Sunday, February 24, 2013

The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same: Let's Talk About Domestic Violence

Nobody wants to talk about domestic violence; but somebody has to. Before we begin, here's a reminder; read it, heed it, before you comment or I'll delete it.

In the news...

At The Daily Beast, Barbie Latza Nadeau writes about Men Who Hate Women. While this article focuses on the increase in domestic violence against women in Southern Europe, there's, again, the reminder that the most dangerous time for women with controlling male partners is when they've decided or attempt to leave:
Though statistics on femicide are hard to come by, according to the United Nations, 50 percent of women killed between 2008 and 2010 in Europe were killed by a family member. For men, that number was just 15 percent. In other words, women are killed by those who supposedly love them. Only six weeks into the year, already nine women in Italy have been murdered by their husbands, exes, or boyfriends.

(In Spain, another European country with high rates of femicide, so far, 13 women have been killed this year. Last year, 97 women were killed in Spain—35 more than in 2011.)

In many cases, men feel insecure or threatened because their wives or girlfriends say no to sex or attempt to leave the relationship, says Diana E. H. Russell, Ph.D., a Professor of Sociology at Mills College in Oakland, California, and one of the world’s foremost experts on violence against women. “It’s a macho acting-out of the attitude, ‘How dare you—you inferior bitch—leave me!’” she says. It’s “acting out his feelings of male superiority.”
(You can find out more about Dr. Diana Russell and her work here.)

Male superiority is a continual phallic fallacy in the boisterously avowed and politically allowed arena of controlling women. Astonishingly, the culturally perpetuated notions of male dominance by violence was not even on the agenda of the women's liberation movement when it began. Ruth Rosen, author of The World Split Open: How the Modern Women's Movement Changed America, writes:
They demanded three rights: legal abortion, universal childcare, and equal pay. These were preconditions for women's equality with men at home and in the workplace. Astonishingly, they didn't include the ending of violence against women among their demands—though the experience and fear of male violence was widespread—because women still suffered these crimes in silence.

Those three demands, and the fourth one that couldn't yet be articulated, have yet to be met.
For me, this seemingly-futile and lifelong struggle seems like forever. But there is a longer history... A pre-history, even.

Resisting all bitter puns about cavemen, I present this news story: Battered skulls reveal violence among stone-age women. (Even Fox can't ignore the news!) And from it we glean the following:
It's not clear why women were frequent victims of violence.

Domestic violence could be a factor, but proving it requires looking for repeat injuries and wounds to the ribs and torso, [Linda Fibiger, archaeologist at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland] said. Given that skulls and skeletons are jumbled up at these sites, and many skeletons weren't preserved, that's not possible, Fibiger said.

More likely is that women suffered fatal injuries, because they couldn't fight ferociously in raids, she told Live Science.

Men may have trained from a young age to fight, whereas women were probably tasked with child rearing.

That would have slowed them down, "because you're probably going to try and protect your children rather than being able to properly defend yourself," Fibiger said.
If the inability of women to "fight ferociously in raids" is laid at the feet of men-fight-women-take-care-of-kids gender roles, then how is this any different when one looks at the facts of domestic violence today?

Aren't these assumptions, notions, and training (or the lack thereof) still at work today? Aren't women taught more about how to protect the household from dirt and grime than they are how to protect themselves from a loved-one's-crime? The facts are there; we know them. We know that it's who we lock in with us are night who are more dangerous than those we lock out; we know guns are not protection either; yet we are not taught how to properly defend ourselves physically, emotionally, or legally. We are not even prepared to fight legally. And it's that last one that kicks survivors in the teeth the hardest.

I can tell you the gender roles pervade our culture; I've seen it at work in court enough times to be sick writing this. For a woman who dares to protect herself and/or her children from the raid on her home coming from her own husband, male lover, or domestic partner, is "too ferocious" and deemed worthy of a man's beat down. Even fighting with words is considered something no male should have to tolerate, especially in his own home. Her lack of femininity and submissiveness warrants the male master's control. It doesn't matter what the laws say, or what they intended; even defending your legal right to safety is fighting -- and fighting in court is unbecoming to a woman, intolerable to a male or at least a male system.

It may seem all the more poignant to imagine that a good mother plays the lioness for her cubs, that she'll at least "try and protect her children rather than being able to properly defend herself", but these actions too are not to be tolerated. For a man's home is his castle and everyone in it, his subjects -- subject to his rule. Defy him at your own peril. Go into court at your own peril.

Again from Ruth Rosen:
The public generally believed that rape victims had probably "asked for it," most women felt too ashamed to report rape, and no language existed to make sense of what we now call domestic violence, sexual harassment, marital rape, or date rape. One simple phrase seemed to sum up the hidden injuries women suffered in silence: "That's life."
If that seems old fashioned or outmoded to you, if the world prior to the 1970s seems so long ago as to be as irrelevant as the plight of stone-age women, look around you. See what's being said, what's not being done.

Rosen sums things up this way:
So, yes, we've come a long way, but without achieving full access to legal abortion, comprehensive childcare, or equal pay—those three demands from so many decades ago. Nor have we won the right to enjoy public space without fearing violence, rape, or worse.

I always knew this was the longest revolution, one that would take a century or more to unfold. It's upended most of our lives, and significantly improved so many of them. Nothing will ever be the same. Yet there's still such a long way to go. I doubt I'll see full gender equality in my lifetime.
I say things are even worse than that.

For today, we don't even have the right to enjoy our homes, our private spaces, without fearing violence, rape, or worse. And when we dare to point that out, we are not merely dismissed, we are punished.

So many of us are still having to say, "That's life."

Image via.

1 comment:

Laura said...

Gender stereotypes are still in full effect. Today I watched a commercial for the Kinder egg, for girls. Kinder eggs usually have some dinky plastic toy which the kid figures out how to put together. I'm not a Kinder egg fan but I thought they at least got kids using their brain. So, what do he Kinder eggs for girls have? Exactly what you're thinking - bracelets and trinkets they can adorn themselves with, no assembly required. As long as the little miss can find her wrist and fit it into the big hole she can wear the bracelet. Good girl, you did it! You're so damned clever. Now shut up and stay out of the way while your brother puts together his toy.