Welcome to Bilbao, unless you’re a wife beater.

// 1 September 2008

Imagine my surprise upon arriving at Spain’s Bilbao airport a couple of weeks ago to discover that the vast majority of the advertising space throughout the airport – including the arrivals lounge – was dedicated to a government campaign against violence towards women. Then again, considering modern day Spain is a country with a majority-female cabinet, headed by a man who has repeatedly condemned its domestic violence rate and traditional machismo and whose government’s first act was to draft a gender violence law, I guess this isn’t really that surprising, but I think I’d fall to the floor in astonishment if I saw similar posters in Stansted.

The first one reads: “Don’t even think about hitting me. Ever”, followed by ‘Zero tolerance of abusers’.

The second attacks the idea that violence against women is a normal and desirable expression of masculinity: “When you abuse a woman you stop being a man”.

The third I’m a little dubious about: “Mummy, do it for us, act now”. While it is probably designed to encourage assertiveness in the context that the woman will be supported if she speaks out, it places the onus on the victim rather than the abuser to put an end to violence, and seems to play somewhat into the “why didn’t she just leave” victim blaming narrative.

Come to think of it, the same could be said of the first poster, though I think the implication is more that she has the law on her side so he won’t get away with hitting her again, rather than that violence would just end if women stood up for themselves and stopped “tolerating” it.

All the posters include a helpline number for “victims of gender based violence”.

So, it’s not a perfect campaign, but it’s certainly heartening to see such a high profile attempt by the Spanish government itself to raise awareness of the issue of domestic violence against women.

Nice that they have an Equality Ministry, too. *Ahem, Mr Brown*

Comments From You

ConservaTorygirl // Posted 1 September 2008 at 11:14 pm

Blimey. Wow!

The only thing that focusing on gendered male on female violence in this way is that it detracts from other gender based violence that is no less unacceptable.

Female abusers are less common than male abusers but they do exist, and a campaign such as this may not help a man suffering domestic violence at the hands of a woman come forward.

Additionally it doesn’t even touch on homophobic violence.

Still better than nothing, though.

Alex Corwin // Posted 1 September 2008 at 11:35 pm

Singapore has a similar campaign going on at the moment, which I found really reassuring.

Although, Singapore also has capital and corporal punishment so in many ways it’s not a great example, but to see posters on public transport that say “if you harass women you are going to prison” or ones that say the same for domestic violence is a good thing.

That said, I have no idea what the domestic violence stats are for Singapore. I do however know that street harassment is virtually non-existent, which is fantastic!

Renee // Posted 2 September 2008 at 12:14 am

I think that this is a very important gesture on the part of the Spanish government. It must be met by the other agents of socialization for it to have a large impact though. In many ways the media helps to support a lot of violence against women and this needs to be challenged. In fact I believe that this is a campaign that needs to begin in schools teaching children from the youngest age that violence is wrong. Churches need to speak out, clubs…every single agent of socialization needs to take a stand and say stop the violence for there to be a real and lasting change. I certainly commend them for their efforts but more still needs to be done for people to realize what a complete horror domestic violence is.

Luize // Posted 2 September 2008 at 8:24 am

First one says ¨Don´t you even think of hitting me. Ever.¨

So it´s even better campaign.

Laura // Posted 2 September 2008 at 10:09 am

Oops, thanks Luize, I was half asleep when I was translating that! Will change it in the post…

Mystery Dyke Squadron (Bombing Division) // Posted 2 September 2008 at 10:44 am

I wonder if this will be accompanied by a campaign against female-on-male abuse, or the same within homosexual relationships.

I appreciate that less violence happens in that direction (although homosexual domestic abuse is about even in frequency, as you’d expect) but for 100% of the advertising to be arranged in that fashion is surely disproportionate.

Indeed, many people fail even to realise that female-on-male abuse is a problem and adverts that frame this issue solely in a “Women get hit” fashion are surely going to serve only to exacerbate this.

Leigh // Posted 2 September 2008 at 1:18 pm

I absolutely applaud these adverts. If I ever become anything as a graphic designer, these sorts of unequivocal statements are what I hope to be making.

alice dale // Posted 2 September 2008 at 1:55 pm

The UK has a Ministry for Equality too. Harriet Harmen is the Minister for Women and Equality.

Nicola // Posted 2 September 2008 at 3:15 pm

I saw a similar thing on the underground in Barcelona, although I think it was aimed at child abuse. (Then again, my Spanish is basically non-existent, so it could have been something completely different entirely). Those sort of campaigns just make me want to move out there even more!

Politicalguineapig // Posted 2 September 2008 at 3:42 pm

I’d like to point out that female to male domestic violence is actually pretty rare. And I hate to say this, Mystery, but you’re treading pretty close to MRA territory. Most men who claim to be abused tend to be men’s rights activists.

Aleja // Posted 2 September 2008 at 6:33 pm

I wonder if this effort includes a similar campaign in, for example, buses or local radio shows.

Anything that’s only at the airport is generally and indication of how the country/city wants to look rather than real political action.

Octavia // Posted 2 September 2008 at 8:44 pm

A note to politicalguineapig: Actually, female on male violence is much more common than many think. Unfortunately no one hears of it or acts against it as not many men come forward for fear of being branded a wimp or soft. Just by talking to female colleagues and friends it’s obvious that slapping or hitting a boyfriend/partner/husband is seen as a fairly normal activity within an argument. Some women actually find it amusing, as does some sections of the media (man slaps women = wrong. Woman slaps man = funny). Ok, so a slap might not hurt much, but it’s still violence.

And to say that most men who claim to be abused are male rights activists is a sweeping statement.

Frances // Posted 2 September 2008 at 9:45 pm

I saw them everywhere as well, the only one I didn’t like was the one that said “Do it for us Mum. Act” -Mama hazlo por nosotros. Actua- because I immediately felt that it was placing the responsibility on women to act to protect their children. It made me feel guilty even though I have no children and have never been a victim of domestic violence. In answer to your question Aleja, there were also ads during the olympics which included things like: the olympic handball men’s team thinks you are less of a man if you ever hit a woman, olympic teams against domestic violence. And I also assume (although I barely watched tv) that they have similar non-seasonal campaigns. Added to which, I saw the poster on the Madrid metro.

It was also interesting talking to young Spaniards that there was a fair greater awareness of domestic violence and particularly the number of women killed by their partners annually. Although I believe the figure isn’t that much higher than the UK as someone told me it was around 2 a week.

Having said that some years ago I remember seeing an advert on the tube that said something along the lines of “when you close your door it doesn’t mean we won’t prosecute you if you hit your spouse” with a picture of a man being lead away in handcuffs.

Glenn coleman-cooke // Posted 2 September 2008 at 11:50 pm

Any one mind if i ask i question? As a man (collective gasps of horror) i am genuinely curious as to whether feminists subscribe to the veiw that men and women are abosolutly equal (ie that is acceptable to hit a woman when you would hit a man, such as in self defense) or that there are unaviodable physical differences, i.e it’s wrong/unfair to hit a woman because she is physically weaker(not an insult, but ultimatly a peice of biology)

personally, i subscribe to the latter view, but would be much obliged if

any of you ladies could fill me in on your party line.

Aleja // Posted 3 September 2008 at 2:10 am

Thanks for the added info Frances. I’m very pleasantly surprised.

ProudFatherof4 // Posted 3 September 2008 at 3:21 am

Is anyone going to respond to Glen Coleman’s post?It tickled me when I read it.Violence towards others is wrong,but turning the other cheek is silly.Defend yourself,no matter the gender of the aggressor.BTW..I am a man and I don’t hit women(not even by request).Respect to all.

chem_fem // Posted 3 September 2008 at 9:02 am

To Glen

I think it would be best if people didn’t hit full stop. If all violence was seen as wrong then we’d be getting somewhere.

Of course self-defense is self-defense regardless of who is doing it, but then it should be only enough to stop the attack or give you time to leave.

Sarah // Posted 3 September 2008 at 9:30 am

I don’t know about any ‘party line’, but personally I feel that hitting people is generally unacceptable, unless of course you need to defend yourself. I would imagine most feminists, indeed most reasonable people, would agree with that.

Kath // Posted 3 September 2008 at 9:46 am

Those who state that female-on-male domestic violence is just as prevalent as male-on-female are really missing the point. Women do hit men but they generally do not cause serious injury. Women are far more likely than men to be seriously injured (hospitalised) or killed by their partner. The difference is not simply due to men’s greater physical strength but to greater aggression (and of course men ought to be aware of their physical strength if they get in to a fight with their partner). Yes a slap is still violence (I am not condoning it) but how does it compare to being beaten black and blue, having your bones broken and then perhaps raped for good measure?

Sabre // Posted 3 September 2008 at 9:58 am

@ Glen Coleman-Cooke

Firstly nobody is shocked to see a man commented on this site; it happens a lot actually. And they usually tend to be well meaning at least. Perhaps your joke shows you subscribe to the view that feminists are inherently man-haters? I found it rather insulting.

Secondly feminists don’t subscribe to particular views, there is no party line because all feminists are individuals. We have lots of interesting discussions where we disagree but respect the opinions of others.

Thirdly, I would say that one should use violence if it is self-defence, and only then. Doesn’t matter if it’s a man or woman attacking. The attitude that some men have about never ever hitting a woman (even if she hits you) seems to stem from some chivalry whereby women are considered weak. Anyone who has been in a fight with a woman could tell you this isn’t true! Although I’m not condoning fights here.

Fourthly, yes men tend to be physically stronger than women, but not in every case. However this isn’t really the point. Men don’t abuse women simply because they are stronger, it’s because of personality and attitude, often shaped by messages from society that violence against women is acceptable. Often the abuse within a relationship will occur because of personalities rather than physical differences, and so yes, women do physically abuse men too.

Lastly, as a general comment, I’m unsurprised that a conversation about man-on-woman domestic violence has been turned into a discussion on women abusing men. Of course this occurs, and the abused men often don’t get the support they need. But man-on-woman violence is a far far greater problem in our society.

Soirore // Posted 3 September 2008 at 10:27 am

I am hesitant to believe that men don’t come forward to report dometic abuse against them and this means numbers are much higher.

I have only come across one study of abuse in homosexual relationships and the proportion of abuse experienced in male relationships was reported higher than in female. Gay men were reporting more than gay women. To me this indicates that men are more likely to be the perpetrators of domestic violence. Yes, the numbers of men who experience violence from women may be higher than statistics suggest but it is still nowhere near that of men on women.

As many women who experience domestic violence end up being killed by their partners we’d see the same trend in men if they were being abused to the same degree. But men get killed by other men when they are murdered. And you can’t say those statistics are the fault of men not reporting it.

Saranga // Posted 3 September 2008 at 1:20 pm

@ Glen: believe it or not feminists are not part of some collective hive mind.

I also find your comment rather insulting and patronising. Perhaps I am reading too much into it, this is the evil internets after all whereby tone etc is lost, so if that was a genuinely innocent question, cool. And if that is the case, and you are just being friendly, I would request that you choose your words and language more carefully in the future. (but that’s just me, other people may not care and the blog moderators may not care).

Glenn Coleman-Cooke // Posted 3 September 2008 at 9:47 pm

thank you everyone for responding to my questions.

Sabre said –

“Firstly nobody is shocked to see a man commented on this site; it happens a lot actually. And they usually tend to be well meaning at least. Perhaps your joke shows you subscribe to the view that feminists are inherently man-haters? I found it rather insulting.”

Thats a shame, but you have to admit the posting guidelines hardly make this feel like a all welcoming and friendly site of open debate. The joke was supossed to lighten up those who take social issues too seriously, but it appears that i have failed.

Alex T // Posted 4 September 2008 at 6:39 pm

Glenn Coleman-Cooke: “those who take social issues too seriously”


How can you take domestic violence, including rape and murder, TOO seriously? That is really offensive to anyone who has feared for their life at the hands of their abusive partner. We all take it seriously on their behalf. You’re right, the posting guidelines make it clear that this site is not welcoming to those who think domestic violence is a joke.

Kim // Posted 4 September 2008 at 9:49 pm

Glenn said:

“Thats a shame, but you have to admit the posting guidelines hardly make this feel like a all welcoming and friendly site of open debate.”

That sounds so ridiculous if you just read over the rules. Blog is a safe friendly space, offensive and discriminatory comments will be banned, no anonymity… “be nice”… What exactly makes it sound like it’s not welcoming and friendly?

Besides, adding “gasp of horror!” does imply that feminists don’t like men. If I see a man’s name above a comment on here, I’m never surprised by it, let alone horrified. So even if you weren’t -trying- to be offensive, I’m not sure how exactly you were hoping to “lighten the tone”.

In fact, I mis-read Kath’s name as Keith the first time around and only just noticed. Needless to say, no gasp of horror was heard.

Soirore // Posted 5 September 2008 at 9:47 am

Glen – So now you think that people who are concerned about levels of violence against women “take social issues too seriously”. And see fit to make jokes about it.

This site is a place for people to discuss feminist issues, if you are so completely unfamiliar with what feminism is why are you here? Oh I know the answer it is; to troll. The other contributers responded to your questions politely yet after thanking them you still take a swipe at one of them. It is not a shame that she is insulted by your “joke” but a shame that you said something offensive. Get it right.

Saranga // Posted 5 September 2008 at 11:12 pm

@ Glen: Ahh, I see what may be the problem. You’re at a feminist site, specifically at a post about domestic violence, and you make a joke because you think we take social issues too seriously.

Could that be because you get to suffer from that good old fashioned male priviledge thing? You see Glen, women don’t get that, because to us, domestic violence, and I would say all the other things discussed on this site, do affect us. They are not funny, they are our lives, and we have to put up with this crap constantly.

I’m so glad you don’t, I’m so glad you get to think it’s a joke, but we don’t, because we live it.

It must be nice for you.

On a less snarky point, at least you are on here and asking questions. It’s a start.

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