Tuesday, September 04, 2007

A mistake I hope I only make once

Today the government launched a campaign against family violence I'm sure I'll have a lot to say about what the government's doing (like fund women's refuges). But I think some of the basic messages, unfortunately, really need to be heard. Particularly the idea that we can and should do something if we think someone we know might be being abused.

So I'm going to retell a story I've written about before. A few years back some friends of mine dragged me to a feminist meeting at the house of a woman I didn't know, although I realised when I got there that I'd seen her around.

Her face was all bruised, she had a broken nose and a black eye. She said it had happened in a play-fight with her boyfriend and that he didn't know his own strength. She hadn't left the house since it happened. She wanted to spend the meeting talking about men's violence against women.

I don't know about the other women at that meeting, but I knew, with absolute certainty, that there was no play-fight, that it hadn't been an accident. Everything she did, and said, told me that her relationship was abusive.

I didn't say anything. None of us said anything. It was a feminist meeting and none of us said anything.

I tried, I wanted to, I spent the evening searching for words and couldn't find them. Gaps in the conversation came and went, and I left, having said nothing. I knew I was doing the wrong thing, that my silence was wrong, as I was doing it.

What I could have said, what I should have said, was really simple: "Just so you know, I don't think he should treat you like that. If you ever need anything you can give me a call, here's my number."

Please don't make my mistake. Practice a phrase in your head, have the words ready, use them.


  1. This is actually pretty common. I've known loads of "feminists" to turn a blind eye to domestic/relationship/intimate partner violence because they actually have crappy skills for dealing with it, and very little about Big Issues feminism provides those skills. "Practicing a phrase" doesn't provide those skills either -- it actually takes a hell of a lot of resources for communities (radical, activist, feminist, or otherwise) to help abused women get out of abusive situations. I actually think it's pretty irresponsible for people to come in with judgements about a relationship without providing alternatives or committing to the long-term changes needed to overcome the violence and its effects. Making a woman feel embattled but helpless is only likely to make the situation worse.

  2. For me, practicing a phrase has helped. It leaves me

    I agree that it's really important that you don't make women feel judged, or more isolated. The point of saying something has to make sure they feel less alone. But I think it's important to do that, even if you don't have all the answers, even if there's very little you can actually do.

    I'm fairly sure that anything I would have said on this particular occasion would have been better than saying nothing.

  3. Anonymous6:59 pm

    Warning: This is a rant.

    Maybe we back away because we know we cannot personally help without as you say Firefly huge resources. If we stick ou necks out there are not a whole lot of women to support us as most of us do not have the resources.

    Women do not stand together strongly on issues because many of us are in the situation where we will be poor, paying for everything and doing everything if our marriage fails. Our men usually don't like us getting too involved with feminist issues. We put our children 1st. Standing up too publicly may destroy your limited career prospects and invite public ridicule which I know is very unpleasent. Most women do not have extra money they can use to help other poor women as they are working long hours for nothing and stretched to the max by also working low paid jobs ( no matter how much education we have we earn less).
    Since we are mostly now all working for low wages and after that staying home nights and weekends doing housework there's not a great deal of time to offer others.
    Women often side with men and their abusers as once you have kids a husband is often the only hope you have of supporting your children and having a life without poverty. Other women with no extra money or power usually cannot help you.
    All the attitude training and education will not stop abuse in a situaion where a woman cannot escape without a strong prospect of a life of poverty, lonliness and working her fingers to the bone. She may be forced financially to take the first OK (marriage) offer she gets from a man who may turn out to be like the last.
    Lets face it if there weren't labour laws the abuse of workers would be with us now. In some countries poor workers are beaten by employers etc because they have little recourse against them and are in dire poverty.
    Yes we do most of the work and yet we are in poverty and are beaten. That sounds like slavery to me.
    Our poverty as a gender is what prevents us helping each other and our daughters.

    Mandatory 50% women in parliament might change this. Its the only way I see to make any real progress. Lets face it we have the vote but have been always in opposition due to our low representation in parliament. We have never been able to set our own agenda despite having a vote. This is what a vote is supposed to allow. The majority of the population can change society for the good of the majority. We are the majority. We must have equal representaion as a right.

  4. The worst domestic violence I have ever encountered was between two women in a lesbian relationship, one Maori and one Pakeha, who lived downstairs from me in Grey Lynn.

    I wish I'd said something and I wish I'd called the cops when I could hear violence in progress. I think I might have done if it had been a man beating up a woman. I will always regret that I didn't and I now never assume that it is only men who are capable of violence.