Tag Archives: Domestic Violence

International Women’s Day and VAWA Converge, Illuminating Progress and Struggles Towards Gender Equity

Credit: Dominik GwarekOn the eve of International Women’s Day – March 7 – President Obama signed the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act into law. And on March 8, folks around the world celebrated women’s achievements and ongoing struggle towards equality.

I find myself puzzling over the fact that there is no Violence Against Men Act, nor popular observance of International Men’s Day in the U.S. What does this inconsistency say about the genders? We’re not equal, but we’re trying?

The reauthorization, which first passed in 1994 with bipartisan support under President Clinton, recognizes to some extent the problems of domestic violence and sexual assault which disproportionately affect women. VAWA reauthorization did not pass easily this time around, and it got tabled a year ago amid bipartisan bickering over added provisions for Native American, LGBT, and immigrant victims. Those provisions made it into the now-law.

The VAWA reauthorization provides needed funding and services to victims of violence but doesn’t ultimately address the cultures of violence, the reasons women are often victimized, and why acts like rape continue to take place in high numbers throughout the world.

International Women’s Day derived from women’s labor struggles, which persist today. In a Christian Science Monitor article, Steph Solis quotes Carol Rosenblatt’s concern about the factory fires in Bangladesh that killed many female garment workers to demonstrate that women still work for low wages in poor conditions. In addition to freedom from violence and access to fair wages and work conditions, women around the world still fight for equal access from food and clean toilet facilities to maternal health care and parental leave after birth.

In the Guardian, a somewhat sour Suzanne Moore describes International Women’s Day events as, “a strange mixture of talking about female genital mutilation (bad) and then listening to some great women musicians (good).” Both of the Christian Science Monitor’s stories about the international celebration opened with descriptions of the Doodles designed for the day on the Google homepage (one of which makes the G out of the Venus symbol). I’m not sure of the value of Google’s recognition of the day, though it likely promotes awareness to those unfamiliar with the holiday.

Folks throughout the world celebrate International Women’s Day with different practices, some women get time off work, or additional help with housework from the men in their lives. This year in the U.S. women can take the day to appreciate ongoing support for victims of violence though the sentiment remains bittersweet – because the VAWA law and International Women’s Day serve as landmarks towards gender equity which inadvertently highlight the broad disparities that remain between men and women.

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Battered, Pregnant, Looking for Ride

A woman on the street in downtown Madison asked me to help her find transport to a battered women’s shelter today. She was tired, articulate, and African American. She sought transportation to a shelter just south of Madison. The local domestic violence shelter was full. The local women’s shelter is open only at night and will not house people long-term. The buses don’t run that far out of the city. YWCA couldn’t help her either. She shared this sequence of setbacks with me, and the fact that she’s pregnant.

I wasn’t sure what to do to help, but I felt sympathetic. I know that it requires a great deal of courage to leave an abusive situation. I feared that if I didn’t help her find assistance, she would return to her abuser. So I called the Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence and passed the phone along to the woman. I listened to her repeat: “I know, there’s just no funding.” She had already tried the suggestions I brainstormed on the spot. I was out of ideas. And I didn’t have a car.

So we talked about taking a cab, and between us we didn’t have enough money to pay for it — $35. She decided to panhandle for the balance, then take a cab when she could. She offered to exchange numbers so she could pay me back in the future, after she gets help, and a new job.

What she said when we parted really struck me, “I guess I shouldn’t have come to the city, as a minority, looking for help.”

Downtown Madison, Wisconsin

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I walked away from this experience feeling sad, helpless, and doubtful. This woman went everywhere I could think of for help, and they didn’t have the resources to assist her. I fear that she will fall through the cracks of an under-funded, well-intentioned system of advocacy organizations. But I hope she makes it to the shelter she set out for.

Any advocates out there recommend different options or suggestions for the future?

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Delving into the issue of Sexual Assault in Native Populations

Last spring, Jacqui Callari-Robinson visited Sawyer County in Wisconsin, which hosts the Lac Courte Oreilles tribe and the Oakwood Haven shelter for victims of domestic and sexual violence. She worked with a focus group of women to determine what services tribal communities needed to protect against these issues. Ten women of various tribes throughout the state participated and shared their own experiences.

All ten of the women were victims of sexual assault. They did not receive physical or emotional treatment, nor legal justice. Callari-Robinson holds onto this memory as she strives for full sexual assault response coverage throughout the state. I too grasped onto this story.

Callari-Robinson, the director of health services for the Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault (WCASA), keeps an eye on all the SANE certified nurses and SART teams throughout the state. SANE stands for Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner, a national certification for nurses who conduct forensic exams and collect evidence from victims of sexual assault. The exams play a crucial role in the medical treatment of victims and subsequent cases against their perpetrators. Sexual Assault Response Teams (SART) consist of medical personnel, law enforcement, and advocates within a community who work together to help victims of assault.

Many of the eleven Native American tribes in Wisconsin do not have SANE nurses or SART programs on their reservations. Callari-Robinson forged relationships over the last 14 years with tribal community members and advocates to try to develop these programs.

My discussions with Callari-Robinson mark the beginning of my investigation into domestic violence and sexual assault programs in Indian country. A report from Amnesty International pulled me further into this issue. Maze of Injustice documents the high volume of indigenous American women who experience assault. This report came out in 2007, and the CDC confirmed in their 2010 Survey  that native women still experience assault more frequently than women of other races.

Why is this problem so pervasive in Native communities? Maze of Injustice reports that in our American history of colonialism rape became a tool of conquest placing Native women in a position vulnerable to abuse. And some Native Americans report that they inherited abuse practices from colonizers. Boarding schools which indoctrinated indigenous youths with a punitive system taught them to be ashamed of their culture. When these “reformed” Natives returned to their communities as adults, they brought punitive methods with them. C.J. Doxtater, an Oneida member and employee of the Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence shared this theory with me, and the anecdote that Native children who spoke their indigenous language were punished with pins in their tongue.

Many Native groups have sprung up in response to reports of high numbers of sexual and domestic abuse against Native American women and children including Mending the Sacred Hoop, a group based in Minnesota. They strive to disrupt the cycles of abuse that affect Native communities. Other groups addressing this issue include American Indians Against Abuse in Wisconsin and the national Indian Health Service. These groups work hard to address sexual assault and domestic violence on tribal land. Prevention of abuse remains a priority. And considering the focus group with ten out of ten women retaining the trauma and memory of abuse, these organizations work for healing and recovery on the individual and cultural level.

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Tribes Fight Violence Against Women

Enjoy News from the Margins’ first podcast! M. Brent Leonhard, tribal attorney and supporter of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), presented on the impact of VAWA on tribal sovereignty. He spoke at UW-Madison for the Indigenous Law Students Association’s Coming Together of Peoples Conference on March 23, 2012.

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Language, Race, and Provocation: The Evolution of SlutWalk in a Timeline

SlutWalk’s provocative title garnered  attention and support for the series of marches against sexual assault and victim blaming. But mainstream and feminist commentators criticized the organizer’s preoccupation with the term “slut.” The movement sought to end slut shaming and reclamation of “slut” featured in the mission statements of various SlutWalk marches. Each march rose separately from the grassroots level, and they generally included speakers, signs, and some scantily clad participants.

I created this timeline to accompany a research paper on rhetorical and racial hang-ups presented through the SlutWalk movement. In my research I examined the discourse around and criticism towards SlutWalk regarding reclamation of the term “Slut” and the N-word as it was presented on an NYC SlutWalk sign. I also explored the racial dynamic of the event and how the choice of the term “Slut” both raised awareness of the marches and alienated women of color.

This timeline shows the progression of these language and race issues as they arose throughout the year. Many other events took place under the umbrella of SlutWalk, which I did not include here.

Sources

The Star | Toronto Sun | The Washington Post | Time Magazine | The New York Post | Ms. Magazine | Ms. Blog | The Guardian | To The Curb Blog | The Crunk Feminist Collective Blog | Black Women’s Blueprint Website | SlutWalk NYC Website

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Rape Jokes and Equal Opportunity Killing: Pros and Cons of Female Progress in the Macho Worlds of Comedy and Video Games

Women comedians thriving in their industry draw on a realm of issues to tickle, shock, or gross out audiences more familiar with the male-centered scene. But the racy topics rising from the likes of Sarah Silverman and Amy Schumer push more than the glass ceiling or the “taste taboo ceiling.” A recent article in the New York Times touches on rising female comics and the use of rape humor in their acts.

Jason Zinomen writes, recounting Silverman, “if you had to pinpoint one joke as a breakthrough for this new generation of female comedians, it might be this one: ‘I was raped by a doctor, which is so bittersweet for a Jewish girl.’”

Rape may fall logically on the list of things more approachable by female comics. But for my part, too many people avoid, or remain ignorant of, the realities of sexual assault. Making light of sexual violations belittles the physical and psychological trauma of the experience. That said, I am not here to criticize the risqué aspects of stand up comedy, whose primary purpose seems provocation.

I am interested in the way that women make a place for themselves within comedy entertainment. Vanity Fair, in 2008, printed the article “Who Says Women Aren’t Funny?” It covered 12 contemporary funny women, remarking on the requirement that they be simultaneously clever and sexy. The article featured Tina Fey and Kristen Wiig, whose recent movie Bridesmaids included female-centered humor, and some ground breaking gross-out scenes with women.

But female comedians aren’t the only ones breaking ground.  Female reviewer Emma Boyes touts the third installation of Saints Row, a violent, gangster genre video game, as “good for women.”

This game which features gratuitous violence and prostitution allows players to control the gender of their avatar. Within both realms (game playing and character creating) players experience gender neutrality uncharacteristic of video games in general.

Boyes writes, “the best thing about the way women are depicted in Saints Row is the fact that it never seems to occur to anyone to treat them any differently.”

The game, according to Boyes, includes a substantial number of bad-ass female characters and no diminutive language when referring to them. Male and female prostitutes are featured and objectified. Players have a great deal of flexibility when creating their avatars.

“All outfits, makeup, and hair styles are available to both genders, so there’s nothing stopping you from, say, being a girl with a beard or a fella with pigtails, lip gloss, and high heels. You can wear a sexy dress. You can wear a power suit. You can be androgynous,” writes Boyes.

Boyes’ review also includes disclaimers that the game is saucy, provocative, and sometimes immature. Gender equity will not necessarily draw a flock of female gamers if they weren’t already interested in gangster games. And the benefits, or consequences, of playing at theft and death remain debatable for all genders.

Does the new installation of Saints Row demonstrate progress? Yes, definitely. Although equal opportunity violence and rape humor still leave a bad taste in my mouth, women deserve a place  in these fields. I remain hopeful that females advance in comedy and gaming on their own terms.

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Florence + The Machine = Misinformers on Race and Violence ?

Perhaps, the optimist in me hopes, Florence Welch and her band are merely misinformed on issues of race and violence. Their prominent position in the international music industry begs a certain level of social sensitivity and awareness, neither of which seem present in their new video for the song, “No Light, No Light.” (Watch the video here.)

Some of my regular sites have been in an uproar recently about Florence + The Machine’s video for the song off their recent album, Ceremonials. I found the video lacking racial sensitivity and recycling tired primitivist tropes. The video, unfortunately, is not the band’s first demonstration of poor judgment.

One of Florence+ The Machine’s previous songs, “Kiss with a Fist,” shows a blatant disregard for domestic violence with lyrics such as: “You hit me once / I hit you back / You gave a kick / I gave a slap / You smashed a plate / Over my head / Then I set fire to our bed.”

In an interview with NPR’s Melissa Block, Welch explains she wrote the song at age 17 in an attempt to fit in with garage-rocker peers. She claims the lyrics are purely figurative, “a metaphor for first love, in all its intensities,” but she did not acknowledge the provocation in the message.

Singing about black eyes and partner violence without consequence or reflection shows a profound lack of sensitivity. “Kiss with a Fist” normalizes domestic violence, making it harder for victims of abuse to be taken seriously.

Domestic violence does not equate emotionally or psychologically to the pangs of first love. The song fails to make that distinction.

Let’s return to the more current issue at hand, racism in Welch’s newest video. In the same interview with Melissa Block, Welch expands on her musical philosophy, providing some insight into the primitivist elements in the video.

The music is a “primal and tribal bashing of percussion, mixed with the choral side of the backing vocals,” Welch explained in April of 2010.

Ceremonials was released in October of 2011, though the juxtaposition of “tribal” and “choral” elements feature prominently in the “No Light, No Light,” video.

The video grossly misrepresents race and tribalism, creating a pseudo-ritual with a voodoo doll, mask, and dancing evocative of possession rituals. The producers of the video take it a step further with a scene of the black man chasing Welch, a white woman down an alley.

The racial, primitive character does not represent any actual culture or race. He stands vilified and wild next to the purity of an all-boys church choir and Welch herself.

Blogs through Jezebel and Racialicious  analyzed and critiqued this video more thoroughly than I. Racialicious suggests that this insensitivity appears in Florence + The Machine’s video for “The Dog Days are Over” — another example that the band exhibits ignorance in their lyrics and videos.

Change.org hoped to collect 2,500 signatures to demand an apology for “No Light, No Light” but only reached 902. I think continuing the discussion about the video and the band will inform more than a petition or apology.

In any case, it remains important for viewers / listeners / consumers of pop culture to consider intentional or unwitting messages in their media. As producers of popular media Florence Welch and her band take poetic license into the realm of ignorance and insensitivity toward diversity and violence. Perhaps they should join this conversation.

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