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Civility and abuse

Lots of discussion this week of domestic violence and also of how being able to be polite and civil in the face of attacks is in many ways an artefact of privilege. These are excellent things that need discussing. Speaking truth to power is vital and for many it's critical to their survival.

Abuse survivors, and especially survivors/victims of domestic violence often keep up extreme public and private politeness as a matter of safety, however. Speaking back feels deeply unsafe in all circumstances. It can lead to harm. Their politeness is an artefact of abuse and a protective mechanism, not an artefact of privilege. Domestic violence crosses all ethnic, class and cultural boundaries.
It isn't a simple issue and there are some people who are caught between two fires in this debate.

I absolutely support the right of those who are subjected to abuse, oppression, elision and exclusion to shout back, to push, to demand. This is not an area in which there can be compromise.

But there are also people of all races and backgrounds for whom this option is never available and they may speak and act as they do because it is their only safety.

You may now drop the internet on my head.

Edited to add: an excellent discussion of abuse victims/survivors and psychology by Lois McMaster Bujold here -- http://lists.herald.co.uk/pipermail/lois-bujold/2013-January/116928.html Thanks to mmegaera for the link.



( 49 comments — Leave a comment )
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Jun. 21st, 2013 12:05 pm (UTC)
You got it exactly. My mother just escaped from her abusive relationship and though it really galled her, she had to be super polite to her husband. Even when he yelled at her and threatened her. It was both safer and bought her time to sneak stuff out the back door so she could escape.

And we live in Canada.

*holds up internet-proof umbrella*
Jun. 21st, 2013 12:49 pm (UTC)
Thank you for the umbrella :-)
And very, very good wishes to your mother.
(no subject) - tiamat1972 - Jun. 22nd, 2013 02:00 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - la_marquise_de_ - Jun. 22nd, 2013 09:00 am (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 21st, 2013 12:16 pm (UTC)
An interesting parallel with the situation in every truly hierarchical society. I mean the ones where upsetting a superior can lose you not just your livelihood but your life and the lives of your family. People who are not at or near the top learn self-control as a necessity. They're not gentle, just well-socialised for survival in their context.

I have observed directly the situation where posturing outsiders presume to "speak up" to the Powers That Be allegedly on behalf of the oppressed, without ever considering what the PTB might do to the oppressed and their friends, relatives and colleagues in response. The outsiders, of course, hold foreign passports or are safely elsewhere.

Edited at 2013-06-21 12:31 pm (UTC)
Jun. 21st, 2013 12:35 pm (UTC)
Comparisons between Japanese and British levels of courtesy often refer to the historical possibility of being killed for perceived rudeness by one's social 'superiors.'
(no subject) - la_marquise_de_ - Jun. 21st, 2013 12:49 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 21st, 2013 12:48 pm (UTC)
For me it was a highly controlling mother. I didn't have any options, back then.
Jun. 21st, 2013 12:50 pm (UTC)
So many of us have been through this.
Very good wishes.
(no subject) - maida_mac - Jun. 24th, 2013 04:33 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 21st, 2013 12:49 pm (UTC)
I often feel minimized (especially by men) when I try to even talk about my experiences as a domestic violence survivor. Consequently, I only speak around the edges of what happened, and rarely about the real meat of the experiences.
Jun. 21st, 2013 01:37 pm (UTC)
Oh, I know that feeling all too well. Hug and good wishes. And we are here for you.
Jun. 21st, 2013 12:54 pm (UTC)
Thank you for saying this.
Jun. 21st, 2013 01:48 pm (UTC)
Someone needed to.
And I have a shark on my desk today (a large toy one) and am thus feeling bolshy.
Jun. 21st, 2013 01:47 pm (UTC)
I agree with you. The big thing is that the decision is up to the person not to the onlooker, for they know how much safety there is for them where as the onlooker may judge it from their own experience and this could be dangerous.
Jun. 21st, 2013 01:48 pm (UTC)
Yes, precisely.
(no subject) - history_monk - Jun. 21st, 2013 08:51 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - gillpolack - Jun. 22nd, 2013 02:18 am (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 21st, 2013 02:57 pm (UTC)
Sorry, no internet-dropping for you today. You'll have to try harder.

Thanks for posting this.
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(no subject) - jimhines - Jun. 22nd, 2013 06:06 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - la_marquise_de_ - Jun. 23rd, 2013 11:53 am (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 21st, 2013 04:00 pm (UTC)
Yep. Totally agree on this one. As you point out, domestic violence crosses all boundaries, including ethnic, cultural, class and economic lines. Sometimes the most privileged can be the most bound to their circumstances of abuse (just think about the accounts of murder amongst the rich as a result of domestic abuse). I'm--feeling my way through writing it as fiction, because two of my Netwalk Sequence characters went through abusive circumstances which resonate through not just one but three generations.

I was lucky, because I had an early but relatively mild exposure to domestic violence when I started dating as an adult (it didn't feel mild at the time, but it took three times the length of the relationship for me to extract myself from it and both my family and I felt threatened). I think many women have had at least one encounter with domestic violence up close and personal.

That doesn't count the dysfunctional family relationship, either....

So yeah. Holding up an internet-proof umbrella.
Jun. 21st, 2013 08:42 pm (UTC)
Thank you. I worry about these things, because I have had some experiences in that line myself, and I know how shaky it can make me, so... There are people out there in really bad circumstances.
(no subject) - green_knight - Jun. 26th, 2013 07:03 am (UTC) - Expand
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Jun. 21st, 2013 08:42 pm (UTC)
Thank you.
Jun. 21st, 2013 07:21 pm (UTC)
Thankfully I can say that I have never personally experienced domestic violence, but when I taught IT to unemployed people in one of the poorest towns in the UK, I met quite a few women who had. What you say is absolutely true. A woman cannot just "stand up for herself" and it can be very very difficult to get away safely, especially if children are involved.
Jun. 21st, 2013 08:43 pm (UTC)
It's one of the worst situations for women and too much of the rhetoric ends up victim blaming.
Jun. 21st, 2013 07:46 pm (UTC)
Yes, and thank you.

(I craft bulletproof, qualified, and careful arguments when I open my mouth. Because there was a point when leaving any room to be wrong bore consequences.)
Jun. 21st, 2013 08:43 pm (UTC)
I know that situation. Not good.
Much love.
Jun. 21st, 2013 11:15 pm (UTC)
Starting to wonder if there's a reason people seem to think I make well-measured, emotionally neutral comments about heated subjects...

This morning I started out by doing mandatory employee trainings. First one: self-paced, read through in one's own time, total control over the presentation. Second one: automatic slide show with only the possibility of pausing or going backwards, and included narration interwoven with first-person accounts. Guess which one was on recognizing sexual abuse, assault, and harassment?

Spent the next 30 minutes shaking and writing to the heads of HR and faculty senate suggesting that perhaps there should be some sort of trigger warning and an explanation of how to view the slideshow on one's own terms... The email was received politely, with the request for permission to pass it upwards and onwards, so... speaking up? good thing.
Jun. 22nd, 2013 08:58 am (UTC)
We do these things because we have been on the receiving end of pain at some time or other. It needs doing, it costs, but it *is* the right thing, I think, if only because someone has to, as there will be many others who can't speak out, to keep themselves safe.
Jun. 22nd, 2013 02:27 am (UTC)
I do that, often. I never thought of it as privilege because of where it comes from, in my brain.

Must percolate on this.
Jun. 22nd, 2013 09:00 am (UTC)
Precisely. For a lot of people and especially a lot of women globally, this isn't about being nice for social reasons, it's about not being in danger of harm.
(no subject) - miintikwa - Jun. 23rd, 2013 05:52 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - la_marquise_de_ - Jun. 23rd, 2013 05:56 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 23rd, 2013 01:58 am (UTC)
Thank you. As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, and as an elementary school counselor who advocates for children with no voices, this spoke to me deeply. I often struggle with how much is too much, when enough is enough, and just when reporting is the potential cause of more harm than good. It breaks my heart when kids beg me not to stand up for them, because they love their abusers, or even want to simply keep the peace. There is never one right answer, either. I've had parents thank me for looking out for their kids and others out for my head.

I wish there were no need for the helpers but sadly, it doesn't look like we will be on unemployment any time soon.
Jun. 23rd, 2013 11:55 am (UTC)
It heartens me that there are people like you out there, who listen to and believe those children, because it's so crucial they know there are people out there on their side.
Jun. 23rd, 2013 10:02 pm (UTC)
I'm here via jimhines. We've gone around and around on this subject on the Lois McMaster Bujold email list (www.dendarii.com) because of the character of Ekaterin. People either seem to find her incredibly believable or simply can't understand why she stayed with her abusive husband as long as she did or why she didn't stand up to him. As someone who left an abusive marriage twenty-five years ago, I've almost come to believe that it's extremely difficult to understand unless you've been there yourself, although some folks are sufficiently imaginative to be able to pull it off (I've always found it fascinating that Miles, the other viewpoint character in Komarr, the book in question, gets it because he's a small man and knows what it's like to be physically outmatched on a regular basis). They're a distinct minority, though, IME.

Anyway, there's a quote from Bujold may be relevant, too, if I could get it to post here without getting the comment marked as spam (I'd be glad to send it under separate cover if that would help). Her term "status emergency" makes a lot of sense to me in this context.
Jun. 24th, 2013 09:24 am (UTC)
Ekaterin a a very good example of how abuse can and does effect women, and how. I'm very grateful to LMB for creating her: she's teaching a lot of people about battered woman syndrome there, and that matters. Ista in Paladin of Souls is another wonderful creation and exploration of the cost of psychological abuse and mental illness.
LJs spam filters are infuriating! If you would like to lj message me, however, I will post it.
And very nice to meet you., I'm also an abuse survivor. These things matter.
(no subject) - mmegaera - Jun. 24th, 2013 04:37 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - la_marquise_de_ - Jun. 24th, 2013 04:55 pm (UTC) - Expand
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