Gendered violence, will it ever end?

In this fifth edition in my series of articles of criminological concepts in a socialist context I am going to discuss gendered violence. The question in the title suggests two different contexts; will it ever end in society and will it ever end for the person on the receiving end of it. Because when you are in a violent relationship it can feel like it can only end one way, with death. And actually, even a survivor of gendered violence outside of the violent relationship can feel like it will never end, as every next relationship seems doomed to go the same way. And off course, also outside of the home gendered violence exist, even just being yourself as a trans or gay person can be enough to encounter violence on the street or in public spaces by complete strangers or the police.

‘It doesn’t have to be like this women and the struggle for socialism’ paperback from Leftbooks

What is gendered violence?

Gendered violence or gender-based violence is abuse that reproduces the dominant social order with regards to gender. In Western societies a binary form of gender is the norm in which 2 ‘natural’ sexes are fixed from birth and are physically identifiable. These are off course male and female with distinct behavioural and physical features like being quiet, caring and pretty for girls, and being strong, loud and independent for boys. Displaying these features for respective girls or boys is rewarded by society with acceptance as being female or male (Downes et. al., 2019a, p. 103). Social scientists West and Zimmerman (1987) argued that gender is something that is actively ‘done’ in every day life, rather than something that is fixed. This then begs the question does gender actually exist? But going back the the question, gendered violence is violence towards people that behave or dress outside of the norm of these two gender identities. Gender violence is disproportionately experienced by women and girls and is a key obstacle to global equality, development and peace (United Nations, 1993, 2017; Council of Europe, 2011). I would add to that people from the LGBT+ community and especially trans gender people. Feminists have argued that this violence is rooted in male entitlement, privilege and the assertion of male control and power over women and girls (Hanmer and Saunders, 1984; Kelly, 1988; Stark, 2007; Romito, 2008; Westmarland, 2015). This leads to the understanding that gendered violence is both the cause and consequence of gender inequality (Downes et al., 2019a, p. 104). However, class, race, disability, immigration status and sexuality also have influence on shaping these responses and experiences.

Domestic Abuse

Since the 1960’s and 70’s some forms of gendered violence have not been taken seriously by the state and police. Only after decades of protest and campaigning gendered violence has been recognised and now includes domestic abuse, rape, violence against family members, honour-based violence, forced marriage, female genital mutilation and violence in same-sex relationships. The term domestic abuse is now widely used instead of domestic violence to include coercive control, emotional, verbal and financial abuse. Coercive control is a way violent partners control their spouses and children by regulating and manipulating their every day lives. All these little control measures add up to a pattern of violence and abuse which on their own wouldn’t be regarded as abusive behaviour. It can include controlling when and what a person eats, drinks, watches on TV, wears, when and where to sleep, have sex, see their friends and family etc. Only in December 2015 this was recognised in law as a criminal offence. And still, the definition of what is abuse and violence changes. However, criminalisation of gendered violence is contested because it can improve access to justice for some, but can keep justice out of reach for others and create unintended consequences (Downes, et al., 2019a, p. 105-108).

The socialist context

So what would happen to these horrific crimes placed in a socialist context? I think it might take generations to collectively recover from centuries of patriarchy and off course these crimes would not disappear overnight. We would need to develop a programme of education and built collective kitchens, cleaning regimes and childcare facilities to relief women from the drudgery of housework and make bringing up children a community responsibility. We would need a collective recovery programme, and discuss the power inequalities, and try to find ways to prevent these behaviours to take hold in our communities. I think the whole make up of society would be reconsidered, as well as the role of the traditional family, and notions of traditional gender identities. In western societies the traditional family is already changing a lot, with single households increasing dramatically which to me indicates that the divisive character of the capitalist system has penetrated deep into our family lives. In a socialist society this would probably be reversed, with many people developing communal types of living, with a generational make-up, to support our elderly and children, as well as enriching our lives through the inclusive diversity characteristics of socialism.

So when you then as a society go through a revolution and establish a democratic worker’s state, in which each citizen has direct power to influence the way society is run, I believe that slowly, as it progresses, violence will be taken out of the equation purely because people will have real power to live their lives exactly the way they want to. Equality is the bedrock of socialism and as the drive to profit through exploitation is taken away, the way capitalism pitches people against each other, creating competition and individualism and uses division to maintain control, for a socialist society this would not exist. Inclusion, collectivism, equality and diversity are the key words on which society would be run. But to get there, we need a collective discussion on all the problems that exist today, and how we should best deal and recover from them, and most of all we need to work towards a socialist world.

References

Downes, J. (2019) ‘Contesting responses to gendered violence’, in Downes, J., Kent, G., Mooney, G., Nightingale, A. and Scott, D. (eds) Introduction to Criminology 2, Milton Keynes, The Open University, pp. 101–27.

Hanmer, J. and Saunders, S. (1984) Well-founded Fear: A Community Study of Violence to Women, London, Hutchinson.

Kelly, L. (1988) Surviving Sexual Violence, Cambridge, Policy Press.

Romito, P. (2008) A Deafening Silence: Hidden Violence Against Women and Children, Bristol, Policy Press.

Stark, E. (2007) Coercive Control: How Men Entrap Women in Personal Life, New York, Oxford University Press.

United Nations (1993) Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women, General Assembly, 20 December, A/RES/48/104.

West, C. and Zimmerman, D. H. (1987) ‘Doing gender’, Gender and Society, vol. 1, no. 2, pp. 125-51.

Westmarland, N. (2015) Violence Against Women: Criminological Perspectives on Men’s Violences, Abingdon, Routledge.

Victims and perpetrators

In order to escape accountability for his crimes, the perpetrator does everything in his power to promote forgetting. Secrecy and silence are the perpetrator’s first line of defence. If secrecy fails, the perpetrator attacks the credibility of his victim“.

Herman (1992*, p. 8)

These are the first lines of a chapter in my learning materials I was studying this morning. And they hit me like a brick. To me, this is so recognisable in my life. Most of my abusers, including my parents, have done exactly that, secrecy and silence and attacking my credibility.

In fact, since starting this blog I have received an angry email from my father blaming my personality disorder and accusing me of publicly slandering his good name and venting lies about them on social media. Then he went on to say I had to delete it and how and what I could say instead.

Since I was a child he has been telling me to shut up, be quiet and let others speak. I had a big mouth and was always exaggerating everything. He was always telling me how things should be done and what was best. And now, nothing has changed, he still thinks he knows best. Well, I am an adult now, and in my experience people learn by example. He might have told me many times over what was best, but he didn’t show me in his actions. His actions are that of a coward, hiding behind his infantile wife who bullies him and her children around. And even now, 40 years on he denies facts and tries to silence me.

I think it is absolutely crucial to let others know about the abuse, to talk about it and bring it out in the open. As long as it’s hidden, and nobody talks about it or knows who commit these crimes it will continue and perpetrators will know they are safe. By saying here, publicly, what happened and who did it I hope somehow I can find a way to stop history repeating itself, and it also is an opportunity to learn. I imply here, that I am not merely a victim, but also a potential perpetrator. Because the sad truth is, because this is my example I find myself in similar situations with my own children. I feel incredibly lucky to have a sense of self reflection, which allows me to change my behaviour. I have to work hard for it, because it doesn’t come natural to me to be a warm, loving mother. I have made mistakes, I have been unable to give my children the emotional safety and care they need many times, but I recognise it now and I can start to change it.

So perpetrators are often themselves victims too. Because of this it is often extra hard to admit, recognise and work on breaking the chain. But there are always opportunities both for the victim and the perpetrator to start recovery. There are lessons for both.

Breaking the chain

At the bottom of all of this is a deep lack of love. There is probably a long line of loveless parents before me, my parents, my grandparents and so on. If you are victim of domestic violence you learn you are not worth love, you are worthless. And because you don’t love yourself, you can’t be around people who show you love, and you can’t show it yourself. You will be on the roundabout of looking for confirmation of that self-loathing. And so the cycle continues into eternity. Except, you can do something to stop it. By owning up to it, to your own faults, by starting to recognise how you can’t be vulnerable to others, even your own children, you can try practise and face that deep fear. Be uncomfortable, feel anxious, be brave.

Surely that is less hard than see your children turn their backs on you, see your children suffer like you did, see them try and run away from it all, see them in unhealthy relationships, see them lose themselves in addiction and sometimes even kill themselves. I am determined to let the buck stop with me. Or at least as much as I can. Cause I know I have already passed on some of the bad stuff. But at least I don’t want to be a coward and stick my head in the sand pretending it isn’t there. It IS there. My own daughter is afraid of me, at least sometimes. But that is one moment too many. She shouldn’t feel afraid of me even one moment. I need to make her feel safe, I need to protect her. I need her to love herself. And that can only happen if I learn to love myself.

So, facing the facts is important, but also accepting that the way you experienced something might be different to somebody else’s. In my opinion a perpetrator is not allowed to devalue the experience of the victim, their feelings, nor their way of expressing those feelings about it. As a perpetrator you can only accept the facts and live with it, own up to it and do whatever is in your power to not repeat it. This is off course not even possible or feasible for a lot of people, because they simply lack the ability, deny it and continue their abusive behaviour. The consequence is this endless cycle of violence, passed on from generation to generation.

Reference

*Herman, J. (1992) Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence – from Domestic Abuse to Political Terror, New York, Basic Books.

Domestic Violence (Trigger Warning)

In my 46 years I have encountered and experienced a lot of domestic violence and sexual abuse. As a child by my parents and later by men, who often called themselves ‘friends’ or ‘boyfriends’ and later ‘partner’ and ‘husband’. I don’t want you to think as me as a victim, because I haven’t always turned the other cheek, I fought back, I tried to defend myself and my kids and I know I have hurt some people who never deserved it.

And, eventually I became myself a perpetrator. Yes, unfortunately I have hurt others, including my children. I have to own up to that, and I am ashamed and I have felt very guilty for a long time. But fortunately, I have looked and found help. In my case Social Services have really helped me, probably because I was so self aware, and willing to look critically at my own actions and in-actions. Also, I decided if there was anything I would do right in my parenting it was going to be protecting my kids.

My parents have always put their relationship with each other over us children, and have never stopped the abuse, called Social Services or the police. I have vowed to myself and my children that I will never do that. Their welfare comes before my own, although I am aware I need to look after myself first, before I can look after them properly. That sounds contradictory but really, it isn’t.

I’ll give you an example: a year ago I started to notice my mental health was really going down hill. I felt exhausted, depressed and I started to experience psychotic symptoms. I also had an excruciating pain in my neck, shoulders and lower back that didn’t go away. I was working 45 hours a week, I only saw my children 2 hours a day. My daughter was really suffering from anxiety and the school started to notice she was not feeling good and was afraid of me. I wasn’t coping.

So, I decided to stop working and look for help. When I got into a skills group at my local mental health team, I mentioned my daughter was suffering. They called Social Services. And now I am a year on and things are much, much better. I have changed medication, and gone through lots of support with Social Services, my daughter’s school, and really worked on my wellbeing and my relationship with my daughter. I adopted a greyhound and he literally got me fitter, I lost weight and my back is much better because I walk an hour a day with him. Plus our dog helps my daughter with her anxiety and gives her lots of cuddles and play, and me and her bond over him.

I still have a long way to go, but I am on my way. And that is all because I am willing to own up to my demons and bad deeds and invest in positive change. And it does involve admitting to my 10 year old I have behaved badly and treated her wrong. That is hard. But I am sure it is nothing compared to losing her altogether.

What I have struggled with the most though, is that I have got 2 cautions. One because I couldn’t deal with my alcoholic husband, an overactive thyroid, my mental health conditions and breastfeeding a 3-year old. And a 10-year old struggling with school. One day, my ex-husband was taunting me whilst drunk, I told him several times to stop and go for a walk but he kept harassing me verbally. I just snapped. He was holding our daughter, and I slapped him on the cheek, once. His head bumped my daughter’s head, she started crying and he just went mad. He put her down in the hallway in the buggy and kicked and beat me through the kitchen. He nearly strangled me. Eventually he pinned me to the floor and sat on top of me. He then let go and I walked straight to the phone and called the police. They came. And arrested me, because I was the one who started. He never faced any consequences whatsoever. And I was the one being taken, in front of my children, in handcuffs to the police station and held overnight. I didn’t dare to press charges against him, because I was really worried he’d make sure the children would be taken away from me and what else he’d do to me.

Then 2 years later, something happened again. This time my ex-husband had just been made homeless by me, because his drinking was so bad that Social Services basically said that if I didn’t safeguard my children from him, they’d be taken away from me. He was staying in a room a few streets down and his mother was visiting and staying with me over Christmas. I started telling her about how hard it was living with her son, drinking so much and really causing all sorts of mayhem. But she did not want to hear of it. She was defending him and basically I was the crazy one, being violent etc. I felt so so upset and angry. I felt so alone with it all. I felt I started to lose control over my emotions, so I put my shoes and coat on and wanted to leave the house to walk it off and calm down. I couldn’t speak, I was so on edge. But when I tried to step over the doorstep my mother-in-law grabbed me by my arm and tried to stop me from going. I think she thought I would go to her son and do something to him. But that touch by her was too much, I lost it and pushed her with both hands by the throat. She stumbled backward and fell over. I turned around and ran away.

That resulted in a second caution. But the effect it had on me was enormous. I felt so unsafe to be around people, even my own family. For the next few years I didn’t allow anyone to stay overnight in my house and I isolated myself. I felt I was a danger to others and I felt very guilty and angry at the same time. I felt nobody was acknowledging my side of the story, and the fact that I had no help or support from anyone.

It took me years to get over that. And to be honest, I am still very wary of others, I don’t trust anyone and I still isolate myself, because I feel unsafe. I feel I might attract the wrong people, and endanger them or myself and my children. I was very worried I might kill someone. And that feeling has always stayed with me, that if I get in the wrong situation with someone I might hurt that person, or I will get hurt. And if it happens again, I will go to prison and my children will go into care or live with my ex-husband.

And now, it is 7 years since the last incident and I feel a lot better. But what has remained is that fear of attracting the wrong person. I have been so afraid that I even tried accepting staying single and alone. I haven’t been in a serious relationship since, and I am trying to figure out how I could change the people I attract and who I am attracted to. But I have no idea.

I just hope by writing my blog, doing my art and study and my weekly therapy sessions to get to grip with this. I want to find a way, I want to be loved and love another. Cause there is no greater thing in life than experiencing love.

Mental Health

My mental health deteriorated rapidly as soon as I hit puberty. Looking back now I know the emotional neglect and witnessing constant physical abuse by my mother towards my sister has damaged me. In combination with taking up a parenting role for my mother as well as my sister even as a young child put enormous pressure on me I couldn’t deal with off course. My father was another source of incompetence. He told me and my sister 30 years on after he suddenly experienced really horrific nightmares that when my sister was a baby he tried to strangle her twice. He then advised my sister to go see a doctor in case she might have brain damage.

My reaction to this phone call was anger. He basically ‘forgot’ all about this for 30 years, suddenly started getting nightmares about it and remembered it. Then felt so guilty he didn’t know what to do with himself, told my mother who apparently also did not know. And then concluded he should tell us because we ‘had a right to know’. And then had the audacity to advise my sister to go see a doctor about it! Well, I think he just felt the need to offload his guilt on us, cause he couldn’t live with this guilt. I bet there was never a thought in his mind how this knowledge would impact us in any way and if it might possibly be more beneficial to us not to know. And also, if it might not be better to after 30 years finally step up as a father and protect us. No. He had to tell us.

You can imagine that the tiny slither of trust I had left in him was well and truly gone by then. Cause you might wonder where he was and what he did to prevent my mother from harming us when we were kids. Well, he was at work or playing tennis or volunteering for, I kid you not, a charity called Wereld Kinderen (Children of the World). Both my parents did development work in 3rd world countries and ran an adoption program. They were both heavily involved in this and went to India every year to pick up 10 kids to hand them over to their adoptive parents in the Netherlands.

Me and my sister age around 6 or 7 on our way to school

In the meantime they totally neglected and abused their own children. My father always sided with my mother. He never stood up for us, called the police, called children services or even just blamed my mother. And strangely enough none of my aunts or uncles, neighbours or school took action and saved us. I am convinced that if somebody had interfered we would be taken away from my parents and maybe the harm wouldn’t have been so great. So you can imagine my trust in people is minimal.

Recently I have cut off all contact with my parents after my sister told me my mother continuously verbally abuses her and my 12 year old niece. I decided I can’t have a relationship with them without betraying my sister and I want to take a stand in solidarity with her. Also, I want to build my relationship with her as for twenty years we lost contact. All the abuse has driven us apart and against each other because off course my parents called upon my loyalty towards them, and gave so many mixed messages.

I am going to leave it there for today, but tomorrow I will explain in more detail what EUPD and dysthymic disorder is, and what it means to me.

By Gif / Friday 16/10/2020