Do you think they wonder why we keep doing the same thing over, and over, and ....?
In a recent chat with an enlightened feminist male friend, he was sharing with me his frustration about his co-worker who seemed clueless about healthy relationships with women.
I was reminded of one of my first experiences with gender-based violence – back in the 1970’s. I was a newly minted worker in social services coming out of University of Maryland School of Social Work. Before grad school I’d been with Planned Parenthood, doing problem pregnancy counseling as part of Clergy Consultation Services, a group of clergy, nurses, and various counselors who were volunteering as counselors or escorts to out of state facilities. Roe v. Wade had lessened the need for our counseling.
So the CCS group met to decide what was to become of us. I remember vividly (and with some present -day chagrin) saying, “Since we know and can talk about sex, we should start a rape crisis center.” It didn't take long to realize that we still had something to learn that sex and rape are two different animals, and I never repeated the sentence that became our origin story.
When we finally opened the doors to our rape crisis center – which still operates today with volunteer counselors – we saw children and adult victims of sexual assault ranging in age from less than one year to over ninety years old in our first year. We also provided supportive counseling to friends and families of victims. Even now I remember boyfriends and husbands at least as clearly as those victims. Especially the distraught boyfriend of a rape victim who amid tears plaintively said, “Why did this happen to me?”
It was difficult being supportive to him at that moment when I was so stunned by his interpretation of what had happened. But I’ve been a social worker since about age four, and I responded in automatic supportive mode. That moment, though, highlighted to me the parallel universes men and women live in.
I was hopeful there would be reconciliation and respect for the different lived realities. Over the years we secured some funding for the rape crisis center, which eventually became the Victim Assistance Center. Women’s wages were rising. Roe v. Wade had assured women more autonomy than when I had been in college where a friend sought an illegal abortion. Domestic violence was recognized as a problem, even if at that time there was still victim-blaming as people tried to figure out “battered women syndrome.”
It was still an uphill road, and not a smooth one. But the times they were a-changin’. ♫
Or were they? I think it’s Groundhog Day. Again.
Survivor-based programs still live on shoestring budgets holding their collective breath wondering if funding will continue. Some have shut down.
The gender wage gap has plateaued. According to the Pew Research Center, in 2002 women earned an average of 80 cents for every dollar men were paid. Twenty years later women have increased that to 82 cents. There is a concerted effort to take away women’s rights, including the right to travel across state lines if pregnant. Many, many men take umbrage when women are assertive, interpreting women caring about themselves as a rejection of men.
Domestic violence may be seen as a problem, but not understood. Paraphrasing Jackson Katz many years ago, if we don’t name a problem correctly, we expend funds uselessly trying to fix the wrong one. It’s good to treat post-traumatic stress, brain injury, and other important complications ifwe also address gender and how it interrelates. By far, most people with PTSD, brain injury, substance abuse, poor mental health, or low self esteem do not limit their use of power and control to only their intimate partners.
Two things might halt the Groundhog Day interminable loop.
First and foremost, as individuals and as a society, we must value women. (In fact, we should value any we identify as “other” – though for additional reasons.)
Second, as individuals and as a civilization, we must take safety and peace more seriously. It has to be a conscious decision and a deliberate action, not just a wish for an absence of conflict and an absence of abuse of power.
I’m sure (pretty sure, at least) that we’ll survive the calendar’s 2024 Groundhog Day. It’s going to take more to break the perennial loop that supports violence against women.