domestic violenceFeminismNarrative

Looking the other way…..

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Continuing the theme of feminism and writing, I never become used to the way some women have to lead double lives. I doubt that there is a woman in the UK today who is not aware of feminism in some form or another, even if it is from the standpoint of being oppressed. Yet there is an underlying attitude of ‘looking the other way’ when oppression happens. What can women who are creative writers do to help raise awareness?

Oppression can take many forms from the extremes of physical violence through the subtleties of psychological violence. I have certainly felt uncomfortable in situations where a man has applied undue pressure to make me conform to his wishes. The choice is to either speak out and defend yourself or to put up with the oppression in the hope it will stop. It rarely does and by the time it reaches a critical point, the strength to speak out is diminished through fear of the consequences. Women experiencing oppression rarely find allies in friends and family as the situation is highly stigmatised or simply not understood – and quite often ignored: ‘don’t get involved’

The sad fact is that the oppression of women is real in the UK today. Domestic violence helplines and refuges are overspilling with women and children who have had to leave the family home due to violent circumstances. Women’s organisations are funded to deal with this crisis at the time it happens, and hopefully relocate and rehouse these unfortunate women. But what happens afterwards?

Evidence has shown that psychological interventions at the time of the trauma are not always helpful to the ‘victim’ as they can interfere with the memory process should the case come to court and render recall of the event invalid due to reframing. So often, either inappropriate interventions or no interventions are given whilst in the refuge.

Once rehoused, the woman is alone in her recovery. Having undergone a deeply traumatic and violent episode(s) at the hand of someone she thought she could trust, she is out there alone in the world with no back up. Other victims of traumatic violence are often offered help in the form of counselling for post traumatic shock, but once out of the hostel the abused woman must actively travel her own journey from ‘victim’ to survivor.

This outcome is not unusual for the woman who is lucky enough to seek help. For the woman who suffers in silence, assuming that she must endure the oppression that her mother did as this is ‘part of life’ whilst her family look the other way due to the stigma of ‘grassing’ and ‘boys will be boys’, or simply that ‘that’s the way it is’, the reality is that she may never escape.

Part of the reason for this is that many people do not understand exactly what domestic violence and oppression is. In my work with several DV charities I have yet to find a comprehensive, all encompassing valid description. This is partly because publishing a list of components does not reflect the life experience of enduring prolonged oppression. The difference between a list and a story is a beginning, a middle and an end with a meaningful structure in between. Stories of other women’s experience could well key into aspects of a woman’s identity that she was unaware of, or situations that she is implicitly involved in and assist recognition and hopefully point the way to escape from oppression for the woman involved.

As a supporter of narrative methodology, I can see the overlap here between fiction and reality. To help this massively under-reported problem we don’t have to go to help out at a refuge or go on a feminist march or even a rant, we don’t have to give money to a charity or report our violent next door neighbour, we can raise awareness by writing about it. It is not beyond the realms of possibility that a woman who is seriously oppressed could pick up a novel, read it and resonate with the situation of the main character who is undergoing an oppressive situation, and who eventually escapes. This ‘issue’ which has the potential to change women’s lives could be actively promoted in fiction. Some would say that writing about violence against women is gratuitous, but I feel that if it is written in a sympathetic way that does not encourage the behaviour but points out the complexities of the experience for women, it is a valuable profile raiser.

I admit it’s not nice to read (or write) and it is easy to look the other way, but what would you do if it was your sister or daughter?

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