Earlier this week, we viewed the “I AM UNBEATABLE” collection at the gallery. The mission of I AM UNBEATABLE is to raise awareness and prevent domestic abuse against children and women. The pictures were very powerful. One of the most moving pictures was a picture of both a mother and a daughter lying in their caskets. They were the victims of a fatal case of domestic violence perpetrated by the mother’s boyfriend.
Domestic violence is defined as a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain and maintain power over the other intimate partner. Domestic abuse can be physical, emotional, economic, sexual, or psychological. Women, though they aren’t the only people to suffer from domestic abuse, are more likely to be abused and by their male partners. In fact, 85%-95% of all domestic violence victims are female. Why is this the case? I think that the construction of masculinity and what masculinity embodies could be to blame here. Society teaches men that they must be in control at all times. As C.J. Pascoe stated in his article “Guys are just homophobic,” because “maleness doesn’t confer masculinity,” men must confirm their masculinity through the “repeated signaling to self and others that one is powerful, competent, unemotional, heterosexual, and dominant” (Pascoe 177). A disturbance to the socially constructed patriarchal hierarchy requires attention, and the nature of this attention can vary. Men are taught that they should “correct” women if they are deviating from society’s definition of what a woman is and how a woman behaves. By doing so, as James J. Dean would quote it, men are projecting a “hegemonic style of masculinity through trying to be dominant over … women.” (Dean 247) Because this kind of behavior is enforced and even rewarded by society, men typically feel as if their behavior is acceptable. Many times, men’s attempts to correct women’s behavior are very violent and sometimes fatal.
Many times, women stay in the relationship and continue to deal with the abuse. These women are often criticized because society disagrees with their decision to stay; in the eyes of society, if women stay, then they must like being abused. In this instance, society is feeding into heteronormativity by implying that women should know that it is in men’s nature to be aggressive, so if these women do not like it, they should just leave. However, what society fails to realize is that these women do not typically stay for the “love.” These women stay, many times, because they do not have anywhere to escape to, they do not have steady income, they no longer have relationships with anyone besides their immediate family (those living with them), or they are afraid to leave. Sometimes, these women try to leave the relationship to escape the abuse; interestingly enough, 75% of murders that were the result of domestic violence occurred after victim left the relationship.
As a result of domestic violence taking place within the home, many women are left with nothing when they decide to leave because when they were in these abusive relationships, the man was in charge of every aspect of their lives. In fact, in a survey by the US Conference of Mayors, 56% of cities surveyed cited domestic violence as a primary cause of homelessness. I think that this plays a great role in the negotiation of new identities for these women. As we have learned, many women turn to sex work after traumatic experiences such as domestic violence because it is a way to earn “quick money” and support their children (if they have any). When they are working, whether it be on the streets on in a brothel, these women are subject to even more abuse. In this instance, women’s behaviors become synonymous with their identity. These women are then identified as “prostitutes” or sex workers. As a result of this label, these women are then treated like outcasts. To make matters worse, these women are criminalized. The criminalization of prostitution allows for and justifies the abuse and mistreatment of sex workers. Instead of being protected by the law, these women are targeted by the law. Furthermore, the criminalization of prostitution is a way for the government to regulate sexuality. I think that this regulation is the government’s attempt to maintain “normalcy.” In the government’s attempt to regulate sexualities, they are also regulating identities because criminalizing sex workers because of who they are and what they do is implying that those women’s identities are not socially acceptable. In the midst of attempting to regulate sexualities and identities, the government forces yet another negotiation of identity, for not only are these women “prostitutes,” they are also criminals.
This brings into question the notion of protection. Who should protect these women? Whose responsibility is it to police the masculinity of these men? At the I AM UNBEATABLE exhibition, there was a statistic that stated that women are likely to receive higher sentences when they are convicted of killing their male partner in comparison to the sentencing of men who killed their female partners. What exactly are these women being punished for? If a woman and a man commit the same crime, why should they have substantially different sentences? Are these women being punished for murder, or are they being punished for testing the patriarchal society that we live in? Are they being punished for deviating from society’s vision of what constitutes “lady-like?”
All in all, domestic violence, though in not all cases, leads to a cycle of disempowerment for most of the victims.