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

This paper reflects the research and thoughts of a student at the time the paper was written for a course at Bryn Mawr College. Like other materials on Serendip, it is not intended to be "authoritative" but rather to help others further develop their own explorations. Web links were active as of the time the paper was posted but are not updated.

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

Talya Gates-Monasch

Dear Curriculum Committee Members,

As an active member of the Bryn Mawr community majoring in Psychology with a concentration in Gender and Sexuality and a minor in Hebrew and Judaic Studies as well as Math, I am very aware of the difficulties that women face outside of the protective Bryn Mawr shelter. I have also interned at a Domestic Violence Agency (advocating against it, not for it) where, following a forty-hour training program, served as a confidential advocate for victims in addition to developing and coordinating a teen education program.
In my Sex and Gender course this semester we have been challenged to write a final paper about a political issue facing women today, how that issue is being dealt with in reality and how we, as feminists, would respond. What would our optimal response be? What would it provide and how would it directly impact the situation that we are trying to ameliorate? Based on my experience and clear interest in issues of domestic violence it seemed to be the most logical topic to address in my paper.

That's why I am writing to you, the members of the Curriculum Committee. We pride ourselves on being a community that encourages women to grow, learn, stretch, and push in every way imaginable. We have a substantial variety of courses and we have a consortium to participate in if the class that we desire is not offered here. We have physical education requirements to complement academic demands so that we keep our bodies healthy in this highly stressful environment. According to the website, "Bryn Mawr's Physical Education curriculum is designed to provide opportunities to develop lifelong habits that will enhance the quality of life" (BMC Webmaster).

Other than the eight requisite credits, the only requirement for physical education is a swimming test that is now included in the "Wellness" course for all freshmen. Wellness is required because it is specifically designed to educate Mawrters about healthy living, "The class will explore issues related to women's health and wellness and in particular issues that face Bryn Mawr undergraduates"(BMC Webmaster). Wellness is a relatively new requirement with a fairly comprehensive syllabus discussing most issues that face Bryn Mawr women. The class itself is worth three credits and the swim test is worth one. When a freshman is done with wellness, she has completed half of their physical education requirement.

There is, however, one very large gap in the Wellness curriculum: self-defense, including both the theories and practices behind the art of force that should be in every woman's repertoire as a last resort.

The self-defense option currently available for credit is RAD: Rape Aggression Defense. This course is offered once or twice a semester on a Friday and Saturday. Both days must be dedicated entirely to the training which means that other things, including academic courses and religious beliefs, must be put aside for those two days. While the availability of such a course is better than its absence, it should be required and not simply offered, and the timing should be adjusted to reflect varied schedules and diverse traditions.

Simply because we are women, we are in more danger than the other half of the population. Our parents have taught us to tread cautiously when in the world: "don't walk alone at night" and "don't accept an open drink at a party" are only the beginnings after the requisite "don't talk to strangers." There have been sitcoms about date rapes and the drugs used because they have become increasingly common in recent years.
Bryn Mawr is the optimal environment in which to learn about self-defense. The resources are available and the RAD class could easily become a part of Wellness. Issues and topics covered in customs week do not need to be reiterated during Wellness, those sessions could be omitted and replaced with self-defense. One day a semester could be dedicated to the actual practice of self-defense. It could be used as an introduction so even those who decided not to continue with the full RAD program could have a basic working knowledge of self-defense. The actual RAD course could then be used to teach more advanced skills to those who are interested.

As a requirement that is supposed to encompass the basics for all women, Wellness should, by definition, include self-defense. No woman in the US should reach her 20s without learning how to physically protect herself when necessary. Bryn Mawr has the resources to offer all women who matriculate here the necessary skills. As the capital campaign says, it is really all about "challenging women."

Thank you for your consideration in this matter,

Talya Gates-Monasch
Class of 2007

* * *


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.

* * *

The location where inequality is most prevalent on a personal basis is within the home. The struggle for equality has been a long standing and very silent battle. Only recently has the outside world truly come to realize what is happening behind closed doors and the frequency with which it occurs.

Throughout the communities knowledgeable about domestic violence an abusive relationship is defined as

"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" (Riley Center).

Many people think that this is an extremely broad definition, often not worthy of explaining thoroughly. I am not going to explain the actions and the relationships that it speaks of; I am only going to emphasize the beginning: the first sentence specifically. "Domestic Violence is a pattern of behavior used by one person to maintain power and control over another." This is the key to defining domestic violence because it attempts to explain the importance of power and control in an abusive relationship.

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 (Women's Advocates). In 1976, Nebraska was the first state to abolish the marital-rape exemption; at the same time 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 (Schecter). 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 created. 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: since then October has been Domestic Violence Awareness Month. In 1994, the US Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act as part of the Federal Crime Bill (Howard). 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 (NCADV).

There is not a "type" of woman who is destined to be a victim: every 9 seconds, a woman is battered in the US (Family Violence). Domestic violence is the primary cause of injury to women (NIJ): 1 out of 3 women will be hurt at some point throughout their lives, physically or sexually, by a husband or boyfriend (Commonwealth Fund).

Unlike many other areas, including large cities, Philadelphia has some impressive resources for those whose life is affected by domestic violence. Not only are there support centers for the women who are victims but there are also support systems for the men who are batterers. Throughout the United States, the sheer number of opportunities for women is growing exponentially but most men do not have options and consequently condemn themselves to lives of committing physical, mental, or emotional violence.

Menergy is one of the many organizations in Philadelphia, serving the city and the suburbs, working toward an end to domestic violence. however, offers counseling to end the violence, in Spanish and English, for both male and female batterers; it caters to victims who too often go unnoticed: men, teens, elderly, disabled, and lesbians. Their mission statement encompasses the idea that self-recognition is imperative, blame is futile, and safety is the number one priority. Menergy also works with recovering alcoholics and drug users as well as those who are HIV/AIDS positive. Their goal, over time, is to end the violence (Menergy Webmaster).

The likelihood that women will enter into abusive relationships is unfortunately and startlingly high considering the frequency, or lack thereof, with which abuse makes its way into our publicity. There are certain ideas of the "type" if person who is involved in an abusive relationship. I would like to help break through this barrier so that those who are being hurt know that they are not alone and that there are other options.

Despite the seemingly safe and nurturing bubble around Bryn Mawr, when presenting the idea for this paper to the class my first question posed to the class was "how many of you know someone, either yourself or someone else, who has been in an abusive relationship?" I have asked this question before and the answer never manages to change. The majority of people, and in this case all the women in the class, raise their hands and look around. People always have a somewhat shocked look on their faces. Perhaps because they realize that so many other people know of those who have been victims, or have possibly been victims themselves.

Due to the incidence, it is important for all women and men to take advantage of the resources that they have available to them. It is also important to their mentors to offer them opportunities for prevention and education. This brings me to Bryn Mawr and Haverford. We are two of the most liberal campuses in the United States yet we don't have a program that informs students about the support systems available which is particularly strange because of the proximity to such an active city with a myriad of options.

Before a woman can graduate from Bryn Mawr she must pass a swim test. Despite what seems like a silly requirement, many realize that this is overwhelmingly useful when the time comes to enter into the world outside Bryn Mawr. The reasoning behind the swim test is not widely known; when asked, most people respond with "It's a liberal arts college so they want to make sure that we can handle all sorts of situations before we graduate? You know if we are ever in danger of drowning or something." The response usually warrants a laugh from both parties. Most people seem to be happy when they pass their swim test: either because they were forced to learn how or because it was an easy credit if they already knew.

There are forms of physical activity, other than the swim test, that sadly may have to be used more frequently throughout our lives as women, particularly women who can easily intimidate based on brain power alone. We are at all an all women's college; we should not only learn how to use our minds but our bodies so that we can protect ourselves when necessary. All women should know self-defense; there are often unavoidable situations (those publicized and those silenced) where the ability to protect oneself is key. Self-defense is only one way to get involved in the fight against domestic violence.
Sharon Lamb, is a feminist psychologist who speaks of issues facing women, focusing on domestic violence. 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).

We also like to feel that we have control in our lives, and that we will not be a random victim in a chaotic world.

Virginia Woolf's theory and idea freedom from unreal loyalties would suggest that it is necessary to let go of something that may seem important, but isn't in actuality, in order to hold on to those that are important. Woolf and Lamb seem to be following the same thought process, Woolf, however, expresses her thoughts in terms of letting go while Lamb articulates hers with respect to holding on: it is a greater necessity to accept something that is not ideal in order to avoid the damage caused by those that harm. 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.

One form of empowerment that enables women to go into possibly dangerous situations is the knowledge of self-defense. With self-defense, the power dynamic in cases of domestic violence can change or at least shift so that the victim feels like she has done everything that she could to protect herself, whether or not she was as successful as she might have liked. Lamb and Woolf would, as do many students who I have spoken to, agree that self-defense is an important and necessary option for those left to their own devices in danger. The Bryn Mawr Curriculum Committee and Athletic Department should take what Woolf and Lamb, a former professor here, encourage, or would encourage, to heart and dedicate a section of Wellness to self-defense.

The Commonwealth Fund, May 1999.
Bryn Mawr College, "Physical Education", Webmaster. Updated Nov. 4, 2005. (Bold added for emphasis).
Bryn Mawr College, "Physical Education", Webmaster. Updated Nov. 4, 2005.
Family Violence Prevention Fund, 1994.
Herstory Exhibit at the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence's 8th National Conference, 1998.
Howard, April. Herstory of Domestic Violence.
Lamb, Sharon. The Trouble With Blame: Victims, Perpetrators, and Responsibility. Cambridge Massachusetts, Harvard University Press, 1996.
Menergy,- Anger Management and Domestic Counseling in Philadelphia. Updated 07/02/04.
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.
Schecter, Susan. Women and Male Violence. Boston: South End Press.
Women's Advocates. "The Story of a Shelter". St. Paul: Women's Advocates, 1980.
Woolf, Virginia. Three Guineas, San Diego: Harcourt Inc, 1938, 1966. Pg 80-81.

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