Today on Slate, writer Linda Hirshman says, on encountering recent news reports about victims of domestic violence: "I find myself rooting around for my old-style feminism, Birkenstocks and all."
The current love affair with understanding stops feminists from calling victims on taking responsibility for their own well-being. For centuries, Western culture has assumed that, no matter how "kind" they are, given adequate information, people can be trusted to look after themselves. Democracy itself rests on that assumption.
Ah, yes, Democracy Itself depends on the ability of feminists to stop being so touchy-feely about victims of violence and start telling them to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and get out of their bad relationships. Good to know that Hirshman is so understanding of the reasons women get into or stay in abusive relationships — it's because they're weak.
It is difficult to understand why she stayed in this awful relationship, given that she was not risking starvation and had no children with her abuser. Which is why, no matter how many times [Leslie Morgan] Steiner and [Amanda] Marcotte and the others tell them not to, people keep asking the question. And it's terribly important to do exactly that. Asking why women participate in destructive relationships is a mark of respect. The amazing thing is that, four decades after the birth of feminism, we are still arguing about it.
There is a big fucking difference between asking from a sociological perspective why women stay in abusive relationships, and trying to shame an already shamed and broken women out of one. A big. fucking. difference. And it's not that Steiner and Marcotte are trying to silence the first kind of discussion, but they are pointing out — correctly — that to try to engage in the type of discussion that Hirshman is suggesting will cause abuse victims to withdraw, feel defensive, feel at fault for their own abuse or for their own continuing abuse, which is not helpful to encouraging them to leave abusive relationships nor for ending the social pressures that keep women isolated and ashamed of being in them.
Basically, this kind of shit doesn't help:
I refuse to accept this bleak assessment, the soft bigotry of low feminism. Michelle Goldberg's new book The Means of Reproduction: Sex, Power, and the Future of the World, is about the struggle to bring sexual self-determination to women who really were powerless. It includes the story of 11-year-old Anne, who got wind of her impending genital circumcision and walked 25 miles through the Kenyan bush at night to reach a Girls Rescue Center. Anne was not a columnist, or a blonde. But she heard a rumor of liberation and followed that rumor into the woods.
In other words, it's anti-feminist to try to deal with real women's real struggles in a real way that helps them, and pro-feminist to call them too weak to help themselves. Because, of course, to blame them for the continuing abuse totally doesn't absolve the men of responsibility whatsoever — it's not like the men can stop.
An expert on domestic violence tells her that no man he'd ever studied had stopped being violent. No one he worked with in the field would ever say "this one is done. He'll never abuse anyone again." Four months after her husband nearly killed her, Steiner saw him kissing the hair of his new girlfriend at a party. She silently turned away. Will we be reading the girlfriend's memoir next?
See! See! Since Steiner didn't prosecute, she's responsible for all the women her ex abused after her.
(I really feel like I covered this point before.)
And if you're not offended enough at Hirshman's essay thus far, just know I left the best part for last. You know, the part where she equates physical violence with infidelity.
Crazy Love made me think again about Learning To Drive and the debate when it was published in 2007 over how a smart and independent feminist like Katha Pollitt got involved in a hurtful, unfaithful relationship. Infidelity is not the same as four years of beatings, but Pollitt does describe her ex as a "liar, a cheat, a maniac, manipulator and psychopath."
Actually, it's not only not the same, it's not remotely similar. But Hirshman uses Pollitt's experience of leaving her cheating husband to explain why and how Rihanna and Steiner could thus leave their abusive men, because, see, it's easy!
There's your new "bootstrap" feminism, ladies. Who needs domestic violence shelters when you can just suck it up and leave?
Crazy Love, Crazy Choices [Slate]