Posts Tagged ‘abuse’

Locking the fire escape

I’d like to start with some apologies for being MIA for the last few months–I’ve been rather distracted and said distraction still only naps irregularly. But it’s long past time I got back to my own irregular schedule of blog posts, and I’ve decided to do so by sharing an idea I first shared on Love Joy Feminism. That idea is one I call “locking the fire escape”.

I spend a good amount of time reading both LJF and No Longer Quivering, both of which frequently critique facets of conservative Christian culture in the USA, and regardless of the particular issue there’s a recurring pattern to the materials they talk about–one where a person will acknowledge a problem, maybe even say that something needs to be done about it, but everything else ze says renders that acknowledgement completely worthless. One great example in Michael Pearl’s Book To Train Up A Child*. Michael is very quick to say that parents should not be abusive, that they need to show love to their children, but his directions for raising them is very absolutist. Spank early, spank for any sign of ‘rebellion’ (which can be as simple as not being sufficiently happy), and don’t let up until the child has truly submitted to your authority. There’s no room for individual judgement about when to stop, and the methods he promotes are themselves abusive–even occasionally fatal–which makes his admonishments to not abuse your children ring very hollow.

Michael’s wife, Debi, has her own book about being a wife called Created To Be His Helpmeet, which can be summarized as always submit to your husband and never, ever speak even the slightest utterance against his character or authority. Since even she can’t deny that some men are abusive partners, there is of course the disclaimer that a women may leave (though not divorce) her husband if he is truly abusive. Of course, you can only really be sure that he’s abusive if you’re being a perfectly submissive wife–otherwise he may just not be treating you well because you’re not being good enough. The problems of victim-blaming aside, there will always be room to think that you could be more submissive, so you can never really get past the point of trying to be a better wife to decide that yeah, the problem actually is him.

To move away from the Pearls, Karen Campbell at That Mom is ready to admit that there are problems with abuse among homeschoolers. But like many homeschooling parents, she is even readier to dismiss the notion that this should be addressed by any sort of government oversight. Instead she advocates for the homeschool community to self-police, which is absolutely useless to children who are completely isolated from the outside world, who belong to communities that endorse the treatment they’re receiving (such as those that follow the methods outlined by Michael Pearl), or whose communities lack any way to effectively police their members–that last group would probably cover the vast majority of homeschoolers, since parents rarely have any real authority over other parents.

This is a pattern that repeats very frequently in these circles. They note genuine problems that are leveled at them, and pay lip service to fixing them, but the rest of what they have to say pretty much cuts off that attempt at dealing with the issues at hand. Which is why I refer to it as “locking the fire escape”. The door has to be there, and they will point it out to make sure you know it’s there, but they’re never really going to let you use it.

*If anyone has a copy they’d like to get rid of, my niece’s birthday is coming up and I bet she’d enjoy a pinata.

“Less Romantic Than It Sounds” for $200, Alex

I’ve talked before about how our ideas of romance tend to be rather effed up, presenting women as objects to be won and generally giving lousy relationship advice. This last week has provided me with an example that hits both of those, while describing as ‘romantic’ abusive actions.

tellher
Tell her, why she’s perfect for you. Pick her up. & tickle her until she can barely breath, she’ll scream and fight you, but secretly she’ll love it. Protect her. Hold her hand when you talk to her. Look at her like she’s the only girl you ever want to be with. When she least expects, it, pull her in close & kiss her hard. Tell her she looks beautiful. Get her mad, then kiss her. Let her fall asleep in your arms. Call her. Give her piggy-back rides. Kiss her forehead. Be slow. Don’t push anything. Make her feel loved. Kiss her in the rain. And when you fall in love with her, tell her.

Some of the advice in there is decent (“Don’t push anything”), some falls back on harmful cultural narratives but isn’t necessarily bad advice (“Tell her she looks beautiful”), and a couple really should not be anywhere near something that claims to be relationship advice. Can you spot them?

Pick her up and tickle her until she can barely breath, she’ll scream and fight you, but secretly she’ll love it.
There’s a time and place for stuff like this, but as blanket advice it’s terrible. Ignoring a ‘no’ of any sort should not be a default action, but rather something that gets negotiated between two people who know each other well. The best description I can think of is ‘mild rape culture’–while it’s not actually about rape, it still encourages men to ignore boundaries, to believe they know what a woman wants better than she does, that ‘no’ doesn’t actually mean ‘no’. Having your boundaries ignored isn’t endearing, it’s frightening.

Get her mad, then kiss her.
The first term to come to mind for me when I read this was ‘gaslighting’. This isn’t quite that, but I’d say it’s in the same ballpark. First of all, people who care about others don’t deliberately make them mad. And the kiss follow-up puts me in mind of men who say “You’re cute when you’re angry”. It’s dismissive of her anger, treating it not as something that deserves validation and resolution but as something to be ignored, endured, or even found endearing, with a possible side order of “See, I love you so much even your anger can’t change that”. It’s manipulative, and a real relationship doesn’t rely on manipulation.

The icing on this particular crud-cake is that it was posted on a page entitled, “Boyfriends who actually treat their girlfriends like princesses”. Guys, if this is what you consider treating a person like royalty, I’m afraid to ask how you behave around everyone else.

How is this news?

Duh.

Bullying is one of those things that we treat as far less serious than it is. Many people see it as a rite of passage (which in other contexts would be considered hazing), as something that builds character, as an innate and fairly harmless part of childhood. But lets take the ways that a child is bullied and place them into an adult context, and the words used would no longer sound so harmless.

Harassment. Abuse. Assault.

Bullying is something that gets treated much differently when it happens among adults than among children (although still often not as seriously as it should be) and adults enjoy a lot of benefits that children don’t in dealing with it. They have more power to remove themselves from the situation. They have already formed an identity. They’re more emotionally mature. A child’s ability to remove themselves from a situation rests on hir ability to convince others to help. Hir identity is still forming and is more vulnerable to the messages of worthlessness. Ze lacks the emotional development to handle things well.

So why do we tell adults they don’t have to deal with this crap, and children get told to suck it up?

We knows the effects of abuse in adults, and it often takes years to recover. Why would we expect different when it occurs in childhood? While I think this sort of study is worth doing, this shouldn’t be novel enough to be newsworthy. That it is says a lot about how we deal with this issue as a culture.