Fifty Shades of Coercive Control

Ok, so “Helen Raisin” holds the crown for the funniest and most entertaining take down of Fifty Shades of Grey. For some people, the thing they hate most about it is the bad writing, or the badly written sex scenes, or the bland main character Anastasia, or the way it depicts users of BDSM as damaged. (Users of BDSM as perpetuating patriarchal sex roles? That’s another thing). But for me and, as I am discovering this week to my relief, for many others, the thing that I hate most about the book is the fact that the supposedly romantic relationship that it is based on is actually one of coercive control and domestic abuse.

Some people argue that it is not abuse, but they largely appear to be people with little or no in-depth knowledge of what domestic violence actually is. In weeks past there has been a growing voice of domestic violence workers and survivors who are naming the character of Christian Grey as a perpetrator and his behaviour towards Anastasia as tactics of domestic violence.

For weeks I was hearing about the book and following debates on Twitter about whether it was or was not about an abusive relationship, until reluctantly (I had read the “Raisin” review after all) I decided I would have to read it myself. I only got up to Chapter 16 because the experience of reading is too, for want of a better word, painful (and I’m referring to the writing here, not the BDSM).

But while some reviews (quite rightly) take the piss about the number of times the words “whoa” and “jeez” feature in the tome, I was more concerned about some other words that feature repeatedly in the book, mainly those used to describe the character of Christian Grey, and his effect on Anastasia. Words such as “controlling”, ‘intimidating”, “threatening”, “possessive”, “dangerous”, “apprehension”, “overbearing” and “stalking”. While I have not been as thorough as to actually count the number of times these words appear, they appear often. The fact that they also regularly feature in the NSW Crimes (Domestic and Personal Violence) Act 2007 and the feminist domestic violence literature should be concerning to others also. These words are regularly used in the book to describe Christian Grey, not to mention his actual behaviour towards Anastasia of stalking her, harassing her, tracking her, intimidating her, threatening her, emotionally abusing her and controlling her. This is all before the terms of the BDSM contract are even broached.

People who say that Fifty Shades is not abuse think that those who say it is are basing that on the BDSM. They are mistaken. The abusive and coercive behaviour by the character of Christian Grey starts right at the beginning of the book. He uses these tactics to get Anastasia to agree to the contract and to make her feel like she is special. He says it is consensual, but she has been coerced into signing it. The contract itself reads like any domestic violence relationship you’ve ever heard about, not only for the physical and sexual violence, but for the controlling of the victim’s eating and exercising habits, what she wears, what she says, where she goes and even what she thinks. Christian Grey is perhaps the ultimate perpetrator, going one step beyond the sophistication of most (albeit very sophisticated) perpetrators, in that he not only convinces Anastasia to consent to her own ongoing abuse, but he convinces her to actually sign a contract to that effect. Many women in DV can feel like they are trapped in the relationship against their will, but Anastasia has been convinced that she has chosen the situation willingly.

The fact that the book is selling so wildly and appears to be being devoured by women around the world is rather bewildering for myself and other specialists in domestic violence. As Gail Dines wrote in her review on the book where she somehow read my mind and wrote it better than I ever could have, the popularity of the book “speaks to the appalling lack of any public consciousness as to the reality of violence against women”. And I have to agree. The fact that so many women are buying and reading the book suggests that the myth of possessiveness and jealousy as an indicator of love is still alive and well. And the fact that some commentators have argued that the book is not about an abusive relationship, suggests that, well, maybe they should learn more about domestic violence and listen more to the expert women who work in it and have experienced it.

For those who want to take this up and/or agree with this view of the book, a new Twitter handle has been started which aims to raise awareness that the trilogy is about domestic abuse. It is @50shadesabuse.

Equality Wheel

Equality Wheel

Back in May I posted a link to the Power & Control Wheel, which depicts the tactics used by perpetrators of domestic violence in order to control their victim and keep them in fear. The Wheel is a great tool for assisting women to identify if they are experiencing DV. It was useful for me and now I use it in my work. Today I am posting a link to the Equality Wheel, also devised by the Duluth Centre, which depicts the aspects of a non-violent, healthy, respectful relationship. This tool is also useful for raising awareness in women as to whether or not they are in a healthy relationship. Seeing it can be very confronting at first for some women. Many women, including me, on seeing the Equality Wheel for the first time, are of the opinion that such a relationship does not exist. Alternatively, or as well as that, they may have an inkling that in fact it does exist, and this belief assists them on their journey towards safety.

Slags and perfect creatures: experiencing DV in Ireland

I know now that social isolation is a form of domestic violence, designed to control the victim. With hindsight, asking me to move to Ireland may have been a most extreme form of social isolation, but I really can’t bring myself to believe that. I know that when I arrived there I realised that The King had painted a picture of me to his family and friends as some kind of perfect creature, and it was an impossible standard to live up to. At first I did well, and his family and friends adored me. His mother and sister fussed over me, and his mother believed we would get married. We stayed with his sister and her then boyfriend, and I remember one night The King and the boyfriend had a minor falling out. The look that The King gave him I will always remember. It shocked me. He glowered at him and pursed his lips in a way I would later become familiar with. It was a look he used whenever he wanted to threaten or scare someone and which he would later use on me along with a clenched fist. I remember the sister’s boyfriend physically backing down.

We first started having serious arguments in Ireland. The novelty of me being there must have worn off and The King had begun to act like he normally would. We had already moved in together, into a one bedroom tiny flat. He would have had us stay at his sister’s place indefinitely, I’m sure, and he only made the effort to find the other flat after I moved out of her place on my own and into a share house. Prior to that he’d refused to look for a place; the day after I moved out he came into my work place and told me he’d found us a flat.

One of the first arguments I remember was when we had left the pub one night and we were both drunk. I was upset because he had ignored me all night, which he often did, spending the night with his mates in a different part of the pub and leaving me with his sister or his mother. I grew so frustrated on the walk home that I threw my own mobile phone on the road. It was an old plastic Motorola and it didn’t smash, just scratched a bit on one corner. I don’t know what I said but it must have angered The King a lot because he said he was going to lock me out of the flat that we shared. He had the only key and for some reason I didn’t doubt that he would do it and I would be stuck outside in the freezing cold. I had no choice but to change my approach and try to pacify him, practically begging him not to lock me out. By the time we arrived home he did let me in. At the time I didn’t realise that this was mistreatment, that it was a form of emotional abuse designed to frighten and control me. I thought that I deserved it.

The first New Years Eve I spent in Ireland, The King spent most of the night in a different pub to me across the road. He left me in a pub with his mother (and maybe his sister) and he went across the road to another pub with all the boys. I know it seems strange now. Why didn’t I just go over there? But I think I did that and it was clear that I was not welcome, no women were welcome. I was perplexed and couldn’t work out if it was normal or not. I think I felt it was wrong but The King rationalised it somehow. At the end of the night a brawl broke out in the street and The King was glassed by his friend. I don’t know why that happened, but I went in the back of the ambulance with him to the hospital.

The antagonism between men and women in the town was palpable to me and far worse than anything I’d ever experienced in Australia. He treated his mother and sister very badly. His mother seemed resigned to it, but his sister (although she loved him dearly and they often got along very well) was often in tears at his treatment of her and the way he disregarded her and their mother in favour of his mates and the pub, or the Playstation, or the tv. All his mates also treated the women in their lives with similar disrespect. There was open hatred of the young local women as “slags”. Some of the men also mistreated their animals. I remembered hearing that a friend of his threw a kitten in the air and it fell to the ground. I know now that mistreatment of pets often accompanies domestic violence.

When we lived in Ireland he dealt hash intermittently. He kept it in the top of the cupboard in the bedroom. He smoked it every night and on the weekend, but I didn’t think this was much of a problem. I didn’t like it, and I said as much, but I didn’t press the issue for a number of reasons. Firstly, I didn’t believe in asking someone to stop doing something that they had always done before they met you. I also didn’t realise that cannabis can be so destructive. And lastly, I didn’t really think there was any chance that The King would stop. What I was yet to realise was that although the smoking was affecting our relationship, and that I was not able to live with it, The King would behave the same way towards me whether he was smoking or not. For the meantime, it meant the flat was always filthy, no matter how well I cleaned it, he never helped with anything and he got angry with me if I asked for help. My friends commented on this when they visited one time, but nothing changed. He would just play the Playstation and go out Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday night. Sometimes he would be out all weekend. I soon learnt not to worry about him.

He was not supportive of me making any friends outside his town. When I started working in Dublin, I started to make friends through work. I often invited The King to come up to Dublin with me to parties with them, but he wouldn’t. Finally I managed to get him to go with me one weekend. He was rude to all my new friends and nearly got into a fight with one of them back at their house. In the morning he insisted we leave early without saying goodbye to any of them. After that I went out with them once or twice more times on my own. They often used to say to me that I deserved to be treated better. I remember at that time that I used to defend The King and I didn’t realise what was happening. I didn’t understand what they meant.

Looking back its hard to believe I put up with his behaviour, but the truth is this was only the beginning. Things got much, much worse. It is scary to think what a hold he had on me psychologically and emotionally at such an early stage, less than a year in. His tactics of control and manipulation must have been so subtle and sophisticated that I didn’t even realise what was happening, and I still can’t identify his tactics during this time as well as I can in later years. Despite this I was still resisting. Making sure I was employed, keeping in touch with my friends back home, making new friends, sitting through an humiliating appointment by myself with the judgmental and reluctant local doctor in order to get the Pill so I wouldn’t get pregnant. Our romantic plan, in our young and naive way, had been to spend some time in Ireland and then return to Australia together. But by the end of the year of my working holiday, it was clear he wasn’t going anywhere. I had to leave as my visa was expiring. I was secretly relieved. I remember having a strange premonition that if I stayed there and had children with this man, I would never, ever be able to escape or bring my children to Australia.

The Aftermath

The King never seemed to like how I looked, always had something to say about my hair, my makeup, my clothes, wanted to change them in some way. If my hair was up, he’d want me to put it down. If my hair was down, he’d say “why don’t you ever wear it up?” When my hair was my natural colour he’d say why don’t you dye it blonde. He’d tell me how to exercise, “why don’t you go for a run around the park?” He told me that his work friends thought I was fat.

For at least the last few years of the relationship there was constant pressure from him to have sex. He wanted it all the time, three or four times a day if he could. Morning, day, evening, night. Constant harrassment. It was never enough. The King was good at sex, but it wasn’t intimate or romantic, it always felt like I was being pulled and prodded. He would put his hand around my throat, or pull my hair. Looking back I realise that he used sex as a way of controlling me. I tried to explain to him that I didn’t need it or want it as much, that I preferred it less because it allowed me time to build up my desire, but he ignored me, I don’t think he cared. When I declined he would get angry and make me feel guilty. “It’s only fucking sex,” he would say. I remember waking up with him on the weekend and thinking to myself, “just get it over with,” so he’d stop pressuring me. He wouldn’t even care if I was sore. I remember having to say that I was having a week off sex.

Towards the end, a few weeks before I had the locks changed on the flat, The King said to me, “how come you never got pregnant? All my mates girlfriends have gotten pregnant.”

The only time we were close was when we would cuddle on the couch, and there were these moments. These moments were partly what made me stay for so long. But these honeymoon periods didn’t last long. Something would happen and things would go bad. If I then complained about his treatment of me after a “honeymoon period” he would say that I was causing trouble. “Stupid cunt,” he’d say, “everything was fine”. He never seemed to remember the bad times we’d had before, and neither did I for a long time.

After any incident where The King had hurt me and then I’d tried to break it off with him and then we made up, I would always try to talk to him to find a solution to the situation, I would always try to improve things. I thought if I could just explain myself properly, maybe things would improve. He used to say that I wasn’t perfect either, and I never claimed to be. I was always open to self-improvement. He said that I treated him badly as well. I said “but what have I done? I don’t hurt you like you hurt me (this I remember saying a lot and it was one of the thoughts that helped me to realise his treatment of me was wrong). If I have, you haven’t told me. Tell me what I am doing wrong and I will change it.” But he could never tell me what I had done.

He seemed to have a complete lack of empathy for me, and for most other people. I remember trying to see if he had any feelings for anyone. I asked him to try to imagine that it was his 8-year-old niece who was in my shoes, who was living with a man who mistreated her like he did me. When I asked him what he would do, even his answer to this was violent. “I’d murder him,” he said.

I tried so many things to try to work out what was wrong – what was wrong with me, what was wrong with us, what was wrong with The King. I tried to rationalise his behaviour, allowing for the fact that “he had a difficult childhood” and his father was absent and his stepfather was violent and abusive. I tried to cover it up, I felt loyal to him, I felt it was my fault. I read self-help books on relationships and tried to be a better partner. I tried to be more interested in sex, buying lingerie and toys and books, and creating romantic nights for us. He just brought home porn. I remember thinking, if only I can explain myself properly to him, he might understand, I mustn’t be explaining myself clearly, so he doesn’t know what I’m asking for, otherwise he would give it to me, or he would let me go.

If I would complain about the relationship and the way he treated me he would say “What do you mean, I don’t hit you.” For a while this would make me feel guilty, like I was complaining over nothing, but later I realised that I deserved more from a relationship than just not being hit.

The King used to call me a mad bitch, psycho, paranoid, a paranoid wreck.
He criticised my interests and criticised my country and other Australians.
He used to say he didn’t want his children to be Australian.

What I could never understand was how someone could say they loved a person but then treat them so badly. I couldn’t understand how his words and his actions didn’t add up, and I always believed his words. He was so adept at manipulation, he could get out of everything from doing the washing up to keeping a date with me to explaining away incriminating text messages on his phone. He would twist everything around in such a way as I would get confused and doubt myself. Being with The King was like being on a rollercoaster. When things were good it was like you were flying, it was like you were the luckiest woman alive, but when things were bad, which was frequently, it was like you were so low you were nothing.

Each time I had left him over the years he begged me to come back. I tried to break it off countless times but he would say he loved me, that he’d change, that things would be better. I always hoped that he would change and that things would be better, but he never did and they weren’t. I couldn’t understand how he could promise these things and then never deliver, and I couldn’t understand why someone would bother to promise these things if they had no intention of providing them. Why wouldn’t he just let me go? But I know now why, it was so he could control me.

Sometimes when we were cuddling he used to say, “I wish I were the King and you were my slave.” I remember feeling disappointed he didn’t say, “ I wish I were the King and you were my Queen,” which is what I had thought he was going to say the first time he said it. “If I was a King I would have you as my slave,” he would say. Looking back, I realise that for eight years, he actually did.

Women are not the same as Monster Trucks

I really want to understand Helen Razer’s take on the Lingerie Football League, I really do, because I admire her writing style and her intellectual rigour so much. However, it makes no sense to me and on first reading it left me despairing. Besides the fact that I had to look up the word “syllogistic” in the dictionary (and still don’t fully understand it), I just don’t get why Razer and some other feminists seem to be falling over each other to defend the LFL. I also don’t understand their seemingly wilful dismissal of voices against the LFL as “the morals police”, when in fact we are not arguing on grounds of the moral but on grounds of the political.

I’ve read bits and pieces of Foucault and other writers Razer likes to reference, and understood even less, so I am not able to debate with her on an equal footing, but I will attempt to summarise her argument and explain why I disagree.

Razer is of the view that the LFL is not so much sexist but distasteful. She likens it to pole dancing and bar fighting, and says that it is not sexist when compared with wage disparity or, in her humorous wisdom, Neighbours. (Razer does not explain why feminism should be concerned with the “tat” of Neighbours but not that of the LFL). In effect this is where we diverge, because Razer apparently doesn’t have a problem with pole dancing and bar fighting, while I object to them (in the case of pole dancing, when it occurs in the typical strip club) not on moral grounds but on the basis of opposition to the exploitation of women and to violence in general. I’ve noticed that a lot of the feminists defending the LFL, pornography and prostitution hardly ever mention violence against women as a feminist issue. They tend to focus on safer issues such as wage disparity, the representation of women in the media, or whether a woman takes her husband’s name in marriage.

Razer goes on to say that the LFL is “cheap”, and that those who object to it do so on grounds of taste (and, presumably, morals), wrongly stating that we would rather see women in “nicer outfits playing something more wholesome”. In actual fact the feminists against the LFL don’t give a toss what women wear, as long as they are choosing to wear it themselves. According to her, women can be compared with Monster Trucks, and arguing against the exploitation of women by patriarchal market forces is not a political but a “missionary reflex”; suggesting that the players have no volition is demeaning and oppressive. Even if we accept that the players have volition, this doesn’t mean that the LFL is not oppressive or degrading. We know that some women experiencing domestic violence do have a level of agency, but we don’t use that as reason to suggest that violence against women is okay. Conversely, if a woman has little or no volition in a DV situation, we don’t say that quality feminist services designed to assist her if she chooses to use them are oppressive or “missionary”. Furthermore, when working with a woman experiencing DV, supporting her to gain information, knowledge and understanding of the dynamics, effects and risks of domestic violence (in other words, consciousness-raising), while this may remind her that she is being demeaned by her partner, does not further demean her but assists her to enhance her own safety and options.

Following from this, Razer states that the Minister for Sport’s objection to the LFL is based on snootiness and if she wants to ban it she should ban roller derby. Razer claims that such a ban would not happen because the sport is played “by middle-class women in Brunswick”. Here again I disagree. Such a ban would not be prevented because of the middle-class player’s (apparent) good taste or sense of irony. Rather it would not happen because with roller derby there is nothing to exploit. As far as I know there are no big corporations interested in profiting from having control of the roller derby; it sounds like a grassroots bottom-up women-led, not-for-profit hobby, not a top-down, multi-million dollar, male-controlled business. As far as I know there are not thousands of leering, drunken males queueing and paying to watch roller derby, and if there were I suspect the players and organisers would be none too pleased, which may suggest a little hypocrisy in Razer’s argument. Alternatively, if it happened that big business was interested in investing in roller derby, the women who control it would be in a position to chose whether they would go down that road, and on what terms this happened. I can’t be sure, but if other big corporations are anything to go by, I don’t imagine there are many women in control at the top of the LFL, and the players certainly are not.

Razer claims that volition, therefore, “is a matter of class and distinction”. (She appears to feel that roller derby is tasteful; of that I have no knowledge.) She goes on to say that “we” are okay with Scorsese, erotica and burlesque, but not video games, pornography and strippers. I’m not sure who this “we” is she refers to, but I for one find it very difficult to watch the violence and misogyny of Scorsese films. His and other films with violence tend to act as triggers for me and if I watch them I often find myself with a greatly increased heart rate and sweaty palms, a result of trauma from domestic violence. Erotica and burlesque I know little about but I suspect that the lack of condemnation of them has less to do with their tastefulness and more to do with the fact that they are not associated with the sexual violence, abuse and exploitation that is found in pornography and other parts of the sex industry.

Razer ends by saying that feminism should not be used in “the service of snobbery”, but I fear that is exactly what she herself is doing. As she is okay playing her roller derby, which she wrongly equates with the LFL on the basis of the clothes worn by the players, she dismisses the political work of other feminists as “snootiness”. Feminism, she says, has “far more important work to do”, but she does not say what. In a way I agree with her, because in the scheme of things the LFL is not a priority for women experiencing or who work in the field of domestic violence, an issue which I presume Razer deems worthy of feminism. But I wonder where people think violence against women comes from? I assume they know it comes from male privilege and men’s sense of entitlement over women. Ending violence against women requires revolutionary societal unlearning of such male privilege and entitlement. As I can’t see how the LFL assists with this in any way, and in my opinion it contributes to it, I therefore consider it a feminist issue.

“Would it be wrong for me to tell you, that I love you?”

When I first met The King I was two weeks off 21. I had been in Sydney for about two years, and was in my third year of university. I was no match for him. He was only 19, but he was worlds ahead of me in terms of experience. In time I was to find out that we were from completely different worlds, and I would nearly be subsumed into his world. But at the beginning I had no idea what was to come, and I had no hesitation in trusting him. In the end, it took me all my strength and intelligence to extricate myself from him.

But at the beginning we fell in love. He was the one to say “I love you” first, and I remember we were drunk, and we were sitting on a bench on the western side of Circular Quay, late at night. “Would it be wrong for me to tell you,” he said with his slurred Irish brogue, “that I love you?” I love you too, I said straight away. And the next morning we awoke and he was still saying it. When we got to the train station he kept saying it, and he would say it to me many millions more times over the next eight years.

I remember some time after that an evening where we must have had our first falling out, and I remember it was because The King had stood me up somewhere. I was very annoyed and upset, and I ignored his phone calls and ignored his knocking on the front door when he came around to my house. Admittedly I probably should have spoken to him about it openly and honestly, I can’t remember if I’d already tried that. When I wouldn’t open the front door or answer his pleas, he went around to the back of the building and began throwing stones at my bedroom window. Then, to avoid waking my flatmate or the neighbours, and to avoid a smashed window, I opened the front door and let him in.

Resisting violence and control is feminist

Two heart-felt blog posts have appeared in the feminist blogosphere this week, addressing the topic of the shame some feminists feel when they fall victim to violence and abuse from intimate partners. The first, by Lila, describes how perplexed she felt when she realised she was in a relationship with an abusive man, as she hadn’t seen any “red flags” and had thought that she would because she is a feminist. The second, by Meghan Murphy, echoes Lila’s piece and goes on to say that there is an expectation that feminists “must be flawless”, and “should be able to avoid… less-than-feminist relationships”.

Both writers conclude that this expectation is wrong and that feminists are human beings who make mistakes like anyone else, and that anyway (and quite rightly), the domestic violence was not their fault. They talk though of both being told by so-called friends and other feminists that they were not real feminists because they “allowed themselves to be abused.” They rightly identify this attitude as victim-blaming, and they rightly do not accept it. But I think the argument can be taken further.

Even though both writers come to the conclusion that the victim-blaming is wrong, they don’t seem to quite get to the point where they can really let it go themselves. Lila states that it was feminism that helped her “get out at warp speed” (of the abusive relationship). This emphasis on leaving the abusive relationship seems to suggest a focus on the dichotomy of staying/leaving; that a woman is a victim if she stays and a survivor if she leaves. Murphy states that even though she is a feminist, she will still make mistakes, make bad choices, and be weak sometimes. This is absolutely fine, except it sounds like she is saying that it was her mistakes, bad choices or weakness that caused her to experience abuse. I’m sure she doesn’t believe this, but to me this is what her argument sounds like.

What these two pieces somewhat lacked theoretically for me, and what I notice in many feminist pieces that don’t come from a specialised domestic violence perspective, is an understanding of current feminist domestic violence theory. Such theory has moved on from the survivor/victim dichotomy to a more complex, nuanced understanding of women as resisting violence and control, albeit constrained by certain factors[1]. Furthermore, as they are resisting they are risk-assessing, decision-making and safety planning around the violence and abuse[2]. So in Lila’s case it was the “gut instinct” that she didn’t ignore but weighed up against other evidence she had to hand, like any reasonable person would do. It was also her instinct to protect her face and to keep away from him when he became abusive. Her risk-assessing, decision-making and safety-planning were informed by his violence (and his minimising of it: “I hit walls so I don’t hit you”) and also other constraints such as societal beliefs about what type of red flags to look for in a violent man. Meghan doesn’t give as much specific detail about the abuse she experienced, but she talks about being “unsure about how to cope”, suggesting a process of risk-assessing and decision-making, and falling into a “long depression”, which is very common in women experiencing DV.

For me it was extremely similar, except it lasted for eight years. By about the fourth year I suspected I was experiencing domestic violence, but I thought he had to hit me for it to be that. All the verbal abuse, emotional abuse, psychological abuse, threats, intimidation, harassment, stalking and property damage seemed wrong to me, but it was so hard to escape the cycle of violence. If I complained to him about his treatment of me, he would minimise it as well. “What do you mean?” he would say, “I don’t hit you.” But I knew that I deserved more from a relationship than just not being hit. Throughout the eight years I now see I was risk-assessing, decision-making and safety planning. I was resisting, but my resistance was constrained by an onslaught of factors. For me, like Lila, I was confused because he was never jealous or possessive, like it is often thought DV perpetrators are supposed to be. Half the time he acted like he didn’t care where I was or what I did. But when I tried to leave he threatened to kill himself and harassed and stalked me until I gave in.

Both writers seem to place importance on the idea of leaving an abusive relationship quickly. For Lila, she places importance on getting out “at warp speed”, and Meghan laments “not being able to quickly move on”. Again I feel that current feminist DV theory can shed some light here. No longer does it focus on the dichotomy of staying or leaving, victim or survivor, but on achieving safety in whatever choice is made. This change in focus is based on a number of things. Firstly, the fact that DV often escalates on separation, making separation the most dangerous time for women and the time during which many women are killed. This means that separation is not always the safest option at any given point, and it may be that a period of further safety planning is required before the woman can safely escape. Secondly, due to the situation in the Family Court of Australia and possibly elsewhere around the world, it is no longer simple and straightforward for a woman with children to leave an abusive partner. Quite often the woman and children are required to have ongoing contact with the abuser. So this needs to be considered when safety planning, and can often be a factor in women’s decisions not to leave.

What I did find interesting though in these two pieces, was hearing the thoughts and feelings of two women who were feminists first, and then experienced abuse. I very much respect their experiences. For me, it was the other way around. As I have written elsewhere in my blog, I had some feminist sympathies before but I did not become a “fully-fledged” feminist until I realised I was experiencing domestic violence. Feminist DV theory (which I was privileged to be inhaling at university) then assisted me (along with other supports) to safely extricate myself from the situation. So I did not experience the sense of shame felt by Lila and Meghan Murphy at being a feminist abused (though I did experience a shitload of other shame), and I still don’t feel the same pressure to be the perfect feminist. To me, guided by feminist DV theory, it is part of being a feminist that we are resisting violence and control, and I can’t rule out that I will experience it again in the future.


[1] Laing, L. (2008). ‘Violence’, Criminal Justice, The Law, Policy and Practice in B. Fawcett & F. Waugh (eds). Addressing violence, abuse and oppression: Debates and challenges, London: Routledge

[2] Davies, J. Lyon, E. & Monti-Catania, D. (1998). Safety planning with battered women: Complex lives/difficult choices, Thousand Oaks: Sage.

On being a feminist mother

I responded to blue milk’s 10 questions for feminist mothers and it has been posted on her amazing blog. I’m looking forward to seeing how my responses change in the future.

blue milk

This is a brilliant guest post from DV Diary, whom you can also follow on twitter @dvdiary.

  1. How would you describe your feminism in one sentence? When did you become a feminist? Was it before or after you became a mother?

I became a committed feminist while studying domestic violence as part of a social work degree I did at the University of Sydney as a “mature age” student. During this time I realised I was experiencing domestic violence, and had been for many years. My feminism is heavily influenced by the women’s domestic violence movement, and it led me to become a DV worker, once I had become safe myself. My feminism is informed by feminist theories of domestic violence as a gendered crime; a product of the patriarchy; a deliberate pattern of tactics used mostly by men against women to control them and keep them in…

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Power and Control Wheel

Power and Control Wheel

The Power and Control Wheel is a tool developed by the Duluth Centre in the US which depicts the different tactics of domestic violence. It shows that DV is not just physical violence, but involves a range of non-physical tactics which are used in a pattern, repeatedly. Key to this is the undermining of a woman’s parenting and bond with her children. This link is to a PDF of the Power and Control Wheel.