when the status quo frustrates.

Domestic Violence

This post might potentially triggering to victims of domestic violence, or people who had to witness it. It also might suck, because my thoughts are a bit muddled and I’m trying to straighten them out via blogpost. For these reasons, I’m putting pretty much the whole thing below the fold.

Via http://shakespearessister.blogspot.com/2010/08/discussion-thread-i-love-way-you-lie.html, I saw a discussion of Eminem’s new video “Love the Way You Lie” featuring Rhiannon. A good chunk of the discussion was talking about how this song/ video glamorizes domestic violence under the context by making first making the characters super sexy, and conflating “passion” with “violence”. And I can see that support for it- the video does come off as ambiguous, and there are lines in the song like “Maybe this is what happens when a volcano meets a tornado” suggesting that their relationship is just the result of two fiery personalities coming together.

But then, there was also discussion about the fact that this doesn’t look like a “classic” image of domestic violence, meaning that it doesn’t show an abuser as a monster and the women as a cringing victim a’ la Lifetime Original Movies, and this makes domestic violence look ambiguous in the video. Later, people challenge it saying that there was “no such thing as a perfect victim” and it made me think of two seperate things.

One was this post from No Longer Qivering where one the author talks about justifying leaving her abusive husband. The part that particularly resonated with me was:

I would attempt to explain the abuse. Often I would leave out the worst things as I had not processed them enough to verbalize them. In later years I would leave the worst things out because they were intensely humiliating. But still there were plenty of things I could say that sounded pretty awful; living under his constant rage, the threats to hurt me and kill me, the irrational behavior towards the children, the constant lying. If I managed to get that far the answer was always the same.

“If it was that bad why did you stay with him so many years? Why did you have all these children with him?”

In the blink of an eye I had gone from being condemned for leaving to being condemned for staying…..

It’s been a lesson for me though and I try and listen to people’s stories without ever asking those condemning questions. “Why did you go back to him?” “Why did you marry him?” “Why didn’t you see he was [somethingawful]”? I have to ask myself, does anyone ever ask the man “Why didn’t you love her and care for her so she wanted to stay with you?” But of course that is a fruitless question as abusers usually assert that they did love their partner and “gave her everything”.

Read the whole thing, it was an interesting can’t-win for leaving exercise.

It also reminded me of when I was a horrible little child, and I would get so MAD at my mother for, in my eyes “provoking” dad. My father was abusive, but why did she have to bother him with stuff like the bills when he was already so tired from work, and why couldn’t she just go along with him when he just wanted quiet, and why couldn’t she just LEAVE THINGS ALONE?! As an adult, I’m deeply ashamed of this mindset that I had, and realize that I was probably just one more voice keeping my mom staying with my dad. The day I saw my dad throw my mom into the coffee table, the first time that I knew he actually hit her (as opposed to “only” constantly belittling her, threatening her, and yelling at her) was the day that I did a 180-switch about who exactly was at fault here.

These three, seemingly unrelated things about domestic violence boils down to this: there is no such thing as a “perfect victim”. There is no one who looks perfect cringing, and decides to up and leave the first time she gets hit because he’s so clearly a monster and she’s just independent and not willing to take that crap (my biggest problem with “Enough”, really). Victims of domestic abuse sometimes “start” the fight by yelling, or asserting themselves in some way, and still can have their self-esteem so under-minded that they can’t leave (or any of the millions of reasons that women “don’t leave”, from money to children to no support). MRA’s frequently talk about “mutual combat” but that’s somewhat of a misnomer. Even in the video, when Megan Fox starts the fight by yelling and slapping ineffectively at the Dominic character, it is clear that she’s the victim. She can’t do a damn thing against him. He’s so much stronger than her in, and demonstrates this again and again. But, we have this idea that if women aren’t perfect, they don’t do all the right things, they don’t deserve “protection” and it’s not really domestic abuse. Victims of domestic violence can have terrible tempers, be lazy, be depressed, be any number of things that are, shall we say “human” and still be victims of domestic abuse and still need help and assistance. And abusers aren’t monsters- a lot of times it’s hard to leave an abuser because it is mixed up with love as much as fear.

We get a lot of conflicting messages from society about our interpersonal relationships that it makes it difficult to figure out normal, non-toxic relationships. And not just romantic ones- relationships in general. My father is abused my mom and is more than a little sexist. He also taught me how to throw a baseball and showed up to every single one of my baseball games. For every instance of him yelling, screaming, and basically acting like a time-bomb that we had to tip-toe around because the most random thing would set him off, there is probably another equally powerful memory of him being a loving, caring father. For every voice that says in society that we should shun batterers, there’s the conflicting message of loving your family no matter what.

I read somewhere (I thought No Longer Quivering, but I can’t find it now) a description of someone staying with an abusive husband. Paraphrased, it was something like “Yes, there were two incidents of him hitting me that month, but there were 43 times of hugging, 3 random flower deliveries, 6 nights of great sex, and hundreds of smiles and soft kisses”. I think this video, in it’s somewhat ambiguous way, tries to show that. Like, if you look at about the 1 minute mark, it shows Dominic throwing Megan Fox into a wall, and then punching it to the point that it leaves a whole. A flash later, they’re running up to that wall to have passionate sex, and it’s sort of implied that happens one right after another in it. But if you look again, you see that a) it’s a different wall, that doesn’t have a fist imprint and b) that they’re wearing different clothes. This I think says more like “we have this terrible, self-destructive fights, but we also have moments were things are wonderful together too, do they cancel each other out?”

Domestic violence isn’t about big monster against a cringing passive victim. It’s about a human victimizing another human. An abuser isn’t a monster, just a human doing something that is wrong and seriously fucked-up. An abused person isn’t some perfect snowflake in need of rescuing, but another human being in need of support because s/he is being controlled. And I think that showing that narratives surrounding domestic violence are more complicated than people assume, or opposing the idea that the victims of the simplistic narratives are the only ones worthy of help can only be a good thing.

2 Responses to “Domestic Violence”

  1. m Andrea says:

    While 438,000 incidents of hugging is a great thing, 1 instance of gross abuse can destroy a child’s ability to succeed in life forever. Which is why harm is not measured by numbers alone, but what it does to a person’s psyche.

    The thing which causes women to look at the numbers is a defensive denial technique — consider that they have zero problem jumping out of the water when only one shark appears in the ocean. So it isn’t the number alone which causes either an active or passive response, but someone’s perception of the danger and their relationship to that danger. In DV, the entire ocean and beach is full of sharks and shark-enablers all screaming that shark bites are just love bites, so the victims have no place of genuine escape. The beach is not seen as a safe place so there is no point in going there.

  2. asehpe says:

    And yet I have a question, about these abusive scenarios in which one person controls another, as you put it. And what about redemption?

    As you point out, people aren’t perfect. We have all kinds of crazy baggage in us — from our own childhood abuse (yes, the infamous victim-to-perpetrator connection) to all kinds of sources of stress and humiliation in our struggle for life.

    This is not, of course, an excuse of an abusive event. But it’s a question about whether an abusive event really is, to use the previous commenter’s metaphor, really like seeing one shark in water. Is it true that an abuser really never changes? Is it true that whatever it is that makes the abuser be abusive, s/he is never going to outgrow it and become a normal human being? Is it true that once s/he hits him/her, there really is no possible redemption, no salvation for the relationship — because abusers are all of one kind: the kind that never gets better, endowed by god with an inalienable original sin, the mark of Cain, etc.?

    In other words: could it be that sometimes the victim stays because there IS some chance that things will change?

    I know victims can be irrealistic, for all the reasons you mentioned. But consider this: all the ‘huggins” and “nights of good sex” and “spontaneous flowers” are not simply random bleeps in the radar. They also mean something. They may mean that the abuser is a manipulative asshole, a sociopath who just wants to confuse the victim’s mind; but they may also mean that there IS a fundament to work on, a way to improve and get out of the old rut of violence.

    I’ve seen that. I’ve seen people who hit each other, repented, said they were sorry… and never did it again. And who stayed happily together. That IS possible.

    Which adds another perspective to the ‘why-does-the-victim-stay’ question. Because s/he may think — incorrectly, or [who knows?] sometimes correctly — that there is a chance that this doesn’t mean the relationship has no future, that things may change. ‘For the better and the worse’, as they used to say.

    Again, for fear of being misinterpreted: I’m not trying to defend manipulative socipaths. I’m saying that there are reasons why, as punkass put it above, a human would do something that is wrong and seriously fucked-up without being serious fucked-up her/himself — a reason that might be addressed and cured.

    Or, to sum: isn’t there, even if only sometimes, the possibility of redemption?

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