Speaking Up, Speaking Out...
Against Domestic Violence

An awareness and visibility project around issues of domestic violence in various communities.

5.10.2006

"dv is [NOT] something that happens to those Other women"

This is from Jan Kurth, a white, heterosexual, woman with a Master's degree currently residing in Western New York. She submitted two pieces; this is the second. (The first is here.)
Note: This submission is mostly in the form of a reaction to my call for submissions (one of which can be found here, at The Happy Feminist). I will respond to the issues and questions that Jan raised in my Conclusion post.

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Hello from a fellow seven-sister (Vassar '81).

I am absolutely sympathetic to the fact that women of color are often underserved as far as dv services go. However, I'm not sure I'd go as far as to assume that services are veered to the middle class per se. Quite the opposite. In fact, dv shelters very often offer services like getting a GED or drug/alcohol counseling, assuming, of course, that all those "poor women" they serve are exactly that--low income, uneducated, and mentally ill or addicted. Some no doubt do have these issues, although it is not always clear how much alcohol or drugs may be a self-medication mechanism vs. being a stand-alone problem. Generally, I see it assumed that any woman entering a dv shelter, etc. needs "services." And that if a woman does not need "services," if she has "resources," she should be okay. Well, I wouldn't say that a woman with "resources" is disadvantaged compared to one who does not have them. It's just that relative to the probable social/economic power of her foe, it doesn't amount to much. In other words, I find that much of the DV community focuses on the amount of "services" or "resources" the woman has or needs, not on how much POWER she has relative to the man who is abusing her.

That said, as far as racism/classism goes, I get tired of it being assumed by women of "our class" (you, me, and other women grouped in the "elite" college group), that dv is something that happens to those Other women out there, all those women without fancy degrees, etc., and not to Us. In fact, by the time many of us have found ourselves in abusive situations, it is with a degree of absolute denial. How can it be? Our husband/boyfriend doesn't sound like Stanley Kowalski. He isn't necessarily some blue-collar loser (although it seems that a lot of highly educated women are "settling" these days in the hopes of having a family). He may very well be smart, conventionally successful. An absolute charmer--in public. A few months ago in our county, a woman was brutally murdered by her husband (with a hammer for God's sake). Was she on social services? Was she a low-wage earner with a lot of dependent children? On the contrary. And this is the part that freaked out a lot of people. No kids. And she was a successful businesswoman who served on the boards of many non-profits, including our local area Empire Zone, which I was marginally familiar with since I work in the planning/development field.

I was in an abusive marriage (yes me, cum laude from Vassar), and I lost everything in the divorce. All financial resources (I was buried in his debt for years, and still can't really get clear of it). He stole my ATM card and drove me into overdraft. DA's office did nothing. He trashed my possessions. Judge yawned. Worst of all, a guy who decided he no longer felt like working during my pregnancy with my daughter somehow managed to strip me of custody. You are still a young woman and I wouldn't have understood this when I was your age either. Trust me on this. One of the worst things you can ever experience as a woman (worse than rape, in my opinion, which I also experienced at your age) is having your baby taken from you by an abuser. I am a feminist, but I am not gender "neutral" as many younger feminists seem to be. Giving men the right to strip women of their children (as the Fathers Rights people are advocating) means that women have nothing. Your fancy job, profession, education, will mean nothing if you are left impoverished by actually having to PAY child support to a deadbeat who then has permission to threaten and harass you. Or paying lawyers $1000s of dollars to try (in a pointless exercise) to have your visitation enforced.

Some time ago, I was reading the Vassar Alumnae magazine classnotes, and something rang a little bell in my head. I contacted a woman from my class that I barely knew while in school and found out what I suspected was true: she was trapped in a battering relationship. Husband, 4 kids, a corporate lawyer. Has it all, right? Wrong. She could barely get through her day without anti-depressants. Any "resources" she had were countered by her hubby's ability to outmaneuver her. She was afraid to leave because of the unfortunately absolutely realistic fear that her children would be left (at best!) with unsupervised visitation with this creep. She was seeing her oldest son taking on the behavior of the abuser, down to his cutting hostility and verbal abuse directed at his mother. Did anybody ever warn "us" that this scenario could be in our future? On the contrary. It's assumed to be a problem that those Other women face.

I have felt for some time that colleges like Wellesley, Smith, Vassar, etc. should do an article in the alumnae magazines on dv as IT RELATES TO THEIR OWN GRADUATES. If they can find anyone who will actually come out of the closet.

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