Saturday, March 7, 2009

Women, Rip Van Winkle, & Domestic Violence

A good friend of mine had up a link on his Facebook feed, advising people to read the fourth panel:Which reads: "Well, I wrote a little song about women, called 'Women are Special (They will not stop until we are dead". I had a problem with it at this point, and in the course of calling him for other reasons, pretty much expressed my distaste with the sentiment expressed in that one box. Because, hey, women are half of the population and if you seriously think maligning 50% of the population is a good idea, then there's a bit of an issue. He responded that most of the women in his life had wronged him at some point in some way, and I told him that most of the people in his life had wronged him at some point in some way - that's what happens when you have an insane amount of friends; some of them are going to not be so great, and sometimes even the great people screw up. He also mentioned the "Boys Are Stupid" Flair permeating Facebook as a reason why his link wasn't so bad. And here's where the "equal opportunity" insult falls flat on its face. Because the "Boys Are Stupid" flair is bad:

But it doesn't take into account certain inequities in life. There is a Gavin de Becker quote that says, "At core, men are afraid women will laugh at them, while at core, women are afraid men will kill them". Now, I'm not saying every woman is afraid of men, or that every man is afraid of being laughed at by women, or that some women aren't afraid of looking foolish in front of men or that some men will not experience the very real fear that a woman in their life is not only capable of killing or abusing them, but that it is also a probable outcome of their situation. What de Becker's quote does highlight, though, is the patently ridiculous and hurtful sentiment expressed in the above comic strip. Because domestic abuse is a very real, very large issue. Because:
Battering on women is the most under reported crime in America.

Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women between the ages of 15 and 44 in the United States; more than car accidents, muggings, and rapes combined. "Violence Against Women, A Majority Staff Report," Committee on the Judiciary, United States Senate, 102nd Congress, October 1992, p.3.

Three to four million women in the United States are beaten in their homes each year by their husbands, ex-husbands, or male lovers. "Women and Violence," Hearings before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, August 29 and December 11, 1990, Senate Hearing 101-939, pt. 1, p. 12.

One woman is beaten by her husband or partner every 15 seconds in the United States. Uniform Crime Reports, Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1991.

About 1 out of 4 women are likely to be abused by a partner in her lifetime. Sara Glazer, "Violence, Against Women" CO Researcher, Congressional Quarterly, Inc., Volume 3, Number 8, February, 1993, p. 171.

Approximately 95% of the victims of domestic violence are women. Statistics, National Clearinghouse for the Defense of Battered Women, Ruth Peachey, M.D. 1988.
Domestic violence is not only physical and sexual violence but also psychological. Psychological violence means intense and repetitive degradation, creating isolation, and controlling the actions or behaviors of the spouse through intimidation or manipulation to the detriment of the individual. "Five Year State Master Plan for the Prevention of and Service for Domestic Violence." Utah State Department of Human Services, January 1994.

Those statistics and figures make the assertion that it is women who will not stop until the men are dead laughable. And yet, the image of women sucking out the souls of men, as the comic continues on:

is a cultural staple. The shrewish woman is a staple on sit-coms, and in movies and in how we frame relationships. And it has been, for years and years, and centuries upon centuries. In stories like Rip Van Winkle, our sympathies are directed toward Rip:
I have observed that he was a simple, good-natured man; he was, moreover, a kind neighbor and an obedient henpecked husband. Indeed, to the latter circumstances might be owing that meekness of spirit which gained him such universal popularity; for those men are apt to be obsequious and conciliating abroad are under the discipline of shrews at home. Their tempers, doubtless, are rendered pliant and malleable in the fiery furnace of domestic tribulation, and a curtain lecture is worth all the sermons in the world for teaching the virtues of patience and long-suffering. A termagant wife may, therefore, in some respects, be considered a tolerable blessing; and if so, Rip Van Winkle was thrice blessed.
Certain it is that he was a great favorite among all the good wives of the village, who, as usual with the amiable sex, took his part in all family squabbles and never failed, whenever they talked those matters over in their evening gossipings, to lay all the blame on Dame Van Winkle."
It isn't until we have been assured of the Dame's shrewish ways and Rip's goodliness that we are told in sympathetic terms what may account for Dame Van Winkle's irritability - though it isn't framed as such. According to Hawthorne, "The great error in Rip's composition was an insuperable aversion to all kinds of profitable work", and his children looked ragged and like beggar children. And yet, still, we are told that he would do all the odd chores around the other wives' homes their "less obliging husbands would not do for them", possibly because those less obliging husbands were actually making the money necessary for their wives and children to not have to scrimp and save. And at the end of the tale, Rip awakens from his twenty year nap and finds his wife has died in his absence; this is seen as a major plus for Rip, as "he had got his neck out of the yoke of matrimony, and could go in and out whenever he pleased without dreading the tyranny of Dame Van Winkle." Published in 1819, the perceived dynamic between men and women seems to have changed very little. Men endure wifely 'nagging', with little attention paid to whether or not that wife has a valid concern or not.

And what makes this even more insidious is that the same cultural norms play out when we are discussing the other, distorted aspects of male-female relationships. It comes down to the women. In domestic violence cases, one of the questions that invariably gets asked is "What did she do?", the implication being that if only the woman in question was a little less shrewish, a little less demonic, a little less harpish, she wouldn't have gotten hit. Again, this isn't the question that comes up for everyone; not everyone asks this question. Not everyone thinks this thought. But it is still a prevalent thought, in articles and message boards - especially in high profile cases. This same thing can be found when we discuss rape victims, when we tell women that to wear certain outfits and to go certain places and to act in certain ways is to open the door to sexual assault.

To assert that men are in general the victims of women and their soul-sucking ways is ludicrous. To assert that 'women', as a monolithic group, are threats to men and want them dead is also ludicrous. Because it just reinforces the notion of that mean woman married to the harried man. It attempts to give men, all men, regardless of whether or not they are married to nice, non-soul-sucking women, victim-status. It attempts to strip all women, whether or not they are nice, non-soul-sucking women, of their very humanity - literally, by turning them into demons. And it also reinforces the notion of men and women not as partners, not working in tandem, but as being in a constant struggle, as a war. I don't know about anyone else, but when I'm in a relationship, I prefer not to categorize that relationship as being a tug-of-war, a constant battle, a situation in which I am the perpetual victim. I would prefer to think of it - and portray it as - a give-and-take, a loving and dynamic duo. And for those who would categorize their relationships the other way, well, maybe they should just not be in a relationship.


Barry Deutsch said...

Really good post, and I agree with you.

But I feel obliged to mention, even though I know it's not the main point of your post: Those stats are really dubious. At least one of them -- the one about car accidents -- is unsupportable. (It comes from a misquote of a single, small study from many years ago; lots of other studies contradict it). Most of them are cited to secondary sources from 15-20 years ago, which means that finding the original source of the data would be very hard.

I'd suggest using a source like this one instead. It still supports your claims, it's a primary source, and it's more recent. And it does support your argument, especially when you look at the deadlier forms of violence.

petpluto said...

Thanks, Barry. I was actually going to mention that the stats may not be the most unbiased, though I was going to point out that they came from a prosecutor's office as the reason. That sentence got left out for flow reasons, and I'm grateful for a more verifiable source.

MediaMaven said...

I didn't understand the strip, at least the first part, and I find the whole thing distasteful. I've never liked all the gender-baiting; my roommate freshman year of college and all her friends were into the "boys are stupid, throw rocks at them" stuff, which is hateful, divisive, and stupid. If a boy is stupid, why would I throw rocks at him? What's the point? It wouldn't do anything to change his stupidity; it would just make him mad and cause him to chase me, therefore causing me massive problems.

We all hurt each other. I can easily take some of those statements--such as women being "soul-suckers"--and change the gender. Men suck out women's souls as much as women do to me--we all hurt each other, intentionally and unintentionally. No one gender has a monopoly on the other.

Next time, though, use updated statistics. The numbers you use are reflecting patterns from twenty years ago, which doesn't give an indication what things are like now. I believe that domestic abuse is a big deal, but I have no idea if the numbers have increased or decreased in comparision to what you posted.

petpluto said...

"Next time, though, use updated statistics. The numbers you use are reflecting patterns from twenty years ago, which doesn't give an indication what things are like now."

Yeah, that was a mistake based partially on my sometimes inability to recognize exactly how far back the early 1990s really were/are. By the way, my sisters are still four years old, adorable, think I'm the best thing in the world, and aren't big enough to beat me up. Also, we're not in a global recession!

John said...

As a devoted fan of Jeffrey J. Rowland (and quite possibly the person who introduced your good friend to his comic strips in the first place,) I have to say that these are far below the usual quality of his comic strips. There are a few things to consider within the story, though, like the fact that Wigu's father is basically a raving lunatic and that everyone is constantly giving horrible advice to poor little Wigu. I don't think Jeffrey actually believes any of that, and I'm fairly sure that Jeph Jacques (who writes women better than any male writer this side of Joss Whedon) wouldn't be friends with him if he did.

And hey, at least he's saying it's not women's fault that they're so persistently soul-crushing. It's all the head-demons' fault! :P

John said...

Also, that comic was written nearly 7 years ago, so it is almost fair to use the 1990s data to make a point about it.

Barry Deutsch said...

My point about the age of the data wasn't that old data is always bad; it was that old data, and especially old data from secondary sources, is usually really hard to look up or confirm.

MediaMaven said...

To back up Barry's point: Old data isn't bad, but it needs to be put in proper context. If you're talking about something that happened in a particular time, or are comparing things over time, then it is useful.