"I was too wild, too out of control. And rather than find a way to *refine* my own personal style–that is, be the same big, wild, out of control person in a way that didn’t cross or step on other people’s boundaries–I tried to make myself smaller. Society *supported* me making myself smaller. Society *supported* me “controlling myself” through self abuse and shame rather than refining myself through love and consideration and compassion. Society supported me hurting myself–through the normalization of hurt. Through the normalization of hurting *me*."and it reminded me of the last group. i was trying to guide the group through a list of reasons why abuse happens - reasons that members felt were true, as well as the myths and lies that we hear all the time. so that we could sort truths from lies, because understanding why it happens (because an abuser decides that the benefits of behaving that way outweigh other considerations) is key to being able to see it and stay away from it.
so i had a section on the flipchart(!) for 'ways that society supports abuse'. and people didn't get it. someone thought i meant, like women's aid. and i said yes women's aid support women who are abused but i mean - do you think there are ways that the way that society is set up, helps abuse to happen. and then someone said that their friends had said 'he doesn't mean it, he really loves you' - and of course that was a totally relevant comment. but what i was going for was like - when the police turn up and he says you're the crazy violent one and they arrest you because they're 'not trained' (to put it politely). but no one said stuff like that and because time was short i had to just validate the stuff they were saying rather than nitpick towards my own our-culture-is-fucked agenda. sigh.
but - how do we talk about it? is it necessary to talk about it? it's good to have that part in that exercise when i'm doing 'awareness sessions' with professionals. especially cos i get to make them feel guilty about colluding with abuse, ha, and maybe they'll think a bit harder about it. but if women who've come for a 'healthy relationships' course don't find it relevant to talk that way, well...
but it upsets me how much the women, on this course in particular, internalise the blame for the abuse, and their responses to the abuse. there may be more to it than this, but i connect this to the fact that most or all of these women are on probation, have court coming up, have had their children taken into 'care', have been criminalised. these women have had to learn to play the game of the powers that be. some of them were criminalised for their responses to the abuse they've been through. and those that came to the attention of social 'care' had their children removed for reasons connected to the abuse. and so i imagine these women have learned that if they display any anger at the way they have been treated - by individual abusers, or by social care, the criminal justice system, etc, they are knocked back much further by social care and the criminal justice system. and you can't live with that sense of injustice when you need to get your children back, or you need to act sane in a court room. you have to put it out of your mind, or drop it as just untrue.
and meanwhile individual abusers, social care and the criminal justice system, continue to propagate the notion of women being to blame for abuse, and/or choosing abusive man, and/or that an act of retaliation is at least as 'evil' as years of systematic abuse. these are the explanations offered to these women for the situations they're in. and it sure must be easier to believe that you yourself are bad, than to acknowledge the way society is engineered to make you powerless.*
one woman spoke of having called the police one time, when they arrived her partner told them she was in the shower, then she and her partner walked out of the house and past the parked police car, she with a swollen freshly-bruised face, and the police officer looked her straight in the eye and did nothing. and you know in the group i can validate that that is a terrible thing, that she was let down and betrayed (while meanwhile my cofacilitator remains expressionless, in that 'well it's just her story' way). and other women rolled their eyes in sympathy. and the woman herself said "i thought that was terrible; it was disgusting." but in that charity which has been co-opted by Probation, it's not the place to recognise and name the fact that the police help abuse to happen. everyone will have to deal with police in the coming weeks and months. the officers will be not unfriendly. it doesn't help to abhor them when you're just trying to get your children back. so these women absorb and absorb this 'normalisation of hurting themselves' and i can't figure out how much i'm colluding with this process vs how much i'm rightfully working within the boundaries of what they can cope with.
* see next post for extended footnote about my use of this word!