Being Hurt is Not a Given: A Feminist's Perspective

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Being Hurt is Not a Given: A Feminist's Perspective

Talya Gates-Monasch


This paper was written by a student not a professional, it is exploratory. There are many resources available for victims including a number of which offer anonymity. If you or someone you know is being hurt, physically or emotionally, please use the resources available offered by qualified professionals.

Victims are referred to as females or children in this paper because the overwhelming majority of victims are women or children. This statistical evidence is not an attempt to diminish the reality and importance of men who face domestic violence.


Short of murder, slavery is arguably the ultimate violence against another human being. Sojourner Truth (1797-1883), an abolitionist and feminist, repeatedly expressed her dismay at the inequality she faced because of her skin color and her gender. After she was freed, she focused on the need for abolition. In her mind, abolition could lead to equality between the sexes. Without the end of slavery, women would not be able to establish their equality. Unfortunately, while the end of slavery may have been a prerequisite for establishing equality between the sexes it did not by itself lead to equality.

Feminism is a contemporary response to inequality and violence against women. I hate the word feminist. No, I hate the assumptions many people make when they hear or use the word feminist. I don't frequently label myself a "feminist" because I don't know how the people that I am speaking to will interpret my declaration. If someone, however, asks me if I'm a feminist I say yes and offer my definition and explanation of feminism. Feminism is the belief that men and women should have equal opportunities. All people, including men, can be feminists; in fact, it is especially important for men to be feminists because they offer their support for women through their actions as well as gives the men the freedom to be themselves and to benefit from equal partnerships. Feminists, in general, are advocates and have the power to invoke change.

Bringing rape and violence to the forefront is crucial: women and children worldwide face violence at startlingly high rates. Women can't gain equality as long as it is acceptable for people to use violence to keep them unequal.

"Brought rape, feminism, sexuality, and wymyn surviving hard shit into the mainstream..." (description of Western Feminist Kathleen Hanna) is the description that I was given for myself when I took the "Which Western Feminist Icon Are You?" I believe that this description should be a given rather than an anomaly for a feminist.

According to a binder given out to confidential advocate trainees the following is the most widely accepted, basic, and general view of domestic violence.

"Domestic Violence is a pattern of behavior used by one person to maintain power and control over another. Physical battering is not the only form of abuse. Emotional and sexual abuse, including insults, intimidation, threats and forced sex are also part of an abusive relationship. Domestic violence occurs between people in relationships, such as current or former husbands and wives; boyfriends and girlfriends; gay and lesbian partners; the elderly and their caretakers; parents, children, and/or relatives; sex workers and pimps/clients, as well as victims of stalking or trafficking. Although anyone may be a victim, the majority are women and their children."

There are other definitions that describe the details of the basic categories of abuse: economic, sexual, physical, emotional, and verbal abuse; as well as isolation, threats, friendships, and surveillance.

Every 9 seconds, a woman is battered in the US. Domestic violence is the primary cause of injury to women: 1 out of 3 women will be hurt at some point throughout her life, physically or sexually, by a husband or boyfriend. These statistics often seem too high to believe; they also seem difficult to believe because men are frequently not included in a description of domestic violence. Based on police records women are 7-14 times more likely to report suffering severe physical assaults from an intimate partner. All victims of abuse need to feel free to report their situation and need to have the option of facing the world without the fear that goes along with abuse.

The fight against domestic violence began in 1968 when The Women's History Library was founded to bring issues of equality to the surface. In 1973, the first battered women's shelter in the US opened in St. Paul, Minnesota. It began as an office space where women in danger would sleep when they needed a safe space. By the next year they had raised enough money to open a 5 bedroom shelter. Not only was Nebraska the first state to abolish the marital-rape exemption in 1976 but Battered Wives by Del Martin was published identifying sexism as the cause of violence against women. In 1977 the first counseling program for batters was developed at the request of the women working in shelters. The US commission on Civil Rights sponsored the Consultation on Battered Women: Issues of Public Policy in 1978. This was where The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) was formally named, however it began through the work and dedication of feminists around the country. On October 17, 1981, the NCADV declared a National Day of Unity on behalf of battered women. This day of unity became a month of unity in 1987: October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. In 1994, the US Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act as part of the federal Crime Bill. In 1998, all exemptions from rape prosecution for husbands/cohabitants/dates were repealed in Delaware. Feminists have continued the fight against domestic violence through the creation of hotlines, therapy, and shelters.

Violence against women should never be ignored or dismissed, no matter how small or minor the act may seem. Bringing rape and other forms of violence to a level of awareness should be at the top of a feminist's priorities however, it is not the only way to approach the utopian world where women will be treated as equals. Other ways involve fighting more directly for women's rights within the workplace, economy, reproduction, etc. The work of feminists will lead to a world where children will not be afraid and women will be able to walk down a dark alley wearing a mini skirt without fear.

In the world of psychology and domestic violence, Sharon Lamb is one of the most influential and outspoken women; as a feminist she speaks of issues facing women, focusing on violence, in today's world. She bases her knowledge and information on her background as a psychologist and the resources that accompany that profession. She wrote a book titled The Trouble with Blame: Victims, Perpetrators, and Responsibility that discusses violence from multiple perspectives of those involved. She attempts to answer the question that most victims ask themselves: "What is it about me that makes men do this to me?" (Lamb, pg.55) as well as discuss the most common reasons given by the perpetrator for the act of violence.

Part of what makes Lamb unique is her view of victimization and blame. "It happens to everyone. It was my fault" is the most common comment in response to violence. This belief is also part of the reason that so few cases of domestic violence are actually reported to authorities and is part of the reason that is so difficult for women to gain the courage to leave those who are perpetrators of violence. The standard answer in response to the self-blame is "No. It does not happen to everyone and it was not your fault." Lamb, however, has considered the possibility that perhaps a little self-blame is not bad if it helps the victim maintain the belief that there is order in the world and that she has at least some control over her life.

"But a number of authors from the field of social psychology speak of schemas and cognitions too, and describe victims' self-blaming as a way of maintaining beliefs that the world is a just and meaningful place, and that they have control over their own lives. From the 'just world' perspective of the victim, it would be easier to see oneself as blameworthy than to give up the more important belief that the world is a fair place and that people get what they deserve in life" (Lamb, pg.30).

Simply being a person in this random world is also a scary thought, and the idea of free will is very grounding suggesting that we like to feel that we have control in our lives and that we will not be a victim when we are around people; Lamb calls this "blameworthy."

Reclaiming the idea of blame offers victims of abuse a level of control over their lives which they otherwise wouldn't have leading to the empowerment of women despite the hardships faced. Violence is not going to end until there is the clear understanding that abuse is not permissible. I agree with Lamb and respect her for doing what she can to ameliorate the feeling of self-blame without blocking the option of being blameworthy.

The Commonwealth Fund, May 1999.
Family Violence Prevention Fund, 1994.
Herstory Exhibit at the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence's 8th National Conference, 1998.
Lamb, Sharon. The Trouble With Blame: Victims, Perpetrators, and Responsibility. Cambridge Massachusetts, Harvard University Press, 1996.
National Institute of Justice Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Nov 1998.
National Institute if Justice, Victim Costs and Consequences: A New Look, NIJ Research Report, National Institute of Justice, US Department of Justice, January 1996.
The Riley Center, Volunteer Handbook. San Francisco, CA.
Sojourner Truth. 1851-1871. Lift Every Voice: African American Oratory, 1787-1900. Ed. Foner, Philip S. & Branham, Robert James. Tuscaloosa, The University of Alabama Press, 1998.
Which Western Feminist Icon Are You? Quizilla LLC. February 01, 2004.

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