crisis for us to react by lighting candles, without any fundamental changes to the system, each time!