It is freezing cold. I am slouching around in sheepskin slippers and making a Tuscan bean soup. As the deciduous trees thin of leaves, the garden pulsates with light in unexpected places.
Had a call that drove me slightly crazy for a short while. Alcoholism is maddening in all its manifestations and hard to be around, I should know. This call was from an unsober friend who keeps adding up all the days and weeks she didn’t drink over the last decade and it is the most pointless and confusing exercise imaginable. She has worked out that she has 14 months intermittently sober over 10 years of drinking and she adds that onto the three months she had last year and the two months she will have reached in six weeks time if she doesn’t drink before then, not counting last weekend’s little hiccup or the three day-relapse over Easter. She lives in a fictitious muddle. If we are not talking continuous sobriety one day at a time, it doesn’t count. Mind-fucking games come with active alcoholism and are part of the insanity.
While I’m thinking about it and after reading Garnet‘s and Cheryl‘s posts – the one recurring theme of my adult life has been the struggle in resisting abusive relationships and working to empower women caught in cycles of abuse and placatory behaviour and recidivist violence. I have written about this before, the long journey of coming to understand and work through the latent and overt violence in my family when I was a child. But the prevalence of such behaviour means that it was and is everywhere. Sitting in a classroom listening to a geography teacher with eye make-up failing to conceal a black eye and bruised cheeks . Hearing my mother’s sisters talking about how they would hide in the garage while their husbands smashed up the living-room furniture. A friend at university who watched an enraged husband kick her dog unconscious. And I have sisters who have run out of their homes late at night in fear of their lives. Have known battered women who take it out on small defenceless children.
In one way this problem has nothing to do with alcoholism, although alcoholism may exacerbate the problem. It has to do with a person who believes he or she has the right to bully or intimidate or strike family members or the elderly or gay men or lesbians or disabled teenagers or anyone perceived as weaker. That he or she can destroy property, victimize friends or hurt domestic animals, force someone to have sex or hand over money or force them to pretend that it didn’t happen, that they will be safe until the next time. The erroneous belief that he or she can stop this abusive behaviour at any time because it isn’t that serious. I say ‘he or she’ but this is also about gender inequality and sexism and a culture that produces an unacceptable amount of male rage and aggressive pathology directed towards women and children.
It is all very well asking why certain men harrass, beat or rape women or prey on children. But talking about anger management doesn’t explain very much. We also need to ask why men are sexually aroused by pornography that promotes violence against women and degrades or dehumanizes women’s bodies and sexuality. Why men see nothing wrong with paying for sex rather than entering into relationship and working towards consensual sex. And why abuse against women and children is seen as a private domestic problem when there are households on every street of our cities, north and south, in which frightened women are cowering and children are being traumatised. When so many women are stalked down and killed by men they once loved but fled from. The ones who didn’t get away.
We can’t explain patterns of social behaviour only in terms of individual motives and personalities. To say that men are taught bto act dominant and masculine while women are taught to act submissive and feminine is not adequate to explain the prevalence of abuse directed at women in the workplace, in the home, in churches. We need to look at misogyny again, that hostile contempt for femaleness, along with the contempt directed at men who are perceived as vulnerable and ‘weak’. The way in which men are encouraged by media and peers to feel entitled to act out aggression or demand sex or expect compliance from wives and children. That wives are property and belong to the man who pays for them, who married them, who owns them. That aggression can serve as a substitute for communication.
And we need to look at the lifelong and unrelenting fear women feel if they have to walk through streets alone at night, if their cars break down on a lonely highway, if a strange man knocks at the door, if they are trying to outwit an abusive man on a daily basis and unable to protect their children from him. If a mother looks at the soft-spoken but arrogant man her daughter has brought home as a new boyfriend and suspects her daughter is about to re-enact the nightmare they both endured years before. Because it is also intergenerational and the patterns keep repeating.
I do know there are many men who don’t feel this way and relate to women with respect and seek equality in relationship. But I also know too many women who believe that because we have degrees or financial independence and years of sobriety and discernment, that we will not be lured into a relationship with a man who is capable of abuse. The reality is that we don’t see it coming.