Everyday my husband and I work at raising our two sons. We make sure that they eat well and play well, that they use good manners and treat people and animals with care and respect. In short, we work at helping them to become good people and good men.
I would be appalled if either of my boys grew up to be the kind of men who used violence against other people. But nor do I want my boys to be the victims of abuse and violence, and this is where I wonder if as a society we’re taking a wrong turn in our methods to prevent domestic violence.
Campaigns against domestic violence seem to be very gender driven. Women are always the victim and men are always the perpetrators. But in truth, men are also victims of domestic violence, male victims are less likely to report abuse and, if they do, are less likely to be believed. Yet the impacts on male victims are just as significant as those on female victims. The majority of perpetrators of family violence against men are women.
My interest in this became aroused not just because I’m the mother of boys but because when I was writing Child of War I made a natural assumption that my female characters might be vulnerable to sexual violence but didn’t consider that my male characters might also experience sexual violence. A little bit of research stripped my naivety. That boys and men in war-torn countries experience rape, genital beatings and sodomy shouldn’t have been surprising to me but it hadn’t been something I gave much thought to. While we know, almost instinctively, that women and girls face sexual abuse where the rule of law has broken down we often don’t consider men and boys in the same situation.
Closer to home, by exclusively focussing on female victims of domestic violence, do we risk alienating male victims? Are men less likely to come forward if they believe that domestic violence is the preserve of women only? Does admitting to being a victim of spousal abuse as a man, emasculate that man?
Domestic violence is overwhelmingly committed by men, against women. That is not in contention. No woman should have to feel afraid of the man or men who share her life. All I’m saying is that men and boys can be victims too. All people deserve to live free from fear and violence.
It’s funny how the web and a inquiring mind can take you on an interesting journey. One minute you’re reading about writing ideas and half an hour later you’re knee deep in misogynist ranting.
I read with extreme interest a post on Writers in the Storm (my favourite writing blog) by Laurie Schnebly Campbell about the ‘heroine’s journey’, a companion to the ‘hero’s journey’. Actually, I had never heard of the heroine’s journey before and after reading the post did what every gen-y girl will do when their interest is peeked, I googled it.
This led me to a post by Sarah Perlmutter about why she doesn’t like the heroines journey concept. Her take on the heroine’s journey was different to Campbell’s, my understanding of Perlmutter’s point of view was that it was an unnecessary distinction based on gender, where as Campbell saw the two concepts as being external-conflict vs internal-conflict. Personally I found Campbell’s analysis more helpful.
Perlmutter’s post lead me to a post by Quintus Curtius on Return of Kings. The premise of his post was that women are, by nature, weak at best and cowardly at worst, and that portrayals of woman as heroic or in positions of leadership in fiction are implausible and contrary to a woman’s true, innate, nature.
I’ll be honest, it was the sort of writing that has the power to make your insides shiver. I had no doubt of the passion and conviction behind his words. Such misogyny is as frightening as the misandry found in some women’s speech and writing.
What was interesting for me was the differences between people’s perception of gender and it’s role. Even in this tiny sample found in a half hour spent fiddling around on the net, they varied wildly.
What was more interesting was where you can go and what you find with a little bit of curiosity.
In rewriting Child of War I’ve been drawn back to researching. Google is my best friend. During the first draft many (many, many, many) months ago I researched topics ranging from what it’s like to get high (I had a sheltered adolescence), to the effects of a bullet wound, to internal state violence and the impacts on the population. I find this sort of stuff fascinating (and yet I’m not a riot at a party…strange).
My most resent researching has been in an effort to portray the experience of my protagonist, Jedda, more accurately. Why, in civil wars, do civilians become targets of violence and abuse? What forms does this take?
This answers were simultaneously fascinating and horrifying. Stories from African countries featured frequently in the articles I read. The testimonies of boys and young men who had been abducted and sexually, physically and psychologically abused were heart wrenching and sickening as were the stories from girls who were taken from their homes to be used as ‘entertainment’. It’s difficult to believe that these young people will grow up to be whole, healthy and happy adults.
As I sit in my warm, safe, home I wonder what I can do. I was drawn to this topic for my book because I hope to create awareness and , through awareness, perhaps action and change. I feel pathetic and impotent just writing that last sentence.
I have no answers.
Do you? What do you know about this topic and what are your thoughts and feelings? I would love to hear them.