In defense of the sanctimonious women's studies set || First feminist blog on the internet

Why Doesn’t She Leave?

That’s the question that’s (inevitably) being raised on this Pandagon thread, where Amanda posts a video of a woman being verbally and physically assaulted by her husband.

So why do women put up with this? Why don’t women leave? Are we stupid? Masochistic?

We’re rational. As the woman on the video says, physical abuse doesn’t start on the first date. It’s incorporated into a relationship after bonds are forged and hard-to-break ties are made. Look at this woman’s life: When he husband started beating her up, she lived with him in a small-ish town close to her family and they had three kids together.

Look at your own life: Could you pick up and disappear tomorrow? I certainly couldn’t.

Women who live in abusive households know that attempts to leave threaten their lives. Too often, women who try to leave abusive partners get killed. Their kids get injured or killed. The people or things they love (pets, etc) get injured or killed in retribution.

Beyond that, abusers often control the family’s finances — leaving isn’t free, and if you have little or no access to money, you have a problem. If you have kids, child custody laws kick in — you can’t just take the kids and run, you have to battle it out in court (which, if you hire a lawyer, also isn’t free). If you have a job, your employer may not want to put up with the routine absences that come with messy divorces and custody battles. Your employer may not want to put up with your partner calling and harassing them in an effort to find you. Your friends and family may not want to put up with that.

It is not an easy calculus.

I’m a young, single woman whose permanent residence is in New York. I have hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loans. I go to school. Once I finish school, I’ll be working, and I’m expected to show up. I have to take the bar exam to practice in New York, and I’ll have to re-take it before I can practice anywhere else. I’ll have a solid $1,000 a month in loans to pay off once I graduate. My name is on a lease. I am close with my family. I am close with my friends. I have an apartment full of stuff.

I cannot disappear

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And if she weren’t a multimillionaire televangelist?

Black, female televangelist reports her husband for domestic violence:

Historically, the black church has been the rock of the black community, a place of refuge where important issues are addressed. But domestic violence has long been left off the agenda, ignored in a largely patriarchal system, even justified by scripture.

Atlanta-based televangelist Juanita Bynum — 1 of the country’s most popular female ministers, who has turned her national and international following into a multimillion dollar business — has gone public with allegations of domestic violence against her husband, minister Thomas W- Weeks the Third, who faces charges of aggravated assault and making terroristic threats.

I can’t speak for the role of the black church here in keeping stuff like this quiet, but it stands to reason that a minister might have some trouble speaking out against her minister-husband about violence in their relationship. And it’s not the first time I’ve heard of scripture being used to justify keeping the women in line in a religious family. But domestic violence is depressingly common, and black women have a higher rate of victimization than white women, though they report it more often:

According to the US Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, while the rates of nonfatal intimate partner violence decreased for black females between 1990 and 2003, the rate increased from 3.8 victimizations per one thousand persons age 12 or older in 2003 to 6.6 per 1,000 in 2004. Black females are victimized at a higher rate than white females, and black females report such incidents at a higher rate than white females — 68.4% compared to 53.5%.

Here’s a description of the incident which led to the arrest:

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Feminism & Prison Reform (or Feminism vs. Prison Reform?)

In Daniel Lazare‘s smart and biting review of books about America’s incarceration culture, appearing in last week’s Nation, he highlights an incendiary argument from Marie Gottschalk’s book, The Prison and the Gallows (which I have not yet read but which is on my Amazon wishlist. Hint hint). Here’s Lazare’s take on Gottschalk:

Gottschalk’s assault on ’70s feminism is sure to raise the most eyebrows. She argues that the women’s movement helped facilitate the carceral state by promoting a punitive approach to sexual violence that was unmitigated by any larger political considerations. This single-minded focus led to what The Prison and the Gallows describes as unsavory coalitions with tough-on-crime types. In the State of Washington, women’s groups successfully marketed rape reform as a law-and-order issue so that, when the measure finally passed in 1975, it was “in part by riding on the coattails of a new death penalty statute.”

In California a new rape shield became known as the Robbins Rape Evidence Law, in honor of one of its legislative sponsors, a conservative Republican named Alan Robbins. In pressing for limits on the cross-examination of alleged rape victims, feminists “generally did not consider what effect such measures would have on a defendant’s right to due process,” Gottschalk adds, even though due process at the time was under assault from a growing war on crime. More radical elements, meanwhile, strayed into outright vigilantism. In Berkeley, antirape activists picketed an accused rapist’s home. In East Lansing in 1973, they “reportedly scrawled Rapist on a suspect’s car, spray-painted the word across a front porch and made warning telephone calls late at night.” In Los Angeles, a self-styled “antirape squad” vowed to shave rapists’ heads, cover them with dye and then photograph them for posters reading, This Man Rapes Women. A feminist publication called Aegis ran a notorious cover showing a gun with the warning, “You can’t rape a .38; we will defend ourselves.”

The National Rifle Association was no doubt delighted. Gottschalk contends that such activists wound up “profoundly co-opted,” since “by framing the rape issue around ‘horror stories,’ they fed into the victims’ movement’s compelling image of a society held hostage to a growing number of depraved, marauding criminals.” She notes that feminists threw themselves into the battle for the Violence Against Women Act, which passed in 1994 as part of an omnibus anticrime bill that “allocated nearly $10 billion for new prison construction, expanded the death penalty to cover more than fifty federal crimes, and added a ‘three strikes and you’re out’ provision mandating life imprisonment for federal offenders convicted of three violent offenses.” Yet feminists’ involvement was relatively modest two years later when a few liberals tried to rally opposition to Clinton’s plan to abolish Aid to Families With Dependent Children, which heavily benefited poor women. Like their nineteenth-century forebears, who advocated bringing back the whipping post to deal with wife beaters, late-twentieth-century feminists got more excited about punishment than defending the welfare state.

The trouble for me is this: Gottschalk is probably on to something. Which bothers the prison reformist part of my brain. But the fact that the feminist movement would be criticized for doing its part to protect women’s sexual autonomy also rankles me — men’s sexual power over women, sometimes expressed through rape, is a big part of what the second wave feminist movement was fighting against (and what third- and post-wavers continue to fight). This conflict is perhaps nowhere clearer than in my posts about exonerations: because of the availability of DNA in their cases, the vast majority of those exonerated were wrongly convicted of rape or rape/murder. The fight to hastily “get” alleged rapists and to make examples of them clashes with the desire to ensure that defendants’ due process rights are not infringed.

Prison reform and criminal defense work are not the only areas in which feminists have forged odd alliances in order to facilitate their goals (and in which they have allowed themselves to be co-opted after doing so). Most notoriously, Catharine MacKinnon worked with conservative Christians in her fight to ban pornography. But her alliance came back to bite her: the first books and films confiscated under the Canadian law based on her theories were from gay and lesbian shops.

Most damning to feminists, I think, is the movement’s general passivity (which Lazare notes) when it came to opposing laws that would hurt (predominantly poor and minority) women, like the 1996 Welfare “reform”. It’s not fair to feminism to make generalizations about the movement based on the old trope of the middle class white feminist leader. Feminists were, in 1996, on the whole opposed to the parts of the welfare law that incentivized marriage and allowed further intrusion into women’s private and sexual lives. Still, Gottschalk’s portrayal is not far off: historically, it’s been easier to rally the feminist movement offensively than it has been defensively. Reproductive rights advocacy is a stark exception to this, since we have always been on the defensive. But it’s not an exception that I think we should hold up as a model of effective feminist activism.

What to make of all of this? The tension I feel is a microcosm of the tension in the feminist movement: at what price women’s autonomy? Or at what price a less aggressively carcereal state? I’m not sure. This is uncomfortable and, I think, should remain so. Problematic alliances and mis-steps are part of any political movement. The question is how to resolve a tension that sometimes seems intractable.

(Also at LGM)

Good Night, and Good Luck.

Well, it’s been quite the week, hasn’t it?

My time here at Feministe is coming to an end, and I just wanted to say a quick thanks to Jill et. al. for handing over the keys to the Porsche. I hope I didn’t put too many dings in it.

In all seriousness, this has been an awesome (though also occasionally terrifying and/or overwhelming) experience. Y’all — commenters, readers, bloggers, everyone — have consistently surprised me in the best of ways with your generous contributions and challenges and support. I’m a girl who likes to stir the pot on issues I care about, and y’all stirred it right back at me, in ways I couldn’t even have anticipated. That was the best part.

In gratitude, and because I can’t resist, I leave you with three parting gifts:

1) A Call to Action

Some of you may already know that the Elizabeth Stone House here in Boston suffered a devastating fire this week. Stone House has been doing heroic work for over 30 years and is the only domestic violence emergency shelter in the state that allows women to stay with their children while they get help, and it also houses a groundbreaking program for women with mental health issues which empowered them to take a strong role in their own care. These losses are devastating for the displaced women and children, who obviously are already at a major crisis point in their lives, even before this fire. Check this quote from The Boston Globe:

But for Erika, who had just set up the playpen for her infant and was hauling the last of her goods into the apartment Tuesday afternoon when the building started to burn, the loss was impossible to quantify.

“I’m just devastated,” said Erika, 34. “I just know my life was starting over . . . [now] I have nothing — nothing, nothing, nothing.”

No donation is too small to matter in a crisis like this. If you’ve got anything at all to spare, here’s how to give.

2) A Shameless Self-Promotion

If you enjoyed my blogging, you’ll probably enjoy my performances. The best way to keep track of when & where I’m on stage next is by joining my email list. (Mostly I perform in New England/NYC, though I definitely get to Montreal sometimes and I take gigs anywhere I can find them, so you never know. I do have stuff coming up for the Fall, it’s just not on my gig calendar yet, sorry.) You might also check out Big Moves, as a lot of what I do these days is make theater & dance-style trouble with those broads.

You can also make some trouble of your own by buying & wearing my Sticks & Stones Clothing tshirts, all of which feature insults usually used to shut us up (i.e. lying, man hating whore, angry black woman, hairy-legged lesbian, etc.).
lisa shirt

Because words can’t hurt us if we make tshirts out of them. You can get them in a wide variety of styles, sizes & colors. Plus, every purchase you make supports a struggling feminist writer/performer. (That would be me.)

While I’m at it, let’s call this the Shameless Self-Promotion Sunday thread, since no one else seems to have started one. Promote away!

& finally:

3) Some NSA Love for Everyone, Even The Trolls.

(Be sure to watch through to the end, there’s an extra payoff. H/t Flea.)