Thursday, 3 December 2009

talking about control

there is an amazing post over at The Curvature about how people refuse to acknowledge any possibility that someone they know could perpetrate abuse:
"It puts the men that do such things in the realm of mythical creatures rather than living, breathing, and yes, complicated, human beings. If we do not know them, it is not our concern. If we do not know them, they don’t really exist. If we do not know them, we do not have to be afraid. If we do not know them, we do not have to feel responsible for the difficult work of changing our culture."
changing our culture. the change that needs to happen is for people to develop an understanding of control. for children to be brought up with an understanding of control. how it operates.

i've been aware this week of the resistance i come up against when i mention that someone in my community displays controlling behaviours. even my feminist friends are uncomfortable with me labelling someone as 'controlling'. they think i'm being the hypersensitive domestic violence worker whose mind is twisted to be suspicious of all heterosexual men (there's a little truth in that, but..!). perhaps i'm not explaining myself well enough. i don't mean "X is an evil, controlling, potentially violent, devil-man that we'd better warn our straight female friend Y about, in contrast to angelic, enlightened queers like you and i, who she'd be much better off with if only she'd escape her hetero false consciousness."

no: everyone is capable of control, and we will each take it as far as we decide to. our decisions about how far to take it are affected by our socialisation and what external sanctions exist against this behaviour (disapproval from our peers; prison, etc).

so when i say "i think X is quite controlling and Y might have a hard time as his partner" i mean: "i've seen and heard examples of X's behaviour that add up to a pattern of trying - and succeeding to some extent - to control Y. if he's given free rein by everyone just to continue, Y's life will get harder, because control always increases as far as the controller chooses to take it, and this choice is partly based on the reaction of the community. i think we should keep an eye on this situation, try and support Y where possible and try to show X that we do not think his behaviour is acceptable."

if we all had the understanding and vocabulary to discuss control then people like Y would be so much safer because it wouldn't be so dramatic, so taboo, to ask "is X ever controlling in any way?" and talking about someone's attempts to control another person would not be the same as demonising them.

(and yes this is an example of a straight couple that i've used and yes queers control one another too.)

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