Secret warzone

By Ellena Savage
isolation(960px) Nebula

MARGUERITA

I visited Marguerita at her house in Reservoir, a deco soldier’s house similar to my folks’ place and apparently every other house in the suburban north of Melbourne. She made me tea while I waited in her living room. It was warm and familiar and comfortable, which is how I soon found Marguerita herself. On the walls were a poster outlining some iconic moments in Aboriginal history, paintings of the family members’ totem animals by Marguerita’s eldest daughter, and framed photos of Marguerita’s children and grand-children.

We rested our mugs on the coffee table, above a Scrabble board and a Penguin Classic copy of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and began our conversation about violence.

“I thought I was going to live happily ever after, that I was going to have a house full of beautiful little children, and that was it. But that didn’t happen.”

I met Marguerita at a training session for volunteers with the Victorian Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders. She was leading a session aimed at volunteers about modes of sensitivity to women with culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds who are affected by incarceration. She spoke about her experiences with the prison system as an affected family member, and about the intimate partner violence she endured from her ex-husband, who was in and out of prison. When Marguerita finished speaking that day, all the volunteers in the room were in tears. It wasn’t just the pain of her story that moved us, but her elegant articulation of the trauma she and her children had to cope with long after they escaped him.

Marguerita has worked in the social sector for many years, beginning in the women’s shelter she’d fled to with her children, trying to escape from an abusive man she was married to for twenty years. At the beginning, she says she didn’t know what her husband was really like. “He was so smooth,” she says, laughing. “They [men] have this way of capturing your heart, and making you fall in love with them. I thought I was going to live happily ever after, that I was going to have a house full of beautiful little children, and that was it. But that didn’t happen. I didn’t really know what he was doing, what his mind was like. I just fell in love with him.”

As she spoke, Marguerita gently pulled on her soft beanie, drawing it towards her forehead each time it slipped back. She has a soft face and a soft voice, and she makes me feel safe. But she harbours a lot of grief about staying with a man for twenty years who wasn’t safe for herself or her children.

“When I was growing up,” she says, “when you made a union with your partner, that was for life.” But the domestic bliss didn’t last long; it soon became clear that her husband was not the person she had thought he was. Not long after they got together, when Marguerita was pregnant with their first child, her husband was sent to prison. She ran away to the Northern Territory to have her baby, fearing that if she stayed in Queensland her baby would be taken from her (“that fear is passed down from generation to generation”). After her first baby, and then a second to a traditional Aboriginal man she met in the Territory, Marguerita returned to Townsville to support her mum’s dying partner. Her husband, meanwhile, had been released from prison. He found her and coerced her back her into the relationship by threatening to hurt her babies if she didn’t come back to him. He invoked her traditional role and responsibility as a wife:

Because he is half Torres Strait Islander, as I am, they have certain protocols, too, customary traditions. Being both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, I have to abide by both protocols, and with both traditions, you’re not allowed to leave your husband. They’re the head of the house, and you have to do as they say.

In acknowledging the role of patriarchal customary traditions in her inability to leave, Marguerita names the underlying structures which impose themselves on intimate relationships.[1] Even when things got worse, Marguerita stayed. Because of racialised policing, and the fact that Aboriginal Australians are one of the most incarcerated ethnic groups in the world, she faced obvious social barriers to the idea of reporting the violence. Marguerita was afraid to go to the police station.

“Some police were nice,” she said, “but some said, ‘Oh yeah, you know, he’s in jail again, you can have a holiday now’”. In other words, they acknowledged the dangerous situation Marguerita was in, and that she was safer while her husband was in prison, but remained unwilling to protect her family from her husband. She noticed that when he came home from prison, his behaviour was worse. “Prison made him more of a criminal,” she said. “Instead of making him good, for us, he came out worse. Prison is not good for families.” Out of prison, Marguerita’s husband struggled with substance and gambling addictions, and was consistently physically and sexually abusive.

“I was afraid to leave him because in our society, it’s a really big thing. You’re seen as a failure if you leave your husband. It took a while to get my head right.”

Marguerita says that she more or less accepted the facts of the relationship as they were, as violent as they were, because of the image of the family promoted in her community. “To the community,” she said, “we had to be a loving family where nothing goes wrong. Where he’s the man. That’s the norm. That’s in every culture. We were hiding a lot of things, me and the kids.”

But while the community publically valued “happy families,” the reality for Marguerita was much different. “Domestic violence – it was normal,” she said. “If the man wanted to bash you, you could do nothing, you just had to put up with it.” She knew it was wrong, but she also didn’t have the tools or support to get out of the relationship: “I felt like I had no choice, like I had no way out. Mum had passed away, Dad, Nannas, aunties, so I didn’t have anyone. And I was afraid to leave him because in our society, it’s a really big thing. You’re seen as a failure if you leave your husband. It took a while to get my head right.”

She also feared for her life and her children’s lives if they left. Not an unfounded fear, either – homicide rates increase by 50 per cent for women leaving abusive partners. “We tried many times to leave him,” she said, “but I still felt as his wife that I had an obligation to stay with him, and he was using all the scare tactics in the world to make sure I stayed with him.”

It wasn’t until she began having a breakdown that she knew she really had to get out. It began when her daughter was washing her hair (“Our little joy was our hair,” she tells me). She’d noticed sores on the back of her head, but ignored them. She didn’t know what they were, or what was causing them, but when her daughter found them, she worried. Eventually Marguerita went to her doctor, who was a good friend of the family. Inspecting the wounds, the doctor realised Marguerita was suffering a breakdown, and the sores were one of the symptoms.

“‘It’s him’, Dr Kerry said to me. ‘Marg, you’re having a nervous breakdown.’ I didn’t even know. I grew up in safe comfort, in a beautiful place with my mum, not exposed to any of this. And now I was having a nervous breakdown and I didn’t even know it.”

Despite everything, Marguerita tells me that her husband was “such an intelligent person with a brilliant mind. I wish he’d done good things with his mind.” She remains highly self-critical of her role in the relationship, but acknowledges that all her self-blame, a habit that has carried over to Marguerita’s work and other aspects of life, is due to his persistent undermining her. “I don’t blame anyone else when something goes wrong, I blame me. And that’s because of him. He made me feel guilty for every little thing.”

After our cup of tea, Margeurita says that at the time, she didn’t know that she had rights. It’s something I keep coming back to – it haunts me – that a woman as compassionate and intelligent as Margeurita blames herself for being “so naïve”. The language of rights eventually enabled Margeurita to escape an abusive partner, but the structures of gender-based violence go far deeper that an individual’s ability to understand and articulate her rights. Even women who are well-versed in the language of rights continue to experience gender-based violence.

Nebula Gilded Cage

SOME BACKGROUND

Three terms which dominate this discussion are “gender-based violence”, “domestic violence”, and “intimate partner violence”. While there is spill-over between the three terms, it’s important to understand their usage.

The usage of “gender” I’m working with is the definition by VicHealth, Victoria’s health promotion foundation: the “economic, social and cultural attributes and opportunities associated with being male or female at a particular time.” This definition is useful, because it accommodates for the cultural location of gender; it is not a static binary, nor is it biologically deterministic. The UN defines violence against women as “any act of gender based violence that results or is likely to result in physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life.” “Intimate partner violence” refers to the violence that occurs between intimate partners. It is distinct from the term “domestic violence” only in that domestic violence can include violence perpetrated by other members of a household.

Where these three terms meet is the point at which women are the primary victims of all these forms of violence, and men are the predominant perpetrators. While domestic violence is extremely complex, and men are also victimised by it, the statistical data shows that victims are overwhelmingly female, and perpetrators overwhelmingly male. Domestic and intimate partner violence are gender-based violence, and the remedy for gender-based violence is gender equity.

In Victoria last year, half of 42,076 reported assaults were committed in the home, and family members – who were almost always women – were victims of 16,046 of these. Domestic violence costs Australia approximately $13.9 billion per year, a number which represents the sprawling toll that violence has on bodies, emotions, workplaces and families. It is a huge issue in Australia and around the world.

Gender-based violence is the leading cause of death, disease and disability for women aged 15-44. The Australian Bureau of Statistics reported in 2006 that 40 per cent of women in Australia have experienced physical and/or sexual violence. Women are five times more likely to be killed by their intimate partners than men – during 2007-2008, more than half (55 per cent) of all female homicide victims were killed by their intimate partners. In cases where women commit homicide against their intimate partners, the Victorian Law Reform Commission says that their actions usually take place in response to sustained violence directed at them by their partners.

Men, of course, experience violence as well, and at higher rates than women do. But 51 per cent of attacks perpetrated against men are done so by men who are unknown to their victims. Attacks against women, however, are predominantly perpetrated by male perpetrators who are known to female victims, at around 80 per cent. Men are the primary perpetrators of violence against men and women, a fact that needs to be widely acknowledged. It is useful to locate violence in a gendered framework, because the concept of gender as something that is socialised (in other words, the roles and behaviours associated with gender are not innate but learned) means that these behaviours can be unlearned. Men are not biologically required to perpetrate violence. In fact, the majority of males are not perpetrators of violence. But there is something in certain forms of masculinity, and in ongoing inequality between the sexes, that perpetuates violence. This needs to be named.

By identifying the problem as gender-based, a solution becomes available. This research-based, gender-focussed framework is the dominant strategy currently being used in the gender-based violence sector. What we’re talking about when we talk about gender is really just the unequal distribution of resources, security and opportunities along gender lines. Gender equity is achievable, and research shows that in reaching gender parity, we have the greatest opportunity to abolish gender-based violence in the home.

THE SECTOR

“Here’s a message to men,” said Ken Lay, a ferocity burning under his breath. “I have news for you: it is all connected. Your casual groping and offensive remarks stem from an attitude that women are below you. It’s the same attitude that exists in violent relationships.” That is the Victorian Police Chief Commissioner, giving what has since been received as a historically symbolic address on domestic violence in July this year.

The speech took Amy Webster by surprise. Not because she was at all unfamiliar with the concepts Lay was expounding, but because it isn’t such a common message to come from a man in Lay’s position. Over the years, Webster has worked in domestic violence prevention as well as crisis support. She says that she never expected that her two favourite spokesmen on violence against women would be the Victorian Police Chief Commissioner and the Chief of Army, Lieutenant-General David Morrison. But both men have stood up against gender-based violence and exploitation, and done so with hat-tips to quite radical positions, positing the vicarious responsibility of both the bystander who does not speak out, and the casual sexist in more severe forms of gender-based violence. In Morrison’s address, he is unequivocal towards those accused in a military sex scandal, saying, “we don’t want you.” He also made complicit those whose silence has enabled sexual violence in the army.

“Those who think they can behave in a way that demeans or exploits their colleagues have no place in this army. The standard you walk past is the standard you accept,” said Morrison.

Webster is tongue-in-cheek when she says that about Morrison and Lay, but she has a point. Until Christine Nixon introduced the police code of practice to protect women and children in 2005, Victoria Police lacked consistent protocols to deal with incidents of domestic violence. It was an invisible issue. Almost as soon as the code was introduced, reports of domestic violence increased by 70 per cent. Reporting rates in Victoria have increased yet again by 21.6 per cent this year alone.

Emily Maguire, specialist in preventing violence against women, says, “When you start talking about domestic violence, and start trying to prevent it, you’re likely to see an increase in disclosures because people feel more comfortable. When you name it, people will talk about it.” When Lay and Morrison speak out against gender-based violence, they are actually shifting culture.

This increasing awareness and visibility of gender-based and domestic violence is extremely welcome to people working within the sector, and Webster believes it is partly due to the research-based framework underpinning the current approach to intimate partner violence, which supports the gender-equity model of preventing violence.

While a uni student, Webster volunteered in a women’s refuge, pulling the graveyard shifts. Working at the crisis support end, she encountered countless women’s stories:

When you work with so many women over time, really strong themes emerge, both in terms of attitudes that are used to minimise or dismiss experiences of violence, but also in how women describe the dynamics of their relationship with the perpetrator. Women often spoke about feeling that every aspect of their lives was in some way controlled by their partner and were often forbidden from seeing friends or family without the perpetrator’s supervision. Even when things in the relationships seemed good, women were controlled by the threat of violence.

It supported the analysis that this was gender-based violence – this was happening to them on the basis that they were women, and it was perpetrated by men. It was bound into gender relations and gender equity.

After the interview, with the mic off, Webster said that working in shelters was like witnessing a secret warzone. She described a long list of horrific injuries – sustained brain injuries, burns, women with removed facial features, and of course, severely bruised bodies. This work inspired Webster’s postgraduate research, and she continues to advocate against domestic violence.

When she began to work in primary prevention (the area of advocacy focussed on preventing violence before it occurs) Webster saw that her experiences at the crisis end supported the strategies of violence prevention currently being used in Victoria – that there was a gender-based issue underpinning the violence. The idea of primary prevention is rooted in the pursuit for gender equity. In 2007, VicHealth published findings on the leading causes of violence against women: “the unequal distribution of power and resources between men and women” and “an adherence to rigidly defined gender roles.”

VicHealth are doing incredible work in violence prevention, but like all serious work, it will require long-term commitment to goals, with ongoing state support. Their strategy to diminish violence against women is ecological, outlining a triple-pronged approach. At the “individual/relationship level”, changing attitudes is about working towards respectful and equitable relationships, and can include intervention in cases of violence. At the “community/organisational level”, changing working conditions will be the most effective way of addressing gender inequity in the home and in greater society. One strategy I found heartening in this area was encouraging workplaces to institute more flexible rosters and/or paternal leave for men with young children at home, so that they would be better supported in taking a more active role in their children’s lives.

And the most significant level, which informs the two others, is the “societal level”, the level at which our shared history has so stringently prescribed gender behaviours that promote the marginalisation of women on the basis of their gender.

Webster says, “The VicHealth framework has brought a sense of shared understandings, shared language, and shared activities that need to be implemented. I don’t think the sector has ever been so united in a common analysis.” I ask her if she has encountered inconsistent approaches within the sector, and she concedes “there are still older analyses that rear their head from time to time. One you’ll hear is that perpetrators of violence have experienced violence as children, which the research simply doesn’t support.” The perpetuation of this older narrative avoids the fact that intimate partner violence is gender-based violence.

But avoiding gender-based and intimate partner violence is not consciously a case of just “knowing one’s rights”. Gender is so deeply rooted in cultural practices that consciously holding feminist politics is not enough to protect a person from experiencing gender-based violence. Gender roles play out at a deep level, and both men and women need to be conscious of their impact on relationships.

Impending by Nebula - Ink on Paper - 2013

TEAGAN

I look back and think what the hell was wrong with me? How did I not know? It’s like you’re on a tram, and someone’s standing a little bit too close to you, and you know that it’s a bit weird, but you’re hoping it’ll desist before you have to do something about it. And you’ll let a stupid amount of barriers be crossed, because if you say something, you could become vulnerable to direct attack.

That’s my friend Teagan. We’re in a very dark bar in Northcote, a suburb of Melbourne, trying to make sense of an abusive relationship she came out of last year. Teagan grew up in suburban Melbourne, raised by rights-conscious, feminist parents. She’s a wild-haired cyclist and postgraduate student of political science. In other words: Teagan knows her rights, and she’s not afraid to assert them. She does not embody the usual social markers of social disadvantage, as value-ridden and ugly as that term is. Crudely, she is white, middle-class, and tertiary educated; privileged in a way that needs to be acknowledged here.

The reason Teagan’s position is so relevant is because intimate partner violence comes with a social stigma about what “types” of people perpetrate and are victimised by it, a stigma which is entirely false. While Teagan and Marguerita differ in certain racial and class markers, they simultaneously occupy womanhood, a fraught position even for the otherwise socially privileged. If we persist in believing that intimate partner violence is symptomatic of the poor, the dispossessed, the traumatised, the addicted, then we will continue to misread what intimate partner violence is consistently about: violence against women on the basis of their womanhood.

“The number of times I just wanted him to punch me in the face, just so I could say ‘it’s here, it’s right here, and you can see it.’ So that it could be visible. Anything less than that is not interesting [to other people].”

Teagan says her consciousness of the structural problems patriarchy poses to women’s safety and security added to her sense of guilt and personal failure about the abuse.

“I studied gender studies and did domestic violence units at uni while this was going on. I knew [his behaviour] was weird, but there was always a way to explain it, and it was always something that I was doing wrong. I think the hardest thing coming out of this has been my self-criticism, about how I so drastically misinterpreted what was going on until it was too late.”

Her relationship began through friends, parties, work. He met Teagan, and he fell for her. He fell for her and she didn’t fall for him. Not really. But there was something attractive about being desired, she says.

“I’d been in a series of relationships where I’d been under-valued, and I think I was initially drawn to the intense persistence. I saw it as self-validating.” So she went along with it, tolerating his controlling behaviour and omnipresence in her life, because of the guilt he made her feel.

“He’d say things like, ‘I’m only happy when I’m with you, otherwise I’m distraught.’ That’s kind of intense – making me completely responsible for his well-being. But at the same time, I felt valued.”

Many of Teagan’s friends assumed it was a case of unrequited love, some of them suggesting she “stop torturing him,” because most of the violence she reports happened in private: late at night, in her home. “Before it got physically aggressive, it was at the point where I’d say I didn’t want to see him one night, and at 3am he’d scale my wall and get into bed with me, and say to me that I shouldn’t be angry with him because it was ‘romantic’.” When things became more physically and sexually aggressive, Teagan says she sometimes wished for physical evidence of the abuse so that people would understand what was going on.

“The number of times I just wanted him to punch me in the face, just so I could say ‘it’s here, it’s right here, and you can see it.’ So that it could be visible. Anything less than that is not interesting [to other people].”

Usually very fit and healthy, Teagan’s health suffered. She noticed herself drinking more, and taking refuge in losing it: “drinking to kind of numb it, or avoid it or something.” But the most upsetting effect it had on her was her depleted sense of value.

“You think the greatest value you can have is being the object of that fucked-up excuse for love. Just demolishing you to the point where you believe that that’s the best you’re going to get, and you’re not worth any more.”

“I think that it is definitely a power issue,” says Teagan. “Instances of intimate partner violence are almost facilitated retroactively, in that everyone knows that she will be ostracised and blamed, and he will be protected.” She has lost many friends over accusing this man of physical and sexual abuse, saying that she has been abandoned by friends, “Facebook feminists” for whom the reality of violence was simply too “inconvenient.”

THE PRIMACY OF THE CONJUGAL 

Looking back on my romantic history, there are certain things that leave me feeling a bit off.  Not threatening things, not even especially harmful things. Just ugly behaviours: sour words and missed opportunities; behaviours we only put into practice on our nearest and dearest. I wouldn’t go as far as to say these common behaviours – over-criticising, demanding too much, being careless with the other’s feelings – are abusive in the fact of their existence, but they are predicated on what we believe to be private and intimate territory, which is subject to a separate set of rules to our public lives.

In the safety of the ongoing commitment of families and romantic companions – which are probably irrational but also foundational to our society – I’ve been an arsehole to people I have loved. This is not a confessional, because so have you. Intimacy brings out a lack of control over certain behaviours, and it shields us from the kinds of responsibilities we’re prone to accepting in the real world.

To highlight my point, I will indulge the confessional: One night I took a sleeping pill so that I wouldn’t have to listen to whatever my partner was berating me about. When I say berating, I’m not exaggerating. The man doesn’t honour the boundaries of civil conversation, at least not with me. But that, again, is about how boundary-crossing is tolerated in intimate relationships. Whatever he was taking me to task about was boring, critical, self-centred, and I felt left without an opportunity to respond. So I slipped a sleeping pill in my mouth and turned over to sleep, giving a literal “cold shoulder”. He was hurt, which is reasonable. This icy move was a way to say, you will only be heard on my terms, mate.

Embedded in the gesture is a will to harm, even just slightly, and that’s why it scares me. Why wasn’t I more careful with his feelings, all the time? And why wasn’t he more careful with mine? In the scope of things, this is a minor infraction on decent social norms. It might well be brought on by social norms. The bizarre closeness we allow in our romantic lives brings about all kinds of aberrant behaviours, but they only feel aberrant. In fact, they are a part of our culture; we learn them from our parents and Everybody Loves Raymond and Elizabeth Taylor. Where 40 per cent of marriages can expect to end in divorce, more less-formal relationships ending than that, and other marriages ending in less formal ways, it all points to a lot of unhappy homes.

I don’t mean to imply that the lower divorce rate of decades past indicates healthier relationships – I simply don’t think we’re doing intimacy right. If intimacy can ever be done right. It shows that perhaps we ought to rethink the centrality of the private, conjugal sphere.

We normalise the behaviours that are most common in our cultures, even if they are harmful. Culture is like Stockholm Syndrome on a grand scale. Gayatri Spivak said that “ideology in action is what a group takes to be natural and self-evident,” meaning that when you’re inside it, dominant culture appears to be the logical outcome of a reasonable history, something that might have been overseen by the consensus of a board of free-thinking philosophers. But what we believe to be “normal” is an arbitrary outcome of our histories, large-scale and personal. Our private behaviours are inspired by dominant cultural attitudes.

Our belief in the sanctity of the home, and the privacy of our intimate relationships, is what keeps families from disclosing violence and seeking help. Victims blame themselves, and fear the judgement of outsiders, about what admitting violence will make them look like. It’s easier, more culturally-appropriate, to keep it within the home. That sacred place. But what that violence means does not stay inside the home: it is the assertion of masculine power over feminine.

Isolation by Nebula - Ink on Paper - 2013

THE FAR-REACHING TENDRILS OF VIOLENCE

Jill is like Marguerita, staying with her husband for 20 years, like Teagan staying even though she knows better. Like most women, accepting that it’s dangerous being a woman, but that it’s going to be easier if we just wait for it to be over.

When Jill Meagher’s body was found, like many young women, I called my mum. It was not that I thought I was entirely safe before she was killed – I’ve been followed home and sexually harassed in public spaces since I was about thirteen. It was because every time I’d been approached by an aggressive man at a quiet tram stop, every time a car had slowed down next to me, just to check if I wanted to jump in the car and suck the driver’s cock, every time some unknown person standing in a crowded venue had touched my body in a way that I couldn’t identify or complain about, I’d gotten away. I had survived.

With Mum on the line, I gushed: I told her about those threatening incidents I’d never wanted to tell her about because at the time, I knew she’d respond by restricting my adolescent freedoms even more.

“I was always so protective of you because I know what it’s like out there. I’ve been there,” she said. She told me about coming home from playing a gig when she was nineteen, catching the last train home from the city with her cumbersome trombone case, and having to outrun a man who was following her. This stuff hasn’t changed in the generation that separates my mum and me, and it is experience we normalise; we learn to tolerate a terrifying number of violations before we consider them criminal, or even worthy of making a scene about. Part of it is ingrained politeness, and part of it is the fear of pushing a potentially dangerous scene into the realm of actual danger.

I turn back a year to that fuzzy footage of Our Jill rocking back on her heels, probably as pissed as we all were that Friday night or any other. Jill’s murderer is up in her face telling her things, but she doesn’t tell him to fuck off, and she doesn’t turn around and run, because look at him: you don’t take your chances with blokes like that. Jill is like Marguerita, staying with her husband for twenty years, like Teagan staying even though she knows better. Like most women, accepting that it’s dangerous being a woman, but that it’s going to be easier if we just wait for it to be over.

So we smile and act innocent in the hope that it’ll inspire some compassion or at least a kind of paternal care for you, and wait for him to leave. A polite refusal, a quiet rejection, Jill pretends she’s otherwise occupied by her phone. Women know what it is like to be her, because we have all been her. That video was somewhere in the uncanny valley for many women, because the threat of his body language is so familiar to us. We know exactly what he’s saying, but it’s so difficult to articulate it later. Unlike Jill, though, we got to live through it, and each time we’ve lived through it, it’s become more normal.

Yet for every Jill, there were twenty women killed by someone they knew intimately. Because what happens out there is replicated in homes, in private lives, enabled by the insistence that intimacy is a God-given right to cross barriers, because the home is private business.

So when Marguerita said “I didn’t know that I had rights,” I wasn’t thinking about how sad it was that she didn’t know about rights – this at least, can be rectified through education, and promoting rights awareness. I was thinking about the women in my own life, who know they have rights, but who are brought up in a society that constantly undermines those rights, and makes advocating on behalf of them a constant challenge. Sometimes, a deadly one.

Changing dominant cultural behaviours begins on the smallest scale. The idea that violence inside the home is private business is still a dominant one. The feminist catchphrase “the personal is political” is one of the foundational critiques of ideas of gender relations: it insinuates that power is not only enacted by institutions like the state, the church, and economic institutions, but that it persists throughout every private exchange. The social and political inequality between genders plays out in myriad ways in people’s private lives, and our public and private exchanges inform and reinforce the other.

Involving men in feminist work has always been difficult. But men and women alike should welcome the research that shows gender inequality is the root cause of violence against women. With a diagnosis, there is a cure. It’s about looking at the molecular-level exchanges of power that go on in the most intimate spaces in our lives. We need to reassess how we do intimacy, and be constantly mindful of how our socially prescribed genders inform our behaviours, which too easily slip into violence.

Like Ken Lay says, “it’s all connected.” Knowing this is a fine place to start.

 


[1] While it’s incredibly important to recognise how the profound dispossession and historical injustice experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people has impacted on the instance of dysfunctional behaviours, there are unmistakable gendered traditions in most cultures which oblige women to tolerate violence, not least in the culture of Australia’s colonisers.

 

If you are in danger, please use a safer computer, or call 000, Australia’s emergency number, or National Sexual Assault, Family & Domestic Violence Counselling Line, RESPECT (1800 737 732) for advice.

Other resources:

  • Women’s Domestic Violence Crisis Service offers advice for women victims of domestic violence. Ph. 1800 015 188 or 03 9322 3555. 
  • Relationships Australia offers support groups and counselling on relationships, and for abusive and abused partners. Ph 1300 364 277 or Victoria (03) 9261 8700.
  • LifeLine is a free general telephone counselling service. Ph. 131 114.
  • To gain access to an interpreter in your own language, call Translating and interpreting. Ph. Freecall 131 450.
  • Kids Help Line is a telephone counselling for children and young people.Ph. Freecall 1800 551 800.
  • Australian Childhood Foundation is a counselling service for children and young people affected by abuse. Ph 1800 176 453 or (03)9874 3922.

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  • Tom

    Thank you for writing this.

    It reminds me of how I have to do better. “The standard you walk past is the standard you accept”. It’s hard to ‘make a fuss’ about this sort of thing but I have to remember what sort of world I want to live in. (On a sidenote, even more challenging when you are in a foreign country!)

    I too am struggling to figure out a new form of intimacy. It’s challenging to piece everything together, with my own cultural context and trying to understand all the factors at play for someone I want to be intimate with. People have different needs, wants and contexts. Diversity is to be cherished. I have had successes in working it out and I have made mistakes. I’m entitled to nobodies time (or body for that matter) then my own. Whether you are spending time with your mates or with someone you desire/love, that time is a gift that you share with them. A gift you give to others and a gift they give to you. I think is a broader concept, applicable to many types of relations between people. That gift should not be coerced or tricked out of someone. Thinking beyond gender, there is nuance here about entitlement that I am leaving alone for this reply.

    I hope I can do better in the future, and I hope others around me will endeavour to do the same.

  • Loren

    I also want to thank you for writing this. You covered some very pertinent points, including a reality that many of us see who work in this sector (fv). The importance of general awareness, and understanding cultural nuisances with respect to the normalization of family violence are excellent points. I think the way you explained the disturbing facts of the Meagher case as well as the stories of the other women will bring this topic alive to people who are not as familiar with patterns of violence. Your article gave me pause to reflect on ‘where are we now’ when it comes to violence and raising awareness in communities.

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  • T

    “We normalise the behaviours that are most common in our cultures, even if they are harmful. Culture is like Stockholm Syndrome on a grand scale”

    I really appreciate how this article links the obvious and extreme forms of abuse (which are difficult enough for women to escape from) to the more ‘mild’ and insidious forms that every female suffers from (but feels they cant/shouldn’t complain about).

    This is really an important way to think about these issues,…women and man alike.