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iStock 000002054679 SmallI just read an article about how women teach themselves from a very young age to de-escalate, minimize and quietly acquiesce whenever we are in a situation where a man has made an inappropriate comment or action, whenever we have been dis-respected, whenever those situations occur which make us uncomfortable. This is the article here.


The situations described were so familiar to me, and yet I found myself going for my usual response, telling myself that doesn’t happen to me, well at least not on that scale, no, it hasn’t changed as I’ve gotten older, maybe it’s something that’s worse in the States, maybe it happens to women who work outside the home more, maybe it’s a corporate thing, maybe it’s only applicable to women who go out to bars and pubs more than I do, and so on.


Then things started coming back to me. From when I was child. From when I was at work, as long as 35 years ago right through to more recent encounters. From social situations. From Facebook. All the things I’d dismissed, taken no notice of, let slide, because I’m sensible, because I’m easy to get along with, because I can see past ignorance and see the good in people. I’m blessed with a loving family, a caring and very respectful partner, and associate with mostly very decent people. So yes, maybe I don’t experience much of it at the moment, and maybe that’s because of my particular circumstances, location etc, but it sure as hell does happen, has happened, to me and to every woman.

 

Yesterday was White Ribbon day, or it’s less sanitised name of International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. I watched the ABC programme Hitting Home, made by Sarah Ferguson and the QandA programme which followed. I read articles online yesterday about the topic.


Before I go on, I’ll address the “what about men” thing.


One of the responses to the current push towards creating changes to reduce the incidence of violence against women in Australia, is to say “what about the men, there is violence against men too”. I’ve brought that issue up myself, because of personal knowledge and experience with the issue of men being physically and emotionally abused by women. It’s a real issue, it does happen, and it’s true that it is under-reported. An examination of the statistics confirms, however, that it is rare compared with violence against women by men, and that very different results can be obtained depending on how one chooses to compile the available information. We do not have a situation where 78 men to date this year in Australia have been murdered by their partners. The one in three statistic being presented is a dangerous fiction. The measurement tool used has been criticised as not asking whether the incident was part of a pattern of abuse, whether it was in self-defence, and does not measure sexual abuse, stalking and intimate homicide. The Australian Bureau of Statistics shows that in 2012, 87% of domestic violence victims were women. Male victims are far less likely to be living in fear or to be murdered. Most cases of women killing their partners follow a history of domestic violence against the woman.

 

So let’s not kid ourselves about whether this is a gender specific issue. For men, yes some would benefit from access to assistance to leave violent or abusive situations, that assistance should be available to everyone, but for women who are victims of domestic violence, who often have to leave with nothing, with kids in tow, with nowhere to go, and with a sharp increase to the danger they are in after they have left, refuges and safe places are crucial, and it’s ridiculous to deny that women in this situation are the vast majority.

What about men’s suicide? Yes, that’s a big issue, and parental alienation is a big issue. There are very many men who are not and have not been abusive, who are being denied a relationship with their children, and it’s extremely difficult to deal with. I’m all for addressing this issue, however it cannot be done without looking at the system as a whole and the very real problem of children who have been abused being forced by the courts to remain in contact with abusive fathers. We need to learn how to much more accurately assess the reality of a situation, and better serve the issue of both safety and fairness. A one-time meeting with a psychologist who bases his or her recommendations on guesses and assumptions is not good enough, for either party.


But back to what I wanted to write about: The issue of how women de-escalate, minimize and quietly acquiesce to the many incidents of subtle or not so subtle demonstrations of the culture and attitudes which lead to violence against women.


Violence happens because of our culture, the culture we all live in, participate in and contribute to.


There is good reason why feminists (including men) are objecting to the things we’ve been conditioned to tolerate and minimize. Tolerating it and minimizing it allows it to continue and does nothing to change the culture.


We know cultural change is possible. There are many examples of changes in community standards for the better in my lifetime. We know it can be done. But we don’t want to rock the boat, we don’t want to be seen as a trouble maker, we want people to like us, we don’t want to get on the wrong side of anyone who is in a position of power over us, we don’t want to stand out.


Well, if things don’t change they’ll soon stay the same. Violence against women is a world-wide problem with a very long history. We may be allowed to vote and own property now, we may not be considered the property of our husband now, we may have legislation against discrimination now, but misogyny and violence and abhorrent attitudes still exist. Rape is still a standard part of war. Women and children are still considered by many to be a commodity to be trafficked and exploited and enslaved.


I do think we need to look at the bigger picture, look at the issue of violence as a whole, the fear and stupidity that allows the endless wars to continue to feed the corrupt profit machines. Many more of us are now becoming aware of the divide and conquer policies that allow these things to continue – create fear, create an enemy, have us fighting amongst ourselves and fearing an imagined enemy, and then we’ll consent to continue murdering innocent people in our name.


These bigger issues are relevant to the issue of violence against women. The culture and attitudes that tolerate violence against women are part of this greater culture. The ultimate manufactured war against imagined enemies is surely between men and women. But with this one, there’s more to it, there’s the masculine and feminine energy stuff, hormones, cultural conditioning, gender roles, objectification, there’s the power stuff, there’s the issue of men who feel disenfranchised by society, because of much larger issues, projecting their fears and feelings of inadequacy onto women in the form of violence. The issue is greatly exacerbated by alcohol, but not caused by it. There’s the issue of the very fast development of more depraved pornography being so easily available because of technology. There are the misogynist, ignorant dickheads who write the pick-up artist books, actually profiting from the promotion of extremely unhealthy and dangerous attitudes. There’s the promotion and tolerance of men having an attitude of entitlement, that women somehow owe them something.


The talk yesterday about the situation in Australia showed that police are doing an even better job lately, but that they are hindered by the limitations of the legal system, which has resulted in some very positive innovations in the gathering of evidence. It addressed how complicated it is for a woman to make the decision to leave an abusive situation, not only for practical reasons, and for reasons of safety, but also because of her own feelings – she genuinely loves or loved this man, and that is a major conflict to deal with when making the decision to put an end to the abuse. Many relevant things were discussed, including rehabilitation and education for offenders, and prevention in the form of cultural change and education, particularly targeting the younger generation.


Which brings me back to cultural change, and why I’m seriously re-considering this unconscious habit of minimizing, overlooking, tolerating etc, the everyday examples of exactly what is wrong in our culture that contributes to the issue of violence against women.


Which makes me wonder, how best to handle it. If I’m going to say something, what do I say, how do I say it, do I say something every time, or only sometimes, do I make allowances for – he didn’t mean anything by it, he’s just ignorant, he’s harmless really, he means well really, it’s just a joke, I don’t want to be seen as a prude, and what, exactly, is the difference between a compliment and a comment which should not be accepted? And for many women, there is also the consideration of whether their reaction puts them at risk in any way, whether risk of being disadvantaged in their work, or risk of being bullied, abused or physically harmed.


Another thing to be considered, is how our inaction can impact other women and put them at risk. We don’t know what is behind each example of bullying, abuse, harassment, offensive comments etc. We don’t know if this was part of a history and pattern of a sick mind or a moment of making a mistake, joining the crowd without thinking it through. Giving men the benefit of the doubt has resulted in many deaths, rapes and horrendous emotional pain for many women. Not saying something or doing something can have serious consequences.


We are all responsible for creating a culture of basic human decency, respect and consideration for others, promoting love over fear, supporting each other, caring for each other.


What are the questions to ask ourselves when making a decision about whether to say that, whether to do that, how or whether to respond to that? Does it demean the person? How is it likely to make that person feel? Does it promote an unfair or unhealthy or dis-respectful attitude? Does it put another person at a disadvantage? Is it motivated by wanting to exert power or control over another person, to manipulate them, exclude them, degrade them, hurt them or humiliate them? How would we feel if this was directed at our daughter, mother, wife, girlfriend, sister?


If the answer to any of those questions makes you uncomfortable, then don’t do or say the thing, or if you have experienced it or witnessed it, object! We also need to support and keep safe other people who are speaking up. Rapists and murderers have remained at large because previous victims were not believed or were too scared to speak up. If we disconnect from an abuser ourselves, that person is going to find someone else to abuse when they have given up on us!


Abuse is about control, and comes from a fear based mindset. Aggression is an expression of insecurity. The aggressor feels under threat in some way, no matter how illogical it may seem. It needs to be understood that whilst we mustn’t tolerate aggression, abuse or violence, we need to know that people are not inherently bad, their bad thinking and behaviour had a cause, an origin, and that cause and origin is their personal experience and the meaning they’ve assigned to it, the culture they’ve been immersed in, for which we are all responsible.


The power to create cultural change is ours, and when we speak up and object, when we cease to tolerate abusive behaviour, it will lose its social acceptability, the same motivation which is holding us back from speaking up, is the motivation which will move people away from these attitudes and towards adopting more healthy ones.

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