Saturday, 12 July 2014

"Full-On Violence". Paula Bennett and a culture of victim blaming

I don't want to have to read Paula Bennett's thoughts on domestic violence again. I don't want to have her words in my head as she denies the existence of rape culture, lays the issues of child poverty back on the parents and backs up the men in her Government who so badly let down Tania Billingsley over her sexual assualt (let's stop calling it the "diplomatic case" or somesuch nonsense, can we? It's not about diplomacy, it's about attempted rape). But I'm reading the transcript of her interview with The Nation where she says all these things and trying hard to understand how a woman with so much power to change things for the better can, in one short interview, sweep so many of our social ills off the table as casually as a toddler overturns their plate.
A real woman of the people.

Her comments on poverty in this country are outrageous, her refusal to discuss Billingsley's complaints against her government revealing if not surprising, and I could write volumes on both, but it is necessary to focus.

Yeah but we can only report if it’s happening.
Yeah but some of them are not actually full on violence that I think it makes it sound like. At the moment we can see incidences where there is some.

Full on violence. Full. On. Violence.

I am reminded, horribly, of the traditional damaging adage that sticks and stones (and fists and belts and feet) can break your bones (and blacken your eyes and throttle you and bruise your organs) but names can never hurt you (in the ways that look shocking on poster campaigns). A view espoused by a representative of the legal system, no less. (see my previous article about NetHui)

This is the culture that we live in.

NZ stats: source
It ties in with rape culture, with misogyny, with our inability to address the need for our mental health to be as protected as our physical health.

The discussion of rape culture has opened a rich vein of horror and denial from a lot of men who argue that they, nor their friends, ever raped anyone. They'd never make a rape joke. That to point out rape culture is a hysterical overreaction by "Feminazis" who hate men. We're making it up.

This is the argument that creates "full-on violence". If it's not within a narrow definition written by those unaffected then it isn't legitimate. It's not a real problem.

These men who ask me why I hate 50% of New Zealand's population miss the point. It's not about suggesting that all men are rapists. That all domestic violence is the beatings, the rapes, the thrown punches. That the only violence is physical violation.

It negates the violation of our minds, of our selves.

Rape culture is not that all men are rapists. It's the culture that makes the act of rape the fault of the victim. Nobody ever, ever, asks to be raped. No woman ever looked at her wardrobe on a Saturday night and wondered which skirt would create the greatest invitation to strangers to violate her. No man ever went on a date and had a few drinks in the hope his potential partner would sexually assault him without his consent. Ever.

Every time you add a caveat of "What did the victim do..." you are promoting a culture that condones rape as an understandable response to the victim. Every time you critique a victim's dress, actions, self, you are taking the responsibility for a violent action away from the perpetrator.

You are, consciously or not, saying that the rape was understandable. By blaming the victim you are excusing the perpetrator.

So it is with "Full-on violence". We create a culture where the realities of those assaulted, living in fear, looking for a way out, are negated.

But those statistics that have been talked about this week, 1 in 3 women suffering from intimate partner violence and between 2000 and 2010 the highest levels of intimate partner violence in the OECD in New Zealand. Doesn’t that suggest that there is a degree of apathy towards the problem?
No I don’t think so. I think what we do in New Zealand is we report more than any other country. So actually some of those that are being reported are incidences that haven’t even led to violence.

Partner violence is only legitimate if it is physical violence. The emotional control some partners exert over their spouses isn't "real". The threats of violence, the curled fingers, the barked orders, they're not "full-on" enough for those who've never experienced them to really appreciate. And they don't want to, for the most part. Because, like rape culture, it's too omnipresent, too close. To speak out against it is to make us shuffle in our seats, fumble at our phones, look anywhere except at the people we respect and love in our lives to the aspects we might not like. To look at ourselves.

No wonder it's the victim's fault. They're easier to blame. Easier to silence.

Which leads to my final point. About the value of our mental and emotional health. That a beating is more legitimate, more full-on, than a lifetime of death by a thousand paper-cut words. Our emotional and mental wellbeing is not important because it can't be seen, and we are nothing if not what we are to look at. Live in fear of assault? Toughen up. Spend sleepless nights staring at dark ceilings next to someone who told you to eat outside because the sight of you nourishing yourself disgusts him? Come back to us when he hits you.

Until we peel back the veneer to see what violence in our culture actually is, that sticks and stones will break our bones, but the names and blame will suffocate us if we don't do it to ourselves first, then we will continue to live in a society of rape culture, where the only indefensible violence is "full-on" and where we will continue to be threatened and belittled when we overcome our fears to say otherwise.

I don't want to live in that culture. And neither should you.

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