Why violence against women on TV has to stop
The brutal opening scene in ITV's new crime drama Paranoid is one murder too many argues Alison Graham
Women, you’re not safe anywhere. If you ever think you are, then television drama will always be waiting, like a grotesque handmaiden, to tell you you’re wrong.
So you think all will be well in the cocoon of your own home? Oh no it won’t, because a hunk will torture and murder you prettily in your own bed (The Fall, returning soon). Or creep out from under your bed to kill you as you sleep. (Remember that horrible scene in Luther? It haunts me still.) Or provide general dead-woman plot-fodder for From Darkness, Marcella and everything in between.
But prepare to add a new lurking horror to your repertoire of “things to be afraid of”. Maybe you think you couldn’t be any more protected than in a busy playground in a park, surrounded by other mums and their kids, as you push your child on a swing? Think again!
In the remarkably savage opening few seconds of ITV’s new thriller Paranoid, a mum is doing just that, pushing her little boy on a swing. The playground is packed, and a lone woman who will turn out to be a crucial witness is quietly sitting with her book, enjoying the sensations of being in the open air, when a hooded man walks past her.
He heads straight for the mum pushing the swing and stabs her repeatedly in front of her child. Amid a chorus of screams and sharp, dissonant soundtrack music, the victim is left dead on her back, eyes open to the skies, as a great blossom of blood opens up on the ground around her. The whole thing has taken just seconds.
Now, I’m quite a tough old thing, and a big fan of crime fiction, both books and television, but this shocked even me. I can see that any drama must arrest its audience quickly, there are too many other temptations and people can wander away. But this is ITV. Primetime ITV at 9pm (seconds after the water shed, though I’m not sure this means much any more), not some boutique cable channel where anything goes.
No one wants watery crime dramas because they are precisely that, crime dramas, not cosy pieces about the rough and tumble world of scented candle-making or flower arranging. But this scene is upsetting because it’s there for shock factor alone, it’s the television equivalent of a thrown firework. Light it, chuck it and run away from the consequences.
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I can’t believe any mother watching this won’t pause when she takes her kids to the park on Friday morning, wondering if someone could, possibly, be lurking. Even if the thought is no more than a fluttering moth that settles for just moments then flies away again, the harm is done, a little piece of a happy soul has been eroded. Really, why would television add yet more layers of pain and suspicion to an already damaged world?
What enforces the horror of this scene is that the mum is murdered in front of lots of other mums, thus only emphasising supposed female powerlessness. Even in a crowd of other women, Paranoid is telling us, you can be singled out and you will be alone.
I know this is a topic I routinely return to, but we must shout this from the rooftops, graphic portrayals of brutality towards women used as the narrative equivalent of a roman candle must stop. Violence against women in the real world is all too disproportionate and vivid. We don’t need any reinforcement from dramas.
Making women even more fearful than they already are, just for a television drama, simply isn’t right. Using a savage murder of a woman as an attention-grabbing plot device, while also adding small children and a woman’s role as a parent and protector, is too much. In a year full of real-life horrors, it would be a kindness to us all if this ended right now.