Attacking the Roots of Violence Against Women
"End the Silence on Domestic Violence."
"Love Doesn't Hurt."
"There's No Excuse for Domestic Abuse."
"You Abuse, You Lose."
Catchy phrases. They've been floating around forever. As have the programs and organizations and government agencies that utilize them in their efforts to "raise awareness" on DV. And they've collectively produced... What?
Seriously, is there anyone out there with connected brain cells who is "unaware" of the issue of domestic violence?
Yet here's where we are:
Statistically, one out of every three to four women you see is, has been, or will be battered. That stat reflects only the cases that we know about, and represents few - if any - of the women who are abused psychologically, which is a unique, well-populated corner of DV-Target Hell. When you think about the fact that most cases of domestic violence are never reported to the police, then chances are that you encountered at least one abused woman today.
I'll probably shelve this column for a day so I can proof it in the morning. But by the time I send it off for publication, countless women will have gone to the ER and lied about their injuries, and even more will tend to their battered bodies privately. Their children will be further terrorized and thus, enraged.
And some will be motherless, because by tomorrow morning, three more women will be dead at the hands of their abuser.
So, women: What are we doing about it? Because after you nod your agreement with the platitudes, move past the slogans, and depart from the pavement constructed of good intentions, attacking the roots of DV begins with us.
Maybe there has been a battered woman in your midst, but you weren’t aware of her situation. Perhaps you were, and wanted to help - to hand her the toll-free number, direct her to a DV center, or find her an organization. It's likely that you didn't know what else to do; however, as our culture has moved toward first, equalizing the genders when it comes to domestic violence, and second, turned the disposition of its targets over to government agencies, our institutions and organizations are of little help. In many ways, they’re a hindrance to assisting the battered woman. In some cases, they are actually allies of the abuser.
You can call the police when abuse occurs in your presence or within your earshot. You can offer the target a compassionate ear, and you can give her the number of the NDVH or the local DV center. Those actions may help, or they may not; however, long-term, they’re an exercise in futility - because at the core of the issue is a society that's filled with contempt for women. And that disrespect emanates from both genders, because too many women no longer respect themselves.
The result: Much lip service is given to helping domestic violence targets - and not much else, because we don’t address the root cause of the issue. DV doesn’t turn on isolation, coercion, extortion, and violence: those are the tools. The batterer’s ultimate goal is oppression - full control of the target - and an abuser’s desire to dominate comes from a sense of entitlement that’s borne of contempt. It comes from a devaluing of women that most of us tolerate, some women promote, and much of the culture enables.
So we need to talk about different ideas, because we don't need another program, organization, or barely-funded government agency. We're up to our ears in slogans and catchy phrases. What needs to change is the cultural conscience, and that best happens through women. Toward that end, here are a few suggestions for those who want to make an enduring impact on the roots of domestic violence:
1. Demand respect in your own life. Adopt a zero-tolerance policy for anything that demeans or trivializes women - especially porn, which leads to abuse of women and children, and saturates TV, literature, music, internet, shopping centers, even your local grocery store. Don’t allow it in your home, and don’t support it in your community.
2. Assess your own attitudes and practices. If that first suggestion is difficult for you to embrace, it may be due to one of two things: First, you've been so beaten down by a culture that disrespects women, that you barely notice the contempt anymore; or second, you've reached the point where you don't bother to hold yourself to high standards.
No matter what the reason for your reluctance is, you probably know that if you adopt an attitude of self-respect, and exhibit a determination that standards of behavior will be honored, you’re going to be ridiculed. Headsup, ladies: This culture mocks women anyway. You may as well be mocked for being a woman of integrity. Hold yourself and others to high standards of decency and respect.
3. "End the silence"? Okay. Let's do. Get vocal about it. Educate yourself. Find your way to contribute, and then get busy. Live your own life as an example of integrity. Clamp down on disrespectful attitudes of others. Refuse to allow smut in your home, and talk to the owners and managers of businesses which allow it or use it as a marketing tool. (Including media - and let their sponsors know that you won't be purchasing their products.) Accompany a battered mother to a hearing, or to an appointment with an attorney. Invite her out for coffee, if nothing else - help her to remember a sense of normalcy about life, because hers is lived in a house of mirrors.
If she has children, keep in mind that a battered mother is usually trapped in a Catch-22 situation if she seeks help, especially from the court system. She's facing two options: She can save herself, and then turn her children over to a violent male for visitation; or she can stay with the abuser (I prefer the word "criminal"), and stand between him and her kids.
In other words, platitudes aside: She can't risk "ending the silence", because the price could very well be her children.
So look for opportunities to support her, defend her, take her side. (But not in front of the abuser, because he'll take her apart for that, once he has her alone.) Demonstrate the proper respect for her in front of everyone, especially her children. Even something as simple as the comment, “Don’t talk to your mother that way,” can make a huge difference down the road, because her kids are being programmed to dismiss her by both their father and the culture.
But more than anything else, if you promote women’s dignity - which is what this is about - then you’ll start to show your influence, which is found in being an immovable force of decency. That’s the real power of being a woman, and it attacks, at its base, the mentality that encourages violence against women.
Claim that power, and you’ll find yourself defending and promoting the long-lost rights of women, and encouraging others to do the same. It’s amazing what even just a few of us, aware of our value and our rights, can accomplish. A group of self-respecting women is a powerful force to contend with - more powerful than any oppression will ever overcome.
Put the platitudes on a T-shirt, if you want, and wear it while you do something that actually has an impact.
See you next time.
Until then -
Jenna Brooks is the award-winning author of the bestselling October Snow
series. She welcomes your comments through her website: Jenna Brooks Online
. (For more discussion on women's dignity, visit the audio blog here