Part II of a two-part project inspired by a produced by Interval House of Hamilton-Wentworth.
Abuse, much like any form of oppression, is born of the belief that one person (or group) has “the right” to control another person or group. This kind of control is authoritarian and dominating.
We learn, as we are socialised, conditioned and formally educated, that Power and Control are necessary for “success”, often times a concept synonymous with “happiness” or “fortune”. Those who are most quickly able to access Power and Control, and maintain it, usually are also able to access many unearned privileges.
Some people believe it is “normal” or “natural” for one person (or group of people) to be in charge, and for other people (or groups of people) to follow the lead. A connected belief is that this dichotomy — between “naturally” dominant and “naturally” subservient — rationally justifies the ways in which certain people (or groups of people) are “punished” by those with more Power and Control. The prominent example is that of how men are assumed to be more powerful and more in-control than women.
Much of the forms of media we are exposed to throughout our lives, as well as the ways in which we are educated in school or church, and the ways we are socialised in our families and peer-relationships reinforce these beliefs. This is to say that the belief that some people are worthy of more Power and Control, while others are fated to suppression, is ingrained in many aspects of our social structure.
A person may have excuses for abusive behaviour — “they drink too much”; “they take drugs”; “they ‘just’ have a bad temper”; “they are very stressed out”; “they work a lot”; etc. People who abuse their power and who control others will often blame their abusive behaviours on something or someone else — often the person (or people) they are abusing, or acting oppressively toward.
Some abusers might suggest that they … “wouldn’t have to act that way if you would just lay off”, etc. They may suggest the abused/oppressed people are the blame. They might try to say they simply can not control their own behaviour, or that it is not their responsibility.
If you suspect you may be in an abusive relationship, Remember — You Are Not to Blame! Abusive behaviour can be controlled!
What Can You Do??
Notes on Assault
Police (in most areas) are required, by law, to lay charges when they have “reasonable grounds” to believe an assault has occurred. Assault is a crime. Assault is any form of unwanted touching or physical contact — sexual or otherwise. If anyone threatens to kill you, that is also a crime. Laying charges may reduce physical violence. This does not pertain to all the many other forms of abuse.
Children witnessing abuse are being hurt by it — they are suffering and afraid. The effects on their life could mean that they may become violent toward others in the future, suffer low self-esteem and face many other related problems.
Things to Remember
Observing — as a result of becoming more and better aware of the struggles of class, race and gender— a phenomena I absolutely can not help but see constantly recreated, I sat, somewhat impatiently, but intently listening as discussion of prison abolition became heated, boiled, and eventually threatened to spill out of the pot. The venue’s owner, noting this, and involved in the discussion, used some words that brought about applause, implicated “closing time”, and ultimately ceased discussion.
Question period started it off, wherein I had the chance to ask for elaboration: “Can you folks expand a bit more? At the beginning of the play, you referred to intersectionality of oppressions, speaking about abuse and neglect, and how those things exist beyond the context you intended to here present. What do you mean by that?”
Enormously, that is an understatement of what was actually covered, if you consider the discussion that followed, which went on longer than the performance itself. Even folks who strolled into the venue for an evening pint had something to contribute.
Discussions of race within the PIC, and more broadly, within a police state, didn’t only ‘come up’, but were strongly asserted into the dialogue by a PoC member of the audience who works with OCAP, and spoke of personal experiences with incarceration.
When you “Fuck Up” (whether the fuck-up is minor or major) practice the “Four A’s”.
#1) Acknowledgment — is really important, IMO, because if you don’t realize what you actually did, and how it was “fucked up”, there’s a high probability that you are going to do it again — a very high probability.
#2) Apology — is also really important — but it has to be genuine (which requires #1 - Acknowledgment). Saying things like “I’m sorry if you felt bad about what I said/wrote” or “I’m sorry if your feelings got hurt”, is, IMO, completely different from saying “I’m sorry that I said/wrote that. I see how it was fucked up, and here’s how I know that it was fucked up … . . “. (Keep in mind that “if” is a word reserved for hypotheticals, and doesn’t usually refer to real life. When used in apology, “if” is usually just a dilutive, and if you can’t really apologize, then don’t apologize at all. Sort of a perverse Thumper ethic.)
#3) Amends — sometimes the energy required to actually think about how you fucked up and make an honest acknowledgment/apology is enough to return balance to the situation (depends on the type of fuck up, though). In some cases, “making amends” might also mean returning money/energy/time that your fuck-up created for someone else. This can be returned in any of a number of creative ways. Example: If you got all defensive in an argument, and therefore the argument took eight hours instead of 30 minutes (hey, I’m a lesbian — I can DO me some processing!), consider just giving the person with whom you got all defensive eight hours of your time to do for them something that they might have gotten done if you hadn’t been all uppity-up in yourself being a defensive shit (not that I’ve ever done that … .no, that has never happened with me… . . OK, maybe just that once … OK — Fuck it! I’m completely busted here … .)
#4) Action — This may be the most important of the 4 A’s. If you know that you did something that was fucked up, and you’ve expressed that you’re genuinely sorry that you did this fucked up thing, then really, the only concrete evidence of this will be that you will change what you do in the future. For me, if I don’t take this step (action), the other three are just so much manipulation.
- Don’t tone police. It is NOT your right to dictate how someone should react to their oppression.
- Don’t demand a detailed explanation.* You’re basically asking the person to justify their call out. It’s exhausting, many resources are available, and often this is just a way to try and derail, start an argument, or discredit the other person.
- Don’t get defensive. A call out is not all about you as a person.
- Don’t take it personally. Calling out is not a personal attack. If someone calls you out, they’re trying to teach you something. Calling out is a way for people to educate others on how systems of oppression operate on a day to day, individual level.
- Don’t attack the person who’s calling you out. That’s just fucked up.
- Don’t assume the person calling you out is just “looking to get offended”. Nobody enjoys calling other people out. To call someone out, people often have to mentally prepare for serious repercussions. Calling someone out might mean starting an argument, during which many people will side with the oppressor by default (especially if you’re privileged over the person calling you out).
- Understand that being oppressive is not the same as being offensive or hurting feelings. The damage you’re perpetuating is part of a larger system of oppression.
- Realize that your intent is irrelevant when it comes to whether you were oppressive or not.
- Recognize the power dynamics that are in place between you and the person calling you out.
- Understand intersectionality. IE: Just because you are oppressed by classism, doesn’t mean you lack male privilege.
- Know that being privileged means being oppressive, but you can work to reduce the ways that you are oppressive.
- Genuinely apologize.
- Work on oppression reduction and being the best ally you can be. The point of calling you out is to draw your attention to how you’re being oppressive, so that you can work to change it. If you made an oppressive joke, there’s probably oppressive thoughts in place (conscious or not) that led you to think the joke was appropriate. Everyone has to unlearn the oppressive things they’ve absorbed from an oppressive society. We are all taught ways to keep marginalized people in their place, but the good thing is that we can identify these things in ourselves and change. And then we can start working on dismantling the kyriarchy, yeah!
Feel free to add to this or change as necessary.
As Allan Johnson writes in “Patriarchy, The System” “none of us can control whether we participate, only how. …” The birdcage aspects of this patriarchal system confine our actions and create barriers, yet the system functions as if under a cloak of invisibility, powered by forces beyond our vision or grasp. In Deathly Hallows: Part 2 we see, repeatedly, that for the evil patriarch Voldemort to thrive he needs a whole army of minions carrying out his bidding. Likewise, in order for Harry and Co. to escape the cage within which they are ensnared, they must revolt en masse. Together, those who wish to change the system must endeavor to destroy all the bars of the cage. The destruction of the final Horcruxes offers a powerful lesson–if you only attack one bar, or one Horcrux, the cage (or evil) ultimately remains in place. Much like feminism must work to bring about equality on all fronts–race, class, gender, age, class, ability, and so on–so, too, must our valiant Harry Potter characters work to destroy all bars of the cage that Voldemort has created. Moreover, the fact one of these “bars” is within Harry leads to the next lesson:
5. There is evil within us all.
As we all participate in patriarchy, whether we like it or not, so too are we all shaped by its pillars of racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. We cannot grow up in this cage entirely untouched by the shit on the floor, so to speak. In the final film, we learn Harry has a bit of Voldemort inside of him–that even the boy wizard of good has evil aspects. He must first realize that evil is part of him before he can get rid of it, much like we must admit our own biases and privileges before we can foment an effective movement. We must, like Harry, acknowledge our weaknesses and draw on our allies to help us become better, more effective agents of change.
While the article did not point out the value feminists may find in learning and mastering occlumency, I can certainly appreciate this analysis. Thoughts, anyone?
This was adapted from “10 Things Men Can do to Prevent Gender Violence”, produced by MVP Strategies, Copyright 1999, Jackson Katz.