Women Talking by Miriam Toews
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
What a beautifully and simply written book. Simply written but with complex moments, thoughts and ideals that one stops to contemplate. If one does not understand patriarchy or the systemic oppression of women, then this is a book to read. Through the words of these women talking Toews outlines for us how patriarchy works and how women grapple with their own patriarchal socialisation as against their own self-worth and their experiences of oppression.
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Women Talking by Miriam Toews
Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
An enchanting and interesting book. The author draws interesting and likeable characters whose paths I was drawn into and eager to follow. Her story is set in two eras – 18th century and today – of two people living in the same house. There are useful parallels in this scenario with our 18th century story depicting the negative reactions to Darwin’s theory of evolution and the influence of right wing dogma and capitalist thinking – paralleling this with the 21st century USA entering the racism and misogyny of the Trump era and the same religious dogma refusing to accept climate change and the disaster of growth capitalism. Despite this I found it a gentle and thoughtful read.
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The Break by Katherena Vermette
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
A powerful, realistic, tough and heartbreaking novel. It is about powerful women and broken women. It is about Indigenous people devastated by the invaders of their land and their culture. It is about male violence and the connections, bonds and empathy between women that is their only hope for survival. A book that will remain with me for a long time.
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The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
“Silence becomes a woman…” Pat Barker writes a powerful novel. She depicts, sometimes graphically, the horrors of war, the wrongs, abuses and death inflicted on men, by other men, all in the name of the powerful, the rich – those who benefit from patriarchal violence and control. And she describes with empathy how raising boys to become heroes by inflicting harm, by committing atrocities to others, damages irretrievably their humanity. The voice of women is central to this novel – how women are mere chattels to be won and lost in battles, how rape and violence is inflicted on them without heed to their humanity – they are mere objects to be fought over – symbols of victory and easily discarded. This particular war is Troy and reminds us that throughout history women have been the silent victims of war – from Troy through to our present day wars – the world wars, Vietnam, Yugoslavia – it goes on – and such atrocities against women as a result of patriarchal violence is rarely acknowledged or remembered. Women are the forgotten, silent victims.
“What will they make of us, the people of those unimaginably distant times? One thing I do know: they won’t want the brutal reality of conquest and slavery. They won’t want to be told about the massacre of men and boys, the enslavement of women and girls. They won’t want to know we were living in a rape camp. No they’ll go for something softer. A love story, perhaps? I just hope they manage to work out who the lovers were.”
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Rape is about male ownership of women, their bodies and their sexuality. To quote a 60’s women’s liberation slogan:
“Rape is about power, not sex”.
All sexual relationships between males and females take place in the context of patriarchy.
Rape is about male entitlement, whether it be stranger rape or a husband insisting on his rights to sex in any manner and at any time in relationships with his wife. Within the patriarchal construct male power is omnipresent.
Germaine Greer’s book ‘On Rape’ (Little Books on Big Ideas) has created much controversy and I would like to discuss in the context of patriarchy and its oppression of women.
Germaine restricts her discussion to rape as penetration of a woman’s vagina by the penis. And she questions why does the penis hold such power, and why the vagina is viewed as sacred. Greer briefly describes the historical roots of the meaning of rape – that of “…the stealing of a woman from a man or men who owned her” and that women were considered the possession of winners of war. A core issue is male control and ownership of women. Female adultery is a crime in The Ten Commandments in the Christian bible, but not rape. Rape of women in war has been and continues to be legitimate behaviour where women are perceived as goods owned by men and therefore rape is perceived both as a weapon and as a way of claiming the goods of men. Women are denied agency and seen as the spoils of victory.
The rape that hits the news headlines is the stranger, brutal physically violent rape. Greer rightly points out that many rapes do not include such violence.
“Non-consensual sex is banal and deeply ordinary but that is not to say that it is not an evil, with damaging consequences for both parties.” (p.7)
This makes us question how as a society we are to respond to rape. Greer rightly highlights that the criminal justice system poorly serves women victims of rape.
Prosecuted rape…” …represent a tiny proportion of the non-consensual sex that actually occurs, almost none of which is ever reported; most of what is reported doesn’t result in prosecution, and most of the prosecution doesn’t result in convictions” (p.9)
Greer points out how women have agitated and worked hard to highlight the inadequacies of our legal responses to rape and have succeeded in reform such as:
- Proof of resistance not being required
- Previous sexual history cannot be produced in evidence, and
- Rape in marriage being recognised.
However, this has not increased the rate of convictions which continue to be rare and maximum sentences are rarely imposed. (p.12).
There is also an exploration of the issue of consent. The lack of women’s consent is the core element in rape prosecutions. Greer rightly argues that this makes conviction very difficult.
“When the law insists that while there is the smallest possibility that the perpetrator genuinely believed that his victim consented to her humiliation, he must be cleared of all charges, assailants will be reassured that they are practically certain to get away with rape” (p. 24-25)
Here we can see how complex the issue of consent is – particularly in the legal arena.
Of course, the impact of reporting, the investigation and prosecuting can also have devastating and traumatic effects on victims of rape. As Greer points out the victim becomes evidence in court proceedings. Evidence of injuries and resistance are documented and women experience a complete loss of privacy which is in contrast to the offender who has the right to remain silent throughout.
Perhaps the most controversial aspect of Germaine Greer’s perspective is her questioning of the traumatic effects of rape. She argues that research and literature on post-traumatic stress for rape victims does not take into account the influence of the reporting and prosecution process. She queries the view that women are “irrevocably damaged in soul and body”. And wonders if they are allowed to get over it.
Carolyn Worth who is the manager of South Eastern Centre Against Sexual Assault in Melbourne tends to agree with Greer:
“Explanation and promotion of the fact that rape can cause great psychological distress to some people is valuable and needed. But, as Greer points out, when this communication slides into “everyone is irreparably damaged by rape”, it is not helpful because it is not true.”
This is in contrast to Lucia Osborne-Crowley, a journalist and writer, who in the same article takes umbrage with Greer’s whole thesis:
“As a survivor of sexual assault who has been irrevocably damaged by the experience, it seems I would fall into the category of victims of whom Greer disapproves. I didn’t simply “get over it”. The disastrous physical and psychological effects of trauma when it is held in the body – untreated and unrecognised for many years – can become, as they have for me, an undesirable controlling narrative. Even if one tries, as Greer seems to suggest, to get over it, the body keeps the score.”
However, in my reading of Greer, she does not discount that rape can be traumatising and devastating for the victim. What she is querying is whether, in our attempts to raise awareness of the seriousness of rape, we have given a life sentence of trauma to all victims of rape.
This leads us on to what I believe are important issues that Greer raises in this discussion.
The violent, stranger rape is the one that is usually uppermost in the community’s mind when rape is raised. Greer rightly points out that the true extent of non-consensual sex – between partners, friends, acquaintances – “remains unimaginable”; and therefore, the impact of these rapes on women is difficult to determine.
Consider the women who are in long-term marital relationships where non-consensual sex is relentless, long term scenario – if we explore this in the context of research on domestic violence, we begin to understand how such ‘banal’ rape can be humiliating, demeaning and degrading and can have long term consequences for women. The question then becomes how do we address and redress this in our legal and social systems.
Perhaps the concept that I find most difficult to come to terms with is Greer’s challenging the view of the power of the penis. It is here that critics of her essay argue that her approach is one of victim blaming.
“…she shames the victims who allow themselves to be deeply affected by rape and who live with its lasting effects. On this point, she makes comments like, “Why are women afraid of rape?,” describes women’s fear of men’s genitalia as “irrational” and notes that most rape is “not something that anyone but the participants can prevent”. Lucia Osborne-Crowley.
Greer cites Patricia D Rezee who states that an intense fear of rape develops in women from early childhood, where we are warned of the dangers of stranger-rape. Greer also critiques Susan Brownmiller’s description of the penis as a powerful weapon.
“To buy into such a notion is to share one of the male delusions about the penis, that it is an awesome, powerful thing.” And “For Brownmiller to present the penis as capable of turning itself into a weapon is to present an irrational fear as a reasonable response to a present danger.” (p.53)
The problem for me with Greer’s perspective on this is her focus on the penis as being the powerful weapon. I would argue that given the patriarchal society in which we live, where male power is all-pervading and universal, it seems not unreasonable that women are well aware of male power and its capabilities to oppress and abuse women.
It is worth while here to look at the work of Liz Kelly. In her book Surviving Sexual Violence she conceptualises
“…forms of violence as a continuum of violence against women. She explores the connections, for example, between sexual violence and domestic violence, asking questions about the categories we use; who decides what is abusive; what counts as abuse and the connections between them.”
Kelly also talks of women’s reluctance to name unwanted sex as rape, but that such experiences do leave women feeling fearful.
“Liz Kelly describes this as a form of terror, in which the intention is to intimidate, to make women feel afraid, telling women that they “don’t have the same right to be in this space.”
Whilst as children we are taught to be wary of men, as women we are very aware of the reality of this strong message that men are to be feared. I would argue that this is a patriarchal strategy to maintain our oppression.
What Liz highlights is that many women’s experiences of violence are ‘everyday’, are perceived by society as ‘mundane encounters’ and yet they are the “fabric of women’s everyday lives”.
Liz Kelly clearly highlights that male violence against women erodes women’s agency and fundamental freedoms – it constrains every woman’s agency.
Unlike Lucia Osborne-Crowley I do not believe that Greer is suggesting that we put rape in the “too hard basket”. Rather she is highlighting the failures to adequately deal with the issue of rape – that our legal system, with all its varied responses to rape allegations, fails hopelessly, and in fact often causes further trauma and abuse. In addition, Greer shows how the stranger rape situations are only the tip of the iceberg to what women experience in their sexual relationships with men.
One cannot expect that such a small book would adequately address all of the issues but what Greer does do is provide a provocative discussion which can only lead to further analysis and exploration. This makes this an important and worthwhile book.
“One lesson we can learn from the return of witch-hunting is that this form of persecution is no longer bound to a specific historic time. It has taken on a life of its own, so the same mechanism can now be applied to different societies, wherever there are people in them that have to be ostracized and dehumanised. Witchcraft accusations, in fact, are the ultimate mechanism of alienation and estrangement, as they turn the accused – still primarily women – into monstrous beings dedicated to the destruction of their communities, thereby making them undeserving of any compassion and solidarity.” (p.82)
Part Two is a sombre read. Federici documents the current resurgence of witch-hunting in Africa. No longer can we see it as a historic period at the time of the development of modern capitalism in 16th and 17th centuries but a phenomenon which is occurring, not only in Africa but in many countries in South America as well as India.
Federici acknowledges that male violence against women has been historically taking place for centuries as a reflection of patriarchy. Violence, at the least, legitimized by the State, if not actively encouraged.
As she has argued in Part One, Federici’s thesis is that such violence was bolstered by the persecution of women as witches. It led to:
• “confinement of women in Europe to unpaid domestic labor”
• “legitimated subordination to man in and beyond the family”
• “state control over reproductive capacity” (p.47)
Violence against women has escalated in recent times. Federici cites evidence of an increase in the number of women murdered, resulting in the new term ‘femicide’. Violence against women has become normalized. This has been particularly true for countries rich in natural resources and where the anti-colonial struggle has been strongest.
For example, in Mexico hundreds of women have disappeared and in Latin America, the kidnappings and murders of women occur on a daily basis.
She argues that this is a result of new forms of capitalist accumulation involving:
• Land dispossession
• Destruction of communitarian relationships, and
• Intensification in the exploitation of women’s bodies and labor.
“In other words, new violence against women is rooted in structural trends that are constitutive of capitalist development and state power…” (p.47)
The increase in violence against women is also a response to the activism of the 1960’s and 1970’s where struggles against colonialism and racism, and the resurgence of the women’s liberation movement were apparent. Capitalist patriarchy needed to consolidate their power against such struggles.
Make no mistake, Federici takes very specific aim at ‘Big Business’ and perceives the increase in violence against women as an ‘institutional attack’ by the World Bank, United Nations, the International Monetary fund, governments and mining and petroleum companies. These are the masterminds of economic and social policies that are aimed at controlling women through the use of violence.
She cites examples of where they have been responsible for economic policies which have destroyed local economies, creating debit crises and economic recovery models which have resulted in brutal austerity regimes and stripped governments of decision-making power. (p. 61)
“Women’s integration in the global economy is violent” (p.54)
“My thesis, in other words, is that we are witnessing an escalation of violence against women, especially Afro-descendant and Native American women, because ‘globalization’ is a process of political recolonization intended to give capital uncontested control over the world’s natural wealth, and human labor and this cannot be achieved without attacking women, who are directly responsible for the reproduction of their communities.” ( p. 50).
The question is then why the attack on women. One major reason is that women is their capacity to keep their communities together, their responsibility for the reproduction of their communities and their defence of non-commercial concepts of security and wealth.
For example, attacks have been levelled at trading women, female village traders who return the money they earn to the local economy, whereas male business men more interested in the export/import trade, and “…who look at the world market as their economic horizon.” p.76
“…the battle is being waged on women’s bodies, because women are seen as the main agents of resistance to the expansion of the cash economy, and, as such, as useless individuals, selfishly monopolizing resources that the youth could use.” (p.75)
Both in India and Africa, women have traditionally had access to communal lands and subsistence farming. This adds nothing to capital accumulation. Capitalists perceive land as a “dead asset” unless it is “legally registered and used as collateral to obtain bank loans.” (p. 52.)
Thus women lose the ability to do subsistence farming and are coerced into dependence on their husbands working in commodity production thus devaluing women.
“By witch-hunting I refer to the recurrence of punitive expeditions by young, male vigilantes or self-appointed witch finds often leading to the murder of the accused ad the confiscation of their property.” (p.60)
Federici goes on to cite figures:
• 3,000 women in Ghana have been exiled to ‘witch camps’
• Between 1991-2001, 23,000 ‘witches’ have been killed in Africa.
These witch hunts operate with little or no consequences. They are likely to arise where there is conflict over land, where there are economic competitiveness and to justify the enclosures of communal lands. (p.61).
“But the attack on women comes above all from capital’s need to destroy what it cannot control and degrade what it most needs for its reproduction” (p.88)
Influences which have led to the return of witch-hunting have included the “disintegration of communal solidarity, due to decades of impoverishment, and the ravages of AIDS and other diseases…” (p.52)
Federici describes the increase in witch-hunting as being more likely to occur in areas where commercial projects are being planned, or land is being privatized.
Sex trafficking is also on the increase, as a result of unemployment, precarious work and the collapse of the family wage.
“More convincing is the view that these witch hunts are not a legacy of the past but are a response to the social crisis that the neo-liberal restructuring of Africa’s political economies have produced.” (p.65)
Federici argues that feminists globally must raise awareness of modern- day witch-hunting and the increased violence against women in these countries where globalisation and the accumulation of capital is aimed. However, she urges that feminists need to investigate this phenomenon in the context of the social conditions that create witch-hunts.
“The forces that are instigating the African witch hunts are powerful and will not easily be defeated. Indeed violence against women will end only with the construction of a different world where people’s lives are not ‘eaten up’ for the sake of accumulation of wealth.” (p.80)
- • “confinement of women in Europe to unpaid domestic labor”
This book is a collection of essays written by Silvia Federici in relation to her on-going studies of witches, witch-hunting and its relationship to the development of capitalism. The book is in two parts. The first section, which I will talk about here, summarizes and builds on her work in Caliban and the Witch in which she explores the European witch-hunts of the 16th and 17th centuries.
Federici stresses the importance of situating these witch-hunts in their social, political and economic context. In particular this was a time when the enclosures of the Commons were taking place in Britain. The Commons land were traditionally available to landless peasants , enabling them to make use of the land for subsistence farming. In the 16th and 17th centuries these common lands became enclosed – by wealthy landowners and the middle class, thus depriving poorer peasants the use of such land. Land became privatised and became an economic asset for profit, rather than as a source of nurturance for the whole community. This led to an increase in poverty and social unrest amongst the community. This had a significant impact on the peasant women in particular. It often meant a stripping of their means of livelihood and the possibility of economic independence.
Federici describes the social unrest that was occurring at the time. One can imagine the anger, bitterness and distress that women were experiencing as a result of being left destitute. Her analysis describes how those in power were able to turn such social unrest to demonise those opposing the changes, effectively allowing them to increase their power and control over the communities.
She likens the demonization of women as witches to the McCarthy era of the 1950’s in the USA and the current ‘War on Terror’.
“The exaggeration of ‘crimes’ to mythical proportions so as to justify horrendous punishments is an effective means to terrorize a whole society, isolate the victims, discourage resistance, and make masses of people afraid to engage in practices that until then were considered normal.” (p.33)
“The witch was the communist and terrorist of her time” (p.33)
But it was not only about dealing with social unrest. It was about power and control and capital accumulation. Where previously in villages and communities there was a system of sharing resources, such as the Commons, where women used and shared their knowledge and experiences of caring and healing, midwifery and reproduction. The state needed to take control of this knowledge and these skills.
“…the witch-hunts served to deprive women of their medical practices, forced them to submit to the patriarchal control of the nuclear family, and destroyed a holistic concept of nature that until the Renaissance set limits on the exploitation of the female body.” (p. 11)
The state needed to disempower women of their knowledge in order to take control. In particular the state needed to take control of women’s reproductive capacity and knowledge. As capitalism was taking hold, children were seen as products for labor exploitation – economic property which the capitalist state need to control. Thus women’s sexual behaviour and procreation needed to come under the control of the state.
“We must think of an enclosure of knowledge, of our bodies, and of our relationship to other people and nature.” (p.21)
Federici concludes Part One of the book with a chapter ‘On the Meaning of ‘gossip’.
“Tracing the history of the words frequently used to define and degrade women is a necessary step if we are to understand how gender oppression functions and reproduces itself.” (p.35)
I have long been interested in the concept of female solidarity, friendships and collectivity. The fact that throughout history women’s knowledge, their experiences – women’s history has not been recorded or seen as of value.
In this last chapter of Part One, Federici describes important information about the origin of the term ‘gossip’. In early modern England it was a term used for ‘companions of childbirth, not limited to midwives’. “It became a term for women friends.” (p. 35). Federici describes how gossip became a word of degradation and ridicule, thus effectively the silencing of women. This is a subject that I would like to analyse in more depth in a future blog post.
To conclude, in Federici’s words:
“As I wrote in Caliban and the Witch, the witch hunt instituted a regime of terror on all women, from which emerged a new model of femininity to which women had to conform to be socially accepted in the developing capitalist society: sexless, obedient, submissive, resigned to subordination to the male world, accepting as natural the confinement to a sphere of activities that in capitalism has been completely devalued.” (p. 32).
Part Two of this immensely important work, Federici explores modern day witch hunts detailing how this is on the increase. I will be writing about this in my next blog.
Lisa Dando recently wrote in the Guardian about the closure of counselling services with histories of abuse, poverty and addiction.
“We supported women with complex needs. What will they do now?”
Sat 12 May 2018 18.57 AEST Last modified on Mon 14 May 2018 20.55 AEST
“One woman told me: “It was great to be in a safe environment and able to say things I wouldn’t normally feel able to voice, and to be heard in a completely non-judgmental way.’’ Another said it “helped to see that I wasn’t the problem. To recognise who I was and who I am. To break free and not be broken. To value myself in my future.””
This reminded me of an article I co-authored in 2011, which was published in Domestic Violence Clearinghouse, Australia.
It seems that women’s services continue to be under threat, and not only in Australia. Sadly this article is as relevant in 2018 as it was in 2011.
Women’s Services in the Twenty-First Century: Where are We Heading?
by Marie Hume, Elspeth Mcinnes, Kathryn Rendell and Betty Green
Women Everywhere Advocating Violence Elimination (WEAVE)
The political beginnings of women’s services
Services responding to violence against women in the home owe their development to feminist analyses, which recognised the prevalence of gender-related abuse in families. In the 1970s, second-wave feminists raised awareness of male violence against women in its many forms: rape, child sexual abuse and domestic violence. Women’s refuges were established, along with specific women-only services such as women’s health centres and rape crisis services (McGregor & Hopkins 1991). Most services were established without government funding.
One of the aims of the early women’s services was to bring together women so they could share their experiences of male violence. What they learnt was that male violence was not just an individual experience but reflected broader social issues embedded in patriarchy. This experiential knowledge informed advocacy for much needed reforms and lobbying for funds and resources to provide such services (Dowse 1988). The push for services was, therefore, accompanied by political activism by feminists for legislative change in rape laws, other criminal laws and protective injunctions, as well as campaigns and awareness-raising.
Drawing on our collective experience of working with victims of domestic violence and conducting advocacy, we argue in this article that women’s services are currently at risk of being de-politicised. While some services continue to lobby for legislative and policy changes, such activism tends to be compartmentalised, focusing on single, specific issues or events and not always on broad systemic change in the area of male violence.
Moreover, the focus in the provision of services for women has shifted from the structural to the individual. Rather than sites of political activism, based on the sharing of common experiences and self-help, women’s services have become sites of professionalised therapeutic intervention. Women are increasingly being treated as victims in need of professional help – and even seen by some services as the source of ‘the problem’ of violence against women.
Causes of de-politicisation
The causes of these changes to women’s services are diverse but are broadly linked to policy and funding decisions of governments over time, as well as the backlash against women which has become evident in public debate. Here we focus on five key factors.
Changes in the political landscape
In Australia, during twelve years of neo-conservative government from 1996 to 2007, government funding was directed away from many progressive women’s organisations and towards men’s rights groups and conservative organisations.
Funding agreements with recipient organisations prohibited funded agencies from challenging government policy and practices. Many women services were defunded during this period or threatened with de-funding in order to silence any voices of dissent (Hamilton & Maddison 2007). Funding pressures came from both state and federal governments. Competitive tendering has also limited the capacity of services to work together on political action. Services for women are forced to compete against each other for funding, rather than working collaboratively and cooperatively to address broader social issues.
Professionalisation of women’s services
As services drew increasingly on a professionalised workforce, the ability and will of these services to undertake political activism to challenge male violence within our society has diminished. Professionalisation has developed the recognised skills and remuneration of women’s services workers, but has at the same time drawn on practice paradigms that have not been grounded in feminist theory and practice. The coherence of values developed from a focus on women’s experiences of patriarchy has fragmented across profession-based models of human services provision.
The separation and categorisation of different forms of assaults on women have led to the creation of different types of services, each dealing with their ‘patch’ of violence victimisation. There are unique programs and services responding variously to domestic violence, sexual assault, sexual harassment, sexual trafficking and child sexual abuse. Service silos mean that organisations are working in isolation from each other. They are less likely to work together and seek policy changes to address the broader issues of male violence against women.
Absorption by large charities
Increasingly, services for women are being outsourced to generic, and often faith-based, organisations. These organisations operate from a managerial focus on key performance indicators, inputs and output targets. The result of such outsourcing is that women-only services are becoming less available. For example, some women’s shelters have morphed into ‘homelessness services’ accepting both men and women as ‘clients’ and also employing both men and women as ‘service providers’. Reduced access to women-only services has a number of consequences. Women seeking shelter from men’s violence feel less safe in generic homelessness services environments. The focus of the ‘service provision’ moves away from addressing the causes of homelessness, such as domestic violence or women’s economic disadvantage, to solely providing shelter and referrals to other services.
The opportunity for women to share with each other their experiences of male violence is lost. In turn, women’s ability to address social justice issues of male violence and to take collective action is severely diminished.
The medicalisation of male violence against women
The way of responding to an issue has a major influence on how it is defined. (Kelly & Radford 1998, p.60)
The medicalisation of women’s issues has taken place alongside the decline in political activism.
Medical/ therapeutic models of service delivery have become increasingly apparent in the women’s sector, with an emphasis on women’s pathology, individual therapeutic responses and personal healing. Individual counselling has come to be seen as the solution for women to ‘cope better’ with their experiences of abuse.
Yet, counselling responses
‘leave the deeper social causes of violence in families and against women unexamined’ (Pence & Taylor 2003, p. 19).
This approach is in stark contrast to the political advocacy for social justice and collective action that characterised feminist women’s services, which developed in the 1970s and 1980s.
A growing resistance and backlash to the naming of male violence against women has also become apparent in recent decades. There are increasing calls for violence to be seen as a non-gendered issue. Challenges to well-established statistics on the extent of male violence against women have arisen (Flood 2004), such as the recent pro-men’s One in Three campaign. Men’s rights groups have been active in making claims that women are as violent as men and that men are also victims of domestic violence (Mulroney & Chan 2005). In this environment, perpetrators are also able to claim ’victim’ status and activism for perpetrators ‘rights’ (often conflated with ‘fathers’ rights’) has gained a footing.
In turn, de-gendering has diminished the capacity of policy makers and service delivery agents to effectively challenge the social and historical causes of male violence. Policy documents increasingly use gender neutral language such as ‘family violence’ rather than ‘male violence’.
De-gendering is also apparent in the laws that frame our responses to violence. There has also been an increase in the examination of different types of violence. Classification systems and typologies have been used in such a way that violence is seen as a mutual, de-gendered form of ‘conflict’ between a couple rather than an issue of male power and control (Johnston 2006). In some service sectors, the concept of ‘conflict’ is used where there is domestic violence, which limits understanding and undermines responses to what, in earlier days, was recognised as the abuse of women by men.
The rise of post-separation family services
Since the enactment of the Family Law Amendment (Shared Parental Responsibility) Act 2006, there has been a dramatic increase in funding to services to assist separated parents to make arrangements for the care of their children. Over time, these services have begun to provide ‘therapeutic’ services to parents and children. Many women experiencing domestic violence now find themselves being offered counselling by family services, to help them sustain a ‘better relationship’ with the perpetrator. Individual interventions may include ‘communication’ skills, conflict management skills and post-separation parenting advice regarding the need to not be ‘negative’ about their abuser and to facilitate the ongoing relationship between father and child. Thus, any opportunity for women to understand their experience of violence as part of a much broader social/political issue is lost and women may even be judged negatively as being ‘oppositional’ or obstructive.
A political understanding is fundamental to action to reduce or eliminate violence against women. In this article, we have argued that politicised social understandings of men’s violence against women have been significantly reduced due to a combination of factors, primarily:
- the defunding of progressive women’s services;
- the growing divisions between different types of services;
- and the sharp shift in the provision and focus of services, away from a social recognition of men’s violence against women and towards an individual pathology of women’s poor choices and victimisation.
If a collective feminist consciousness of men’s violence against women is to be regenerated, politicians, policymakers, human services professionals and managers need to once again listen to women’s voices. Women’s experiential knowledge of male violence must inform collective action that commands government attention in demanding social change.
“The move towards generic, mixed-gender services has grave consequences for women and their families. Services that don’t acknowledge or recognise women’s specific experiences of trauma leave them struggling to find support that really understands them and enables them to build the future they deserve.” Lisa Dando
Dowse S 1988, ‘The women’s movement’s fandango with the state: the movement’s role in public policy since 1972’ in CV Baldock & B Cass (eds), Women, social welfare and the state, Allen & Unwin, Sydney
Flood M 2004, ‘Backlash: angry men’s movements’ in EE Rossi (ed.), The battle and backlash rage on: why feminism cannot be obsolete, Xlibris Corporation, New York
Hamilton C & Maddison S (eds) 2007, Silencing dissent: how the Australian government is controlling public opinion and stifling debate, Allen & Unwin, Sydney
Johnston J 2006, ‘A child-centered approach to high-conflict and domestic-violence families: differential assessment and interventions’, Journal of Family Studies, vol. 12, no. 1, pp. 15-35
Kelly L & Radford J 1998, ‘Sexual violence against women and girls: an approach to an international overview’ in RE Dobash & RP Dobash (eds), Rethinking violence against women, Thousand Oaks, California & Sage Publications, London
McGregor H & Hopkins A 1991, Working for change: the movement against domestic violence, Allen & Unwin, Sydney
Mulroney J & Chan C 2005, Men as victims of domestic violence, Topic Paper 15, Australian Domestic and Family Violence, Sydney
Pence E & Taylor T 2003, Building safety for battered women and their children into the child protection system. A summary of three consultations, Praxis International. Viewed 10 August 2011, <http://www.thegreenbook.info/documents/ buildingsafety.pdf>
“What I hope for is a world filled with richness, texture, depth and meaning. I want diversity with all its surprises and variety. I want an epistemological multiversity which values the context and real-life experiences of people. I want a world in which relationship is important, and reciprocity is central to social interaction. I want a world which can survive sustainably for at least 40,000 years. I want a wild politics”.
So Susan Hawthorne concludes her excellent book in which she critically examines the impact of globalisation, capitalism and patriarchy. She highlights how globalisation is a distinct outgrowth of western capitalist and patriarchal system. Her focus is on how feminism, ecology and the insights of indigenous people are challenging globalisation and its oppression on women, people, and the land, and its resultant disconnection and dispossession between people and their land. Full of useful and important information I highly recommend this book.
“The whole strategy is based on a patriarchal, sexist, racist ideology of women which defines women basically as housewives and sex objects.”
Maria Mies: Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale Women in the International Division of Labour
I have written previously about Maria Mies’ thesis on how the success of the accumulation of capitalism has been dependent on patriarchy and the oppression and exploitation of women.
In Chapter 3 (‘Colonization and Housewifization’) she outlined how wealth and growth in Western countries was based on exploitation of the colonies, where countries, dominated by colonial powers became the producers of consumer goods for rich countries. Rather than meeting their own needs, production in developing countries was promoted to meet the demands of markets in developed countries.
“Production and consumption are now divided by the world market to an unprecedented degree”. (p.114)
In Chapter Four, ‘Housewifization International: Women and the New International Division of Labour’ Mies examines how this process has continued in the post-colonial era.
One would have hoped that overthrowing colonialism and gaining independence would have changed this paradigm for developing countries. Unfortunately not. Global capitalism took over from the colonial history. The world continued to be divided between producers in the developing countries providing goods for the consumption of the West.
In the post-colonial era, international companies have rapidly moved their production of goods to make use of the cheaper, easier to manipulate labour of developing countries, thus lowering production costs.
This resulted in cheaper goods being sold to the West, increasing consumption, thus mobilising greater consumerism of the West.
Mies argues convincingly that this accumulation of capital has been, and continues to be dependent on the exploitation of women. As in colonial times this exploitation is based on the positioning of women within the social structure.
‘Third world’ women, like their counterparts in developed countries, became part of ‘housewifization’ process.
“In Europe the results of the witch hunts and what is described by Mies as the “housewifization” of women was in the process of becoming entrenched within western capitalism. Women had been separated from the public sphere; their work deemed unproductive and of no value to the production system. Women had become dis-empowered and subjugated into the privacy of the home. By the 19th century we have the “ideal woman” depicted as the weak Victorian woman with no power or autonomy.” http://mairivoice.femininebyte.org/?p=683
Defining women as housewives and not workers obscures the work of women. Their work is defined as income-generating and supplementary to labour done by males. This rationalises payment of lower wages and is important for the mobilisation of capital.
Thus women’s work becomes part of “informal, non-organised, non-protected production relations”. They are forced to do part time, contract, homeworking, and unpaid neighbourhood work.
Often working in isolation, this prevents women from organising. In their isolation their ability to take collective action is diminished.
From the point of view of capitalism, women are the ideal labour force. Mies cites figures that show that two-thirds of all labour in world is done by women. In S.E.Asia, Africa and Latin America, 70% of the labour force is female.
Mies gives detailed examples of how the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) has very specific strategies in propagating and universalising this model of the “classical capitalist couple”. Development programmes enhance inequality between women and men.
In the agricultural industry in India, ‘income generating’ projects were promoted to increase the production of milk. Milk cooperatives were developed in regional areas; farmers were provided with bank loans for the purchase of high-breed buffalo. The milk produced was sold to the dairy cooperative society with all the milk being delivered to the city. Half of cost of all milk delivered was taken as repayment of the loan.
Mies explores how this has provided little benefit to women, whilst increasing their work load.
A study by Manosha Mitra (p.131) in India shows how the introduction of dairying among landless and poor peasants has increased women’s workload. But they do not benefit from this extra work. In many cases they are unable to participate in dairy cooperatives – this is reserved for men. Whilst women do the work, which is considered supplementary work, it is men who control the income from dairying.
The products that women work for previously would go to the community. Now these products are destined for international markets.
“Moreover women from landless and poor peasant families producing milk hardly consumed any milk themselves. The little milk these women kept for their families was consumed by the men or male children, girl children got hardly any.”p.131
Indian cities do get more milk but at prices that the poor cannot afford. Surplus milk is converted into luxury surplus – ice cream, sweets or baby food. It is therefore middle class housewives who benefit
“The integration of poor and landless peasant women into the OF (Operation Flood) has created an objective link between the poor women as producers who cannot afford to consume milk, and middle-class housewives in the Indian cities and in Europe who are supposed to buy ever more and more sophisticated milk products. Unrecognised between two sets of women are the big multinational food and cattle feed concerns, the governments, and a whole host of firms which profit from this arrangement.”p.133
The irony of this is that such projects are promoted as being a positive move for poor women in developing countries.
Examples are also given of sugar cane cooperatives in Venezuela. Men could only become members of cooperatives if they had a family thus ensuring their ability to substitute their labour with that of wives and children.
Women could not become members in their own right.
“A woman, therefore, had to be ready and able to do all the work her husband had to do, but without his rights and even without any right to monetary income.” 9p133
Another example of the exploitation of women is through the tourist industry. Mies describes governments promoting the idea of female prostitution as an attractive tourist option for Western men.
Tourism has been promoted to a major industry in developing countries.
“Particularly the Thai and Philippino governments are offering their women as part of the tourism package.” P.138
Women’s work in tourist and sex industries in Asia and Africa, involves the servicing of European, American and Japanese men.
“One gets the impression that the governments, like pimps, offer their young women to foreign capital. As a matter of fact, prostitution is not only part of the tourist industry, but also of the planning of business enterprises in third world countries.” (p.117)
Asian countries have also become a marriage market. Mies describes private companies as openly advertising “submissive, non-emancipated, docile Asian women.” 139
There is evidence that women brought to western countries for marriage purposes are often forced into prostitution.
Inevitably in the context of patriarchal capitalism, most of the profits from international sex tourism does not remain in ‘third world’ countries but is controlled by international corporations.
Once again Mies shows how the treatment of women in developed and developing countries is linked; how the housewifization ideology sets up women in developing countries to provide cheap labour for the production of consumer goods for housewifized women in the West. The ideal of Westernised women is one who focuses her work and energy on family, is encouraged to have children, buy more goods and commodities for their families, children and households, and for themselves as sex objects.
“To mobilize women to fulfil their duty as consumers has become one of the main strategies of capital in the industrialised countries.” (p.125)
Conversely women in the ‘third world’, as producers of goods, are discouraged from reproduction; producing children is promulgated as one of the great threats to capitalist accumulation. Therefore family planning is promoted widely in developing countries with women being particularly targeted.
Mies however provides a warning for women in developed countries. The process of international capital focusing their production in the developing countries has increased unemployment in industrialized countries and it is women who are most at risk. Already we see that more women in developed countries are being forced into part-time, contract, home-based labour under the label of ‘flexibilization of labour’.
“The future has already begun for many women in USA and Europe who are ‘integrated into development’ in the same manner and by the same methods which were applied to their Third World sisters, namely, to work ‘invisibly’ in the new formal sector, and to prostitute themselves in a variety of ways in order to make a living.” p.143
“if we look at the new international division of labour from the point of view of women, of women’s liberation, we can now say that it is always necessary to look at both sides of the coin, to understand how women at both ends of the globe are divided and factually linked to each other by the world market, and by international and national capital.” p.142