Friday, October 17, 2008

A Room of One's Own

If you have not yet read Echidne's post, The Right to Go Out, go there at once and read it. It's brief and I'll wait. Back now? Good.

The line from the post that sticks with me is this one (my emphasis): "My second reaction [to a statement quoted in the post] was the realization that people mostly don't see that female fear of the outside as a civil rights issue or a human rights issue. It's just How Things Are."

Without disagreeing with Echidne, I think the argument can be applied more broadly – the problem is that there are almost no physical spaces women may safely occupy and that the home may be even more dangerous than the street. Echidne’s observation that, “In most societies women who go out alone at night are at greater risk than men who go out alone, because women have to deal not only with the risk of getting mugged but also with the risk of getting raped. They are seen as prey,” can be applied to any location. A workplace, a parking lot, a path or sidewalk are places where women are stalked as prey, but so are homes, both in and out of buildings.

The percentage varies with the study being done, but it is the majority of violent assaults on women are by someone they know, a partner, a relative, a family friend. The most common place for this violence is the home. Where the hell do you go if nowhere is safe?

I have been raped more than once, always in my own home, always by someone I knew. I am lucky that the only man who threatened to kill me decided to batter holes in the wall beside my head while screaming how he would kill me instead of doing the deed. I am also lucky that I was able to leave that situation behind.

What of women who cannot? What if you lack the money and the support to get a room of one’s own?

The current financial meltdown will produce an upsurge in violence against women because the opportunity to engage in this violence without repercussions to the abuser will also increase.
If you have no health insurance except what your spouse or domestic partner gets through work, you have to calculate the costs of losing that coverage. If you kick out an abusive partner, will you be able to pay your mortgage or sell the house at any price? Shelters are closing for lack of funds – would there be a place to go to? If you have children who need to be protected, how might homelessness affect them (PDF)? Will rents be affordable even if you have your own income? Will employers hire you if they know you have a restraining order against a violent partner? Will you be targeted to be let go if your home life threatens to spill over into the workplace?

What about community programs that try to combat violence? The Family Justice Center of San Diego provides a one-stop-shop to help victims of domestic violence to work their way through the legal and social service tangle and get help. It both is and is not a part of the city and relies on volunteers, grants and donations to keep running. How will it be affected when corporate donor budgets are cut to the bone, charitable groups have less to give, and volunteers may need that time to work for wages? City of San Diego Police Department has one of the best domestic violence response units in the country, and works closely with the Family Justice Center (FJC). The City is also looking at a 10% cut across the board budget cut. What will happen to this unit? To similar units in other cities? What about emergency medical services? What about undocumented aliens? Will they protest if it might mean a visit from the INS? FJC won’t ask about your residency or citizenship, but will legal and social service agencies that use public funds be required to report suspected illegals?

Given a political and cultural environment awash in misogynistic imagery and sentiments, where the leader of the majority party is openly courting cultural conservatives and saying privately to the money men that social programs and services will be cut, we can expect to see policy and funding choices biased towards “family values” and increasing privatization of the risks of ordinary life. If misogyny and violence against women are not seen as civil rights or human rights violations, then the home becomes that much more dangerous a place because it is just a private matter, just that bitch getting in his face, you know, so you can understand why he had to give her a smack to make her calm down. Or maybe more than that. Whatever it takes to reassure the abuser that order has been restored.

In the current political environment, how difficult will it be to secure a room of one’s own?


Update - I have received some incredible comments from a number of people, some who said they've never posted a comment before to a blog. They are almost all stories about a woman's encounter with violence in her home. After consideration, I will not post these, even if the writer did not specifically say "don't publish", though most of you did say that. Thank you for trusting me enough to tell me these things.


Anglachel said...

Alexei, thank you for your comment. Big hugs,


Anonymous said...

Women seem to face a variety of different obstacles.

- Direct violence by males, single or groups, is prevalent world wide. Domestic abuse is a particularly severe problem that crosses class, income and ethnic lines.

- Open raw sexism that manifest itself in verbal, attitutional and cultural behavior.

- Physical, professional and organizational road blocks. (Referred to as class ceiling in organizations.)

Human Right Watch deals regularly with the violence against women. I don't believe they deal with the other two obstacles, probably because they don't fit currently under the abuse umbrella.

While violence is almost uniformly distributed everywhere today, the same doesn't hold for raw sexism and road blocks.

Personally, I was flaberghasted by the attitude and utterances directed at Hillary by the well educated mixed gender Whole Food Nation (and the media). I hope that this phenomenon was the result of Obama fascistic campaign and the fear of losing their privileges that they read into Hillary's agenda. I hope their obnoxious behavior isn't part of their daily routine. Of course, I must admit that their sexist behavior has deep roots in that class and that's downright awful.

Road blocks are not spread uniformly in our society. Most of academe, high tech industry and quite a few other segments of society treat women equally to men.

The military is a sexist organization. Voilence and rape are common, there are many activities women cannot participate in and sexism is prevalent. The US military is much worse than many other Western militaries.

Making women's problems as a whole a human right issue will probably face difficulties due to the uneven nature of the problems and the fact that human right doesn't address atitudes currently.

Health care should also be a human right issue. It isn't because of the complexity of the issue.

Unknown said...


Although I agree wholeheartedly with the spirit of your post, and most of the content, I must disagree with your statement that 'Most of academe..... treat women equally to men.'

Being a scientist in academia, I can say that is utterly false. In academia, women are subjected to sexual harassment, double standards when it comes to balancing work and family life as compared to male academics, a very real glass ceiling that prevents them from getting tenure promotions and higher promotions (such as full professor, department chair, etc.) at anywhere near the same pace as male colleagues, and a severe attrition rate during the march to tenure. Many more women than men drop out of academia pre-tenure and give up their careers due to these difficulties.

There are also the not quite so obvious issues that my female colleagues are well aware of, such as becoming 'invisible' to male colleagues when it comes to prestigious offers - such as symposia, election to office in scientific societies, etc. Men in power in academia 'see' other men much more than often than they are apparently capable of 'seeing' female colleagues when it comes to making these choices.

hesperia said...

Anglachel, Echidne and McEwan for President - enlightened sisterhood? This evening I've posted about the renewed vigour of the campaign of sexual violence against women in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It's difficult not to feel a sense of hopelessness that atrocities against women are going to rise to the level of public consciousness while the world tries to recover its wealth - since the majority of people couldn't be bothered even when they had it.