Monday, 17 June 2013

Ostatnia Nigella

This morning I woke up to terrible headlines about two British celebrities who actually deserve to be celebrities, an important art collector and a beloved television chef. Charles Saatchi is a successful businessman and patron of the arts and Nigella Lawson is a successful businesswoman and daughter of Lord Lawson. We are not talking the sort of accidental celebrities who are made by appearing on reality shows or taking their clothes off for Page 3.

Charles Saatchi and Nigella Lawson are married, and the former was photographed appearing to throttle the latter and to tweak her nose as they sat outside a restaurant in London, arguing. Well, he was arguing; she apparently was trying to calm him down. And this being the UK, and they being celebrities, every national paper is running the story. Is Saatchi abusing Nigella? As stories go,  that's huge. The photos were released to the world on, ironically, Sunday.*

As Kathy Shaidle (don't click to Kathy if you are not a keen freedom-of-speecher) likes to say, the real story is in the comments, so I clicked to the Daily Mail for the vox populi. The vox populi was divided. Comments ranged from "Maybe he was just checking her glands" to "How dare the photographer take photos instead of step in to save the damsel in distress?" to... Actually, now that I think about it, the comments could be divided into "We should mind our own business" and "Saatchi is a wicked wife abuser."

I gave up on the comments before anyone said "If screaming, yelling and getting physical is their thing, they should save it for the bedroom" which was my second thought. My first thought was "Oh, poor Nigella! She's just putting up with it because she loves him and cares about her marriage." But my second thought was definitely in the realm of Choice C: "How awful for the other people at the restaurant."

As long-term readers know, I don't write much about marriage. I didn't like being married the first time, but I like being married now. However, I've only been married for four years, and that doesn't make me any kind of expert. But I do know that marriage depends on loyalty, and so if I get mad at B.A. for something, I'm not going to tell you. I'm not going to tell anyone. Well, I'm going to tell B.A., obviously, because I care enough. I'm here for the long haul and that means confrontation and reconciliation.

But the upshot is that I'm not going to write that much about my marriage because it is not just mine, it is B.A's. Also, I might make him look like an ass, and the worst non-criminal thing a wife can do is make her husband look like an ass in public. Meanwhile, the worst non-criminal thing a husband can do is humiliate his wife in public, which is what I think Charles Saatchi has done. The whole of the UK now thinks he thinks his wife is just property he can slap around.

I am confident B.A. would not mind me saying that physical violence does not play a role in our marriage. He might be a tad shocked to know that it plays a role in other people's marriages, and there are married couples out there who slap each other, grapple and occasionally throw things and laugh about it afterwards. And there are even some married couples would would think life would not be worth living if they didn't scream and yell and slap each other from time to time. It takes all kinds to make a world.

This dynamic is not the same thing as domestic abuse although I can imagine it could quickly turn into domestic abuse, and the minute one spouse says they are sick of scream-yell-slap, that should be an end to it.

I am not myself comfortable with violence-as-vehicle-of-sexual-expression, in part because I associate hitting with boxing and boxing with a code of honour. An honourable boxer hits people in the ring, never out of it, unless in self-defense, and you never, ever hit a girl a member of the opposite sex. Also, I know it is a supremely bad idea ever to hit someone whose first impulse is to hit back, e.g. a boxer in training, particularly when they are stronger and heavier than you, and men are usually stronger and heavier than you.

However, as I said, some married couples are okay with slapping, grappling and throwing things, and therefore [Update: if that is true], the rest of us should usually butt out---as long as they keep it behind closed doors. [Update: When it is public, then the public may certainly voice its displeasure, as the British public has certainly done today.]  Because that kind of consensual violence, cherubs, lurks in the murky shadows of the sexual realm, and not only should the public not see it, neither should the couple's children. [Update: B.A. is throwing all kinds of fits about this paragraph, just so you know.]

I notice that the British newspaper-reading public is always telling female celebrities to divorce their male celebrity husbands. Speaking as a Catholic and a former divorcee, I object to this. I think female celebrities should fight for their marriages and not give David or Wayne a chance to abandon them and their children for whatever brainless hussy managed to so fatally distract them for half an hour. Not only would such a capitulation be bad for the wives and their children, it would be certainly bad for David and Wayne, et alia, who would be eaten alive by brainless hussies until the money was gone and they were just pathetic and rather creepy old men in constant danger of hell. (Oh yeah. Hell.)

Meanwhile, it's up to Nigella to decide what she wants to do. If for whatever reason the shadowy corners of her sexual psyche enjoy the rough stuff meted out by her husband, then she is well in her legal rights to stick with him. If she's sick of it, then it's up to her to lay down the law or start divorce proceedings. But whichever she decides, I hope this couple calls an end to fighting in public. It's not dignified, and it puts other people off their lunch.

*Irony explained: Nigella is almost the Polish word for Sunday, niedziela.

Update: I am much more disturbed by reports that he says he doesn't like her food. The woman is a renowned chef, and spouses can hurt each other very much by belittling each other's proven accomplishments. I cannot see what he would gain from doing so. Surely he is a big enough man without having to diminish the woman in his life to feel even bigger?  I mean, he's Charles Saatchi. Hello.

Update 2: Fellow Catholic Cristina Odone weighs in. Normally I don't pay attention to celebrity gossip, but this is sort of the British equivalent of Guggenheim throttling Julia Child.

Update 3: After much vigorous debate, my husband B.A. weighs in here: "I think my major concern is that – prima facie – violence is bad.  Even if we can do “play” violence that genuinely causes no harm – because it is implicitly consensual and non-injurious – the default position should still be that violence is dangerous.  I can’t imagine any kind  of violence in the New Jerusalem: I conclude that violence as such is a post-lapsarian phenomenon.  So, when I hear that a man has been publicly violent to his wife and that she subsequently leaves in tears, my instinct is that something bad has happened – something which I might have been inclined to interrupt if I witnessed it.  Of course I could be wrong and find myself making a fool of myself by so concluding about any particular case.  But I think the default assumption in such a case is that harm is being done.  What, if any, mitigating assumptions might be justified – such as that the couple may find this kind of stuff fun in private – should take a back seat.  And this is precisely because that we have to have really  good reasons to think that any particular case of violence is “alright”.  That this was a man being  publicly violent to his visibly distressed wife very strongly  suggests to me that something was probably wrong."

Update 4: I used to box. For almost a year, I was the only woman who trained at my gym. Men hit me (but usually pulled their punches). I hit them. It was not such a big deal. Therefore, I have a very nuanced philosophy about when physical force is okay and when it is not. I do not have as strong a sense as B.A. that "prima facie--violence is bad." But I agree that it is dangerous.

Update 5: Guardian columnist who thought Saatchi-Lawson event might not have been a case of domestic abuse eats words. I am not a Guardian columnist, so I don't have to worry about angry Guardian readers. I am, however, a Catholic Register columnist and have written a denunciation of Fifty Shades of Grey, of which over 70 million copies have been sold, mostly to women.


Antigone in NYC said...

I'm actually going to disagree, strongly but respectfully, with this one. Physical violence should not play a role in a healthy adult relationship. And if her husband/boyfriend hits her, a woman needs to tell someone---she's like the frog that's been sitting in the slowing heating pot, she doesn't realize that the water is no longer just warm but boiling around her, and the situation has become dangerous. (Men too, probably.)

I'm writing the above based not only on my moral beliefs, but on what I've witnessed in life: I've seen one male friend and a few female friends in emotionally and physically abusive relationships, none of which were healthy or ultimately lasted, and in each case the abused friend in question had significant childhoood issues which I believe contributed to their willingness to accept abusive behavior (yes, I'm armchairing).

Finally, I'm not sure whether you approve of discussing public figures' reputations, but for what it's worth, Charles Saatchi has a reputation in the art world as a bully and another word I cannot type here. I worked for someone who once had to have him thrown out of her office.

Seraphic said...

I would be surprised if nobody disagreed with me on this one. And personally I wouldn't go to the stake to say that consensual physical violence is a-okay. I'm just observing that it happens, and that even if both parties are okay with it, it shouldn't happen in public.

As for Saatchi's rep, I am not surprised. Speaking generally, men don't make millions of dollars by being nice.

Antigone in NYC said...

If the man was willing to do what he did in public, I've little doubt that he's doing worse in private.

And an abused woman may say that she is in love, and happy, and totally a-okay with the relationship as it is. That doesn't mean that what is happening isn't objectively wrong and unhealthy.

My friend was terribly in love with her ex-husband. She ended up leaving him, not because he once gave her a black eye which she then explained away by a false 'I was mugged' story, but because she discovered his affair. Once she got out of that toxic situation, she started regaining some emotional health and recognized how awful it really had been.

Her to us, somewhat ruefully: "Why did you ever let me marry him???!"

Us: "Why didn't you ever tell us he was hitting you???!"

I WISH her ex had hit her just once in front of us. We, and her family, would have held an intervention. She may have gone right ahead and married him, but who knows?

Seraphic said...

Well, that was certainly an awful situation, and I'm glad your friend is out of it. And it isn't any of her friends' fault that she married him. That was her decision, and when he blacked her eye, that was solely his decision.

It is interesting that she was willing to accept the black eye but not the affair. Perhaps the affair hurt worse than the black eye. At any rate, if my husband blacked my eye, I would be out the door five minutes later because in no way whatsoever did I sign up for that kind of thing.

Seraphic said...

I'm not saying your friend did either. What I am saying is that, aged 37, I knew a kind-to-all, easy-going, non-violent when I saw one, and married him. It would be so out of character for him to throw a punch at anyone that if he did I'd take him to a doctor.

Antigone in NYC said...

Oh, I know none of us are responsible for my friend's decisions, but we would have tried to talk her out of it, had we known. As it is, at least we now understand she has a propensity for certain relationships. When we saw red flags in a subsequent relationship we told her, she thought about it and ended up agreeing with us, and ended that relationship. Thank God.

Alas, turns out the ex-husband had also run up thousands of dollars of credit card debt (in her name, he had already ruined his credit history) in addition to being physically abusive, but that too wasn't a final straw like the affair. We women got our heads messed up badly in The Fall.

Seraphic said...

I doubt few women go out into the world looking for abusive crooks to marry. At worst they might be thinking, "I don't want a boring, ordinary guy who studies hard, gets an ordinary job, saves his pennies and buys a house. I want an exciting guy who knows how to show a girl a good time, a guy who makes waiters jump and doormen let him through." In short, a bully who spends more than he can afford although a sheltered young woman wouldn't know that.

Choosing a mild-mannered guy means choosing a guy who might not fight for you, and choosing a tempestuous guy who would fight for you means choosing a guy who might sock you in the eye.

This is open for debate. I'd love to believe there are men who would be absolute bastards to their male rivals, e.g. in business, and then come home and be as sweet as sugar pie to their wives---with no mistresses or shenanigans. There are lots of men like that in books, so I hope there are men like that in real life.

Antigone in NYC said...

I doubt that Saatchi reaches across tables to throttle his business rivals. He's doing it to his wife because he believes that it safe to do so, and that there will be no consequences.

Wanting a protective man who would fight for her does not mean a woman should put up with the occasional black eye anymore than wanting a guy who knows how to have a good time means that she should put up with an alcoholic.

Again, respect you and your blog very much, but I feel that you may be off the mark on this one, and that this is such a potentially dangerous issue, especially in more conservative circles, I am compelled to speak up.

Seraphic said...

I don't mind at all. It's a very difficult subject to nuance. And now B.A. is all frowny and saying "Did you tell them those slappy people are a tiny MINORITY and it is not healthy dynamic???!??!"

Domestic abuse is a real problem, and perhaps 99% of the time it is awful and totally unacceptable when a man you love applies any kind of force (e.g. slaps) to you or when you apply force to a man who loves you.

But perhaps 1% of the time, people are okay with rough-housing and do not think it is a big deal. Anyone who is not one of those people and doesn't like rough-housing, shouldn't have to put up with it for a second. And if she/he doesn't like it, no-one should blame himself or herself for not being "sophisticated" or whatever. I am probably pretty sophisticated, and I would not put up with my husband applying force. (Other than pushing me into a pub to avoid a street-fight, which he once within half an hour of our first live meeting.)

I do not know whether the Lawson-Saatchi couple are of the 99% or of the 1%. If they are of the 99% where hands-around-the-throat really points to domestic abuse, then I hope he gets his act together, or at least that she doesn't put up with it any more.

Originally I posted on the story to condemn domestic abuse, so it is ironic that I am now defending the sensibilities of people who get high off slapping each other. But that's slapping. It stretches my credulity that punching could ever NOT be seen in the light of domestic abuse; I am sure that 100% of the time, it is.

Dear, dear, dear. I'm not really an apologist for people who enjoy mutual slapping. Would it help if I said Catholics should really not be into such esoteric thrills?

I have checked with B.A. if he thinks pillow-fights are okay for Catholics. He says if you actually hurt someone, you have to say sorry. And he says you have to sign a pre-nup. (Wha--?)

Antigone in NYC said...

I am relieved you don't mind!

The world is a wide and varied place, and I'm willing to believe that slappy-happy couples do exist, though I would still wonder whether such behavior is objectively healthy. Heck, I even love that scene in the old romantic war comedy movie "Father Goose" where Cary Grant and Leslie Caron cooly and angrily take turns slapping one another across the face, which in turn is followed by a scene where a shocked radio officer announces to his commander that the couple has decided to get married.

But as I know you know, there are movies, and there is Real Life.

Seraphic said...

It's quite interesting how much slapping goes on in pre-1970 films.

Anne said...

Hi Seraphic,
I must admit, I am very shocked! Maybe I'm misinterpreting something being said here, but if a woman is being choked, it is never an appropriate response to think "Oh well, possibly they enjoy that sort of thing. Oh bother, this is ruining my lunch". I think the only appropriate response is "does she need help, what do I do?" and possibly a call to emergency services if necessary. If the motives are being misinterpreted, they can straighten it out and administer help if necessary. Women have to look out for other women. Again, I leave room for the possibility I've misinterpreted your post. I always enjoy what you've written. Thanks for reading my comment.

Elisabeth said...

I am going to agree with you that the fact that it is publicly known that he does not like his wife's cooking is absolutely a warning sign beyond warning signs. In a past life, I said casually to some other mothers that the man to whom I no longer need say I was married wouldn't eat home-baked bread. Years later, after he was arrested, a number of them remembered that remark and said that in future, they would consider such remarks a sure sign that something was badly wrong.

Sheila said...

I am glad you mention that women shouldn't hit men either! I used to hit men of my acquaintance regularly, because I had seen it in black-and-white movies and thought it was funny and cute. Turns out the men were (sometimes) extremely offended by it. Since they weren't in a position to hit back -- they would have gotten in a lot of trouble and been considered cads if they had -- I was taking unfair advantage.

Honestly I feel these old movies did me a great deal of harm. Women smacked people in them because they weren't even close to equal and it was the only way they could assert themselves in some of those impossible situations. But when men are kind enough to treat me as an equal but also not hit me, I ought to do the same to them, no matter how mad I am. Being female is no excuse for not controlling one's temper.

My thoughts on the celebrity kerfluffle is, 1. Someone in that restaurant should have intervened; and 2. Since they didn't, there's nothing for it now but to stay out of these people's business. Hopefully they will work it out one way or another, but there is simply no way to fix a marriage from the outside, or even to know what's happening inside it.

c'est la vie said...

Since we're armchairing...
...their behaviour is quite obviously in the worst of taste, and especially because it was public.

On the other hand... I don't think the information is sufficient for bystanders to make a judgement on the quality/viability of a married relationship. IMO only the couple has all the information to make a judgement on that point. And I'd also like to point out that the Catholic perspective calls for married couples to make a sustained effort to work things out and to forgive injuries. The newspapers clearly have no intention of allowing her to forgive him, but Catholics really ought to give their marriage a fighting chance... pardon the pun.

Anne said...

A woman should never be blamed for being abused. No woman ever deserves violence directed against her.

american (not) in deutschland said...

Count me on the "no physical aggression" side.

Respectfully, boxing (and all other sports) are public, non-intimate pursuits, and the physicality there is coded completely differently than the spontaneous, intimate physicality that exists between spouses, family members, or friends.

I grew up a pretty physical, violent little girl (considering my family was, culturally, very middle class, though my parents still spanked us). My twin sister and I would have serious fights. Our parents punished us for hurting each other or losing our tempers, but the violence itself wasn't stigmatized, really. We felt completely at peace with it -- it was embedded in our way of hashing things out with each other.

Nevertheless, I think it built up walls and patterns in our relationship that have made things difficult. We have never been "close" or treated each other with the kind of forgiveness and gentleness that we should. I think the violence was a part of that lack of gentleness.

Brothers and sisters -- especially when they're little -- are a different thing from adults, but I still think it goes to show that the body speaks its own language, that violence still plants its seed of discord, and that in an intimate relationship, even if it's pretty well normalized, violence is still a sign of unhealthiness.

There is playful/intimate physical contact or play-fighting just as there is playful/intimate insulting. I think if it happens once in a blue moon, as one of those things that is suppose to startle, then that's one thing. But when it's part of the accepted fabric of the relationship... it's easy for the play to become real, isn't it?

Moreover, I suspect that all the slaps and punches we see in old movies (I always remember that heart-stopping, shocking moment in "The Philadelphia Story" where they flash back to Cary and Katherine's marriage and show him punching her in the face!) are more indicative of the kind of "corrective violence" that men have practiced against their wives for centuries. Because intimate violence is simply another kind of control. It's played up for laughs in those old movies the way that, in sitcoms today, spouses make withering comments about each other for the laugh track.

Jackie said...

My first thought on seeing those horrible photos: If this is what is happening in public, imagine what it must be like behind closed doors. :-(

Choking, throttling or any kind of strangulation is a significantly dangerous type of escalated physical abuse.

I don't buy Saatchi's comments that this was "playful tiff" for a second.(I wonder how many male friends he "playfully" chokes upon disagreement?) This is highly specific abuse.

Unfortunately, my aunt was formerly married to a bully of the same stripe. Like Saatchi, there were no apologies for his behavior, only a reframing of how people have "misunderstood" what really happened.

The pics of Saatchi putting a hand over her mouth, pushing back on her nose and twisting her look like the exact same kind of humiliating postures and gestures that my aunt's former husband practiced.

None of us were there to my knowledge, but here are some facts:

Nigella has been candid about abuse and neglect from her mother, her father's narcissistic tendencies, an eating disorder and losing her first husband, mom, and sister to cancer. (Despite asking Saatchi not to smoke, due to her first husband dying of throat cancer, he flatly disregards her wishes.)

No matter how beautiful and shining her life has appeared until now, she has had a very hard road. I hope that if her marriage is anywhere close to being like my aunt's -- where there is manipulation and emotional abuse in tandem with the physical-- that she will get away from him.

The only good thing I can think of coming from these pictures is that they are tangible proof-- worth much more than a thousand words-- of what kind of man she is married to.

I would love to be mistaken about this. In the meanwhile, time for a prayer for peace.

Seraphic said...

I added the link to the article in which Saatchi says the fight was a "playful tiff" after I had finished most of my post, and that was only because I couldn't find the original DM piece I read. But having read Saatchi's "playful tiff" remarks, I'm more inclined to think that this is domestic abuse made public. It is just so obviously not playful. Even if he applied no pressure to her throat, it really looks as though Nigella is terribly upset.

I'm glad we are having a vigorous debate on all this. I'm particularly grateful to Sheila mentioning that, influenced by old films, she used to slap men a lot. Long-term readers have been reading Sheila's comments, and perhaps her blog, for years, so we know she is not any kind of monster!

I've slapped men on only two occasions that I remember, and both times it seemed terribly, terribly necessary for justice. I regret the second occasion, but not the first, as it was in keeping with his cultural norms and actually increased his respect for me. (Don't ask. His culture is not world-famous for wonderful equality between men and women.)

As for what could have been done to help Nigella at the restaurant, Nigella was not actually hurt at the restaurant. If we are to believe Saatchi, they made it up in the cab home. She certainly followed him into the cab.

"What if it were X and Y?" demanded B.A. of a young couple we know. "What if Y put his hands around X's throat four times right in front of us at our party?"

"I would intervene," I said calmly. "X is only 2- years old."

Also, I would have been the hostess, I know the both of them, and I would have been surrounded by other friends. The unfortunate fact is that it is extremely dangerous to get between a husband and a wife, or a boyfriend and his girlfriend, when they are in the middle of a fight, when you are strangers to them. They might join forces against you, the woman so relieved to be able to side with her man against someone else. It's a very difficult call, and in the case of strangers, it's best to shout from a safe distance or call the police.

In the Saatchi-Lawson case, the police HAVE been called, a week after the episode. Meanwhile, if Nigella somehow needed an excuse to leave, having these photos splashed across the newspapers and knowing that the women of the world are debating over whether Nigella hates this stuff, or likes this stuff, and whether women sometimes actually enjoy stuff like this, or if they should be allowed to, or if such women are sick, is a consciousness-raising session like no other.

Nzie (theRosyGardener) said...

Her spokesman has since confirmed that she took her kids and isn't at the family home right now.

I also went looking for the photos - she does not look happy. And if it were just their sort of playing (and I share all the above concerns about that), they probably would have been aware of what that looked like - not caring looks like immediate anger (which makes sense in light of her remarks that she festers and he explodes).

I don't know if this is evidence of a pattern of abuse, but at the least it's threatening and intimidating, and she looks very upset. It also went on long and loud enough that there are half a dozen or more photos of him holding her throat, and people nearby looking uncomfortable.

We'll never hear the whole story on this in any likelihood, but it seems clear to me it's not any sort of playfulness.