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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The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker
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>
When The Handmaid’s Tale first became available on SBS On Demand, I binged-watched it. I am now watching it on live TV, an episode a week and taking notes with the idea of writing a series of blogs, identifying the underlying themes that occur throughout the series.
I have recently seen Episode 8, “The Jezebels” and it is about a brothel.
This is no dystopian scene. This happens here and now, in every part of the globe, where women’s bodies are bought and sold – for men’s use and abuse – through pornography and prostitution. I felt compelled to write about this episode in particular because it is so relevant and current –it is what is happening in our world, today.
This episode is where Commander Waterford takes June (Offred) to a brothel. He first prepares her. He shaves her legs – he with the razor sharp weapon, in control; she the hapless recipient unsure of what is to come. He dresses her, preparing her like a doll – to be presented, objectified, to meet his standards of the sex object to his liking, to meet his needs.
Throughout the scene, where he watches her put on the (illegal) make up he has supplied, June’s face shows fear, uncertainty, powerlessness. For him the process is erotic; of his making; in his control. And the subterfuge, the fear and excitement of doing the illicit, add further to his pleasure.
It is the epitome of the ‘70’s feminist slogan
“Rape is about power, not sex”.
As they travel in the car, at Checkpoint 1 June becomes Mrs Whitford – only wives are allowed to travel past this point. At Checkpoint 2 she becomes invisible – needs to be hidden – for no women are legitimately allowed into this area. They enter the back way into the brothel.
The contrast between the brothel and world June has just come from is vast. The world she has come from is ‘moral; asexual’; women are covered up, silent, confined to their strict roles of wife, biological producers of children, servants and the Aunties, the guardians of women’s morality and roles.
Brothels are of course illegal. When June makes this point to the Commander, his response is ‘Officially but we turn a blind eye. We are human after all.” Well, apparently the men are!
She asks who they are, and he describes the men – leaders of the community; international visitors being entertained.
She replies: “I meant the women”.
The women are those who could not be assimilated and he describes lawyers, sociology lecturers – the more educated women not conducive to being trained to be handmaidens or servants. But they too have lost their identity. They have become sex objects – to be used and abused physically and sexually by men.
At one stage June walks alone down the luxurious hall of the hotel. She is assailed by the sounds of violence and abuse coming from the rooms. She catches a glimpse of a group of men anally raping women. She witnesses a man fetishing over a woman’s arm stump.
These scenes are evidence not of choices freely made by women to sell their bodies. These women – all women – are not seen as human. There is no humanity in a woman’s body being sexually objectified where her personhood is made irrelevant, destroyed. She is just a body – a body that can be used, misused, abuse for male pleasure. And what kind of pleasure is this that finds excitement and satisfaction in violence and abuse of another human being. This is what happens in today’s prostitution industry, in our towns and our cities across the globe. The dehumanisation and humiliation of women.
June finds her best friend Moira working there. She had been caught while trying to escape from the Handmaid’s enclave. She is unable to return because she is seen as a “corrupting influence”. Her choices are the colonies or Jezebel. Such are the choices that women have today – no choice. She has lost hope of escape.
“It’s not so bad here”. “Forget about escaping. This is Gilead. No one gets out.”
This takes me back to a previous episode where June’s companion Handmaid warns her not to cause trouble, to ruin this for her. Before Gilead was prostitution on the street for her – violence, abuse, poverty, homelessness. This is a better world for her – food, shelter, and a level of safety. This is not about real choice – it is choice in forms of victimisation.
In the final scene of the episode, Mrs. Waterford gifts June with a music box with a ballet dancer. Alone June comments
“A girl trapped in a box. She only dances when someone opens the box, when someone winds her up.”
Prostitution is not legitimate work. It is degrading, it is humiliating, it is abusive and dangerous. It is not about choice – there is no such thing as real choice when there are only limited options. This episode of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ depicts the here and now of the prostitution industry in our world. The decriminalisation of prostitution only legitimises the degradation and exploitation of women, the sexual objectification and oppression of all women at the power of men.
For more information about prostitution and the Nordic model visit my blog post
Maria Mies Patriarchy and the Accumulation on a World Scale
This book provides a most important analysis of the relationship between patriarchy and capitalism. Maria Mies’ thesis is that patriarchy is at the core of capitalism, and in fact, capitalism would not have had its success in its accumulation of capital without patriarchal ideals and practices.
She builds on Federici’s analysis of the witch hunts, which were instrumental in the early developments of capitalism and argues, convincingly and in-depth, that the exploitation and oppression of women allowed for its successful domination of the world.
“The witch hunt which raged through Europe from the twelfth to the seventeenth century was one of the mechanisms to control and subordinate women, the peasant and the artisan, women who in their economic and sexual independence constituted a threat for the emerging bourgeois world order.” (p.81)
I would like to focus here on the third chapter of her book, ‘Colonization and Housewifization’. Here we see how patriarchal capitalism’s power and domination flourished by colonialism. Capitalism’s mantra is continuous profit and expansion which is essential in the ongoing accumulation of capital. But this also requires new areas to exploit – thus the expansion into other countries – and the colonization of other lands, resources and people.
According to Wikipedia:
“Colonization is a process by which a central system of power dominates the surrounding land and its components.”
Thus western capitalism became a world imperial power, colonizing what we now call “third world countries”.
“One could say that the first phase of the Primitive Accumulation was that of merchant and commercial capital ruthlessly plundering and exploiting the colonies’ human and natural wealth.” (p.89)
The success of this domination was to dehumanize the people of these colonized nations – to paint them as the “other” – as savages, uncivilized and lesser beings – to justify their oppression. ‘Black’ people were deemed inferior, wild and in need to be controlled and therefore open to exploitation.
The colonies were: “…lying outside ‘civilized society’” (p.75).
Mies also described how the colonization process was gendered – and based on patriarchal ideals.
What is central to Mies’ thesis are the connections between the patriarchal capitalist exploitations of nature, of land and property, of women and of those deemed to be “foreigners” or “heathens”.
Mies makes connections between issues which have previously been seen as separate entities –
“…I shall rather trace the ‘underground connections by which nature was exploited and put under man’s domination to the processes by which women in Europe were subordinated, and examine the processes by which these two were linked to the conquest and colonization of other lands and people.” (p. 77)
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.
In the colonies it was necessary for capitalists to create a sexual division of labour, both as a means to control reproduction and thus labour and also to position women in the non-labour sphere and thus develop a class of cheap labour. Where there was evidence of any form of equality between the sexes or women’s independence and autonomy, this was held to be primitive and backward by the colonizers. Thus a sexual division of labour was actively instituted.
There were good economic reasons for this ideology and practice to be embodied in the colonization process. Mies cites Annie Stoler’s work which tells us that in the plantations in Sumatra:
“At different economic and political junctures in plantation history, the planters contend that (1) permanent female workers were too costly to maintain because of time they took off for child-birth and menstruation, (2) women should and could not do ‘hard’ labour, and (3) women were better suited to casual work.” Stoler 1982. (p.96).
Mies argues that:
“…the introduction of the ‘weak woman’ was a clear ideological move which served the economic purpose of lowering women’s wages and creating a casual female labour force…” (p.96)
Like the European witch-hunts, women’s reproductive capacity was controlled under colonial power. In the Caribbean, slave women were not allowed to marry nor have children as it was cheaper to import slaves from Africa than pay for the reproduction of slave labour. However, once this source of slave labour was depleted, slave women were encouraged to reproduce.
In Burma, for example, as in Europe during the development of capitalism, local home industries, usually run by women, were destroyed by the importing of commodities. Thus reducing the capacity for women to have economic independence.
Mies also explores the impact of German colonialism in Africa. Because it was German white males who were the colonizers, sexual relations between these men and African women were encouraged and condoned. However, it soon became apparent that this may in fact raise the status of African women allowing them to become German citizens if they were to marry and have mixed-race children. This was obviously a problem under a racist regime. In 1905, inter-racial marriages became legally prohibited. However, as Mies points out, this did not preclude inter-racial sexual relations and men were encouraged to use African women as concubines or prostitutes.
“Here the double-standard is very clear: marriage and family were goods to be protected for the whites, the ‘Master Men’ (Dominant Men). African families could be disrupted, men and women could be forced into labour gangs, women could be made prostitutes.” (p.98)
This was also true for the British colonizers. Racism rears its ugly head when…
“…the African woman is degraded and made a prostitute for the English colonizers, then the theories of racial superiority of the white male and the beastliness of the African woman are propagated” (p.95).
It is important to remember that this racism and misogyny was not just based on immoral ideology, but had a sound economic base. In order for European capitalist growth there was a need for the resources, land and labour power of colonial nations. As Mies points out:
“Wealth for some, means poverty for others.”
Mies talks of the dual processes in the perception of European women and “other women” – the civilized and domesticated as opposed to the savage and uncivilized colonial black woman. But she argues this served a purpose for the accumulation of capital.
The exploitation of resources and labour in the colonies meant that luxury goods became more available to the bourgeois classes in Europe. Part of that process meant that capitalists needed to create the demand for such goods and the role of the housewife as consumer was essential to this process.
And so, Mies explores the development of the nuclear family in late 18th and 19th century – the social and sexual division of labour, and the establishment of private (family) and public (economic and political activity) spheres – and the creation of housework and the housewife as an “agent of consumption” (p.106)
Thus colonialism and imperialism has created an international and sexual division of labour, whereby land and resources are pillaged for the profit of western capitalism; where labour is created by slavery and exploitation based on a sexual division of labour which leaves women dependent and vulnerable to further oppression; and the oppressed position of women in Western countries as housewives and consumers.
Mies ends her chapter on Colonization and Housewifization with this:
“It is my thesis that these two processes of colonization and housewifization are closely and causally interlinked. Without the ongoing exploitation of external colonies – formerly as direct colonies, today within the new international division of labour – the establishment of the ‘internal colony’, that is, a nuclear family and a woman maintained by a male ‘breadwinner’, would not have been possible.” (p.110).
Mies makes very clear the convergence of these two structures of domination – patriarchy and capitalism and is central to seeing patriarchy as systemic and structural. As Federici summarizes in her Foreword these connections have been truly verified:
“(there is)… a direct causal connection between the global extension of capitalist relations and the escalation of violence against women, as the punishment against their resistance to the appropriation of their bodies and their labour.” (xi)
There is not much in the way of quality programmes on TV, so it was with some delight that I looked forward to last weekend when three of my favourite programmes – Broadchurch, Call the Midwife and Vera were going to be on ABC TV in Australia.
And each of them dealt with male violence against women.
In Broadchurch, Trish, played by Julie Hesmondhalgh is a victim of sexual assault. She portrays the trauma of rape very realistically and sympathetically, forgetting her name and many of the details of her experience.
We see the detail of the forensic investigation, such an intrusion in itself. The detectives, Ellie Miller played by Olivia Colman and Alec Hardy played by David Tennant, respond to Trish with compassion and sensitivity. The whole ambiance of these scenes acknowledges the trauma and pain of sexual assault.
“The considerable effort they have put into portraying the trauma of sexual assault sensitively and accurately is hugely welcome. Broadchurch, along with the likes of the BBC’s Apple Tree Yard, is helping to make significant strides in dispelling the myths and stereotypes around sexual violence.” Rowan Miller
And when another young detective raises the possibility of the allegation being false, Ellie Miller deals her a severe verbal blow:
“When you’ve finished your sexual offences training Kate you’ll understand we start from a position of believing the victim…”
Certainly a welcoming approach by this television police force, but how realistic is it? How often are women met with disbelief and ridicule when approaching the police in regard to sexual assault? How seriously are their allegations taken? And are they treated with such sensitivity and understanding? And well we know how difficult it is for the justice system to adequately address male violence against women with an abominable low percentage of rape convictions.
In Call the Midwife, we see violence against women enacted in the prostitution industry. We meet a young woman who has left the industry and is now married and delivers a baby during the programme. But due to her past – having been abandoned, raised in an orphanage and been in the prostitution industry, she feels inadequate and unworthy of a ‘normal’ life.
“I ain’t fit to raise that child” are her words.
She leaves her home and returns to a friend who continues to be involved in prostitution. Her friend tells us what it is really like to be trapped in prostitution:
“I do what I do to feed my kids. Do you think I would do this if I had a choice?”
“I’d die before she goes on those streets. I take those men, those filthy sods and I save every shilling because my girl’s gonna have a better life”.
A realistic picture of the degradation and humiliation of having men buy women’s bodies for sex and confirms those who would argue that prostitution should not be decriminalized.
Vera (played by Brenda Blethyn) one of my all-time favourite shows investigates the murder of a woman – strangled and left on the moors. We eventually learn that the murderer is her son-in-law and the woman was helping her daughter escape her abusive husband, to a refuge. When Vera learns of the history of his violence to his wife and approaches the wife, she sensitively talks to her:
“It’s normal to feel ashamed, to feel it’s all your fault”.
Again an understanding of the shame and humiliation of victims of male violence.
And when she is able to finally confront the abuser, she angrily challenges him:
“You just have to know where she is, what she’s doing because you’re a controlling nut job who beats his wife.”
Now there are a number of ways one can respond to these programmes. We can be pleased that the issue of male violence against women is getting such publicity. We can be gratified that such sensitivity is being shown to the women who are victimised – that they are being believed, and treated with respect and compassion.
But we also need to ask the question – isn’t this what should be the norm? And we ask that question because we know it is not.
For at least 50 years, women having been raising their concerns about male violence against women- about sexual assault, rape, domestic violence and violence inherent in the prostitution industry. And still our justice systems’ responses are at the least inadequate, at the worst, compound and further traumatise women seeking help.
I want to go off here on what might seem like a side-track. On March 8th at 3.20pm child care workers in Australia are going on strike. So it is only for a few hours at the most. They are going on strike because of the deplorable wages that they receive.
The United Voice union says some are being paid as little as $20 an hour, half the average national average.
In January of this year the Australian FEDERAL Senator David Leyonhjelm summarised the role of childcare workers as merely “wiping noses and stopping the kids from killing each other”.
He made these comments in arguing that increased funding for child care workers was not necessary, and neither was there a need for their qualifications.
I raise this issue in the context of the discussion about male violence against women because they are intrinsically linked.
And of course they are linked because it is about patriarchal capitalism.
Maria Mies makes a very good thesis in Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale.
In this excellent book she argues that patriarchy is at the very core of capitalism. That capitalism would not have been able to progress and “accumulate capital” if it were not for the exploitation and oppression of women.
She follows on from Silvia Federici’s work – Caliban and the Witch
“It is generally agreed that the witch hunt aimed at destroying the control that women had exercised over their reproductive function and served to pave the way for the development of a more oppressive patriarchal regime. It is also argued that the witch hunt was rooted in the social transformations that accompanied the rise of capitalism.”
Mies describes how the dividing if the economy into visible and non-visible sectors are the main structural characteristic of capitalist accumulation. That women’s unpaid work in ‘private’ sphere is essential for capitalist accumulation. Thus patriarchal capitalism benefits from creating the sexual division of labour and also the control of women’s reproduction.
“The nuclear family, organised and protected by the state, is the social factory where the commodity ‘labour power’ is produced. Hence the housewife and her labour are not outside the process of surplus value production, but constitute the very foundation upon which this process can get started. The housewife and her labour are, in other words, the basis of the process of capital accumulation.” (p.31).
Capitalism created the ideology and practice– what Mies labels as ‘housewifisation’ -where women’s roles are restricted to that of housewives and mothers – and sometimes as a supplementary income stream in unqualified, low paid and insecure jobs. Hence our current politicians minimizing women’s child care work and the continued lower wages for women.
Thus the positioning of women as outside the capital means of production has allowed for the accumulation of capital and thus success in this accumulation.
Mies extends this thesis to other forms of invisible/non-waged work – slavery, colonialism, subsistence peasants, marginalised people. So that not only is there a sexual division of labour but also an international division of labour.
“The subordination and exploitation of women, nature and colonies are the pre-condition for the continuation of this model.”
When we examine the current levels of male violence against women, it is important to remember the witch hunts and acknowledge that today’s male violence is part of an historical continuum of violence against women.
“Witch hunting was also instrumental to construction of the new patriarchal order where women’s bodies, their labor, their sexual and reproductive powers were placed under the control of the state and transformed into economic resources.” (p.170) Federici
Our attempts to raise awareness, to educate, to advocate for changes to all of our systems’ responses to male violence against women are important. It is a vital survival mechanism. We have some successes.
But like Mies I doubt that these strategies will eliminate male violence against women and children. The idea that social role stereotyping and socialisation are at the core of women’s oppression fails to identify the “structural roots” of the problem.
It is vital that the women’s liberation movement develops a “historical sense of our common past.”(Federici); that we develop a radical, robust theoretical feminist analysis in order to challenge patriarchal capitalism and create a sustainable alternative.
“What is needed is a new historical and theoretical analysis of the interrelation between women’s exploitation and oppression, and that of other categories of people and of nature.” (Mies p.13).
The Guardian recently published leaked documents of hundreds of pages of abuse and sexual assault of women and children on Nauru’s off-shore refugee detention centre. Much of this abuse appears to have been at the hands of the Wilson’s security guards at the facility.
There have been articles since condemning the Australian government’s treatment of asylum seekers and its blatant disregard of these abuses, such as that written by Jennifer Wilson.
The Immigration Minister, Mr. Peter Dutton’s response to the publication of the leaked files was:
“some people do have a motivation to make a false complaint”…”I have been made aware of some incidents that have reported false allegations of sexual assault,”
Whilst our focus must be on stopping our government for perpetuating such abuse on women and children, women and children who are fleeing from horrific wars and violence in their own countries, it is also important to put this in the context of the patriarchal world that we live in.
It is all based on patriarchal ideology, where white men with power see the rest of the world as the ‘other’, as less than human and therefore unworthy of our concern. As Denise Thompson writes:
It is about male domination.
And women and children are always the victims of the oppression of male domination: sexual abuse, violence…and if you are not of the white man’s race then you are doubly open to white male domination and abuse. Women and children refugees are especially vulnerable to exploitation and abuse – and it is happening all over the world.
Of course Peter Dutton would rely on the persistent mantra that allegations of sexual assault are false, because patriarchy has created the fictitious doctrine that women lie about sexual assault. They come up with many reasons why women make up false allegations. In this instance, their motivation apparently is to seek refuge in Australia.
Basically when you live in patriarchy as a woman then you are a liar, a manipulator, a vindictive woman. Your motivations are always suspect.
It’s not the first time the Liberal National government has used this line when allegations of horrendous abuse on the off-shore detention centres have come to light.
In a previous blog I wrote of the horrific conditions where refugees are being detained in off-shore facilities and the abuse that was being brought to light. In that particular instance the motivation was politically motivated and designed to discredit the off-shore processing policy.
“Every aspect of the detention of these people has been designed to humiliate and demean.
So it is no surprise that in such an environment those in charge will abuse their power and sexually abuse women and children.
And Scott Morrison, on behalf of the Australian government has responded in a typically patriarchal pattern.
“The public don’t want to be played for mugs with allegations being used as some sort of political tactic in all of this.”
“However, we note that the allegations by Senator Hanson-Young have been made publicly and in the context of broader political statements to discredit the government’s involvement in offshore processing.””
“Dutton well knows that the government’s own Moss review confirmed the reports of physical and sexual abuse that were uncovered in 2014. That review also exonerated the Save The Children staff who were the authors of many of the reports.” Refugee Action group
It is a common occurrence in our legal system as well – to label women as liars.
Rape is the “most under-reported of serious offences” for that very reason.
And yet the reality is – rape is common:
“One in three women will be sexually assaulted at some time in their lives” (Fergusson & Mullen, 1999).
And yet they are not believed.
“Police statistics reveal that ‘false’ reporting of sexual assault is minimal, representing 2% to 7% of all reported assaults. These statistics also include statements withdrawn by victim/survivors due to fear of revenge and the impact of the legal system.”
“1 in 6 reports to Police of rape and less than 1 in 7 reports of incest or sexual penetration of a child result in prosecution (Victorian Law Reform Commission, Sexual Offences: Final Report, 2004)”
Women’s experiences of the court system often as traumatic as their rape when they are accused of making vindictive allegations; of ‘asking for it’.
As Caitlin Roper has written:
“My friend sat in court day after day, forced to recount, in excruciating detail, her experience of being groomed, manipulated, and eventually sexually assaulted by a predator 30 years her senior, over a period of 18 months. She then endured a vicious cross examination as her wealthy boss’s QC top lawyer tried to tear her apart and assassinate her character for more than two full days. She teased and seduced him, he argued. She made it all up. They had a consensual sexual relationship. She was obsessed with him — her balding boss, old enough to be her father — despite having a boyfriend (now her husband). John’s lawyer even argued her claims were financially motivated and said she was punishing the accused for refusing to buy her an extravagant apartment.”
And it happens in the family law system too. Parental alienation syndrome is premised on the same ideology that women lie about rape and sexual abuse.
PAS is grounded in misogynistic views and reflects a mother-blaming ideology. This ideology persists within the family law system, enabling men to continue to abuse women and children at will, with no protection from the legal system.
However when it suits their needs, men will make their own allegations of abuse and violence and nothing says it more clearly than the child sexual abuse reported to be occurring in Northern Territory aboriginal communities. When it suits their political ends, they can demonise and punish a vulnerable, marginalised population and make vicious claims of ‘dysfunction’ within that community.
Dutton says these current allegations of sexual assault in off-shore detention are not based on fact and yet when let’s compare the response that led to NT intervention, as I have written in a previous blog
“In 2007, the federal government staged a massive intervention in the Northern Territory on the basis of the report, “Little Children are Sacred” as a result of a government inquiry into child sexual abuse in the Northern Territory.
“The fall-out was a full-scale, (including army), intervention which resulted in the reinforcement of the unwavering, systemic stealing of children from their arms, to who knows where? The Department of Childrens Services have lost the files on some 8,000 children who are thus just “disappeared”.”
The intervention in fact has done little to address child sexual abuse or violence against women.
It is horrendous that our white male politicians use (abuse) the concept of protection women and children from violence and abuse for their own ends – mining of traditional lands is a suspect in this – whilst they go about destroying lives and communities.”
So men can rape at will – at the personal level, in our own homes, in our neighbourhoods – and at the State level where they lock up innocent women and children seeking refuge from violence in their own countries and knowingly expose them to violence and sexual assault.
There is no recourse for women – patriarchal law does not protect them; does not prosecute abusers; does not believe women.
Yes Peter Dutton must go.
His behaviour and attitude is callous, cruel, racist and misogynistic.
But he is not the only one. Both major parties in Australia are responsible for the on-going mistreatment and cruelty towards vulnerable women and children refugees.
We must hold them to account.
This is unacceptable.
There are a number of organisations which are challenging the Government’s refugee policies.
I urge every Australian to take action and stop this horrendous victimisation of innocent women and children.
Happy International Women’s Day!
A little late, I know. I meant to write an International Women’s Day post – but you know – life gets in the way sometimes.
I love International Women’s Day. I love that we celebrate women. I love that women everywhere write and post about women’s activism, feminism, women’s history and women’s achievements.
And I think it also takes me back to 1975 – International Women’s Year. I was a young woman then – knew very little about women’s liberation and what oppression of women meant. But I remember being awed and excited about future possibilities and what it might mean to have a year for women.
So I have celebrated International Women’s Day every year.
Back in 1975 we were in the era of what is now known as the second wave of feminism. Back then we called it women’s liberation.
But according to Eva Cox: Feminism has failed and needs a radical rethink.
She’s right when she says that second wave feminists were pushing for radical change:
“We understood that real gender equity would require radical changes to macho cultural power structures. So we planned and discussed the ways we could revalue what matters and eliminate gender-biased, macho-designed cultural dominance.”
And she is also right that women, in Simone de Beauvoir’s words, are still the ‘other’.
Women are still being killed by male violence; women are still impoverished; discriminated and oppressed!
But to blame feminism – to decide that feminism has failed us? Feels like blaming the victim.
Do I wish that we had rid ourselves of patriarchy? That we had fundamentally changed the structure of our world so that oppression of everyone no longer existed? Yes I do. Believe me there are still plenty of women working on this.
Identifying as a feminist does not mean that one understands what feminism really means.
In fact what has happened is that patriarchal capitalism has fought back. It has usurped the word feminism to mean something that women’s liberation would not accept.
As Meghan Murphy has recently written:
“Whereas, in the past, our fight against male supremacy and towards women’s liberation meant something radical — and therefore frightening — to those who preferred the status quo, recent decades have brought a distinctly “feel-good” approach. Feminism hasn’t escaped a neoliberal, consumerist culture that offers self-help books and positive mantras as a solution to social problems and presents individual “choice” as the epitome of freedom. What was once a class struggle – a fight for women’s collective rights and towards an end to the oppressive system of patriarchy – and certainly a political one, became a hashtag, a selfie, a backdrop, a selling-point, a buzzword. Anyone could say, “Yes! I’m a feminist!” and be applauded, without really understanding what that should mean.”
It is neo-liberals’ capturing of the word feminism and using it to their own ends that has altered what is assumed to be feminism. Eva Cox conflates what neo-liberalism has done, in their backlash to feminism, with a failure of feminism.
It is just more of the same from patriarchy – at every step patriarchy will fight back against women’s liberation. It is not feminism that has failed – it’s just more of the same from patriarchy.
To quote a feminist friend – rather than a failure of feminism it is the success of male domination.
And Eva ignores the continued struggle of radical feminism.
“Our once radical social movement has been diverted into good works such as women’s refuges, counting female victims of violence and calling out sexism. While all these are necessary, there is little focus on offering serious alternatives.”
Cox’s article dismisses and diminishes the work that feminism has achieved, as “good works”.
The establishment of safe places for women escaping male violence, highlighting the horrific deaths of women at the hands of men and raising awareness about the everyday sexism and misogyny that women experience and are damaged by – this is the vital work that has been achieved by the feminist movement. And feminists are still contesting prostitution, sex trafficking, surrogacy, female genital mutilation, pornography amongst many other harms to women etc, etc…
We are very aware of the neo-liberal attempts to undermine the important work that feminists have achieved –
“…the defunding of progressive women’s services; the growing divisions between different types of services; funding and output measurement tools focusing on individual change; 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. In fact women’s services are currently at serious risk of being de-politicised.” (Hume, McInnes, Rendell & Green 2011).
And no doubt, as Meghan Murphy has outlined, the individualising of feminism – the idea of individual choice and empowerment has reconfigured feminism as a populist term turning it into a “depoliticised” concept.
“It’s no coincidence that a term directly associated with women has become depoliticised, coopted, and associated with personal empowerment. Women have always been the target of the self-help industry and “empowerment” is a vague enough term that it could be (and has) been embraced by industries that couldn’t care less about fighting systemic oppression, in part because they profit directly from said oppression.”
Unfortunately Eva Cox’s article reinforces this co-option of feminism – by blaming feminism for its “wrong direction”. The article fails to address this co-option of ‘feminism’ by patriarchal, capitalism.
“The feminist movement is a political movement that fights towards women’s collective liberation and towards an end to male violence against women. That is to say, if you don’t support those goals, what you are doing is not feminism, no matter how many times you claim otherwise.” Meghan Murphy
And the danger of Eva Cox’s analysis is that this can be used against us – against women, against women’s liberation.
Her question – “Can some good feminist ideas reignite the light on the hill…”? fails to understand that only good feminism (i.e. radical feminism) is “reigniting” and has been throughout feminist history.
As Finn Mackay has commented, our movement is based on complex political theory and continues to be developed and defined but always working towards change.
International Women’s Day/Month gives us the opportunity to celebrate our history and achievements. Eva Cox has unfortunately by making the claim that feminism has failed has fallen into the patriarchal trap of the misappropriation of feminism.
In doing so she is discounting our history and our achievements and the on-going struggles of radical feminism and has become part of the backlash against feminism
“Because the mere presence of our language in the mainstream, does not mean that it is correctly used, much less widely understood, sometimes the very opposite.”
“As feminists we need to be aware of what feminism means for us. Just having the word in regular usage does not mean that the revolution is on its way. In fact it can mean that feminism and women’s oppression becomes diluted and meaningless. And of course that is what patriarchy would really like. It then becomes part of the backlash against feminism.” Finn Mackay