domestic violence

“Strong Women” Can Still Experience Violence

Photo of a woman's hands.

by Lyndsay Kirkham

Trigger warning for discussion of intimate partner violence.

Perched on the bathtub’s porcelain edge, cradling the phone in my hand I could hear the voice of a disbelieving woman, her whispers barely audible. She was asking how, with a degree in Women Studies, with years of working in shelters and sexual assault centres, how could this be happening to her?

It was my voice. It was me asking for help.

Embarrassment and incredulity my companions as I begged a crisis centre employee to tell me that this could happen. I needed to know that this happened to other people, that I wasn’t the only “strong woman” to experience violence in a marriage.

He slapped me before I had even asked him to share my cramped graduate school apartment. One hand had steadied my face while the other came quickly across my peripheral vision and hit me hard. I shrugged it off, giving him a pass because I was just completing a Masters that focused on feminist writers – I couldn’t possibly be a victim.

Months later, now married, he dislocated my thumb while in a drunken rage. This time, I cried, I gave myself a shake telling myself that this drinking was unacceptable, this it needed to change. For two more years I struggled silently with abuse that was emotional, psychological, physical and financial. I continued to focus on his drinking, not the violence, not on the abuse.

Every day I would wake and button myself snugly into my feminism, I was The Strong Woman. I was the one people called when they wanted to talk about the new Margaret Atwood book. I was the one organizing Take Back the Night events for my community rape crisis centre. I was the one loudly talking about a need to infuse our political and justice systems with more female role models. I marched. I organized. I wrote polemics. I raged about abortion rights. I couldn’t cop to this violence in my marriage – because, what then?

Consciously or not, I was reinforcing a stereotype that silences thousands of women who experience violence in their lives. It wasn’t until, after another weekend of observing inebriated violence and finding myself locked in a bathroom, my tears soaking through the too-thin sheets of the phone book’s crisis centre numbers, that I accepted there is a binary system that falsely links together “strong women” with lack of violence. I was forced to accept the fact that my feminism, my strength wasn’t preventing violence from seeping into my life any more than my experience with violence made me any less of a feminist.

I had internalized, like so many women, the narrative of “the strong woman.” I remember feeling thrilled as a teenager to hear that I was strong, that I was fierce, that I was smart. These qualities amounted to so much more than any off handed comment about my physical attributes. My heroes were Alice Walker, Virginia Woolf and Queen Elizabeth. I went through my teens and my early twenties with my fist in the air – I wanted nothing more than to cause a riot.

This cloak of the strong woman, which is an almost acceptable cultural stereotype for the feminist, or the single mother, or the marginalized woman who finds success in conventional arenas. They are known for their strength, their fortitude, their willingness to keep getting up no matter how many times they are beaten. We see this character in literature, in films, music culture, and social narratives.

But, like other stereotypes, this depiction of womanhood becomes a dangerous cage for women who don’t exist in monochromatic reality. By subscribing to this idea of myself as the invincible, as the tough-as-nails feminists, I was creating a situation where I wasn’t able to acknowledge, let alone share, the violence that was happening in my life. Read more

Posted on by Lyndsay Kirkham in Can-Con, Feminism, My Reality 6 Comments

Chris Brown and the Culture of Misinformation about Sexual Assault of Men and Boys

Chris Brown performing on stageby Arwen McKechnie

Trigger Warning: discussion of sexual assault, child abuse, victim-blaming.

I’m going to start this with a disclaimer – I don’t like Chris Brown. I don’t like his music and, more importantly, I think he’s a typical example of the kind of man who batters his partner.

He’s never really taken any responsibility for his brutal assault on Rihanna, and seems to feel that rather than getting a slap on the wrist by virtue of his money and success, he has been poorly treated by the media and world at large. He’s sick of talking about, he wants to move on, so why won’t the world just let him be great? It makes me sad for humanity that many people can so easily disconnect his abhorrent personality from his musical and commercial success.

So it’s a new feeling for me to have some sympathy for him, but that’s exactly what I’m feeling right now. Chris Brown effectively told a reporter for The Guardian that he was sexually abused as a child. And based on the content of his interview, he doesn’t even realize it. Sadly, it would appear that his interviewer didn’t realize it either, and that’s where my heart really does break for him.

There’s a moment when rape survivors, especially those that have been assaulted by an acquaintance or potential romantic partner, come to terms with the fact that what happened to them was sexual assault. Some people know it right from the start, but it’s more common than you might think for people to rationalize what happened to them: it was a bad date or it was a mistake, drunken or otherwise, but surely it wasn’t rape. Something went bad, something didn’t feel right, but surely it wasn’t rape. Because if it was, if it really was rape, what does that mean for them now?

This line of thought is sadly common in survivors of sexual assault. Sexual violence is more commonly experienced by women than by men, and women are taught from a very young age that their physical safety, especially their sexual safety, is their own responsibility.

So in the aftermath of a sexual assault, the litany of self-blame begins: if only I hadn’t done this, if only I hadn’t said that, why didn’t I just…, etc, etc. It’s a normal reaction to the years of social conditioning that women receive supposedly teaching them how to prevent themselves from being raped.

At the same time, while some boys and young men are actively taught to be respectful of their partners and themselves and wait for the enthusiastic “yes” rather than just the absence of a “no”, the broader narrative around male sexuality dictates that men must be patient. Men, apparently, always want sex, but must restrain their natural impulses and wait for their partners to be ready.

This myth of the super-charged male sex drive eclipses any possibility that men and young boys may not be ready for sex, may not want to have casual sex, may actually experience sexual assault. Read more

Posted on by Arwen McKechnie in Feminism, Pop Culture Leave a comment

Scrapping the Long Gun Registry is a Feminist Issue

This article was originally posted at Persephone Magazine. Reposted with permission of Persephone and the author, Millie. Millie is a perpetual grad student, an internationally recognized curmudgeon, and an occasional hugger of trees. She also makes a mean batch of couscous.

Last week, the Conservatives tabled legislation to not only scrap the long gun registry, but also to destroy all the data it currently holds, and again used closure* to shut down debate on it. The registry has reduced gun deaths overall by about 45% since it was introduced, but the Conservatives say it’s too expensive and infringes on the rights of hunters and rural citizens.

Here’s how we got the long gun registry in the first place. On December 6th, 1989, a misogynistic man walked into a classroom at École Polytechnique, an engineering college associated with Université de Montréal, armed with a legally obtained semi-automatic rifle, told the men to leave, declared he was “fighting feminism,” and shot the nine women left in the room (six of whom died). He went on to kill eight more women, and injure seven more women and four men, before turning the gun on himself. December 6th is now National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women, and after considerable public outcry (especially in Québec), the long gun registry was enacted in 1995. Just writing that paragraph makes my gut clench in anger.

To legally obtain a long gun in Canada, the potential owner must apply for a permit, and the gun itself must be registered. Police services across the country have access to this registry, so that guns involved in crimes can be traced, and also so police officers can check if, when responding to a call at a residence, they expect that the owner has a gun, and take appropriate precautions. Permits must be renewed every five years, currently. Handguns have been regulated since the 1930s, and are not covered by this legislation.

The effect that the long gun registry has had on gun ownership, gun crime, and gun deaths is stark. The CBC, bastion of excellent information that it is, helpfully compiled this list of statistics about the state of guns in Canada. While the whole list is worth a read, I want to focus specifically on a part at the bottom of the first section:

Since the long gun registry came in in 1995, gun deaths have decreased by 45%. This is across all demographics, all ages, all genders. That’s a huge improvement — the rate of death by long gun has been almost halved, just by having the guns registered. But the reduction of the rate of spousal homicide (which, overwhelming, is femicide — about 80% of spousal deaths are men killing women) is a whopping 74%. Three quarters of women’s deaths by gun at the hands of their spouse can be reduced just by adding a few hoops for the gun owner.

And that’s just deaths: I couldn’t find any current statistics on gun injuries inflicted by spouses (again, overwhelmingly likely to be men injuring women), but I’d wager that if gun deaths are decreased by that much with the registry, then gun injuries inflicted by a spouse are likely also drastically reduced.

So this is a registry that helps keep women and police officers safer. It’s reduced gun deaths, injuries, and suicide rates (which are almost 5 times higher in households that have guns). It’s proven effective and is widely used — the registry is accessed about 17,000 times a day. All this is fact, not opinion.

Think about all those numbers in the CBC article for a few minutes, and let them sink in and percolate. Read more

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Can-Con, Politics 3 Comments

Domestic Violence is Tolerated—Officially

One of my favorite episodes of The Power Puff Girls was when Princess became mayor and made crime legal. The happy metropolis of Townsville was thrown into disarray as criminals and thugs began to rob banks and beat people up with impunity. The Power Puff Girls, always trying to do what is right and save the day, were forced to simply watch as criminals were set free from prison.

I hadn’t thought about that particular episode in years, but it immediately jumped to mind when I heard that Topeka, Kansas has recently decriminalized domestic violence. No, you are not living in some wacky cartoon world. A city in an industrialized, first world nation, that touts itself abroad as the model of democracy, has decriminalized domestic violence. Adding insult to injury, it’s Domestic Violence Awareness month.  If only the Power Puff Girls were here.

Apparently budget cuts have been so severe that Topeka can no longer afford to prosecute cases of domestic violence. It is still a crime under state law, but The Associated Press says that, “As of [October 13th], 21 people jailed have been released without facing charges, according to Topeka police.” This is troubling on many, many different levels, so I will focus on two main concerns.

First, since domestic violence is such a huge problem that we can no longer afford to prosecute it, it should now be apparent that this is a societal epidemic. Simply arresting perpetrators is not going to fix the problem in the long term. The Domestic Violence Resource Center states that one in four women has experienced domestic violence in her lifetime. For comparison, the Harvard School of Public Health claims people have a 1 in 6,700 chance of dying in a car crash. Note that it is still illegal to drive without a seat belt in Topeka. I’m not advocating that we ignore driving laws. I’m simply at a loss as to why not wearing a seat belt is considered a more serious offense than beating a spouse. The rates of domestic violence in this country are disturbing, but even more so is the collective apathy that allows it to continue.

Second, as I said, this problem is too big to solve by simply arresting people. Even after an abuser is arrested, survivors often face years of custody battles, stalking, harassment, difficulty supporting themselves, and an unimaginable struggle to heal physically and emotionally. And even if a survivor is totally free from her attacker, this only solves an individual problem. Putting these attackers in jail does little to address the perpetuation of violence against women in our society.

But even though arresting the perpetrators is not enough, it is currently necessary to ensure survivors are safe from further attacks. Think of domestic violence as a deadly infectious disease instead of just a societal one. Simply putting sick people in quarantine is not going to cure it, but that doesn’t mean they should wander free, endangering lives and spreading the sickness.

The Power Puff Girls solved this problem by stealing from the mayor who made crime legal. She realized that a town without laws left her vulnerable to theft and harm, and she would rather be protected than be the mayor of a dangerous city. I’m not at all saying we should march down to Topeka and perpetrate domestic violence on lawmakers (even though it’s technically legal*). But if we as a society do not voice objections to domestic violence, regardless of its legal status, it will not ever get easier (or cheaper) to fix. We live in a society where domestic violence is tolerated. This is everyone’s problem.

-Jessica

*Assaulting lawmakers would not be legal – just drawing a comparison to how ridiculous it is that assaulting one’s spouse is not considered a chargeable offense.

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Feminism, Politics 2 Comments

Edmonton Salon Ads Cross a Major Line

Even with the scores of sexist advertising out there, I was seriously disturbed to come across a series of ads using depictions of domestic violence to promote an Edmonton salon.

From the Edmonton Sun:

Fluid Salon, located near Whyte Avenue, launched the ad series “Look good in all you do” more than one year ago.

But on Monday, the series took a public lashing from local social media users after a New York advertising copywriter featured one of the ads – depicting apparent domestic violence – in a blog.

“I was appalled,” Kasia Gawlak said in an interview. She’s a blogger who saw the ad Monday morning. “It’s like saying ‘at least you have good looking hair when your boyfriend abuses you.’ The women who have been abused with real pain, heartbreak and suffering – it’s not something that should be trivialized to sell a hair salon.”

It’s disgusting, to say the least, to imply that a woman who was being beaten by her male partner would feel better knowing at least her hair looked good.

Unfortunately, it’s not even just the one ad. Another in the series of the “Look good in all you do” shows a woman wearing tights and a bra while smoking a cigarette sitting on a dirty mattress in an alley (implying she’s a prostitute). If you look closely, it gets even worse. On their Facebook page, someone pointed out another ad showing a woman’s being dragged from a hearse by her legs features the “corpse” wearing the same shoes as the woman in the alley ad. Yes, That Jill also found a picture of them doing the woman model’s makeup for the first ad, with the caption: “hottest battered woman I’ve ever laid my eyes upon.”

In their other campaigns there’s a racist ad for Brazilian blow-outs, featuring white women in pseudo-tribal makeup, and another ad showing a woman coated with oil and wearing feathers to promote a portion of hair cut proceeds going to oil spill relief. The women-as-animals in distress is a frequent tactic of other sexist ad offender PETA.

Fluid Hair owner Sarah Cameron, yet again proving that women can be their own gender’s worst enemies, says she sees no problem with the ads: “It might strike a chord, but as the way our society and community is getting, we keep tailoring everything because everyone is getting so sensitive…Anyone who has a connection or a story behind anything can be upset or have an opinion. We are not trying to attack anyone,” Cameron told the Sun.

Tell Cameron & Fluid that trivializing violence against women isn’t acceptable under any circumstances. You can post on the image gallery on Fluid’s Facebook page here: http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150395289750206.610405.713520205&type=1 or use the contact form on their site here: http://fluidhair.ca/?page_id=39. You can also complain to Advertising Standards Canada here.

-Jarrah

 

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Can-Con, Feminism, Pop Culture 16 Comments