This post has been a long time coming.
As a woman informed by radical feminism, much of my activism and consciousness-raising has centred around the theme of male violence against women. My career has followed a similar trajectory and now my presence on social media follows the same path.
I set up a blog site to “write what I feel” and I did not intend for it to be a commentary on male violence against women. But something incredible happened when I wrote my first post on the subject. Women in my social media circle started to share their own experiences, I started to realise how many women were writing about male violence from a personal perspective and how profoundly powerful their words were. The incredible @EVB_Now established a campaign based upon the principle of women speaking out and challenging victim blaming. I found myself becoming a part of a group of women who refused to be silenced, who were not ashamed by experiences of male violence. We had found our voices and we were not going away.
I have experienced multiple forms of male violence within a continuum and I am in a place where I am able to speak (and write) about it without becoming distressed. This is why I chose to speak out. In the three years that I have been “online” I have been warmed and inspired by women who are breaking silences imposed upon them by abusive men, disbelieving family, minimising friends, a victim-blaming criminal justice system and an unsympathetic society. This felt like our time. But over the past twelve months I have felt a creeping unease. It doesn’t happen often but it can’t be ignored. It has been a drip-drip presence, so much so that I couldn’t pinpoint my discomfort until now. Women are dividing each other into categories: women “affected by male violence” = less than, women not speaking about personal experiences of male violence = greater than.
Women who speak about personal experience and/or who ask for emotional support and/or are in distress are cut off, rejected and labelled as “needy”, “difficult”, demanding” “attention-seeking” “damaged”. How is this happening? Why would women with a feminist analysis Other women sharing experiences of male violence? I recognise that women dividing themselves is nothing new. Living within a patriarchy means that women (even the good* ones), sometimes seek to compete, Other, suppress and silence each other in the hopes of establishing a greater position of power. Sometimes we also need to keep ourselves safe, and I am not criticising this. I am an advocate of firm boundaries to protect ourselves from harm. Male violence against women is stigmatised and the people who are stigmatised are women. We are expected to feel shame when harassed, guilty when beaten, blamed when raped. The stigma is real and powerful and keeps so many women silent. Why would we voluntarily share experiences of male violence when the impact of doing so is so great? Some of us don’t and that is OK. No woman should ever feel compelled or coerced to share personal experiences of male violence. But that is not what I am asking here. I am asking for us to stop attaching stigma to those of us that do. We are all trying to survive and live as best we can. This divisive process is often unconscious but it’s real and it needs to stop now.
The truth, the ugly truth about this phenomenon is that we our dividing OURSELVES. Women, ALL women experience male violence. Every day. No woman is immune to experiences of harassment, stalking, rape, violence, gas lighting and degradation from men. Male violence is on a continuum. We experience daily sexist and misogynistic aggressions on a micro and macro level. Our society is saturated in misogyny. To pretend otherwise because you don’t want to see it, feel it, hear it, or experience it is understandable but this is the reality.
The woman that had the most profound effect on me recently spoke honestly and unapologetically about the male violence she experienced in childhood. She spoke with conviction, power, strength, anger and passion. Not all women feel able to speak out and this is understandable. I don’t think it makes one a better woman or a better feminist to share personal experiences of male violence. But neither do I think it makes women less than.
We all want to live in a world free from male violence. But we don’t, we live in this one. And right here, right now we need to connect to each other. Sometimes women want to talk about their experiences, sometimes women need to cry, shout, scream. Sometimes women need to receive care and understanding from other women. We need to hear and support one another and stop this patriarchal lie that women who speak about male violence need to be pathologised or ignored. This is not sisterhood.
I recognise and empathise the need to distance oneself from our vulnerability to male violence. Have I enacted this same position? I think it is likely. I think I may have held thoughts disrespecting women in pain and it’s not good enough. This is the very definition of throwing women under the bus and it is the worst way to do it. We need to do better. We need to do better NOW.
*good/bad women don’t exist. We are women.