Wednesday, 17 March 2010

in/ter/dependence and safety

I don't really know how to write about these emerging thoughts. I'm questionning so much of what i've spent my entire young-adult life doing, the work that has driven me all this time. Writing here for six months has helped sift through a lot of old habits and beliefs and to note down the new ideas that are coming into my life. Things have been becoming gradually clearer.

Most recently, as i'm reading/hearing/realising/admitting so much about the culture in which i live and how what i know about abuse and violence translates from personal relationships to a political scale, i'm acutely aware of the work i do that encourages ('empowers') women to emerge from the isolation of an abusive relationship into the 'freedom of wider society'. Freedom and independence in the wider society.

Basically, my work-role 'expects' women to leave a situation that may be secure, albeit very controlled. This could be co-dependence, but that is at least more secure than independence, no? Yet i'm 'expecting', and encouraging, her to give all that up to move into a society where it is very hard to be independent and be secure, even more so as a woman. Any 'independence' is at best temporary, right? As we will all need help from other people as we get older. And can you achieve independence in a way that doesn't oppress others? The more i think about independence the more false and illusory it seems, and the more i begin to understand why the women i work with find it terrifying.

I'm almost always not supporting women into a place of interdependence. I can only think of a handful of examples over the years of women i've worked with who moved into a community on escaping the abuse: all South Asian women who had families who supported and nurtured them and took them in on leaving the relationship.

I don't want to be independent, thanks all the same: that sounds near-impossible, precarious and lonely. I want to live in a community, a network, giving and taking care and work and nurture and sustenance. When i'm supporting women to leave abusive situations i want to be able to offer them more than this dream that i don't even believe in, of this 'independent, successful woman who doesn't need anyone'. Narratives of Independent Women involve finding a marker of success or ambition to work towards. Ok so i would always discuss this with women i work with in terms of 'finding success on your own terms', but how hard is it for all of us to escape mainstream, capitalist, definitions of success? Success as an Independent Woman involves 'not needing anyone'. How can we not need anyone? If we manage it then how long will it last? And what then?

This post at Enough had a big effect on me when i read it some months ago. It resonated enormously with how my class background has led me to understand Safety, described some of the pain, contradictions and compromise within my family  and was one of the first places i'd encountered the idea of interdependence. I want to quote it here now to link it to these ideas of safety and in/ter/dependence of women leaving abuse:
"Safety is something we are told we can achieve by isolating ourselves and hoarding lots of resources. POOR calls this the cult of independence, and more than anything it is what comes to mind when I try to describe how I think capitalism hurts all of us, even if we’re profiting from it. [...]

I think about a friend, raised professional middle class with the solid safety net of well-off parents, and about the fear that creeps into her voice when she talks about saving for retirement – the unwillingness to consider that anyone will help her, the certainty that she is a failure if anyone does, the feeling that no matter how much money she saves from her large professional salary, it can never be enough. [...]

I think about this book I read called Invisible Privilege, by Paula Rothenberg. It’s a memoir about growing up wealthy [...] Rothenberg describes her aging father, no longer able to care for himself, isolated from community but able to afford constant professional care, watched over at the end of his life by a rotating crew of nurses rather than by people who love him.

I think about my own dad, an introvert like me, living alone in a fancy condo with all his physical needs met, needing nothing from anyone, taking care of himself, for now – and I think of my grandmother, who now lives in an assisted-living facility hundreds of miles from her home. When she moved there, away from the house she loved [...] I wanted to organize my aunts and uncles and cousins, all her children and grandchildren, to go there to help them move and offer love and support – but it came too close to touching my grandmother’s worst fear, which is to feel that she is a burden.

We’ve learned the lessons of capitalism, and on some level we believe them: if you can’t take care of yourself, if you’re poor or disabled or targeted by the state, it’s because you’re weak, because you somehow failed. If you can’t take care of yourself you will be let go, you will be alone, you are no longer valuable, you no longer exist [...] 

What does it look like to make that leap, if it is a leap, to defining security as interdependence, and to put our resources into creating that rather than into a retirement fund?"
What does it look like to make the leap from defining safety as a woman living alone, working productively, bringing up her children, with panic buttons installed by the police, to finding ways to provide safety in community for someone who is coming out of abuse and isolation?

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