Monthly Archives: July 2011

Intimate Partner Violence

From a feminist theoretical framework, Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) is defined as a pattern of behaviors (i.e. coercive control) used by one partner in an intimate relationship to exert power and control over the other partner (Almeida & Durkin, 1999).  Common tactics used by perpetrators of IPV include emotional abuse, verbal abuse, economic abuse, sexual abuse, and physical violence. Unfortunately, IPV is a social problem that has gone largely unacknowledged until the last 30 years. Even now with its widespread recognition, IPV continues to be underreported for several reasons including feelings of shame and guilt among victims, the prevalence of victim blaming attitudes in society, inadequate police and criminal justice response, and sexist attitudes that devalue women and perpetuate women’s reduced status and power in society. Among the general population, a primary question about IPV is “why do women stay?”.  The answers to this question have become evident through the countless and horrific stories told by individual survivors in their efforts to gain safety and access resources.

IPV occurs from male to female, female to male, male to male, and female to female.  However, the statistics on IPV indicate that 95% of the victims of women with perpetrators being primarily male.  While I agree that IPV evolved out of sexism and violence against women, I also know that many men suffer very similar kinds of abuse at the hands of their female intimate partners.  I write the following using “her” to indicate victim and “him” to indicate perpetrator.  These are generalizations and men can certainly be victims and women can certainly be perpetrators.  I think the rates of female perpetrators and male victims are largely incorrect however, men rarely report their female intimate partners to be abusive, even when they are. Although women often do not report abuse either, they report it more often than their male counterparts, primarily because female victims have so much less power in the relationship than male victims do, they also suffer much more significant and life-threatening injuries.  

There are several kinds of power and control tactics/ forms of abuse that abusive partners use to manipulate and control their intimate partners.  These include verbal abuse, emotional abuse, economic abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, and spiritual/religious abuse.

Verbal abuse–  Verbal abuse is the use of name calling, yelling, public humiliation or shaming, etc…It comes in a variety of forms but the goal of verbal abuse is to make the partner feel terrible about themselves.  When women are abused, they are called stupid, fat, lazy, whore, bitch, cunt, horrible mothers, etc… In public, women are  ridiculed and embarrassed by their partners.  Verbal abuse is certainly a form of emotional abuse, but emotional abuse can happen without the use of words so I will talk about the two forms of abuse separately. Although most abusive partners are rarely explicitly abusive in public settings, many  use verbal and emotional abuse in public settings without “outsiders” fully recognizing what is happening.

Emotional Abuse– Emotional abuse can be a little more difficult for some people to recognize and may be the most damaging of all of the different power and control tactics.  There are many forms of emotional abuse.  They include:

Subjecting a partner to reckless driving

Giving a partner the silent treatment

Leaving the house and refusing to come home or answer phone calls after an argument

Denying a partner affection and/or sex as “punishment”

Extreme jealousy, 20 questions every time she goes anywhere without him, strip searching her, going through her phone, purse, email, texts, etc…

Isolation – isolating a partner from their friends and family so that they lack social support needed to understand and cope with the abuse, and leave if they need to.

Abandoning her in dangerous places (i.e. making her get out of the car during an argument and leaving her stranded on the highway)

Gas lighting (Crazy Making)- A form of emotional abuse that makes the victim question their sense of reality; It often comes in the form of denying something that happened, especially abusive incidents; It creates a sense of doubt in the victim that makes them begin to feel like they are “crazy” and “confused” and can’t figure out who is to blame, themselves or the perpetrator.

Screaming, yelling, threatening, injuring pets, punching holes in walls, tearing doors off of hinges during a rage, destroying HER property (never his-unless she gave it to him).

Economic Abuse– Economic abuse is usually done by controlling the partner’s access to finances and the ability to access or have money.  Women are often prevented from working (or fired because he harasses her so often at work) so that they lack financial independence, making it nearly impossible for them leave an abusive partner.  Even when women do work, many abusive men deny access to bank accounts by keeping her name off of the accounts, keeping her from having a checkbook or bankcard, giving her an “allowance”, keeping cars and homes in the abusers name so that she thinks she doesn’t have a “right” to them if she decides she wants to leave….  Sometimes women do have financial independence…these women are often sabotaged financially by abusive partners.  They steal their money, spend it frivolously, wipe out savings accounts, run up credit cards, etc….When women are abusive to male partners, they often use this kind of economic abuse.

Physical Abuse– Physical abuse is almost impossible to use as a power and control tactic without the use of verbal and emotional abuse.  A person can be a victim of IPV without ever having been physically abused by their partner.  Physical abuse almost never happens without verbal and emotional.  Alternatively, verbal and emotional abuse can be used forever without he use of physical abuse.  Verbal and emotional abuse create a situation where an abusive partner can use physical violence without much threat that the “victim” will leave.  If a woman feels horrible about herself and questions her sense of reality, it becomes really easy for an abusive partner to blame her for the attack.  After he hits her, he says “I’m sorry, baby.  You know I love you so much.  If you wouldn’t _____________ then I wouldn’t have ever hit you.”  And she believes him.  Partially because she wants to believe him, partially because she is really confused at this point and believe that she caused the attack.

Sexual Abuse–  Accusations of unfaithfulness while being unfaithful themselves; forcing her to have sex when she doesn’t want to (marital rape); nagging her into having sex when she doesn’t want to; criticizing her body and performance; forcing her to engage in any sexual activities that she doesn’t want to engage in; forcing her to watch porn and then “play it out” with him; forced sex with people he brings home to the house (his friends, lovers, etc…) forced sex with animals or objects,  denying sex as punishment.

Spiritual Abuse– Using (and misusing) scripture or religious texts as a way to control her; denying her requests to attend the church of her choice; forcing her to attend his church or convert to his religion; making fun of her religious beliefs/values; etc…

This list is not comprehensive but it does include all of the generalized categories of abuse/power and control tactics and probably provides enough examples of each for readers to identify each.

Characteristics of Abusive Partners

1. Jealousy & Possessiveness – Becomes jealous over your family, friends, co-workers. Tries to isolate you. Views partner and children as property instead of as unique individuals. Accuses you of cheating or flirting with others without cause. Always asks where you’ve been and with whom in an accusatory manner.

2. Control – Partner is overly demanding of your time and must be the center of your attention. He controls finances, the car, and the activities you make engage in. Becomes angry if partner begins showing signs of independence or strength.

3. Superiority – Partner believes he/she is always right, always has to win or be in charge. Justifies his actions so he/she can be “right” by blaming you or others. A verbally abusive partner will talk down to you or call you names in order to make himself feel better. The goal of  the abuse is to make you feel badly about yourself so they can feel powerful. Abusers are frequently insecure and this power makes them feel better about themselves.

4. Manipulation – Tells you you’re crazy or stupid so the blame is turned on you. Tries to make you think that it’s your fault he is abusive. Says he/she can’t help being abusive so you feel sorry for him and you keep trying to “help” him/her. Tells others you are unstable.

5. Mood Swings –Partners mood switches from aggressive and abusive to apologetic and loving after the abuse has occurred. Often describe as Jekyll and Hyde personality.

6. Actions don’t match words – Consistently breaks promises, confesses loves and then abuses you.

7. Punishes you – An emotionally abusive partner may withhold sex, emotional intimacy, or plays the “silent game” as punishment when he/she doesn’t get his/her way.

8. Unwilling to seek help – An abusive partner doesn’t think there is anything wrong with them so they often refuse to seek help or acknowledge faults.  Often blames behavior on childhood or outside circumstances.

9. Disrespectful towards women – (For Abusive Men) Shows no respect towards his mother, sisters, or any women in his life. Thinks women are stupid and worthless.

10. Has a history of abusing partners and/or animals- Batterers repeat their patterns and seek out partners who are submissive (or who will become submissive) and can be controlled.  Men who abuse animals are much more likely to abuse women also.

11. Drug and/or Alcohol Abuse- Although substance abuse does not cause IPV it can escalate the severity and frequency of abuse.

12.  Escalates the pace of the relationship – Wants you to move in or get married early in the relationship, usually within first few months.

13.  Wants to spend ALL of their time with you – Partners who want to spend all of their time with you want to control who you see, who you talk to, and what you do.  It’s not because you’re so fantastic that they cannot stand to be away from you.  No healthy person wants to spend all of their time with ONE person, nor can any person get all of their needs met through one relationship.

14.  Overly Charming – Charming = manipulation.  Think of charming as a verb and not an adjective.  People are charming so that they  can distract you from who they really are; manipulative, selfish, controlling, and mean.

15. Maintains Rigid, Traditional Gender Roles for Men and Women – (For male to female IPV) Man is the head of the household, in charge.  Woman is subservient, passive, dependent, cares for children, etc…


Institutionalized Sexism

On the first day of my sexism course, I present students with what I call the “Tree of Discrimination”.  A gigantic tree that I display on an easel at the front of the classroom.  I divide up the students into groups and hand out laminated paper apples.  On the apples, I ask students to write specific forms of sexism and violence against women that they can come up with.  Then the students put their “apples” onto the tree and describe the examples they came up with. The examples generally include pay inequity, the “glass ceiling”, sexual assault, rape, woman battering, female genital mutilation, femicide (sex-selective abortions), prostitution, human trafficking, etc…

Then I ask students to identify the attitudes and beliefs (in the trunk of the tree) that must be present in order for the specific acts of sexism and violence against women to persist.  These attitudes and beliefs generally include things like women are stupid, crazy and emotional and need to be controlled; women belong in the home caring for children and husbands; women need to get married- if they don’t,  something is wrong with them; women are responsible for pleasing men (in many ways- especially sexually); women are more moral than men; women are pure; women are unclean (ironic eh?), women are responsible for the “Fall” of humankind- I could go on here but I don’t really think that I need to.

After completing the trunk, we move to the roots of the tree where I ask students to identify the “roots” or origins of the attitudes and beliefs they just listed.  One of the most challenging lessons to teach about sexism is that sexism originated primarily from religion.  Patriarchy and capitalism are also fundamental components of sexism. In almost every major religious text, women are oppressed.  “God” is always male, women are devalued and given little to no power.  This form of institutionalized sexism in the church is responsible for the Witch Burnings in Europe, where hundreds of thousands of women were burned at the stake for being “convicted” (actually usually just accused) of being witches.  Women were burned for being midwives, unmarried, for talking back to their husbands, for drinking too much, for going out into public without their husbands or fathers, for mental retardation, for the infertility, etc…. Unfortunately, the church supported it.  If you don’t think religion is oppressive to women, flip through the pages of your bible.  Women can be stoned to death for talking back to their husbands. Women are not allowed to ask questions in church.  Daughters are rape-worthy but sons are not.  Eve ate the apple; it’s her fault that Adam and Eve were evicted from the garden.

As an institution, religion is one of the primary roots of oppression for ALL groups who are oppressed and it is dangerous because religion dominates nearly every other institution; education, government, corporations, culture, society, and families.

Deny women the right to attend college and you keep women out of virtually every powerful position in society- doctors, lawyers, educators, government officials, etc….

Deny women the right to vote and you prevent women from having any input into the oppressive, sexist government and laws that women are being forced to live by. Women only achieved the right to vote in 1920.

Deny women equal pay and you deny them the ability to earn a living wage; a wage on which they can live, without a man. Deny women equal pay and you deny them the ability to leave an abusive partner.  Deny a woman equal pay and it becomes almost imperative that she stay home to care for her children because working and paying for daycare takes almost her entire salary.  Deny a woman pay equity and you remove her power within the structure of her family and marriage because the money then, belongs to “him”.  Keep a woman home and out of the workforce, and you guarantee that she won’t collect enough social security in old age to meet her basic survival needs.

Our founding fathers didn’t give women anything.  The constitution of the United States gave white men all of the power.  If that’s not sexism (ahem- and racism by the way), I don’t know what is.

Karl Marx believed that capitalism would result in a system that was sexist and racist.  Capitalism combined with religion and patriarchy has created exactly that.

Growing up Female in a Misogynist Society- Psychological Wounding

What happens to girls and women who grow up in a society where girls and women are devalued and even detested?  Psychological wounding refers to the emotional and psychological damage that happens to girls and women as the result of growing up in a culture that devalues anything feminine. Consider the message (and harm done) to little girls when they hear fathers say to sons, “don’t be a sissy”? Understanding the message takes no great insight or intellect.   The message is clear:  don’t be like a girl because girls aren’t worth a shit.  Virtually anything that is considered feminine in our society is devalued.  Regardless of biological sex (or gender) if you are nurturing, emotional, cooperative, compassionate, excitable, relational, expressive, passive, artistic, etc…then you are devalued.  For men who have these attributes, they are shamed into being more “masculine” by being called gay or faggots.  However,  girls and women are socialized to have all of these attributes and are then devalued for the same feminine attributes they were “forced” by families and society to adopt. Talk about a double-bind.

Women grow up in a culture where they have never seen a female president. Where they  only recently earned the right to vote. Where history books only document men’s history and religious books condemn women as being unclean, unfit, unholy, unworthy, the property of men, and the blame for humanity’s fall from grace.  Women learn that no matter how hard they work, pay equity is something they are unlikely to ever achieve.  Little girls learn that they have little to no value except for their physical beauty; be pretty, not smart. They learn that men get to interrupt women in conversations but women do not get to interrupt men.  They learn that society does not trust them to make rational decisions regarding their own health or about their ability to carry and provide for another child. Girls learn that standing up for their bodily integrity, what they believe in, or their basic human rights will likely result in getting called a “Bitch”.  Girls learn that when they are molested, beaten, and/or attacked that they must have done something to provoke it; regardless of their ability to fight back or resist.

However, when women reject what is feminine because they are trying to play the “game” by the rules and the rules only allow white, straight, Christian men to get ahead, they then get labeled as “Dyke”, “Lesbian”, “Man-hater”, “Femi-Natzi”, or worse.  These double binds for women create circumstances where women can NEVER win.  When women act feminine they are devalued.  When women act masculine they are devalued.

Consider Hilary Rodham Clinton’s presidential campaign.  She was berated for wearing pantsuits and then berated for wearing something a bit more feminine.  She was berated for being aggressive (taking a stand) and too masculine and then berated for crying after losing a long, heart-felt, and hard-fought battle. She was berated for not leaving a cheating husband but blamed for his unfaithfulness. The examples are literally countless. Many girls and women spend their lives trying to figure out what the rules are.

The only answer is this.  Be who you are.  People’s attributes are neither male nor female; they are simply human.  Each of us has within us the ability to have “male” and “female” qualities.  To deny any or all of those is deny ourselves and others the right to be fully, authentically who we are. I choose the truth. What will you choose?