“The mission of I AM UNBEATABLE is to raise awareness, educate and prevent domestic violence against women and children through real stories of real people.”-iamunbeatable.com
The I AM UNBEATABLE exhibit of Donna Ferrato’s photographic journalism is groundbreaking work. It isn’t a wonder that Ferrato is a highly acclaimed journalist, with a multitude of awards in her repertoire. However, it is clear that Ferrato isn’t interested in earning awards, but rather, wants to reveal the disturbances of relationships and give society the truth about domestic violence. If domestic violence doesn’t affect your own life, you are likely to feel distanced from the subject. The photographs forcibly call public attention to this problem; they aren’t just articles with statistics of domestic violence that we read and unfortunately, quickly disregard. Ferrato’s exhibit shows real people and tells their real stories. When we see these victims of abuse, we see their pain and domestic violence becomes real for us as well.
One of the first photos we were shown at the exhibit was a double image piece depicting a man striking his wife in their home bathroom. Ferrato had been living with the couple and documenting their lifestyle. She was able to capture their violent incident with her camera and share it with the world. The shot was so vivid and terrifying. The woman was leaned back against the counter, the man overpowering her, striking her face. In the reflection of the bathroom mirror we see his cold expression. He is serious, almost calm. He knows exactly what he is dong. These images speak a lot for stereotypical gender dynamics and how we see these portrayed in everyday life. The woman’s body language made her look inferior, powerless. She was cornered and had no way to protect herself. Her husband, by contrast, is displaying what we consider typical male behavior of power and control. Domestic violence certainly deals with an imbalance of power. One person’s strength is used to injure or harm someone else. As Kristin Barber explained in her article “Sex and Power,” she suggests that sex is defined “in terms of men’s dominance and women’s submission” (Barber 45). In fact, this is the type of “heteronormative” culture that has reappeared in a lot of social constructivist discourse. As long as men are in positions of power and sex is defined in heteronormative terms, we will see these gender dynamics played out not only in sex but the relationships between two people. Here are Donna Ferrato’s featured images of this couple:
The main series of photographs in the exhibit is dedicated to a woman named Sarah’s story. Sarah characterizes the type of woman that Ferrato was looking for to help unveil some of the trealities the come with domestic abuse. Ferrato was seeking a “heroine” of sorts and whom she came across was Sarah. Sarah survived her tragic situation and was able to piece together a new life for herself and her two sons. At age 13, she was involved with an 18 year old boy. He basically stole her from reality by brainwashing her with ideas of a “fairytale.” He raped her and dominated every aspect of her life for years. The physical injuries that Sarah sustained from her ex were extreme, among them a broken jaw.
The thing about domestic violence is that it is not limited to an exchange between two partners, such as Sarah and her ex. This violence permeated their relationship and affected Sarah’s two sons as well. They had to witness their mom being beaten by their father, and when they would bravely intervene, they too were subjected to his abuse. At one point, the exhibit mentions, the younger son was remembered to have had screamed, “He’s going to kill Mama”. These boys witnessed such brutal violence at such a young age, and statistics suggest that they could have become a part of that cycle of violence had Sarah not been able to remove them all from the situation at hand. She, unlike too many other women, was able to extract herself from a violent relationship and found refuge for her and her sons. In so many other cases though, women are unable to escape these realities. According to domesticviolencestatistics.org, a woman is assaulted or beaten every 9 seconds in the US.
Source: I AM UNBEATABLE exhibit photo, Donna Ferrato.
That being said, domestic violence does not end when the woman leaves the abuser. In fact, according to the exhibit, there is a very high murder rate of women who have left their abusing partners. Fear dominates the lives of the woman and her family even after she find the courage or ability to leave. For example, Sarah experienced “paralyzing anxiety attacks” in the time that followed her escape. She and her boys lived in fear that they would have a fatal encounter with Sarah’s ex, the boys’ father.
As we look at cases of domestic violence, what we often see is a history of the violent behavior. Sarah was in an abusive relationship with her ex for so many years before she was able to leave him. Some women are in abusive relationships and they aren’t ever able to leave. We ask ourselves, why not? If only it were that simple. As mentioned before, there is a great deal of fear that is involved in these relationships. Women may not leave because they are afraid of what the man will do to her if she does. Even more, these relationships become the woman’s sole and entire reality. For many women like Sarah, they have become so inferior to the man that he has a hand in every facet of day to day life. So if they decided to leave, where would they go? Often left with no peers or family to turn to, we simply cannot expect these women to answer that question.