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.

Use of porn as a tactic of DV

I read this article recently when someone tweeted it (can’t remember who). It is about how use of porn hurts women, and is in response to a piece by Bettina Arndt called “Porn is not a dirty word”. I agree with the first article and it got me thinking. The article describes two types of male porn users; those who use porn openly in agreement with their partners, and those who use porn in secret without their partners knowledge. From my experience there is a third type; men who use porn openly without their partner’s agreement, in spite of her distress and even because of it. In my experience (both personal and professional as DV survivor and DV worker) this often goes hand in hand with domestic violence and the man’s sense of entitlement and coercive controlling tactics that serve to control the woman, destroy her sense of self and keep her in fear. I suspect this third type is more common than we think.

In my case, I remember my abusive ex-partner would watch porn all night in a separate room, not attempting to hide it in any way and leaving pornographic DVD’s and DVD cases strewn all over the floor of the spare room (along with rubbish, rotting food, Playstation paraphernalia, cigarette ash, beer cans and old joints).  Sometimes he coerced me into watching it and having sex. One time when he brought a pornographic magazine home and wanted me to commit to having a threesome, he became enraged when I refused. The porn he watched was extremely degrading to women and I could see how it influenced and accentuated his already disrespectful and disdainful view of women.

Clients often tell me that their violent, abusive and controlling partner uses porn in front of them in spite of their distress. Reasons for this can range from simply coercing the woman to watch porn, humiliating her by insisting the porn is on against her wishes, making her feel uncomfortable and unsafe by having the porn on in front of the children, right through to coercing her to engage in porn-like sex, filming it and then threatening to place the footage on the internet. From a feminist/DV perspective all of these constitute coercive and controlling tactics used in domestic violence to control women and keep them in fear, including coercion, threats, intimidation, male privilege, undermining her parenting, emotional abuse and physical and sexual violence. Put simply, a man watching porn in front of his partner in spite of her distress and lack of consent is in its basest form an abuse of power, the very central aspect of domestic violence.

On the Great Maternal Explosion (from inside the mind of a DV worker)

This week I made a quick comment on a piece by Helen Razer, and in her typically fearless and respectful way she has asked me to elaborate. Ok. Deep breath. Here goes. I will try to put my thoughts to paper.

Firstly to say, Ms Razer is something of an idol of mine and I have great respect for her, and my initial comment was a gut reaction and not intended to troll or start a big debate. Nonetheless, I believe in stepping up to the plate, despite fearing I won’t be able to write my thoughts clearly and I may well regret attempting to.

Secondly to say that I come from a perspective of feminist understanding of domestic violence and I work in DV, where mothers are often undermined by their violent and controlling partners and not believed by authorities when reporting DV and child abuse. So, as my partner reminds me, I may be hypersensitive to how women are portrayed in the media. I offer this piece as an insight into the “hypersensitivity” that may arise from seeing women managing DV on a daily basis.

While I accept that Razer’s piece, on the surface, appears to be “the story of Helen Razer, Courtney Love, Mrs Razer and Frances Bean”, and just a “funny true story”, to me when I read it I can’t help but think that it perpetuates the stereotype of the interfering mother (or mother in law). It begins by saying that the media often notes the perils for children online and how parents can protect them, but doesn’t offer much advice for how to manage your parents online. But then it only gives examples of mothers’ bumbling forays into social media (no fathers), and even the comments mainly focus on mothers.

In relation to the article about Ispy software supposedly assisting parents to protect children online, I would think parents would get a better outcome if they were to rely on open, honest and respectful conversation with their children, but this doesn’t change that the threat online is real. Only this week a girl of 13 went missing with a man of 36 years old that she met online. She was later found safe but a sexual assault team were called in to assist her.

One might not blame Courtney Love for being protective of her only child, Frances Bean. I did not have the privilege of seeing Nirvana live (I was 14 when Kurt Cobain killed himself and I lived in a rural part of Australia). But some years later I did have the good fortune of seeing Hole perform at the Enmore Theatre, and Courtney Love was phenomenal. I read the whole Vanity Fair article mentioned in Razer’s piece and I was interested to find that besides the “financial claims” against Dave Grohl that Razer mentions, the article details many other aspects of Love’s life which I feel are relevant when discussing Love’s apparent instability. Love comes across as extremely traumatised and from memory I think it is written somewhere that she suffered abuse as a child, not to mention working in the sex industry, having her newborn child removed by child protection services, suffering the suicide of her beloved and then being blamed for his death. Her claims of “fraud” after Cobain’s death don’t come across as that unlikely to me in this day and age of financial and sexual exploitation of other famous women such as Anna Nicole Smith, and her inability to explain her theory in a linear fashion as required by the criminal justice system makes perfect sense from a standpoint of trauma. The vitriol against her after Cobain’s suicide smacks of good old-fashioned misogyny to me, and with hindsight, after realising the misogyny of Cobain’s lyrics, I’m rather glad I saw his equally talented spouse perform rather than him.

Razer’s piece several times speaks of the “language of Mother”, thereby suggesting that all mothers are concerned with criticising their adult children (or adult daughters) and obsessed with the production of offspring from said adult daughters. I am reminded of other caricatures of mothers such as Monica Gellar’s mother on Friends.

The formidable Ms Razer then goes on to say that she put in place “Maternal Controls” (again, only referring to mothers, not parents) on her social media to manage what her mother can and cannot see. Firstly to say that I was appalled by the About.com article referenced here, which I feel serves to further enforce stereotypes of mothers as interfering, almost childlike beings incapable of reasoned and informed debate. The idea that a mother needs to be shielded from items on social media that “might upset her” seems to further infantilise her. This seems in direct contrast to the way the piece mocked the real concerns of parents for their children online.

This reminds me of a similar online debate I have been struggling with, namely that between the scary religious anti-choicers such as MTR and the apparently rather cavalier defenders of girls’ sexuality such as Catherine Deveny and Clementine Ford. This is for another blog post, but suffice to say that although I side mostly with Deveny and Ford, the level of objectification and violence against women and children (and in this I include pornography) in our society cannot be denied. Can we find a middle ground that respects women and girls’ rights and sexuality but doesn’t discount this misogyny?

Lastly, Razer’s piece speaks of the “great maternal explosion”, the precise definition of which I am not yet clear. The overall feeling I get from this piece is that, although this week on social media there have been calls for calm in (am I really going to write it?) the “mummy wars” and rolled eyes in response to Bettina Arndt’s latest mindless offering, older women’s views and protective mothers are fair game. There’s already enough of this in the world without one of our sharpest female writers (and a women’s website) contributing to it.

No Minister for Women in QLD, next will be Australia

Today it is reported that Campell Newman has announced that he will be abolishing the dedicated role of the Minister for the Status of Women. Next it will be the federal Office for Women being dismantled, if the Opposition comes to power. The Liberal Minister for the Status of Women, Senator Michaelia Cash, made a speech (on International Women’s Day, no less), stating that empowerment of women should not be “relegated to a single Government Department to deal with” suggesting that they too will subsume women’s policy within other issues if they come to power.

Senator Cash also told the audience that she is “pleased to say” that her life and career has not been hindered by her gender, and that she is “proud to be a member of a political party that believes in the promotion of women based on merit not quotas”. I wonder how she feels now after seeing the number of women in QLD government fall drastically since Newman took over. As Meghan B. Hopper wrote this week, it is hard to accept that the QLD LNP could only find 12 women of merit to represent the state, while “a 23-year-old male who lives with his parents and whose former employer was Woolies makes the cut”.

Senator Cash appears to believe that we have already achieved gender equality in Australia, and that she herself is a woman who has “achieved economic empowerment”. To other women, she says, “If you want to achieve more, work harder”. How nice of Senator Cash to share these views with us. I’m sure women everywhere are kicking themselves thinking, “Oh, so that’s all there is to it! I just need to work harder! Why didn’t I think of that!”

I’m sure my clients experiencing domestic violence (to which Senator Cash makes a tokenistic reference, very unlike the LNP!?) will be all the better off for this advice. Never mind that they are being terrorised by their partner or ex-partner, are traumatised, are poor and homeless and jobless, and Centrelink and DoCs are on their back, and sometimes the police and courts listen to them and sometimes they don’t, and the Family Court orders their kids to see the perpetrator, and “why don’t they just leave?” Never mind all that, they just need to work harder.

Senator Cash suggests that unlike women in developing nations, who “still need freedom from… poverty and other limiting factors”, women in Australia already have that freedom.

I felt sorry for Senator Cash as I watched her give this speech on IWD. I felt sorry for her that she had stood up in front of the likes of Julie McKay from UN Women, to deliver such an obviously unresearched and uninformed pile of sexist drivel in the name of gender equality. I felt sorry for her that she gave the speech so proudly and with such conviction, without even realising that she herself is oppressed and is oppressing other women. I felt sorry for her that despite not being hindered by her gender, she is oblivious that she too is a victim of the discrimination that women face. Does she realise that if a Liberal government shuts the federal Office for Women she will be out of a job?

But I shouldn’t feel sorry for her. With all her privilege and power she has a responsibility to be properly informed about the issues that are involved in the portfolio that she holds. After the NPC IWD speeches I tweeted Senator Cash to say I hoped she would be open to learning about how misinformed her views are. I never got a reply. During one of Tony Abbott’s #asktony sessions on Twitter (during which he never seems to reply to anyone), I asked him if he intended to dismantle the federal Office for Women. I needn’t have bothered. The writing’s on the wall.

Stop calling for Rihanna to be a spokesperson against DV

People need to stop calling for Rihanna to become a spokesperson against domestic violence. When Annie Lennox suggested in The Guardian a few months ago that Rihanna “could become a tremendous spokesperson for that issue but the choice is hers”, I felt this was wrong but I reasoned to myself that Lennox made the suggestion in a respectful way, conceding that it was Rihanna’s choice whether or not she spoke out.

But this week, another person has called for Rihanna to speak out against domestic violence, and this time it is far less respectful. In fact, it is verging on the abusive and accusatory. There is so much wrong with what Tracey Spicer has written that I feel so angry I can hardly write it down. The comments read as blatant victim blaming and place Rihanna in greater danger.

Spicer opines, “For as long as women like Rihanna refuse to speak out – and society supports men like Chris Brown – the cycle of violence will continue.” This puts the blame and the responsibility squarely on Rihanna, and only mentions Chris Brown – the perpetrator, after all – as an afterthought. It perpetuates the belief that women are responsible for ending domestic violence, not the men who perpetrate it.

Spicer says that Rihanna should get a tattoo to remind her of what Chris did. The arrogance and cruelty of this comment is astounding. First of all, as if Rihanna needs a tattoo to remind her of the assault. Besides the fact that the whole world knows about it and the photographic evidence is all over the Internet, it is quite likely that Rihanna is traumatised by the violence inflicted on her and the effects of this trauma will manifest in physical symptoms in her body, and possibly psychological difficulties. Secondly, what an awful thing to suggest that a woman should get tattooed on her body a reminder of a vicious and life-threatening assault that she survived. How paternalistic to suggest this is the only way she will remember it. How paternalistic to suggest that she has forgotten it in the first place. Where is the evidence that Rihanna has forgotten the assault?

It is wonderful that for Rachael Taylor a tattoo seems to work for her, but I would wager she has been through, and continues to go through, much trauma and grief before coming to the point she appears to be at where she feels safe enough to speak out about the violence she experienced. Let’s not forget that she is also assisted by a domestic violence court order that is still in place to protect her from Matthew Newton. I suspect that helps her to remember what happened as well. But how insulting and simplistic to suggest that a woman needs anything external to remind her she has been assaulted.

But the main reason I wish people would stop calling for Rihanna to become a spokesperson against domestic violence is that it doesn’t yet appear to be safe for her to do so. Reports in the media, however spurious and irresponsible, suggest that Rihanna may still be seeing Chris Brown. This idea is met with indignation and self-righteous disbelief by many, but it should come as no surprise. It is a well-known fact that a woman may try to leave a violent and abusive relationship many, many times before finally succeeding. In my case it took 8 years and countless attempts. Spicer herself notes that Tina Turner finally had the “courage to leave” Ike Turner after 16 years of abuse. The barriers to safety that women face are due to a variety of internal and external factors. Number one is the very nature of domestic violence, which is an abuse of power and a pattern of tactics used to control the victim and keep them in fear, including physical and non-physical violence. Key to this is the reliance on the strong bond with the victim, and the systematic and deliberate eroding of their self-esteem and sense of self. Common results of this are that the victim often doesn’t want the relationship to end, but just wants the violence to stop. External factors preventing women from leaving abusive relationships include a lack of options for where to go, poor response from support services, lack of finances and, for women with children in Australia, the atrocious state of affairs in the family law system.

Even if Rihanna is not still seeing Chris Brown in an intimate capacity, she appears to be still in contact with him and working with him, a situation many women who have experienced domestic violence find themselves in. What would it mean for her safety if she was to speak out about the attack and about domestic violence in general, and then have to face her attacker, either at work or in a personal situation, a man who is already known to respond violently when challenged about his behaviour (as shown in his behaviour on Good Morning America).

The only point of Spicer’s that I would agree with is that the stance of the Australian Music Industry in promoting and hosting Chris Brown in Australia for Supafest is disgraceful. But this only proves my point further. In this climate of rationalising of violence against women and failure to hold Chris Brown accountable, why should Rihanna of all people put her career on the line to speak out? At best she would be ostracised in the industry and probably labelled vindictive or unforgiving, at worst she would lose fans and income from future endorsements and recording opportunities. Domestic violence has a devastating effect on the income and financial situation of women who experience it, and though this is far more acute for poor women, I suspect it would also be the case for the very wealthy.

Why isn’t anyone calling for Chris Brown to become a spokesperson against domestic violence and talk about how he has “changed” since the crime he committed? And why not suggest that Chris Brown get a tattoo to remind him not to violently assault women? Why not demand that he get inked with a needle into his skin a permanent reminder of the crime he committed? People don’t call for male perpetrators to be held accountable because it is still seen as the woman’s issue. Because women are still blamed for any violence committed against them, the world wants to hear how Rihanna has “learnt from her experience” and “will no longer accept being treated in that way”. As long as women like Rihanna are blamed for violence against them – and society fails to ensure women’s safety and hold men accountable – the cycle of violence will continue.

Birth rape and the need for more resources in midwifery

I’m surprised at Mia Freedman’s apparent naivety around distrust of the medical establishment. For someone who calls herself a feminist, she seems to accept the dominant discourse of this patriarchal profession rather too blindly for my liking.

I wish people would remember that gentle, natural birth (when possible and safe) has benefits for the baby as well as the mother. Wanting to achieve this kind of birth is not selfish or narcissistic! The problem is the bio-medical establishment (and evidently, wider society, even other women) does not provide enough support, to labouring women and to midwives. Someone who writes wonderfully about the benefits to both mother and baby of natural birth is Sarah Buckley, a doctor and a woman who has had four natural homebirths. It is a reflection of the patriarchal nature of the biomedical model, and the privileging of it over other perspectives, that there are not more women like her.

I find it offensive that people find the term ‘birth rape’ offensive! When we are talking about something going in or out of a woman’s vagina, a woman labels her own experience, not someone else. Anyone else notice how we all seem to assume that a woman who labels her birth experience ‘birth rape’ has never experienced ‘real’ rape? In fact with the rates of sexual assault as they are it’s more likely that she has, and she is perfectly qualified to compare the two.

When I had my child I was aiming for a natural birth. Like many privileged middle class couples we traipsed to Bowral for Calmbirth, but due to ‘slow progress’, posterior position and lack of dilation I had an unplanned caesarean. The doctors and midwives of the city hospital were all very respectful and gained my consent at every point (because this was possible and it was not an emergency) but I still feel a sense of loss and a level of trauma, so I can’t imagine what it must be like for a woman when things are taken out of her hands in a disrespectful way.

It must also be remembered how vulnerable a woman is during labour. Though I gave my consent for the caesarean, what other choice did I really have? I was just one woman up against the whole medical profession. Even in a post-birth debrief with the doctor the power imbalance is huge. It is this power imbalance that forces some women to undertake possibly dangerous births at home, and to make other strategic choices to avoid that other patriarchal institution, statutory child protection services.

This issue is not about individual women making selfish choices, it’s about our patriarchal society not respecting women and not giving enough time, effort, funding and thought to the business of birthing. Although my unplanned caesarean may have been unavoidable (and thank goodness I could have it and have a beautiful, healthy child), I do wonder if extra resources put into midwifery might go some way towards addressing the high rates of induction and caesareans in Australia. In a post birth debrief with Peter Jackson of Calmbirth, he noted how sometimes a woman is able to move through a slow labour to achieve a natural birth (where safe for the baby) if she has available to her the skills and abilities of a certain type of midwife who can help her overcome certain fears. Unfortunately, most women, including me, do not get this assistance as it is not highly valued in our bio-medical model of midwifery.

For the record I am not a freebirther but I support more resources for homebirths.

Mothering through domestic silence

In my new safer life, the hardest decision I have had to make so far was the early weaning of my 4-week old baby. Beaten and broken by breastfeeding and postnatal depression, I was dreading every feed and crying almost constantly. As I put my screaming baby to the breast (or the bottle) in the middle of the night, my overwhelmed mind tormented me with waking nightmares of starving children. Or it would think of a hundred different ways that this precious little baby could be hurt, and how defenceless it was. My nipples were cracked, bleeding and raw. One morning I awoke from a dream that I had a new baby to feed, and I was actually disappointed and anxious when I realised the dream was real.

I struggled for weeks with the decision to wean, and I was deeply disappointed and gutted with guilt that I couldn’t feed my child the way I felt I was supposed to. Like, I assume, so many good, socialised women before me, I felt a complete failure and fraud as a mother. I didn’t feel like a “real” mother. Not only was my body struggling to feed my child, it had also failed (in my eyes) to give birth to him, “slow progress in labour” resulting in an unplanned caesarean section.

There are, however, both advantages and disadvantages to having a caesarean. On the plus side, as a friend helpfully pointed out to a group of our friends over a drunken game of Cranium, my ‘vag is still intact’. I remind myself of this whenever I look in the mirror and am greeted by a scar that resembles the “swish” symbol of a certain running shoe.

The kind of post that I wonder if should be published, but not for the reasons you might think

Today a female blogger has posted a detailed and disturbing account of her experience in an abusive relationship. The piece resonated with me strongly, as I too, (along with many millions more women in Australia and around the world) was in a relationship with a violent, abusive and controlling man, in my case for 8 years.

I have noticed occasionally a piece is published detailing a woman’s experience of domestic violence (and I do call it domestic violence, more of that later) and I’m sure many more can be found online if one looks for them. It is terribly important that these stories are written and read and promoted and heard. This is how the women’s movement in Australia in the 1970’s, and how the domestic violence movement, started and gained momentum, through women sharing their own stories of abuse in “consciousness-raising” groups. This burning need to tell our story, whether verbally, through the written word, or some other way, is what drove me to write about my experience, and I guess it is what drives other women.

Experience of abuse often also drives women to work in the domestic violence field; again this is how the DV movement evolved in Australia in the 70’s, through women fleeing domestic violence together and staying in the early refuges, often squatting. I am now privileged to work supporting other women to manage their situation in relationships with violent, abusive and controlling men. We work from a feminist perspective and focus on the safety of women and children and the accountability of perpetrators.

Most people these days have some awareness that domestic violence is most often perpetrated by men against women. What they aren’t always aware of is the complexity of domestic violence and that it is so much more than just physical violence. In our work we know that some of the most sophisticated DV perpetrators will never lay a hand on a woman; they are too smart. Instead they utilise a range of other non-physical tactics in a pattern that serves very well to control the woman and keep her in fear, which is the crux of domestic violence. These include emotional abuse, intimidation, threats, harassment and most insidiously, a systematic undermining of a woman’s parenting and of her bond with her children.

Most people also have some awareness of the scale of domestic violence in Australia, let alone the world. Statistics are bandied around but I’m not sure anyone truly understands the pandemic of violence against women in our society until they have sat in a local court on a DV mention day, or spoken to a police officer who is totally exasperated by the DV incidents they see every day, or listened to the story of a social worker who fears for the safety of her clients every night. Or been that social worker, or that police officer, or that intensive care nurse who worked on a woman beaten to death by her partner. Or been the woman in the relationship.

People think, why doesn’t she just leave? (No one thinks, why doesn’t he stop being violent?) But we know that it is not that simple, for myriad reasons, most importantly that domestic violence escalates on separation, and during this period is when a woman is most likely to be killed by her partner. And most people probably don’t know the situation in the Family Courts in Australia at the moment, where children are being ordered to have contact with violent fathers, and mothers are forced to send their children to these perpetrators. Mothers stay in violent relationships because they know about this system and they know their children are safer if their mother is there with them.

As a domestic violence worker I get extremely frustrated with the system that lets women down, but I take heart in the strength and resilience of the women I work with who are managing violence from their partner or ex-partner. As is widely understood in the DV sector and in the DV literature, these women are not victims and are not without agency. They are risk assessing, decision-making and safety planning every day of their lives in order to protect their children and themselves. Our role as workers is to support them with their safety plans, enhance them if possible, and facilitate access to further support.

The female blogger identifies her relationship as emotionally abusive. I don’t know if she classes it as domestic violence, all I know is I have clients who tell me stories similar to hers every day. And it is clear from her post that she is safety planning, though it may look to the untrained eye like indecision, inaction, or as she herself puts it “weakness”.

The difference to me between other accounts I have read and the one I read today is that the women in the other accounts are now safe(r). They are no longer in the relationship with the abusive person. They are recounting their experience from a position of greater safety, and are no longer under the control of the perpetrator.

This got me thinking about the implications and complexities of publishing an account of experiencing an abusive relationship when you are still in it. In this day and age of the Internet, the modus operandi of DV perpetrators is evolving and growing ever more sophisticated. Too often I have seen in my work women being stalked and harassed on Facebook, and it is not unknown these days for police to serve restraining orders on perpetrators online. Only this week an app was taken down after outrage about the way it facilitated stalking and harassment and placed women in grave danger. Then there are the cases I have heard of where Facebook accounts and other online material become evidence in hearings for domestic violence and Family Court matters. For these reasons and others I have not named the blogger here, nor provided a link to her blog, nor simply added a reply to her blog telling her I’m concerned for her safety.

But what really concerns me here is the thought that if a woman publicly publishes information about an abusive relationship that she is still in, it is not only supportive and understanding fellow women who are going to read her story. It is not even the unsupportive and even antagonistic doubters of domestic violence that I am worried about. It is the thought that the person who is trying to control her, her abuser, will be reading her story (and you can bet they will be). Often clients tell me that they used to be in an abusive relationship and now their new partner has just started being abusive. But they were so caring and wonderful at the beginning, so much so that the woman told them all about her previous experiences of abuse, only to find that the new partner then uses their story against them when he needs to exert control over them. One that stands out, and which I’m sure is not uncommon, is the woman whose new partner would bring up her past rape as a way of humiliating, abusing, re-traumatising and controlling her whenever he felt the need.

Another way of looking at this is when women try (very reasonably) to reason with their abusive partners. I remember trying this. If I can just explain myself properly, I thought, he will understand what I mean and he will treat me better. It took me a long time to realise that it was impossible to reason with this man and that by attempting to, I was virtually giving him a map of my vulnerabilities around which he could hone his abusive tactics. Is publishing an account of an abusive relationship that you are still in a similar risk as this? It’s baring your soul, your thought process, indeed, your safety plan, to everyone, including, potentially, the very person against whom you are trying to protect yourself. 

A flicker of feminism

I’m relatively new to feminism. Always left-leaning, my political convictions for some reason did not explicitly extend to the rights of women until recently. I’ve been known to write letters to the Prime Minister (as a pre teen) protesting animal cruelty. I dabbled in student politics during my first stint at university over ten years ago, always on the left. I marched in Glasgow against the Iraq War, for what it was worth. Total belief in social justice led me to choose work in the community sector, starting first in disability working with both male and female clients, and then moving into drug and alcohol, mental health and homelessness working with mainly male clients.

After several years, uncomfortable with my fledging career’s focus on men, I went for a job in a solely women’s service, and in the interview I was asked to explain why women who are homeless might have a more difficult time than men in the same situation. I couldn’t fully answer the question. Violence, I said, and the risk of being raped. This I knew. The interview panel of one woman (the director) and two men (board members?) nodded, but they wanted more. Why might working with women be different to working with men? I sat there in my dress and suit jacket with low heels and thought frantically. There’s a different dynamic, I said, pathetically. I left feeling like I’d just done an exam and was wondering why I had finished before everyone else, only to realise later that I’d missed a whole page of questions. Years later I now know what they were looking for. An understanding of the oppression of women. Patriarchy. Sexism. Misogyny. An understanding of this and of women as second-class citizens, subhuman.

I didn’t come to feminism until some time after that job interview when I went back to university in 2008 to study social work, something I had wanted to do for several years. Even then, vaguely aware that some of the lecturers at uni were (gasp) feminists, I determined not to be “brainwashed” by them. I write that now with shame but also with an understanding of where it came from. Because I came to feminism not through books or through education or through a mother who passed it down, though all of these things I was privileged with. I came to feminism the way I guess most other women come to it, through the female experience, in my case the experience of a relationship with a violent, abusive and controlling man.

As stated by feminist psychiatrist Judith Herman, people who have experienced trauma (such as political prisoners and women experiencing domestic violence) sometimes take on the views of their captor. This is a survival strategy. I was with a man who did not trouble himself with speaking to a woman unless there was a chance he could have sex with her, and who surrounded himself with men who felt the same. Who watched degrading pornography and used emotional manipulation to coerce me into sex. Who was rude and derogatory to my friends he didn’t find attractive, and compared me ruthlessly to the ones who were. Who stalked and harassed and threatened me when I tried to leave. This was a man who would rather destroy his girlfriend of eight years (yes, eight) than let her go. I was fighting to survive and to free myself from this man, and my views on the lecturers at university reflect how deeply I was under his misogynist control. Not only did he stamp out any flicker of feminism I may have had prior to meeting him, he saw to it that my sense of self and my sense of my identity as an Australian were also nicely shamed and decimated.

Somehow, under this duress (which I hadn’t yet realised was domestic violence), I dragged myself to university. Though I am an atheist (another story), my prayers to my grandmothers for help were answered. Without realising, I had enrolled myself in a social work course taught by some of the leading feminist academics and teachers in the field of violence against women. Over the weeks and months I learnt that domestic violence is not just physical violence, but is a pattern of tactics used (mostly by men) to control a person (usually a woman) and keep them in fear. I learnt that domestic violence is about power and control and is a product of patriarchy. I learnt that best practice responses to DV come from a feminist perspective and focus on safety, rather than an expectation that the woman will leave the relationship. I finally believed what I had suspected for some time, that I was experiencing domestic violence, and eventually I was able to escape and become safe. Now looking back I’m still embarrassed that I was ignorant of the reality of violence against women even as I was living it myself. So you might say I was indeed brainwashed by the feminists, and it was one of the best things that ever happened to me.