Archive | June, 2013

Surviving the Agent

24 Jun

Our language and the way we name our world is not only extremely important, but also extremely revealing. When we analyze our language we find out many things about the culture that uses that language. In patriarchy, women are victims and to show women as victims is right, normal and beneficial for patriarchy. Female victimization is an integral part of patriarchy and without it, patriarchy would not exist. Patriarchy needs females to be victims. It needs females to feel like victims; otherwise, uppity females would stop their own enslavement. They would stop participating in patriarchy. They would wake up and realize that they are sleeping with the enemy. They would understand that they have Stockholm’s Syndrome and seek treatment and they would begin to stand up for themselves. Patriarchy and men cannot have this. Never naming the agent, male violence, is one tool in the patriarchal language box that works to oppress women. Language is a powerful tool that we take for granted as benign; however, it is anything but.  Language has a profound effect on our brains. Dee L. R. Graham wrote in her book, Loving to Survive, Sexual Terror, Men’s Violence and Women’s Lives:

Language, like the affiliative qualities of women, is frequently disparaged in our culture. Language often is spoken of as “just words”, as if it had no power or reality. But Feminist science fiction (like literature generally) makes us aware of the true power language possesses to make or remake our worlds. A language will reflect the dominant language using group’s view of reality. And the controversy generated when the existing structures of and assumptions about a language are challenged by a subordinate group shows that language is anything but trivial.

The beginning of the written language has the same origins as patriarchy, patriarchal religions and the rise of men, and with the written word the Bible was born. Language and words actually changed our brains and changed us.  I could go as far as saying that written language actually mimics our beliefs and ideals and vice-verse, much like religion and mythology. The language of patriarchy is no small thing. Hidden within this male language are ideals that are not female friendly; ideals that continue to oppress women internally and externally.  Women and men are taught to speak in very different ways and these differing ways are mirror images of patriarchal ideals.

Women learn to speak in the passive voice. Men learn to speak primarily in the assertive voice. Men speak from a place of “I” or identity, strong in the belief that they exist as independent human beings. Women rarely speak from a place of  “I” because they are not strong in the belief that they exist as independent human beings, quite the contrary, they speak from a place of non-existence, of invisibility because in a male dominated society women have had to survive men. Men obscure women in our society and men are the default for both male and female human beings and our language reflects this. In our language there are numerous literal examples of this mentality, the most blatant and the most detrimental for women are the message we receive with the labels or words that define us:

fe-Male

wo-Man

Lad-y

He-r

s-He

All of these words that we use to name females have within them male names. Moreover, these male names are complete, whole words. The parts that make the word female are incomplete add-ons to the male words and without them, they are only letters, passive appendages that amount to nothing on their own. This mirrors the idea in our society that women are not complete without men; that women are not autonomous human beings. Moreover, when women use these names to describe themselves, they internalize the meaning, and the meaning is devastating.  Mary Daly, a Radical Feminist writer & scholar wrote:

Julia Stanley and Susan Robbins have written of the peculiar history of the pronoun “She”, which was introduced into Middle English as a late development. During the Middle Ages, “he” had come to be both the female and the male pronoun. After “she” was introduced, it referred only to females, while “he” became “generic,” allegedly including women. This transition in the history of the pronoun “he” was hardly significant: “Since the female pronoun always designates females–while the male designates all humans as well as all males, patriarchal language, as manifested in the pronominal system of English, extended the scope of maleness to include humanity, while restricting femaleness to “the Other,” who is by implication nonhuman. Any speaker internalizing such a language unconsciously internalizes the value underlying such a system, thus perpetuating the cultural and social assumptions necessary to maintain the patriarchal power structure.

Violence against women is a very good example of patriarchal language and the passive voice or what Mary Daly calls “male speak.” When we attempt to name the problem of male violence by truncating it and calling it violence against women, we do two profound things. On a language level, we take away the noun or referent, male that the word violence is dependent on. Without the referent, the perpetrator of the violence, the word violence is meaningless and rendered passive.  All human beings understand that violence doesn’t just happen, there has to be a violator. By amputating male from male violence, we then have a dependent word that is absent it’s referent thereby making our minds desperate to hang its hat on another referent, and devoid of any other choice we attach it to women. Thus, when we read, violence against women, our minds automatically albeit subconsciously, attach the missing violator onto women, ultimately blaming women for the violence against them.

Moreover, on a non-language level, when we amputate male from male violence we deny the existence of the perpetrator and we keep the conversation at the level of female victimization, ideas equally beneficial to patriarchy and the oppression of women. How can we solve male violence if we don’t even name it? We are essentially running in circles. We try to solve the issue without addressing the actual issue. Men are responsible for their violence, not women. When we attempt to name the problem with abstract words like; domestic violence, the war on women & violence against women, it has the opposite effect of erasing the actual problem–male violence.

When we hear the word domestic used to describe a type of violence, domestic becomes the perpetrator and since we all know that the realm of domesticity in patriarchy is considered to be a female realm, we automatically conjure up images of women, vacuuming, mopping, doing laundry, looking after children and so on; therefore, equating the word domestic with women. This yet again leads us to the conclusion that with domestic violence, women are the perpetrators and the victims. In other words, women must have done something to deserve the violence. Moreover, since women and domesticity are not relevant in our society, neither is domestic violence, the problem is circular;  women violence, violence women, she deserves violence therefore violence deserves her, it is a snake feeding on its own tail.

Similarly, when we name male violence, the war on women, we again hide the actual problem, which is male violence. This works in two negating ways.  On both levels, language and otherwise, the war, points to an absent referent — the actual enemy that is waging the war — men. We have again caused a language deficit, therefore the war must seek out and attach itself to a referent or subject, which is women.  This implies that the war on women is a war that women created, women fight and women are victims too, another circular appeal–like a rat on a wheel–expending energy but never actually going anywhere.  We are speaking about male violence in a way that denies it.  It stunts the conversation at the level of female victimization, which in patriarchy is normalized and thereby invisible. When we hear the war, we should ask, what war? Who or what is waging this mysterious war, but we don’t, because the war is on women and nobody gives a damn about women!  The war on women then becomes a pesky little issue that women have and therefore need to solve, who cares if it is men who are waging this war, apparently that doesn’t matter.  Men waging war against women is just a part of patriarchy.

Not only have men enslaved women, but they have also created a misogynist language that alienates and demeans women every time they read or utter a word of it; a language that works like an eraser, erasing them slowly over time. Sometimes it’s prudent to ask oneself, why is it perfectly OK to include women in the attempt to name the problem, but not men, when it is men who are the problem? Violence against women, domestic violence and the war on women, silently, passively and from obscurity shout about the victimization of women, the dehumanizing of women, the blaming of women for male violence.  The language women are forced to use is, like women who must survive in patriarchy, gagged, like a woman who’s had her tongue cut out,  trying to scream a soundless scream.  Even in an attempt to solve the problem of male violence, women use the passive voice, the voice of the female victim, the female subordinate, the female subservient to talk about male violence. We do this because we don’t really want to solve it if it entails naming men as the problem. This is a symptom of Stockholm’s Syndrome, a well honed defense mechanism, to survive male violence.

It is quite ironic really, women trying to solve a problem without actually naming the problem, but ironic or not this is a symptom of terror. It is a learned survival behavior.  By denying that men are the problem, they are able to continue living with them hoping that they can continue to control at least his violence through subservience and femininity and with the false belief that her man will protect her from other men.  The passive descriptions, Violence, domestic & the war hang there detached without even a hint or suggestion that there is a hammer, attached to a hand, attached to an arm, attached to a man that is systematically bludgeoning women. Dee L. R. Graham wrote:

When women deny men’s violence against us, it is impossible for us to recognize that violence is an effort to maintain male domination, female submissiveness, and possibly even female love of men. Denial of male violence makes it impossible for women to recognize, much less understand, that our love of men and our (adopted) femininity may be attempts to limit men’s abuse of women. Denial of male violence also precludes the taking of steps to end violence.

Women have been conditioned through male violence and social pressure to ensure that men are happy or at least not angry because an angry man is a dangerous man and a dangerous man is not conducive to female survival. This survival instinct is hard wired into women due to thousands of years of male violence against women and even today it dictates all of our interactions with men.  Women have learned that if they want to survive they must decipher male moods and then administer salve or whatever is needed to make them less violent.  To do this women have had to take responsibility for men’s moods, feelings & behaviors.  This is even more complicated by the fact that women are taught that they don’t matter. Their identity only counts if their identity is supporting the male identity. Women cannot have an identity or self of her own. Consequently, women have learned to feel an extreme sense of responsibility for men:

Captive Is Hypervigilant Regarding the Captor’s Needs and Seeks to Keep the Captor Happy. In the Service of Keeping the Captor Happy, Captive Tries to “Get Inside the Captor’s Head.

To survive men, women have learned to navigate male moods and to do this, they have learned to empathize with a capital “E”.  Women empathize with men to such a degree that they take on male pain as if it were there own.  Women for the most part aren’t aware that this is hard wired into them. If I hadn’t read,  “Loving to Survive” by Dee L. Graham, I too would not have been aware that I was doing this myself.  I’ve always wondered why when I see a man, even a complete stranger cry, I feel like crying too. It tugs on my heart strings and I feel responsible for making him feel better. I realize now what this means. The very idea that I feel responsible for male pain and worse, that I do not feel this at all when I see a woman cry, makes perfect sense now. Knowing this however doesn’t feel very good. It makes me cringe inside. But there it is, patriarchal survival 101, and even I, a radical feminist, can’t escape it.

Because I am a woman, who must survive in a male dominated world, I have an investment in making sure men are less violent.  The need to decipher the male mood and work towards keeping them less violent is what women have done and continue to do because they believe that they can make a difference, that if they do everything right, if they are subservient enough, kind enough, loving enough, selfless enough, they can change him into a better human being. This belief is what keeps women from going off the deep end; regardless of whether or not it is true. Women need to feel safe, to have some sense of security even if this safety and security is an illusion. Women need to understand this phenomenon. Women need to understand why they behave the way they do. Why they ring their hands and feel responsible for men’s feelings and behaviors and why they stay with abusive men. It is all connected and if women understood this, they could take steps towards realizing that they too are sick with this disorder and would feel less compassion for men and more compassion for themselves and other women.  Ignorance in this case is only bliss for men, not women.  Ignorance also makes women less compassionate for other women who we see catering to their men.

Before coming across this knowledge, when I saw women doing this, walking on eggshells, catering to men, I would cringe because (or so I thought) it rubbed my radical feminist sensibility the wrong way; however, now even though subtle, I realize that I do the same thing when I interact with men. I also realized that it wasn’t about me being a radical feminist, but instead, me judging other women was a projection of my own self loathing. On the surface, it looks like women are needy and need male attention and approval. It may even look like compassion, but if you look deeper, you will find that this behavior comes from the need to survive male violence.  To survive, women must take on their abusers perception, get inside their heads in an effort to control their abuse,  in order to feel safer, they ultimately lose their own perspective and begin seeing themselves through men’s perspective.

Captor Sees the World from the Captor’s Perspective. She or He May not Have Her or His Own Perspective. Captive Experiences Own Sense of Self through the Captor’s Eyes.

Women believe that their best chance of survival, although brutal and painful, is to stay with the men they know (literally).  Knowing their men then replaces their own sense of safety, their fight or flight instincts.  Women then believe that men’s behaviors including abuse is their fault.  If men lash out at women ( non persons)  women are at fault because they are seeing themselves through their abusers eyes and instead of it being their abusers fault, she takes responsibility for it because she must have done something wrong to make him act that way.  She wasn’t timid enough, nice enough or what have you; therefore, it was her fault. Women blame themselves because they failed at doing the one thing they have learned to do for survival and that is to keep their men less violent.

Women also feel that it would be more dangerous to leave the male batterer that they know, then to be out in the world without protection from other men. She chooses instead to stay with him, wanting to believe that even though he is violent and even though he hurts her emotionally and physically, amongst a sea of male violence, he is her life preserver. She probably also knows that when she leaves him, he could hunt her down and kill her, which is quite common due to the lack of protection provided to women in our society. Ironically, men created the nuclear family to isolate women to ensure female subservience and complicity, and this arrangement has benefited men in many ways. What men did not bargain on was the female tenacity to survive and what these survival tactics would look like.

Women have had to become invisible to survive for thousands of years and taking that first step out of bondage, by letting go of what they believe is their life preserver (men) is frightening. So with this mentality, most women don’t rock the boat.  Most women don’t name the perpetrator and men continue to get away with violating women. In this insane world, women try to work on the problem that is male violence while at the same time hanging on to their life preserver for dear life. I’ve always argued that women temper male violence. That in places where there are no women such as male prisons and where women have no rights or power, where they are disenfranchised the most such as the Taliban in the Middle East, men are the most violent.  When men are left to their own devices, they tend to transgress into barbarians. And although my argument is true, my reasoning on why women are able to temper male violence was incomplete, because I didn’t have all of the information needed to really understand why. The reason of course is because in places where women are allowed even the minimum of rights, such as domestic rights and the right to emotionally support their husbands, women go to extremes to make men less violent.

One of the captor behaviors I’ve noticed in women is the aversion to defending themselves against male violence. I’ve consistently been bewildered by this because it just doesn’t make sense why any human being would not defend themselves against a threat of violence.  However, bewildered or not whenever I voiced my opinion about women needing to defend themselves by any means possible, I get women who oppose this idea vehemently.  Now that I am armed with more knowledge and I understand the symptoms and behaviors of  Stockholm’s Syndrome,  I am no longer puzzled about this phenomenon.  Because women have had to see the world from the captor’s perspective and not through her own perspective to ensure her own safety, the idea of harming men then is like harming themselves because their perception has been displaced into the male perception. Women more often then not, see their world through male eyes.  Consequently, the idea of women shooting men, even if doing it will save their lives, is uncomfortable. To shoot men, would be like shooting themselves because their sense of self is in men.

Defending themselves against male violence then is shot down because if women admit there is a threat or admit that they need to defend their lives they would have to admit that they are not safe regardless of their tireless efforts, which means it was all for naught and they have failed.  Women would then feel a loss of control, the false control they think they have gained by being subservient and feminine, being what men have trained them to be.  Over time women have evolved to believe that fighting men with violence doesn’t work. They understand on a deep level that it is like shooting a bear with a be be gun and it will most likely just anger them and the beating will be even worse; so women have learned not to fight back. Women believe that the only way to survive their predicament is to do what women have done for thousands of years, acquiesce, be nice, smooth things over, calm him down, be invisible. This is what works, this is what has always worked and doing anything other than this is —DANGEROUS.  This of course is an illusion but there it is. So when women oppose or refuse to fight men, we can understand why.

I now have so much more empathy and compassion for myself and other women because of my new understanding. Male violence is so normalized in patriarchy that we don’t even realize how much it affects our reality and daily lives. It’s like white noise in the background. But the truth is, it affects us tremendously and women have evolved in a specific way because of it.  Women are what we are today because of male violence, not in spite of it. Women’s behaviors then are dictated by the need to survive and the need to survive dictates that we keep men from being angry and violent. Everyone knows that women are very good manipulators. Everyone knows that women manipulate  to get “what they want” , believing that women do this out of selfishness.  What if this ability has evolved to keep men from victimizing us?  What if for women, getting “what they want” was about staying alive?

I’ve noticed that myself and others get extremely irritated when they see women manipulating others in real life, in the movies or on TV.  What is interesting is that women who manipulate are virulently hated, even though men are getting what they want by physical violence. It is extremely ironic. It really is ridiculous to believe manipulation is worse than physical violence, but we live in a male world and everything men do is revered, even violence and everything women do is frowned upon.  Men created the nuclear family to isolate and control women; however, there have been secondary ramifications of separating women from other women and pairing them up with men. Men did it to control women; and this has certainly been one result; however, their has been other results that may not have been foreseen. In the Nuclear family arena, women are better able to manipulate one man– their man — and control his behavior–even if they can’t do so outside the home. The home then becomes a woman’s control zone which equals safety and even if their husband or boyfriend beats them, it is a danger that they believe they can control. Women put all of the emphasis on herself. She takes responsibility for her behavior and his therefore she alone has control over the situation, the abuse. This is all an illusion of course but you can’t fault women for trying. Since women for the most part are less physically strong then men, they have and continue to fight them the only way they can through emotional manipulation.  Women are practiced in the art of emoting, men are not. In the emotional arena, women feel that they can prevail against men.

Patriarchy, horrible as it is, is probably tame compared to a patriarchy without women. Imagine what our world would be like if men were left to their own violent devices?  Would human beings have survived? In my opinion the male ego, entitlement and his lack of empathy for other human beings will be his ruin.  Men know that women without the dominance of men, would begin to wake up and realize the amount of energy they are putting into surviving men.  Men know that women would figure out that the energy they expend making sure men are less violent, could be spent on more important things. Men know that women who gather together are more likely to rebel.  What men don’t know, because in order to come by this knowing they would actually have to see and understand women for who and what they are instead of what they do for him, is that women have actually gained an advantage and that is the ability to manipulate men.  Because men have depended on women to temper their moods, they have limited capacity for doing this themselves; therefore, if women did decide to boycott men, take their energy back, separate from men and fight back, men would devolve into apes, after all men without women are at best, very much like the common chimpanzee.  Human evolution has been stagnant since the dawn of patriarchy and the only reason we have evolved at all is because of women, not in spite of them.

The answer? In my opinion, women need to understand why they behave the way they do and realize their behavior, although it was out of the need to survive male violence, is not actually stopping men from being violent. Women also need to realize the amount of power they have given men when they lose their own sense of self or perception in order to feel as if they can control men by being in their perception. Women need to wake up to the fact that men are going to be violent towards women regardless of what we do and that maybe, just maybe, female subordination and femininity is not healthy or a deterrent to male violence. If  women stop believing in the illusion that they can control male violence and that it is their fault if they can’t, they can begin to get out from under their denial, out from under the male perspective, their captors perspective and into their own perspective, ultimately seeing the epidemic of male violence against women for what it is, a serious threat. Then women can take steps towards protecting themselves and other women from that threat. Whether they purchase guns, learn how to use them and carry them on their person, or whether they choose other ways to defend themselves, the important thing is that women choose to protect their lives instead of continuing to protect men.

Michele Braa-Heidner