Why is it that the majority persists on making violence a gender issue? And how does showing that women can also be violent and abusive somehow soften the horror of any act of violence by a man?
If we want domestic and family violence to stop (or at the very least reduce, as I’m realistic in that it will never be fully eradicated), I believe we need to first stop creating campaigns around the precept that men are the only offenders, and women and children are the only victims.
I wasn’t planning to write on this topic for GMP, until I received the following comment on my last post on Female Privilege:
So…surely before any discussion, one must consider the source, and in this case it is Rachel Goodchild – a woman who has spoken openly about how she had to leave her abusive partner, how he left her poor and about how she is now single and the struggles finding a (GOOD) man.
Along with the inaccurate perception that I struggled to find a GOOD man (there are many of them out there!), I wonder why I am expected to hold onto victimhood and shape all my future viewpoints on it. Wouldn’t this be self-destructive and give the person who had hit me all the power forever?
I am passionate about removing the anti-male propaganda from anti-family-violence campaigns, even though in my own marriage it was me that was hit and abused. But I do believe my passion to fight for safer homes does come from my own experience.
My husband had a (then undiagnosed) severe mental health condition, and would fly into rages over the smallest thing. During my ten years with him I learnt fast to suppress my own anger, to not raise my voice or respond with even an abusive word, to always look for the exit sign, to protect my children.
I learnt a lot about why people might stay in this type of relationship. I stayed far longer than I ever expected to. It took me seven years from the first time I thought I wanted out to finally walk out and not look back. I was educated, had a professional job, am gregarious, and considered confident. I did not, and continue to not fit the mould of the “battered woman” (with the possible exception of my battles with excess weight, as I chose to “eat my feelings” though, to be fair, that was not a problem of my then husband’s making)
In my situation, I learnt that professionals would not keep confidences (such as the doctor who told him I’d rung to say he was increasingly volatile and I feared for my safety), that most friends will not step in when viewing abuse (as it might be intruding in the couple’s personal life), and that some churches still tell the woman to not tell anyone it is happening.
In my case, I also learnt forgiveness was key to moving on, not to excuse the acts of the abuser, but to release yourself from living under that abuse for the rest of your life. Forgiveness was an act I did for my children, and myself as I saw no reason to allow his anger permeate the rest of our lives. Forgiveness also helped me to not take the actions of one man, and make it the potential actions of EVERY man.
Since then I’ve written hundreds of thousands of words about all sort of relationships. I wanted to know how they work, how we find ourselves in unsafe places, or why people continue to hurt each other. I talked, and wrote, and asked, and listened to learn as much as I could about the dynamics in all forms of relationships. I did it mainly for selfish reasons, to investigate the whys that relationship had created in me. I gained a voice through that, though I was always conscious it was the voice of a fellow leaner, rather than an expert.
I’ve talked to thousands of men and women about their relationships. And while I’m not au fait with all the jargon and intellectual debates surrounding gender issues, I can tell you one thing I know for sure.
First: Relationships are fairly complicated. Very rarely does a person act in isolation of another. Dynamics need to be looked at. Patterns need to be discovered. The very worst abuse is the one that comes out of nowhere, but that is also the rarest. For most, it is an end result of many other unignored symptoms endemic in your relationship together. Continuing to make this all about the male, prevents all people in the relationship from looking at controlling their own lives and changing their own behaviour patterns. That is not about blame shifting. It is about helping people learn to regain control over their own life.
Second: Men and women both can be abusive. Both can say things they shouldn’t to each other, hit each other, and can be violent to each other. Both genders can be (in fairly equal measure, statistically speaking) abusive to their children. Statistics are inaccurate as they rely on two things, either incident reports or self-reporting. Both rely on a person to speak out. But even incident reports show that the rate of domestic violence incidents is fairly even at the hand of either gender.
Anti family-violence campaigns have been really “anti men hitting women and children” campaigns. They drive men who are being abused underground, as they fear they will find no one to advocate for them. They prevent women who struggle with acting out violently from knowing where to get help, to stop as they make it something that only men do. They idealize a women’s place in the home as peacemaker and lover, and marginalise a man’s role away from the same.
All anti-violence campaigns are started with the best of intentions. To reduce pain and suffering for those who are need it most. But for me, even though I was also a “victim” at the hands of a male, I want to see a new sort of campaign … where we focus on the eradication of any type of family violence, instead of making it all about how we stop men from hurting women.
Then we might see some actual change.