Tuesday, June 30, 2009

So, really, Why Doesn't She Leave?

It's the $60,000 question, isn't it? How many times do we hear this when faced with the story of a woman who's partner treats her badly? It's something that I could say I've pretty much heard all my life, and in fact, have uttered or thought myself over the years. But more recently, I've been examining this question, giving it some critical analysis.

What has struck me most is the amount of responsibility this question puts on the person who is receiving the abuse, and let's face it, it is mostly women, so I'll stick with the term 'her' or 'she' to keep it simple. I now come to the realisation that while we ask ourselves, "Why does she put up with it?" or, "Why does she stay?", nobody pays attention to what he is doing. For me, the real question should be, "Why Doesn't HE Leave?" Seriously, why does he stay if he hates his partner so much that he has to yell at her, call her names, tell her that he hates her, puts his fist through a wall, throw a piece of furniture, kick the dog, or punch, hit, shove or choke her. Why, on earth, is he still there?

But this question is rarely posed in our conversations. We are so busy looking at the responsibility of the woman that the question of why he's being abusive is never confronted and analysed. I wonder sometimes why this is so. Ask yourself, when was the last time you thought or were asked, "Why doesn't HE leave?" when discussing a story about a woman friend who is enduring abuse from her husband/partner?

If there are children in the relationship the question "Why does she stay?" has a double burden of responsibility. Not only is the woman viewed negatively for her inaction but she's responsible for someone else's actions towards the children, and she's responsible for stopping it too. Here again, we see such an enormous focus on the woman, as the mother, yet little, if any, scrutiny is given of the man's behaviour. It would seem that she holds the burden of all this behaviour and the person who is doing the bad behaviour is hardly questioned.

This type of attitude is pervasive throughout our society, even globally. There are a number of dynamics at play, but one that I will discuss here is enculturation. We are so used to hearing stories and seeing images of men committing violence that we don't naturally think to question it. Almost everyday in our newspapers and on our televisions, we are bombarded with stories and images of war which consist of men holding a weapon, or firing off missiles. Then there's gang related shootings, bikie gang violence, public stabbings, armed bank robberies which show images of a cloaked male brandishing a rifle or gun. Images and notions of male violence are on our internet sites, in movies and throughout our video games. Each image and notion is upheld and supported through various mediums which we are exposed to each day. So, when we hear of a story of a friend of a friend who had her arm broken by her husband, we wonder, "Why does she stay?" Not, "Why on earth is he doing that, that is awful." At times we have shown more emotion at hearing of women who have been beaten for 30 or more years by their husband and how they could have put up with it for so long, than we show when listening to what he has done.

It also works the opposite way as well. TV and newspaper images of women and children distressed, injured or killed when caught in a war zone have become the norm when reports of atrocities reach us. It's as though the casualties of women and children have now become a trophy image. We've become so used to seeing this that it no longer stirs up our emotions. In other words, we are encultured to accept that men behave violently and that women (and children) will be the casualties. I propose that is why society automatically asks "Why does she stay?", without a second thought. It is because we have been force-fed to believe that the only escape from violence is to run away. And while we're running the question of who is responsible is not given the priority that it should.