Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Thinking About Violence Against Women and Men

It is time for an edutainment type quiz. I’m going to show you a 41 second clip from a movie called The Public Enemy. In this scene, James Cagney and Mae Clarke are at the breakfast table.  It starts with a question.


Here are your questions:

  • Who did you focus on, the man or the woman?
  • Who did you identify with, the man or the woman?
  • Was this an act of violence or of restraint by the man?
  • Did you connect with the woman and her concerns?
  • Did you think it was funny or did you have a pang of recognition?

You might have to watch the video again to catch everything that happened at that breakfast table. Violence is hard to write about. If you have experienced it or witnessed it is even more difficult. It is ok if you don’t want to read any further.

Violence is the use of physical force to injure somebody or damage something. Violence does not have to be physical; you can verbally or emotionally damage a person. You can kill a person’s spirit by word or deed. It is about power and control. It has always been about power and control.

I have got stacks of paper on the mind numbing ways women are assaulted, children are sexually abused and yes, men are victims of domestic and community supported violence. Sadly, women are not exempt from displaying violent behavior. Men can be emotionally, financially and physically assaulted by women as well.

I do believe that women are the overwhelming recipients of violent actions. However it would be dishonest not to acknowledge that there are a percentage of women who are abusers to both men and women. It is the behaviors, embedded permissions and beliefs that need to be recognized and understood before any change can take place.

You see, when a woman who wants an education get hydrochloric acid thrown in her face by a man and that action is supported by a culture, religion or governmental laws there is a deeply ingrained permission to control and assault another human being, if that person is considered human being.

Understanding that violence is the use of force to injure somebody or damage something is important. A segment of the world’s population of women are considered things or property. In other countries many women do not have the right of self-determination and autonomy. There are men in villages, tribes and communities that do not have that equal rights as well.

Before The Wheel – Violence As A Survival Tool

Dr. Gerda Lerner is a historian. She was one of the first people to begin the documentation of the history of women. Dr. Lerner is the author of The Creation of Patriarchy. Learner does point out that there were communities that did have cooperative non-violence existence. However if there was a hungry alpha male in the neighborhood there was probably trouble. Some of my understandings of her findings are:

  • Rape was used to build or destroy communities. Men and women initially were cooperative with each other. Women knew how to find food, shelter and could reproduce. If you were a man that did not have a woman or access to one your survival was in question. What to do? Take a woman, rape her and force her dependency on you for survival.
  • Women as property or vessels of commerce. Love had nothing to do with it.  It was a mater of supply, demand and allocation of resources. If you had too many mouths to feed, unproductive members (children) along with limited resources it might be decided that there would be an exchange with other groups to rid yourself of surplus women and children for goods and services. Or you might just get rid of the excess by killing them.
  • Pre-religious codification of quality. As time moved forward and the concept of ownership was developed there had to be a way to control who had access to the woman and the children she could birth. Long before organized religion the control over which man could impregnate a woman first was an issue that had to be resolved. For some communities there were ceremonies that permitted the men in the village to sexually dominate over a group of women. Later it evolves in to the concept of property and slavery.

Property can be abused and destroyed. If women, children and men are thought as property then yes, they are prone to be violated. The question is why did this happen to women? This is an extract from a conversation at with Jeffrey Mishlove, Ph.D:

MISHLOVE: And certainly there are many groups of people who have been oppressed throughout human history, but the fundamental division of the human race between men and women, and the oppression, the neglect of women that occurs across all cultures and all levels of society, is very, very deep, and in your work you point out that it goes to the very earliest beginnings of history itself.

LERNER: Well, you see, I asked myself the question, which I think most women ask themselves sometimes in their lives, "How come that we did not even know that we were subordinated for such a long time?" Other groups that were subordinated in history -- peasants, slaves, colonials, any kind of group, ethnic minorities -- all of those groups knew very quickly that they were subordinated, and they developed theories about their liberation, about their rights as human beings, about what kind of struggle to conduct in order to emancipate themselves. But women did not, and so that was the question that I really wanted to explore. And in order to understand it I had to understand really whether patriarchy was, as most of us have been taught, a natural, almost God-given condition, or whether it was a human invention coming out of a specific historic period. Well, in Creation of Patriarchy I think I show that it was indeed a human invention; it was created by human beings, it was created by men and women, at a certain given point in the historical development of the human race. It was probably appropriate as a solution for the problems of that time, which was the Bronze Age, but it's no longer appropriate, all right? And the reason we find it so hard, and we have found it so hard, to understand it and to combat it, is that it was institutionalized before Western civilization really, as we know it, was, so to speak, invented, and the process of creating patriarchy was really well completed by the time that the idea systems of Western civilization were formed.

I wanted to share Dr. Lerner’s research with you because so much energy is spent talking about acts of violence and not enough understanding the roots of violence. This ancient programming is not the only reason for human violence; there maybe a biological factor. There may be genetic reasons for some forms of human violence.

Once you know that violence we now see embedded as laws, rights and passages of faith was actually a survival mechanism that we have brought forward, the more we can begin to release the old ways and truly establish 21st century level human rights.

More Academic Thinking About Violence

Lilith Feminist History Journal (Australia) has an paper by Angela Woollacott that continues the discussion about the relationship between violence, war and domestic violence used as a tool of control.

Psychoanalyst Eric Fromm’s The Nature of Violence in 1969 asked some tough questions such as is violence inherent in human nature?  He has a passage that talks about if “leaders” make a man believe there is a threat then could that be as real as an actual threat? Could it be that some men are threatened by a woman who dares to question them?

If you want to go even deeper download Philip L. Walkers 30 page report on A Bioarcheological Perspective on the History of Violence. He attempt to refine the definition of violence, it is depended on what a particular culture believes it to be, and what is consistent with violence in the past and the present time.

Bloggers and Others Asking Questions About Violence

Hanna at Emotional Abuse and Faith is asking questions about the connection between faith and the lack of willingness to deal abuse issues. She has posted a powerful video by a woman who tried to seek help and was told to sweep it under the rug.

Hanna’s blog led me to Scott at iChalice who posted a sermon he recently delivered about domestic violence.

We are not immune. I have had people, when I talk about this sermon, react with surprise that there are women in our congregations who need this message. I have had people tell me that we should focus on how we can support groups and shelters for women without acknowledging the very real fact that before we can give money to the local group we must give our ears and hearts to the local parishioner. We must give ears to the stories that are so often unspoken.

Maria at write about her own experiences but also of the larger world where violence is condoned or efforts to deal with it are underfunded or ignored. LY Marlow at Color Me Butterfly also has words about the desire to hush but also speaks about male victims of domestic violence as well.

Speaking of male victims of domestic violence, there is a page on that has articles and resources for male domestic violence victims. I have some concerns about some of the articles and essays posted but there may be information that could be helpful to an undeserved population. 

The answers to the questions on the pop quiz? There is no right or wrong answer. These are questions of awareness.  I welcome your answers in the comments.

This post originally appeared on BlogHer where I am a Contributing Editor.

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