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Archive for the ‘domestic violence’ Category

That’s me!

It’s a forewarning that I’m going on a rant.

What caused me to rant? Ah life. In all its intricacies and heartache.

I presented my Introductory Seminar nearly two weeks ago now. I sat in on the other presentations. One of the earlier presenters was talking about representations of domestic violence in the media (in Australia) since Rose Batty became Australian of the year. The presenter was saying she wasn’t sure she was going to keep the title ‘domestic violence’ because it’s difficult.

This certainly had me thinking. I object to the term domestic violence for a number of reasons. For me in evokes the Victorian sensibility of the man in his castle and women and children as property. It brings back the times when my mother was bashed and the cops did nothing. The sixties was like that. It’s like it if is labeled domestic violence it somehow has a veil over it and it’s no one else’s business. It’s domestic. It’s behind closed doors. It’s not ‘real’ violence. The media treat it like that and that angers me.

But it is violence.

If women and children for that matter are human beings with equal rights, then any violence done to them is violence and should be treated the same as other types.

If my partner came home and shot, strangled or bashed me dead. It would be termed domestic violence. If I did the same to him, I reckon the media head line would be ‘murder’. (Not that I’m going to do that to you darling, Dweeb.)

The other thing that irks me about the term is that it has a sense of shame associated with it. The victim is shamed. Not the perpetrator. Thankfully this is changing, but not enough, not by a large margin and not fast enough. I feel shame twice over. I was a victim of child abuse and domestic violence. Why is it my fault? Why do I have this shame? Oh because I chose that fellow and therefore I got my just desserts. Or I was from one of those families. White trash. Just stay away from me, you might contaminate the rest of us. Why for godsake do I feel shame for something that was done to me? Because I was brought up in a world where you don’t talk about that, you pretend it doesn’t happen, or if you do you, look the other way and, by the way, if you interfere, you are going to look like a jerk.

Stuff that in your jumper, patriarchy!

So what do we call this. The presenter suggested intimate partner violence, but then that doesn’t capture the violence against children, which can coincide with violence against the mother. I was thinking patriarchal violence myself, but that’s a bloody big umbrella. Under patriarchal violence, you have war, abuse of: refugees, prisoners of war, women, racial minorities, gays, lesbians, trans, the poor, children… need I continue?

Patriarchal violence-sub category women?

The other aspect to the talk was the media representation of domestic violence. If media are the invisible arm of the patriarchy then they do a good job of whitewashing domestic violence. Man goes home, kills wife and kids. Media asks, what happened to this decent bloke? Poor man. Let’s all think about this poor man and what he went through to cause him to (destroy his property? )Not man turns violent; cuts the throat of his wife and kids. Or man keeps kids, then when wife is trying to get custody, he kills them rather than let her have them. Man throws children off bridge because no one else should have his kids. Man strangles child while having a visitation. Women denied protection by police and then is murdered in cold blood in her car on at the road. It is happening every day. It’s awful. Tell it like it is media. Stop whitewashing this bullshit. We shouldn’t have to have sites that reedit your whitewash to make it tell the truth.

Man is denied his property so he destroys it. No one else gets to play with his toys.

Anyway, it all boils down to how women and children are viewed, valued and validated. Here I think there is a long way to go to making them equal.

And my last bit of rant– the fight against domestic violence is seen as a feminist issue. Why the hell is that? Feminists have been fighting against domestic violence and providing avenues for women to escape it since the first wave of feminism, this is true.

Why is it just a feminist issue? Why isn’t everyone concerned? Why isn’t it a social issue that we are all working to eradicate?

Sadly this post is not as eloquent as I envisaged first up when my rant factor was running high. I will also acknowledge that women can also be perpetrators of domestic violence…but I consider them victims of patriarchal violence too.

I have violence in me. It was beaten into me. It’s a darkness that is sometimes hard to control. I’m not perfect. I see it is there and I try to rein it in.

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Recently I’ve been working on my first academic paper. This got me thinking about stuff. My previous post on Cherokee Thunder (here)  got me thinking about the positive slant in that book about men, while addressing the serious issue of domestic violence. The slant that says ‘not all men’. Needless to say, the current book I’m reading features a heroine who was abused by her husband!

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I thought because romance is a positive story as it’s going to have a happy ever after, that there is this delicate space there that issues, like domestic violence, can be discussed in a safe way. There might be triggers for people who have suffered domestic violence, but they know it’s going to turn out all right. In this positive way the ramifications can be looked at–the ways in which domestic violence (including emotional abuse) can make a woman feel, how it can take away your feelings of self-worth, personal safety, confidence and strength. (Child abuse has similar effects) How domestic violence can endanger your life and those of your children. It’s nasty and people generally don’t like talking about it real life.

There is the guilt and the self talk, the blame and the ‘I deserve it’ type of mentality. In a romance that features this, these issues can be teased out in a manner that allows for a positive resolution. So romance fiction is a fantasy. Some people don’t want to read books with this domestic violence content (which is normally post domestic violence, not in progress), some people do, because in these stories the heroine gets over her trauma, she learns to be confident, to be herself, and sometimes it’s the hero that shows her that love can be nurturing, kind, respectful and not smothering emotion.

I’m sure I’m not the first person to think this!

For me, romance novels can make me think about positive things. They let me imagine that a woman can have a great first time (unlike my own), or that a man can be trusted, that he can be gentle and also strong, that sex can be wonderful and that love exists in the world and maybe in my own life. Romance fiction can be healing to those of us who have lived the other side: Rape. Fists. Beatings. Low self esteem.

I’m not saying romance novels are the only things that do this, I’m just saying that they can.

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A fun part of my PhD is reading romances. Mostly I’m concentrating on retros–1970s and 1980s but I want to read up to and including current titles.

The President of the Australian Romance Readers Association (ARRA), Debbie Phillips, gave me four boxes of books. These were mostly Harlequin Silhouette novels from the late 1980s and early 1990s. I’ve read two so far.

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Then I unpacked the books!

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And then I didn’t have the heart to put them back in the box so I bought some bookshelves for them. (I’m not supposed to be doing that being frugal. Alas, the savings were attacked!)

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I’ve read one cowboy romance by Lass Small called No Trespassers Allowed and I enjoyed that a lot. I even sniffled a bit at the end. It wasn’t feminist but it did discuss gender roles and was almost entirely told from the male perspective. I noticed I have about 5 more of Lass Small’s titles. She’s deceased now but published a lot in her life time.

Cherokee Thunder by Rachel Lee was published in 1992/93 and is from the Silhouette Jasmine imprint. It appears to be slightly longer than the traditional category romance. I’m sure someone can tell me all about that line. I’ve not read Rachel Lee or heard of her before. A quick look on line tells me she is still writing and is using the same setting, Conard County. And she’s won awards etc. I’m not surprised.

For someone reading with an eye for feminist or social issues in these book like I am, there was heaps in this book to interest me. It’s main theme is domestic violence and the secondary theme is racism. There was also some discussion about being a working woman, being independent, being a wife and mother and liking housework. The kind of book this is-set in a small county in Wyoming- being a house wife is a natural aspiration.

I’m not sure how politically correct the half-Cherokee character/heroe, Micah Parish, is but I found him to be represented in a very positive way.This is a character who is solitary, cut off from family, both his white and his First Nation side. He is honorable and emotionally amoured and very gentle.  I ‘heart’ him very much.

Faith, the heroine is a battered wife. She’s not ordinary, run of the mill, battered wife either. She’s seriously battered, stabbed, brutalised…you name it and her ex husband is a crim and an ex cop and a psycho!. Six months pregnant and her ex has even tried to carve the baby out of her. Seriously, scary, stuff!

She’s the frightened kitten, small, petite and hurting. Micah is a big man and he’s got a soft spot for strays. She may be battered but with his caring way, she’s able to find her spirit and over come her timidity. Never though is her abuse trivialised. It is discussed throughout that she’ll have flashbacks (she does) and that it will take time to heal.

As I read this I could see that there could be other stories in this setting. There were some interesting male characters but I haven’t looked up to see if this was a first or a third in a series.

Faith in her reminiscence about life reflects that she’s been betrayed. She was brought up to be a wife and mother and all she got was  abuse. Her stepfather had conditioned her to have low self esteem and told her she deserved a beating. The representation of the abused woman in this story was very accurate to my mind. It takes someone very special to help her. And man does Micah do that.  As I read this I was thinking this is really good. This would make a great movie.

The story seemed to me to be predominantly from the male point of view, except it wasn’t. It was a shared point of view, slipping between Micah and Faith within scenes. It was smoothly done. The only other time I’ve seen this style was in Cory Daniels The Last T’en. It is certainly different from the pseudo omnicient/weird quasi from the male perspective that some of the other retro Mills & Boon had. (apparently before the 1980s they couldn’t use the male PoV)

What I loved about this book (and being a victim of abuse myself) is that it’s so positive. The message here is that there not all men are the same. That even a big, hard man can be tender and kind. It’s such a powerful message. I know Micah is a constructed male. A hero drawn from a woman’s imagination. But I can’t understand how something like this can be denigrated, the way romance fiction, is generally denigrated. It’s a healing story. So there are so romantic foibles-some things the hero says a man probably never would, but still…

I recall JD Robb’s In death series and I remember being so impressed that (Nora Roberts) discussed child abuse in the story line. The unspeakable trauma that the main character, Eve Dallas, went through as a child is revealed slowly over the series and I was so heartened that she discussed that topic. It’s not a nice topic but it happens and it’s important.

I’m still at the beginning on my retro reading. It’s been an interesting and enjoyable experience so far.

Cherokee Thunder was a touching tale. Thank you Rachel Lee for the lovely piece of fiction.

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I’ve always known about subjectivity. I like something. The next person doesn’t. Sometimes I’m at a loss as why they just don’t get that fab book or that amazing TV series. It’s subjective. Right.

So what does that mean exactly?

This is a self-exploration so I don’t have any academic texts to back this up, except maybe a vague reference to Bourdieu-type thinking such as ‘reflexivity’ and ‘habitus’ (but I’m new to this so don’t roast me)

I’ve been reading retro romances right. A few of them make me angry, uneasy or just bored. Most I love for many reasons. I was thinking about the ones that trigger my dislike.

For instance, creepy boss love affair stories. I’ve been thinking about this for a while now. Why is this so? Office romances happen. My previous partner was once my boss, but not my boss when we got together. Actually being a workmake is probably what allowed us to get together because it wouldn’t have happened that otherwise. Not that I had the hots for him when he was my boss. Anyway….whole subject awkward!!! So why then do these stories creep me out that little bit. I had been thinking before I recollected my office romance that I didn’t fancy any of my bosses (apologies) but yeah…nah!

When I got my first office job in 1976 with a stockbroker, they were all like fuddy, duddy old men and one fuddy duddy old lady (first female stockbroker!). The girls weren’t allowed to wear pants. Yeah that’s how conservative they were. I remember one day coming in wearing a jump suit. My job was to give the big boss his coffee as soon as he sat down, otherwise yelling would ensue. So I romp in with a coffee and a good morning smile. I get quizzed about what I’m wearing. I say, “It’s a jump suit.” The boss says,”Next time you wear that you can jump out the window.” Anyway, I digress. Memory digging will do that.

This morning I remembered my job before the office job. I had a short stint as a hairdressing apprentice and I was sexually harassed. I was dragged into the change room by the owner of a hairdressing chain and quizzed about my sex life. It was weird. He didn’t touch me. He made me very uncomfortable and I was at a loss at what to say. What sex positions do you like? Do you like having sex? etc. I was bloody 15! I kept clear of him and was sacked soon after.  Actually some of these questions he asked  and approaches are in those dark, Italian type retro romances. The salon I worked in at the firm did contain a harasser.My bestie at the time also had an apprenticeship and was molested often by her hairdresser boss who was married.

Oh dear! I’ve just remembered another job where that happened. In New Zealand, I worked for a car company in the service department. I was the only woman and I was touched up and perved on all the time and commented on. Finally I stood up to them and then they got the shits with me. Lucky I quit no long after.

So while my many years in the public service provided a harassment free workplace , there were times in my dark past when it wasn’t so. And these retro stories take me back to that time in a big way.

The other thing that I find that triggers me is the violence. Just about all the books have the man grabbing the woman by the upper arms or shoulders and shaking her. Lucky they didn’t break the woman’s neck. Anyway, one particular story where the woman cried out in pain. He was really hurting her. And he’s like I’m sorry, it’s just that I love you and want you only to be mine. I’m like egads! Domestic Violence! All my flags go up. It had been a promising story until then. My note say something like. ‘Creepy ending with potential abuser!’

I grew up with domestic violence and I’ve experienced it first hand, especially the jealous boyfriend who broke in to where I was living and smashed me up. So yeah. Subjectivity!

I’m sure I’ll find more things that affect my objectivity as I read the retro and contemporary romance fiction. I certainly found that objectivity can be difficult to maintain when I read the article by Peter Darbyshire about the Love Inspired imprint! A few posts ago.

If I apply the above to other readers then it is easier to understand why people react in different ways to books or films. They are shaped to a large extent by their experiences and their environment, like I have been. I try to overcome this when I’m aware of it.  If anything, study has lead me to ask these questions of myself. Why do I think that? Or Why do I have that reaction?

 

 

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