Soho Walk and East End walking group 027A few years ago I owned and ran my own café in the heart of London’s Soho and, while the days were long and the work was hard, one of the most pleasurable aspects of my job was the fact that I got to meet and mingle with people from every possible social and racial background one could imagine. I recall one afternoon looking over the seating area of the café and marvelling at the view of the local pastor sitting next to a London cabbie, who was sitting a stone’s throw from some local film industry executives who were on the next table from a few of the local ‘working girls’ from one of the many brothels in the area. This was my favourite thing about my day – the chance to learn something about everything. Furthermore, I employed English staff, Spanish, Brasilian, Polish, Greek, Ecuadorian, gay and straight, white and black, male and female, young and old. Nowhere else could a more diverse range of people be found in one area of the City. Not a day passed without something happening that would give me a story to tell when I got home to North London in the evening – quite far removed from my office life these days in small-town rural England.

One particular Soho afternoon in the café, one of my staff took an order from a customer and when I prepared the food, I asked him who it was for and he replied that it was for the “Asian lady over there”. I looked up and in my head I was expecting to see, seated somewhere in the café, a brown-skinned, straight-haired woman, but there was no such person in my view so I asked my staff member which ‘Asian’ person he was referring to. He then said, quite quietly, “the oriental woman in the corner”. I recognised who he was referring to and she duly got what she was waiting for. I asked why he didn’t say ‘oriental’ in the first place, and he explained that “some people don’t like that word anymore”. I hadn’t heard that opinion yet and I remember thinking that the word ‘Asian’ was too broad a term and didn’t quite do the trick of being specific enough.

Since that day, I’d been thinking about the term ‘Oriental’, and trying to work out what it was that ‘some people’ didn’t like about it. I had never associated it with anything derogatory so it wasn’t obvious to me what could be wrong with the word. Then it came to me: when someone in the UK says ‘Asian’, our first thought is likely to be of someone brown-skinned with straight hair – someone ‘Indian’ looking. When someone says ‘African’, we usually think of someone dark-skinned with curly hair – a sub-Saharan black African. So equally, when someone says Oriental, it creates an image of someone with East Asian eyes. The scientific term is ‘Epicanthic fold’ I believe. The issue with this is that, for many people in the West, this is enough to group all ‘Oriental’ people in the same category or race. Therefore, someone Japanese is the same as someone Chinese, Vietnamese or Malaysian. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve had this sort of exchange with someone – Them: “he was Chinese”. Me: “no I think he was Japanese”. Them: “Oh you know what I mean”. Those who know better are aware of just how ridiculous this grouping is. In this case, “you know what I mean” means, “his eyes were oriental”. This is a generalisation that quite appalls me, and no doubt would infuriate me further if I were Chinese or Japanese. The word ‘Oriental’ derives from the Latin word ‘Oriens’ which means ‘East’. Nevertheless, it has largely been adopted by the English speaking West to describe a sub-section of Asians, from the far East.

Taking this idea of generalisation a step further, if we did describe someone as Asian, wouldn’t this too be an over generalisation? Asia is a huge continent and someone Turkish can be as Asian as someone Japanese, neither of whom are particularly ‘Indian looking’. In the same way, describing someone as African could refer to someone Egyptian or Moroccan, or white South African – none of which could be classified as sub-Saharan black African with curly hair. Even if we are referring to black African people, those familiar with the continent know just how different, and far away from eachother, Somalians and Nigerians are. So the terms ‘Asian’ and ‘African’ tell us very little about someone. Then we get to the word ‘black’. What does this tell us about a person? Even if we are to assume that this means someone who is of African-Caribbean descent, it tells us that their skin is likely to be dark brown, and their hair is likely to be curly, but that’s about it. What else can we infer? Nothing. They could be American, with a possibility that they be from anywhere from Seattle to Miami, or Atlanta to New York – already quite a diversity in one country. They could be from West Africa, France, UK, Italy or Germany, East Africa, Barbados, Trinidad or Zimbabwe. So by describing someone as simply ‘black’, we’re not giving away very much about what religion they might be, what language they might speak, whether they come from a large country with big cities or a small island with no cities. We’re not saying anything about their cultural view on the family, what sort of food they might call traditional, or anything else that would help us to form an opinion of some sort about this person’s background. This is the same as describing someone as simply ‘white’ – not very useful at all.

So let’s make the word ‘Oriental’ non-PC but let’s do the same with the words ‘black’, ‘white’, ‘Asian’, ‘African’ and anything else that is too general. Of course, by being more specific, we could say that someone is Indian, or Jamaican or Italian, which would not tell us anything about their level of education, wealth, status, whether they were trustworthy or not, were big, small, gay or straight, good or bad, but it would, if nothing else, encourage people to learn a little more about the wonderful world we live in.

The women’s organisation, Refuge, is in breach of the ASA advertising code as it recently released a new advertising campaign entitled ‘Don’t ignore it. They can’t.’*, which, although designed to raise awareness of the effects of domestic violence on children, is in fact misleading since it gives the impression that domestic violence is only perpetrated by men on women and completely ignores women on men violence when the Government crime statistics clearly show that at least 24% of Domestic Violence victims are male.

In fact, this figure appears to be much higher (40%) as stated in a Guardian analysis of UK Government figures.**
Furthermore, as John Mays of the Fathers’ Rights Group Parity states, the official figures underestimate the true number of male victims as there are issues such as many men failing to report incidents of Domestic Violence because it is seen as unmanly or weak.

There is also the problem that “Male victims are almost invisible to the authorities such as the police, who rarely can be prevailed upon to take the man’s side,” said John Mays of Parity.

The issue of Domestic Violence is always an important one, and the protection and wellbeing of children is highest on the list for all organisations involved in the relationship and family arena. However, the message that this advertising campaign communicates is inaccurate, biased and misleading, and most importantly, such a campaign clearly ignores the equally terrible effect that domestic violence has on children when the perpetrator is the woman/mother.

The campaign

The advertising campaign describes and portrays violence in the home as being exclusively a male perpetrated crime with the woman being the victim. The campaign uses children’s own words taken from letters and diaries to highlight the child’s view and experience of domestic violence, yet all of these accounts involve man-on-woman violence.

There are 4 adverts: Santa, I hate tea time, Little brother and I hate dad which all involve children expressing their fear and distress regarding their father being violent towards their mother. Another issue with the excerpts from children’s writing used is that all of them mention “Dad” as the male perpetrator when much of the man on woman Domestic Violence that affects children is committed by the mother’s boyfriend and not the father of the children. This is another misleading aspect of the campaign.

On the whole, the general language used in this article only makes reference to female victims and male perpetrators.

The actual statistics on Domestic Violence

The British Crime Survey Government statistics show the estimated prevalence of domestic violence in England and Wales from 1995 to 2010/11 and based on the estimated numbers of incidents, the proportion of male victims has varied between 15% and 34%, with a mean of about 24%. ****

Also, a consistently high level of female abuse and violence in intimate (partner) relationships, with a corresponding level of male victimisation is revealed in nine detailed supplementary surveys of Intimate Abuse, also carried out by the BCS. ****

“Over the full 16-year period, proportions of male victims (of total victims) have ranged between about 35% (year 2009/10) to 46% (year 2007/08) for any form of partner abuse or violence including sexual and stalking), and between about 33% (year 1996) to 49% (year 2006/07) for the category of ‘severe force’.”****

This data clearly shows that both men and women are perpetrators of domestic violence. Any campaign intended to challenge the issue of domestic violence must challenge and address the issue of both male on female abuse and violence, AND female on male abuse and violence.

As mentioned above, the Refuge campaign is misleading since it gives the impression that domestic violence is only perpetrated by men on women and completely ignores women on men violence.

Such a misleading campaign breaches the ASA advertising code***, sections 1.1, 1.3, 3.1, 3.3, 4.1 and 4.5 and should be withdrawn with an apology.

*http://refuge.org.uk/about-us/prevention-and-education/campaigns/dont-ignore-it-they-cant/
**http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2010/sep/05/men-victims-domestic-violence
***http://www.asa.org.uk/Advertising-Codes.aspx
****http://www.dewar4research.org/DOCS/DVGovtStats96-11RevFeb12.pdf (page 3)