Republicans and the Battered Woman Syndrome
It has been a while since I have taught a class that deals, in part at least, with the victimization of women. For about 20 years I taught a course called “Women and Crime” and always devoted about one-third of the class to the topic of women as victims (rape, domestic violence, etc.). Considerable time was always spent on the subject of battered women. One of the key findings from the research in this area is that the victims all too often blame themselves for being victimized, especially by husbands and boyfriends. Children who are victims of parental violence do the same. They also make excuses or otherwise rationalize the behavior of their abusers. They often wonder (and friends and relatives do to) what they did wrong to bring this on.
Those who work with victims on a continuous basis have to work very hard to turn around this kind of thinking. Sometimes it doesn’t work very well and the victims often literally stay in the relationship “’til death do us part.”
I read with keen interest a letter written to Michael Moore. It was from a woman who works with victims of domestic violence. She applied some of the research findings about battered women to those who supported Kerry in the most recent election and to progressive thinkers in general. The response to the results of the election sound very familiar to those who work with victims. I am going to reproduce her letter here:
Watch Dan Rather apologize for not getting his facts straight, humiliated before the eyes of America, voluntarily undermining his credibility and career of over thirty years. Observe Donna Brazille squirm as she is ridiculed by Bay Buchanan, and pronounced irrelevant and nearly non-existent. Listen as Donna and Nancy Pelosi and Senator Charles Schumer take to the airwaves saying that they have to go back to the drawing board and learn from their mistakes and try to be better, more likable, more appealing, have a stronger message, speak to morality. Watch them awkwardly quote the bible, trying to speak the ‘new’ language of America. Surf the blogs, and read the comments of dismayed, discombobulated, confused individuals trying to figure out what they did wrong. Hear the cacophony of voices, crying out, "Why did they beat me?"
And then ask anyone who has ever worked in a domestic violence shelter if they have heard this before.
They will tell you: Every single day.
The answer is quite simple. They beat us because they are abusers. We can call it hate. We can call it fear. We can say it is unfair. But we are looped into the cycle of violence, and we need to start calling the dominating side what they are: abusive. And we need to recognize that we are the victims of verbal, mental, and even, in the case of Iraq, physical violence.
As victims we can't stop asking ourselves what we did wrong. We can't seem to grasp that they will keep hitting us and beating us as long as we keep sticking around and asking ourselves what we are doing to deserve the beating.
Listen to George Bush say that the will of God excuses his behavior. Listen, as he refuses to take responsibility, or express remorse, or even once, admit a mistake. Watch him strut, and tell us that he will only work with those who agree with him, and that each of us is only allowed one question (soon, it will be none at all; abusers hit hard when questioned; the press corps can tell you that). See him surround himself with only those who pledge oaths of allegiance. Hear him tell us that if we will only listen and do as he says and agree with his every utterance, all will go well for us (it won't; we will never be worthy).
And watch the Democratic Party leadership walk on eggshells, try to meet him, please him, wash the windows better, get out that spot, distance themselves from gays and civil rights. See the Democrats cry for the attention and affection and approval of the President and his followers. Watch us squirm. Watch us descend into a world of crazy-making, where logic does not work and the other side tells us we are nuts when we rely on facts. A world where, worst of all, we begin to believe we are crazy.
How to break free? Again, the answer is quite simple.
First, you must admit you are a victim. Then, you must declare the state of affairs unacceptable. Next, you must promise to protect yourself and everyone around you that is being victimized. You don't do this by responding to their demands, or becoming more like them, or engaging in logical conversation, or trying to persuade them that you are right. You also don't do this by going catatonic and resigned, by closing up your ears and eyes and covering your head and submitting to the blows, figuring its over faster and hurts less if you don't resist and fight back.
Instead, you walk away. You find other folks like yourself, 57 million of them, who are hurting, broken, and beating themselves up. You tell them what you've learned, and that you aren't going to take it anymore. You stand tall, with 57 million people at your side and behind you, and you look right into the eyes of the abuser and you tell him to go to hell. Then you walk out the door, taking the kids and gays and minorities with you, and you start a new life. The new life is hard. But it's better than the abuse.
We have a mandate to be as radical and liberal and steadfast as we need to be. The progressive beliefs and social justice we stand for, our core, must not be altered. We are 57 million strong. We are building from the bottom up. We are meeting, on the net, in church basements, at work, in small groups, and right now, we are crying, because we are trying to break free and we don't know how.
Any battered woman in America, any oppressed person around the globe who has defied her oppressor will tell you this: There is nothing wrong with you. You are in good company. You are safe. You are not alone. You are strong. You must change only one thing: Stop responding to the abuser.
Don't let him dictate the terms or frame the debate (he'll win, not because he's right, but because force works). Sure, we can build a better grassroots campaign, cultivate and raise up better leaders, reform the election system to make it fail-proof, stick to our message, learn from the strategy of the other side. But we absolutely must dispense with the notion that we are weak, godless, cowardly, disorganized, crazy, too liberal, naive, amoral, "loose,” irrelevant, outmoded, stupid and soon to be extinct. We have the mandate of the world to back us, and the legacy of oppressed people throughout history.
Even if you do everything right, they'll hit you anyway. Look at the poor souls who voted for this nonsense. They are working for six dollars an hour if they are working at all, their children are dying overseas and suffering from lack of health care and a depleted environment and a shoddy education.
And they don't even know they are being hit.
In addition to the 57 million mentioned above, there are an estimated three million children who are abused every day (and these are just the reported cases), with about 1,200 confirmed deaths. Several million women are raped and only about one in ten bothers to report it because they will get blamed and further victimized by the criminal justice system. A woman is a victim of domestic violence about every 20 seconds or so each day. Most of these go unreported. Millions of children go to bed hungry in the richest country in the world and about 20% live in poverty (more if you happen to be black or Latino). A black child born today has about a one-third chance of ending up in prison someday, mostly because a war on drugs was declared on them. Almost 1,300 of our soldiers have been sent to their death in a country that does not want us, while more than ten thousand have been seriously wounded and an estimated 100,000 Iraqis have died (including innocent children).
Meanwhile, numerous tax cuts have helped the rich get richer so that about 1% of the population has almost half of all the wealth and virtually every state in the country is experiencing a fiscal crisis like never before, and the response is to cut vital social services, including help for the aforementioned victims. There’s plenty of money for “homeland security” though and billions for new prisons – in order to contain the victims of these policies who are conveniently defined as “criminals” for engaging in what amounts to “free market capitalism” as they sell drugs to those that demand them in order to earn something more than minimum wage. They are doing this partly because multi-national corporations are finding it more profitable to ship jobs overseas.
Michael Moore is often ridiculed by those on the right (and even some on the left), which is another way we allow ourselves to be victimized – the old “divide and rule” may apply here. Moore had this to say after reprinting that woman’s comments:
How true. And that is our challenge over the next couple of years; to hold out our hand to those being hit the hardest and help them leave behind a party that only seeks to keep beating them, their children, and the kid next door who’s on his way to Iraq.
Thanks Michael for posting that letter. And thanks to Mel Giles, the woman who wrote the letter.
This letter and Moore’s comments can be found at the following link: