The Power of Silence in Enabling Domestic Violence

Source: GRIID

Source: GRIID

Society has long known the power of words. In 1838, Edward Bulwer-Lytton coined the phrase, “the pen is mightier than the sword”, a phrase that has proven its own point by marching its triumphant way down the generations. Books and speeches have been immortalised as turning points in history, ideas that have taken root and changed the world. And as the power of words has been celebrated, the power of silencing has emerged as a crucial tool of the patriarchy, a way of keeping women underfoot. This is why old texts like the bible contain the following lines – “Let your women keep silence in the churches, for it is not permitted unto them to speak” (1 Corinthians 14:34), and “But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence” (1 Timothy 2:12). It is why many cultures around the world require women to be demure and soft-spoken, speaking infrequently, and why, even in what we think of as the progressive West, outspoken women are regularly labelled ‘shrill’ or ‘hysterical’. It is a pattern cut from the same cloth, a way of ensuring that women’s views are kept hidden away, that we are kept compliant in the face of a system that has always been stacked against us.

Of course, it isn’t only women’s words that are erased. Any man bold enough to speak out against the patriarchial order is mocked for it, called a ‘gender traitor’ or ‘pussywhipped’, sometimes even leading to social exclusion. Given the immense social pressure to go along to get along, it is no wonder many choose to stay silent, no matter how much they may disagree with the rape joke that has just been told, or how much they dislike seeing their friend sexually harass a passing woman. And in this way, by meting out punishment to its critics, the status quo maintains itself.

And when it comes to domestic violence, the silence can be deafening. There is an overwhelming tendency in society to see it as a personal problem between two people, something they should sort out for themselves, and that it isn’t our place to judge the relationships of others. Our judgment centers around the woman in the relationship—we wonder why she doesn’t leave, speculate on her individual character, all the while viewing it as her problem to bear, rather than as a crime plain and simple, committed by the perpetrator. But here’s the key thing. Whenever we portray domestic violence as somehow less bad than random violence against a stranger, we’re furthering the idea that being in a relationship automatically gives a man the right to a woman’s body, and that being with him is tantamount to consenting to be hurt in that way. I feel this is really important, so I’ll say it again: Whenever we think that a woman who just doesn’t leave is responsible for what a man does to her, and that he is less culpable than if he had beaten a stranger, we’re implying that being in a relationship with him is akin to giving consent for whatever he might do to her. In other words, we’re equating a relationship with ownership, and decide that what goes on within it is nothing to do with us.

We need to break this silence, and decry domestic violence as an epidemic that is everybody’s problem. In the aftermath of the Cleveland kidnapping horror, it has emerged that warning signs aplenty were ignored—Castro’s long record of violence against women, neighbours’ calls to police treated lightly, and not followed up on. Could it be that, given that these incidents were taking place in a house, it was seen as ‘just’ domestic violence by the police? A personal relationship problem, and not a ‘real’ crime?

If you follow my blog or regularly read feminist writings, you’ll be familiar with the fact that 1 in 4 women will be a victim of domestic violence in her lifetime. Yet despite this staggering statistic, it is still largely marginalized as a ‘women’s problem’, and virtual silence in the mainstream about it as a pressing social issue. Male celebrities (especially white male celebrities) who have committed domestic violence, like Charlie Sheen, John Lennon, Mel Gibson, and Gary Oldman, have been subject to a ripple of condemnation, before the curtain of silence fell again. And while many brave survivors have spoken out about it, the onus cannot be placed solely on them. Every single one of us has a part to play in breaking the silence that has served to protect perpetrators for so long.

So what does ‘breaking the silence’ entail, exactly? Well, we could start by firmly disagreeing whenever someone makes a joke about violence against women. We could write to our MPs, asking them to make tackling DV a priority, and to increase funding for women’s shelters and other support services. We could volunteer at said services. We could contact companies selling products that promote or trivialize domestic violence and let them know how abhorrent we find it. We could air our views online, take to Twitter, write a blog, post on Facebook. We could challenge those who make excuses for violent men, and publicly refute those who mock or blame the victims. And we (especially the men amongst us) need to be far more vocal in challenging other men, and ask what it is about male culture that continually churns out men who abuse and control women.

None of this is easy. But if we keep turning a blind eye to the rampant problem of domestic violence in society, and insist on seeing it as isolated cases of relationships gone sour, if we excuse celebrity men for their actions and stigmatize the victim instead of the perpetrator, then the culture of male violence against women will continue to flourish in the silence of our complicity.


* If you know a friend or family member who is experiencing domestic violence, please see this guide from Women’s Aid on what you can do to support them.

The Empowerment Project – Combatting the Representation of Women in the Media

The next time you’re at a cinema, watching TV, at a play, or even just passing by posters on the street, try this little experiment. Keep count of the number of women you see, and weigh that against the number of men. And for each person that you see, ask yourself just one question — is this person being objectified? That is to say, is sexual attractiveness the main identifying characteristic of this person?

As you probably know, this category will, without a doubt, be overwhelmingly female. Everywhere you look, the voices and thoughts of men push their way to the forefront, while women lounge silently in the background in decorative poses. Out of the 100 top-grossing films of 2010, only 19 centered around women, and according to the Media and Gender Monitor, only 24% of news stories globally were about women. (See more stats here) In media, women are denied personhood, and are reduced to sexual objects of flawless outward beauty.

Far from being “harmless fun”, the battle cry of misogynists everywhere, this one-dimensional portrayal of women is deeply damaging. In a 2010 paper by sociologist Stephanie Berberick, she outlines how the rising rate of cosmetic surgeries and eating disorders is related to the objectification of women in the media, and draws a link between this and violence against women. Young girls, in particular, are incredibly vulnerable to this endless slew of messages that their worth lies in how they look, and their ambitions are pulled in the direction of achieving physical perfection, to the detriment of other goals and opportunities.

Last year, The MissRepresentation project summed up the problem with the line, “You can’t be what you can’t see.” Generations of women have grown up in a world, reflected through the media, where men go off on adventures, save the world, run the country, go off into space, achieve sporting excellence, develop as human beings. And women? Women are beautiful. The lucky ones get fallen in love with.

Which is why I was excited when I received an email about a docu-series called The Empowerment Project: Extraordinary Women Doing Extraordinary Things. Led by Sarah Moshman and Dana Cook of Heartfelt Productions, the project aims to share the stories of inspirational women in a variety of career fields — how they got to where they are, their biggest challenges and how they overcame them, what it’s like to be a woman at the top of their particular profession. To make this vision a reality, however, the project needs funding, and needs to reach at least $25,000 by May 27.

You can have a look at the list of women they plan to interview on their Kickstarter page, and have a preview of their first interview, done with Jill Soloway, Sundance best director winner and director of Afternoon Delight, United States of Tara and Six Feet Under. The entire project will be undertaken by an all-women crew, who will not only do the interviewing, but will showcase their thoughts and experiences as they grow and learn on their journey.

The all-women crew!

The all-women crew!

If, like me, you’re tired of seeing and hearing only men wherever you go, if you’re tired of all-male expert panels on TV and endless male voices talking about their experiences on the radio, and tired of the constant portrayal of women as no more than instruments for male pleasure, then you’ll understand why this project is so worthwhile. Highly successful women are so often denied a platform that young girls have little opportunity of seeing what they could truly achieve, and too many believe that their only chance of success is through dieting, cosmetic surgery and a rich husband.

So get clicking, pledging and sharing, and together, let’s help make this happen. One project alone may not turn the tide on the abysmal state of female representation in the media, but we need to make it known that we reject the sexist depiction of women as purely aesthetic beings, and that we are hungry to hear and learn from women who have pursued their dreams and achieved great things. And in this mountainous battle, every little pebble counts.

The Steubenville Case – When Will Women Start to Matter?

In the aftermath of the trial of Richmond and Mays, Megan Carpentier writes in yesterday’s Guardian, “Rape is unique in US society as a crime where the blighted future of the perpetrators counts for more than the victim’s.”

Indeed, this is an apt observation, given the sickening way in which CNN, among others, reported on the verdict two days ago. Given the anger this had sparked on blogs and other social media, you’ve probably come across it by now, but just in case you haven’t, here’s what CNN had to say about Mays and Richmond’s being found guilty of rape:

Reporter Poppy Harlow: “I’ve never experienced anything like it, Candy. It was incredibly emotional, incredibly difficult even for an outsider like me to watch what happened as these two young men that had such promising futures — star football players, very good students — we literally watched as they believed their life fell apart.”

Anchor Candy Crowley: “A 16-year-old just sobbing in court — regardless of what big football players they are, they still sound like 16-year-olds. When you listen to it and realize they could stay until they’re 21, what’s the lasting effect, though, on two young men being found guilty, in juvenile court, of rape, essentially?”

Legal expert Paul Callan: “The most severe thing with these young men is being labelled as registered sex offenders. That label is now placed on them by Ohio law…That will haunt them for the rest of their lives.”

Poor, poor rapists. What an unfortunate fate to befall them. Only, it wasn’t misfortune, it wasn’t bad luck that led to the blighting of their “promising futures”. It was their actions, and their responsibility, when they noticed a drunk girl throwing up by the side of the road, and instead of helping her, decided to rape her and take pictures of her for laughs with the boys. Sure, 16-year-olds sobbing in court might be an emotional sight. But what about a 16-year-old who wakes up one day to discover that she had been raped while unconscious the night before? To see pictures and videos of her violation and abuse flung about on social media? To see her rapists and their friends laugh and boast about it? To be humiliated and mocked by people she knows, and even people she doesn’t? To have people call her a liar and a whore, and threaten to hurt her for reporting the crime? What’s the “lasting effect” of that?

While the Steubenville case has garnered widespread media attention, the spotlight has been turned on the jock culture in Steubenville itself, and particularly the high school. Yet as we know, what goes on there — the star status of the football team, the impunity they face for their actions, the disrespect they show towards women — is merely a microcosm of what goes on everywhere else in the world. And it isn’t just male athletes, of course. Male politicians, male CEOs, male media hotshots, any man in a position of power can use and abuse women with relatively little censure. The public rushes to defend them, to sympathize with them. The woman must be lying. She must be doing it for financial gain, or for revenge. Did he hit her? She must have pushed him to it. We’ve heard it all before. And now, even when the rapists have provided heaps of evidence of their crime, in the form of photographs, videos and bragging text messages, some people, including the victim’s own friends, still find it reasonable to label the victim a liar, and media outlets still find it so tragic that the criminals have been made to answer for their crime.



It sometimes absolutely staggers me just how little women matter in society. This is one of those times. Shakespeare’s As You Like It contains the famous lines — “All the world’s a stage, / And all the men and women merely players.” Perhaps less poetically, but more accurately, I would say that all the world’s a stage, and while the men are players, women are their props, to be adored as possessions and prizes, or despised and used as cheap, worthless trinkets.

Women matter, for we are human too. Is that so difficult for society to grasp?

The Pampering Trap

An extremely pervasive idea exists in society— that women are to be pampered, especially by the men in their lives. Everywhere you look, adverts for flowers, chocolates and jewellery encourage men to ‘pamper her’, ‘spoil her’, ‘indulge her’, and even on International Women’s Day yesterday, which originated in 1909 to promote gender equality, my Facebook feed was full of friends and acquaintances talking about what they, or someone else had done for IWD, which usually boiled down to (you guessed it) giving/receiving flowers, chocolates or cards, stripping the day of all political meaning.


From Pajamagrams




But what exactly is wrong with pampering? Isn’t it simply showing your loved one how much you love them? Well, yes and no. First, let’s look at the definition of ‘pampering’ so we know exactly what we’re dealing with.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines ‘pamper’ as follows:
a. to treat with extreme or excessive care and attention
b. to gratify, humour.

And here are the synonyms—cocker, coddle, cosset, dandle, indulge, mollycoddle, nurse, baby, spoil, wet-nurse.

Finally, who are most often the objects of pampering? Babies… children… puppies… and women, of course.

Indeed, there is nothing wrong with the act of pampering or being pampered per se. But when it is tied up inextricably in the arena of gender roles within a romantic relationship, then we have a problem. You see, despite advertisers’ overwhelming efforts to convince women otherwise, being locked into the role of the pampered is markedly disempowering. It presupposes a fragility and helplessness on our part, and our happiness depends, not on our own actions, but on what is done to us. In short, we are once again the object, not the subject, and heterosexual relationships are sold to us as ‘Man and his cherished possession’. The word ‘humour’ in the definition is also telling of the power imbalance inherent in the act. All throughout history, women have been expected to obey and follow their husbands’ desires, and men encouraged to ‘humour’ their wives’ supposedly unreasonable but adorable whims.

Sadly, whenever women rebel against the perception that they need to be treated like precious gems or delicate glass, and proclaim themselves to be independent of men, that too is treated as a caprice, declared by a woman who doesn’t quite know her own mind. The sentiment is neatly summed up in this comic I found bobbing around Facebook:


By Tatsuya Ishida

Haha, get it? Women don’t really want to be strong and independent, we just say we do! We do want a man to just take care of us, but we won’t admit it! Hahaha! Haha!


Two points need to be made, I think.

Firstly, yes, many straight women today do seem to desire being looked after and ‘spoilt’ by their man. And many women do enjoy the feeling of being kept and provided for, even in a submissive capacity. But does that mean that women have a natural and biological desire for this? Or could all the messages she’s heard in her life, both subtle and explicit, telling her that a man shows his love by showering her with gifts, by giving her flowers, by being overly protective of her—in short, by treating her ‘like a porcelain doll’—have anything to do with it? I believe that it isn’t the pampering itself that women desire, but what it means. And what it means, we are told, is that he loves her.

Secondly, the sentiment portrayed by the comic above is often thrown in women’s (especially feminists’) faces. So you want to be independent? Great, I’ll slam the door in your face then! I’d help you with those heavy bags, but aren’t you a strong, independent woman? Not feeling well? Don’t expect my sympathy, I thought you were an independent woman!

It’s ridiculous that this even needs to be said, but when feminists object to women being placed on a pedestal and treated like we’re weak and ineffectual, it doesn’t mean that we want to be treated badly. We still expect you to be a decent human being. And being a feminist doesn’t mean we think women are, or should be, invincible. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t need help or care when we’re ill. It just means that we’re human, no more and no less than that.

So please, let’s all love and respect each other like fully-grown human beings, and stop the damaging narrative surrounding relationships between women and men.

Reeva Steenkamp and Media Representation

Gallo Images/Getty Images

Gallo Images/Getty Images

If you had heard nothing about the murder of Reeva Steenkamp prior to seeing the front page of The Sun on Friday, you might have thought they were running an advert for an erotic horror film. The decision to portray Steenkamp in a highly sexualised manner, coupled with a Hollywoodesque dramatization of her murder scene, sparked outrage, and already petitions have sprung up demanding an apology from The Sun, and to end media sexism in general.

The disrespect that The Sun has shown towards Steenkamp is maddening, and it is far from the only offender. In publication after publication, she is portrayed as no more than a sex object, something to titillate their readership as they read about the main focus of the articles— the downfall of a world-famous athlete. The trial has not yet begun, but already excuses for Pistorius have come thick and fast. ‘Oscar was such a nice man, and not violent at all!’ Never mind that the South African police had confirmed that they had been called to Pistorius’ address before to deal with ‘domestic incidents’. Excuses for violent men…now haven’t we seen this all before?

Of course, the chasm between the focus on Pistorius and Steenkamp in the media and public conversation is partly attributable to their differing levels of fame. Yet, when one looks at the wider picture, it fits into the same old pattern of reporting on gendered violence. It is the male perpetrator’s psyche we fixate on, and his tragedy that we buy into. The female victim is simply a symptom of his downfall, easily replaceable.

What so many news outlets seem to forget is that Reeva Steenkamp is the hero of her own story. Her identity is not ‘Oscar Pistorius’ girlfriend’, nor is it ‘his victim’. She was a model, a law graduate who was about to pursue a legal career, and an advocate against sexual abuse and domestic violence in South Africa. And to her family and friends, she was much, much more.




Quotes from friends:

“the sweetest, kindest, just angelic soul”

“a very inspiring individual, very passionate about speaking about women and empowerment.”

“She was a lovely girl and her career was just taking off. She had a big heart and was at the forefront of many pro bono projects. She wouldn’t hurt a fly. It’s a tragic loss.”

“I’ve known Reeva for years and she was an incredible, beautiful soul. It’s shocking. An amazing girl has gone too soon.”

So instead of sensationalizing Pistorius, let us grieve for Reeva. And let’s not allow her support for women to have been in vain. 1 in 4 South African women are survivors of domestic violence, and everyday, 3 are killed by their partners. Reeva Steenkamp cared about this. Shouldn’t we?

Nature vs Nurture? – Why We Need to Stop Using Evolution as an Explanation for Gender Differences

When talking about gender issues, the word ‘naturally’ pops up quite a lot.

“Women don’t earn as much as men do because they are naturally less inclined to negotiate for their starting salary.”

“You see images of sexualised women everywhere, but not sexualised men, because men have a naturally stronger sex drive than women.”

“So many men commit acts of violence because men are naturally more aggressive than women.”

“So many women cut their careers short when they have children, because they naturally prefer caring for them instead of working, whereas men naturally prefer work to childcare.”

And once the word ‘naturally’ has reared its head, you can bet that the word ‘evolution’ will quickly follow, with the phrase ‘caveman days’ hot on its heels. Everyone present nods sagely; much beard-stroking ensues.



Sadly, proponents of the evolution-as-explanation-for-gender-differences idea seem to have fallen victim to something very similar to the fundamental attribution error, a term used in social psychology to describe humans’ tendency to attribute a person’s behaviour to their disposition, while completely ignoring any situational factors. Although this term refers specifically to individual personality, the same phenomenon seems to be at work when people choose to ascribe gendered behaviour to dispositional reasons, instead of acknowledging the possibility that there could be sociological factors at work.

Of course, there’s no denying that evolution explains almost everything about our physiology, and a good chunk of human behaviour. It is when evolution and biological determinism are used to explain everything, without reference to any period other than the present Western society and the vaguely-defined ‘caveman days’, that problems arise.

Here’s a small example of what I mean.

In 2007, through asking 208 volunteers to select their colour preferences, neuroscientists Hurlbert and Ling discovered that men had a preference for bluish/greenish colours, while women had a preference for pinkish/reddish colours. While the study did nothing to prove that this preference was biological, Ling made the leap quite easily, going from showing that grown men and women tended to prefer different colours, to stating, “This preference has an evolutionary advantage behind it.” Women, it was suggested, had to gather berries while men hunted, and so needed to spot ripe berries and fruits easily. This story was picked up eagerly by newspapers, with headlines like, “Study: Why Girls Like Pink“, and “Scientists Uncover Truth Behind ‘pink for a girl, blue for a boy“. As far as I can see, the study showed nothing about why girls like pink, but simply that they—well—did.

Yet all one has to do is go back 100 years in time (a mere nothing by evolutionary standards) to see that the pink/blue rule is fairly recent, and that the accepted social norms at the time were just the opposite. And since we’re doing some time-traveling, let’s have a look at life just one or two generations ago, and note the behaviour of women and men then, compared with women and men today. And then let’s take a tour around other countries too, in different continents. Maybe have a look at two people of the same ethnicity, who have been brought up on opposite ends of the globe.

I could go on, but I’m sure you get my point—that people’s behaviour isn’t immutable. Social norms play a huge part in determining how we act, what we value, how we feel, and even, apparently, what colour we prefer. Why do women today seem more ‘naturally’ inclined towards engaging in politics and sports than they were a hundred years ago? Why did they seem ‘naturally’ more subservient just 50 years ago? Was it evolution? I think not.

Evolution accounting for gender differences in behaviour is a neat theory to get behind; it satisfies our need for explanations, and gives us the reassurance that everything is as it should be. However, it quickly becomes a thinly-veiled excuse for gender inequality. When we hide behind evolution to justify the gender pay gap, the under representation of women in politics, or male violence against women, we are hiding from any responsibility for our part in sustaining this state of affairs, and we are refusing to acknowledge that change is possible.

So if anyone you know is insisting on sticking to evolutionary reasons for gender differences, tell them about the study of Baby X, where participants were shown to describe and behave towards Baby X in markedly different ways, depending on whether they thought Baby X was male or female. Ask them to watch kids’ TV and read their storybooks, and make a note of how many male and female characters there are, and how each gender is represented. Tell them to go into any children’s shop and read the words written on girls’ and boys’ clothes. Get them to ask both women and men around them what ambitions their families encouraged them to have as a child.

In short, tell them to open their eyes to the gendered pressures and influences that surround each of us, which start from the cradle and follow us throughout our lives, and that create the seemingly stark contrast between the average woman and man, before they decide that all gender differences are predetermined, and gender inequality unavoidable.

Why the Default Male is Not Just Annoying, But Also Harmful

Male or female?

Male or female?

‘He’, ‘him’, ‘his’. If you’re like me, you’ve probably noticed that male pronouns far outstrip female ones in everyday use. And if you’re like me, you probably find that really annoying. Everything, from toilet signs to cartoon characters, has the male gender as neutral and unmarked, while the female gender is marked out with ribbons, skirts, or sexy poses. See a puppy running around the neighbourhood, and people would most likely refer to it as a ‘he’. Random stick figure? Also a ‘he’. This is the reality that all of us have grown up with, and not only is it frustrating, it also has some nasty consequences for women.

The default male makes its presence felt very heavily in the media, from films, to TV shows, to games, to books. This means that, unless the plot makes it absolutely necessary for the character to be female, or the writer is making a specific point about gender, the go-to option is usually male. Think about it: have you ever heard a writer asked in an interview, “Was there a reason you chose a man as your protagonist?” Of course not. Everyone knows you don’t need a reason to have a man as your main character, that’s just what’s normal. And what this means is that the characters that are female are not only fewer in number, they also tend to fall into very narrow, gendered roles—mother, hero’s love interest, damsel in distress, or highly-sexualised heroine.

This is bad news for female actors, naturally, who will have fewer opportunities to gain roles, as well as fewer opportunities to display their acting ability. But it’s also bad news for women as a whole. The problem is, if women are only cast in roles where their gender is integral, if they are not portrayed as fully human but simply symbols of ‘the female sex’, and these are the characters that young girls and boys grow up with, what does that say to them about a woman’s status in society? As the Miss Representation campaign tirelessly points out, how can we expect girls to achieve their potential in life when the media fails to represent or inspire them?

And though the media is a huge offender, it is far from the only one. Even in the realms of academia, the default male is alive and well. As part of the Master’s course I’m currently pursuing, I’ve had the opportunity to read countless papers on psychology in the workplace, as academics continue to find ways to improve the employee experience and to help them reach their potential. The only problem is the samples used in their experiments, which are usually (you guessed it) predominantly male. Oh, you do occasionally get samples with say, 70% women, in which case the writers include a caveat about how the sample was mostly female and thus not entirely representative. But when the sample is 96% male? Nope, nothing wrong with that! Completely representative! What’s troubling is that these papers make up the research that continuously pushes the way our workplaces are organised, helping employees become more fulfilled, and more productive. And if the ’employees’ that we’re gaining a deeper understanding of are really just ‘male employees’, then we have a problem.

Perhaps of even more concern is the default male in the medical industry. In a paper by Verdonk et al in 2009, they write, “Medicine is said to be ‘male-biased’ because the largest body of knowledge on health and illness is about men and their health.” Indeed, because the male sex is allowed to represent everyone, research on the male body is assumed to be universally applicable, with women having ‘extra, womanly issues’ like childbirth, period pains and breast cancer, neatly cordoned off into an exclusive section called ‘women’s health’. When the Body Worlds exhibit first opened, an exhibition showcasing plastinates—preserved human bodies— posed in many different ways, many women were incensed at the fact that all the bodies, with the exception of the bodies used in the pregnancy section, were male. The message was clear: men are humans! They can be young or old, they can play sport, they can write, play chess, ride a bike…in short, lead full, complete lives. Women, on the other hand? They make babies.

The male-bias in medicine has serious consequences. Let’s take the heart attack as an example. Now almost everyone can tell you the symptoms of a heart attack. A squeezing, painful feeling in the chest is the surest sign, accompanied by pain in the left arm. Right? Well, as it turns out, that pain in the chest is a classic male heart attack sign, and female heart attacks often have very different symptoms, more comparable to indigestion than chest pain. According to Katherine Kam on WebMD, “many doctors still don’t recognize that women’s symptoms differ, [and] they may mistake them for arthritis, pulled muscles, indigestion, gastrointestinal problems, or even anxiety and hypochondria…many emergency room doctors still look mainly for chest pain.” In such cases, the male-bias can be fatal.

We are more than symbols of our sex. We are more than roles filled in relation to men. We demand full and equal participation and representation in human life, not a sweet little space marked out as ‘not male’.

“Are women human?” Dorothy Sayers asked ironically in 1938. 75 years later, that question is still as poignant as ever.