This is our truth, tell us yours
Be aware this post discusses domestic abuse and coercive control (without details) and contains spoilers for the TV show Jessica Jones
It is a sad fact that those ideas which are often intended to improve things for those at the bottom of the pile are quickly appropriated by those who have power and privilege in our society.
Victim blaming is a vital idea which is loosing any power as it is used to mean a denial of nuance or consideration of complexity. In the context of domestic violence victim blaming was so important. The Dixon of Dock Green attitude, that partner violence was simply normal, and acceptable, combined with the belief that women provoked violence by not fulfilling impossible patriarchal ideas of perfection. Keep the house perfect, the kids smiling, and silent, the tea on the table, and your sexual desire heightened (but only for your spouse and when they desired it) and you would avoid punishment.
The idea of domestic violence as punishment was so often the abusers narrative, combined with gas lighting, coercive control and other psychological techniques to excuse and blame the victim for the abusers actions. Over the years we as a society began to understand that these narratives were victim blaming. Some steps were made to educate the police and other authorities. Instead of “how could she let this happen” people began to say “how can we help her when this happens*” An offshoot of this change in thinking was child benefit. Not many people today realise, or remember that part of the reason it is paid to the mother (although that isn’t always the case now) was so that she had access to money regardless of her spouse. It wasn’t perfect, but it has saved lives, provided an escape, and fed hungry bellies.
I am reminded of personal family history here, and a grandfather whose own father drank away whatever money they had. When he wasn’t beating his wife, or whichever child came within reach he was drunk. Grandad told of how they had to share shoes, since one pair would always be in the pawn shop to buy food. He had one suit, a smart outfit for church, which was also pawned each week, but redeemed every saturday so he could go to chapel. His mother hid the tickets, so her husband could not drink away what little money she could get to feed the family.
Why didn’t she leave him was of course not a question you asked of working class women in that era. You stayed, but no one blamed you for the abuse. The temperance movement was huge in the North East, probably because stories like my great grandparents were so common. People trying within their frame of reference to find a reason (not to excuse) domestic violence, and provide practical ways to resolve it. Of course blaming alcohol was just another way to avoid laying blame where it really lay, at the feet of the abuser, but it was at least trying to look at domestic violence in a wider context.
Throughout the twentieth century a number of different disciplines looked at different forms of violence, juvenile and gang, intra familial, partner, child abuse, in order to try to understand the context. By the mid 2oth century sociology had separated itself fully and people tried to explain the why, and via explanation provide context and solutions. In 1963 a groundbreaking paper was produced by Curtis, who summarised the literature which seemed to show that abusive parents produce abusive children in his paper for the AJP Violence Begets Violence, Perhaps?. This might not seem groundbreaking today, but then today is the day Oliver Letwin was revealed to believe that black people are inherently disposed to riot. To look beyond “some people are born bad” or “some types of people are born bad” and instead assume there is a reason some people are violent is it seems an idea many still struggle with.
Which brings me to “Male Violence” (always capitalised in said in a voice of doom). Many of those most prominent within feminism in the UK, self-declared experts on everything, and opposed to therapeutic interventions, believe in an object called Male Violence. By which they do not mean violence committed by men, but a class of actions which of themselves have existence outwith the actions of individuals. They ascribe the campaigning of trans women for rights to Male Violence, clients of sex workers are committing acts of Male Violence. Male Violence is a core of their beliefs, seperate from an analysis of society as patriarchal (which harms men and women) or any understanding of other oppressions such as race, disability, class or sexuality, they ascribe all harms not to individual actors within society, but to an overarching abstract concept.
The huge advantage of this belief in Male Violence, as opposed to the violent acts of men within, and supported by, our patriarchal system of oppression, is that you can do nothing about it. In fact, as the previously linked to article of Carters shows, they oppose any attempts to tackle individuals, or to treat either victims or perpetrators as individuals. Their only solution is separation, either in refuges, political lesbianism or women only spaces. Oddly this separation is always a retreat from public spaces, women must give up those in order to be safe from Male Violence.
Over the years, as people researched why some are violent, and others end up in violent relationships the intergenerational model of abuse was developed. It is not the only explanation, but it gave at least some context. The idea that domestic violence and child abuse are transmitted from generation to generation has caused issues for some. For one thing it is not about saying you were abused, therefore you will abuse. Others think that in trying to understand the causes of abuse you are trying to excuse abuse. This is the point at which certain feminists shout “Male Violence” loudly over anyone trying to actual effect change. However the research has continued and also considered why those who have witnessed abuse, or suffered from abuse, go onto to create family structures where similar dysfunctions exist. From a therapeutic viewpoint its vital to consider what need being in an abusive or dysfunctional relationship fulfills.
Understanding has moved on from simply thinking people copy what they saw as children. It had to, partly because not everyone goes on to repeat intergenerational patterns, but also because it is so hard to explain why those who witnessed abuse and its impact at the closest quaters then go onto abuse or end up in abusive relationships. For many this defies common sense. If a child puts their hand in the fire, so common sense says, they learn not to get burnt. What if though the only time they got attention was when they put their hand in the fire? Of course it’s not as reductive as one explanation fits all, but for so many the roots, the context are in their childhood experiences. Or as the largest longitudinal study summarised;
Results from this multi-generational study constitute convincing evidence that childhood abuse is a distal risk-factor for later physical, emotional, and psychological problems, and that the sequelae of childhood abuse can become the risks for subsequent violence against women and children Noll, Tricket and Butler (2009)
Studies of Holocaust survivors have also shown that trauma can be transmitted to subsequent generations, even whilst the parents themselves are not actively abusive.Studies on Holocaust survivors and intergenerational transmission may give us some understanding of why those who have witnessed abuse, or been abused go onto abuse themselves. Attachment may be dysfunctional or not existent. Recent understanding of the impact of generations of oppression on the First Nations of America has also shown that stress, depression and abuse are transmitted through the generations as surely as if they were coded in people’s DNA.
What does this have to do with Jessica Jones I hear you ask?
Many people have praised the show for having a lead who is a survivor of coercive control, open about her PTSD, and clearly not perfect. Its not actually a new idea for a superhero, Daredevil/Spiderman is haunted by failing his father/uncle (they really are the same character) Batman has in various incarnations been suffering from PTSD, Catwoman, depending on incarnation again, was a sex worker recovering from rape/escaping her pimp. However it is new for a TV show to have a woman who is both powerful and struggling at its center. So it was with great anticipation I sat down to watch it, even as I ticked of the modern superhero tropes. I got past the kink and fat shaming, but still something troubled me about the show. Then it struck me, Kilgrave is Male Violence personified.
For those who have not seen the show Jessica Jones is a Marvel creation from the parallel Marvel universe where people know superheroes exist. She does not want to don cape and figure hugging Lycra however. She meets Kilgrave one night whilst rescuing someone from muggers. This is shown in flashback, so Kilgrave has already been established as evil (he has an English accent so it was always going to be easy to establish). We know also that he manipulated, probably raped, stalks, and abused Jessica. It is most certainly a coercive control relationship which has left her deeply scarred. The first meeting however has him simply use the magic of mind control to zap Jessica.
Male Violence- it needs no explanation, there can be no therapeutic intervention (in fact Jessica refuses to go to a support group) He only has power over Jessica because of his magic mind control. It’s the rad fem attitude to domestic abuse turned into a TV show.
Whats really infuriating is that there are hints of the better show it could have been, partly in the minor characters, but mainly from one of the support group scenes. A character is explaining that he lost his family, his wife, his job, because he dumped his crying child by the side of the road when ordered to by Kilgrave. He admits he wanted to dump the child, even before Kilgrave suggested it. That fleeting desperate, will you please stop crying, thought every parent has had.
He was still coerced, but there was a reason for him to be in the coercive relationship. In this, small instance, his hidden taboo desire to dump his child.
It’s very hard to write about the fact that both parties in a coercive relationship are getting something out of it without being jumped upon by those who shout “Male Violence” and other, more nuanced but still wedded to the idea of the mind controlled victim people. What you can be getting out of the relationship need not be positive you see. It fill the space that says you are unworthy, unlovelabe, lucky to even get this negative attention. It might fulfill those scripts from childhood that see you as deserving of pain, or that your pain must be ignored. It can take a lot of personal growth, counselling, self examination and unswerving honesty to ever uncover the reasons a victim ended up in an abusive relationship. Many people don’t ever do it, and wonder why they keep ending up with partners who hurt them, disrespect them, sleep around on them
This is not victim blaming
This is context, this is asking why, this is trying to change old patterns and the cycle of abuse.
There is no context fo Jessica and Kilgrave, and I so wish there had been. I can imagine a show where she was not only strong, and damaged, but where he perhaps offered a father figure, or where we learnt her mother had been in a DV relationship. Where there was a reason, where we were invited to have sympathy with her choices, even when they were wrong and harmful. Instead we get bad men appear from no where and hurt good women, and the only answer is separation. We get Male Violence.
End of Jessica Jones Spoiler
In the real world this is the message put out by the radfems who have fully infiltrated the arm of the rescue industry concerned with domestic violence. There is no point in therapy, as you cannot change Male Violence. Women do not need counselling because they do not need to examine why they ended up in an abusive relationship, since Male Violence is inevitable and pervasive. They push the freedom programme (with no research based evidence) because it only has group sessions where women are taught how to identify abusers, but never look at themselves. This is not to deny that some women have found it immensely useful, when you are drowning you do not refuse to get into a leaky life boat. However, I will make a prediction here, in 20 years time just as finally people are looking at how poor the long term results for AA are, go and see how many women who only did programs based on Male Violence ended up in abusive relationship after abusive relationship.
You cannot effect change whilst claiming any capacity for change is out of your hands. You cannot effect change whilst you refuse to look at why. Which brings me to a startling conclusion. Those who oppose client centered therapeutic interventions for domestic abuse actually do not want change. If the intergenerational patterns of behaviour were changed, if men and women were educated in self awareness, in empathy, if children had good quality interventions, then not only would the concept of Male Violence be challenged, but so would their jobs, their nice little positions of power and influence on boards of the great and the good. If people changed, they would be left high and dry, and so the monolith of Male Violence must be protected, even over the generations not yet even born who could be protected from abuse.