[Content note: misogyny, mentions of murder case.]
This is Reeva Steenkamp.
She has a name. And she was a living, active person who had her own thoughts and life. When you are reporting about her murder, I'd really appreciate if you would give her the dignity of calling her by her name. STOP referring to her as "Oscar Pistorius' elite model girlfriend."
This topic was brought to my attention last night by Jill Filipovic's twitter. As she pointed out, the New York Times wrote 23 paragraphs about Reeva Steenkamp's murder, and mentioned her name once, in the 8th paragraph. Not to be out done, the Washington Post referred to her as a "leggy blonde" and said, "While known for her bikini-clad, vamping photo spreads, she tweeted messages urging women to stand up against rape." As Filipovic rightfully pointed out, it's hardly like those things are in opposition to each other.
I went to bed last night with the idea for this blog but on the way to work this morning I heard not one but three updates from NPR news about this murder case, all of which named Pistorius and just referred to Steenkamp as his girlfriend never stating her name.
Needless to say, at the point of writing this, I'm verging on rage. Is it really so much to ask that we refer to women by their names and not their relationship to men? Especially a man which might have murdered her! I've written before about the importance of names to me as well as the fact that our society far too often reduces women to their relationship to men and boys. But Steenkamp's case has made this trend abundantly more clear and all the more disturbing.
Even allies like President Barack Obama mess up on this front. As was pointed out by many feminists live tweeting his State of the Union address on Tuesday, Obama frequently frames women's issues by stressing the importance of helping our "mothers, sisters, and wives." It's as if we can't decide, collectively as a nation, that women matter in and of themselves.
I truly believe that the way we use language shapes our reality. When we describe women by their relationship to men, we are again and again affirming a sense of male entitlement and ownership. It could be easy to brush this under the rug and talk about how it's "no big deal" but I absolutely refuse to ignore this trend. I mean--really, I'm in the year 2013 and I'm lobbying for a woman who was murdered to be called by her own name and not by her relationship to a man? Seriously?
I'm not even sure what else to say. The importance of this simple request should be self-evident.