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.


Jenni said...

Heres my take on it. I personally think the reason we ask why SHE doesnt leave and dont question his behavior is simple. The man is usually the bread winner and typically he is the one making threats and trying desperately to convince his partner that she either deserves his abuse or couldnt do much better anyway. Therefore he is happy or at least ok with his actions and the life they live together, why WOULD he leave? It is her who claims to be so unhappy yet she thinks being abused and waiting for a change will be easier than leaving.

You said why doesnt he leave if he hates her so much he has to be violent and resort to abuse. I dont think abusers love or hate their partners, most abusers have one requirement when looking for a partner....some level of weakness. Whether its physical, emotional, or mental weakness, he needs that base to start. He simply wants someone he can dominate and control. So the fact that he has found someone who will not only let him control her and abuse her but will defend his actions fully and make excuses for him means he will never leave as he has hit the jackpot!

In a nutshell I believe abusive men look for a weaker woman to abuse, so finding one means keeping her. A weaker woman who has suffered a lot in her life is not looking for a man who can abuse her and hurt her, so finding one means getting away from him as soon as possible.

We can not control the actions of others but we certainly are in control of our own actions and decisions. And since the abuser seems fairly happy with himself I dont expect much change from him. Its the abused who are unhappy with themselves and their surroundings which basically makes it their responsibility to change that.

Just my thoughts on the topic!

Lynn said...

Hi Jenni,

Thanks for your comment and I find I cannot disagree with most of what you have written. But your comment overall, does not broach the topic that I raised. I didn't ask the question or ruminate as to reasons why HE does not leave. The point of my article was to raise the issue that we, as a society, don't raise the question! We could all speculate as to reasons why HE or SHE stays or goes, but the point I was trying to make is that while we're focussing on why she hasn't left, we are exonerating the responsibility of him, the abuser. And while he's exonerated, nobody is seriously critiquing the behaviour of men. And your post has done exactly that, especially with it's ending, which once again, places the responsibility back on the woman for her surroundings. At the end of your post, you have demonstrated the exact thing I was talking about. From the book Men and Masculinites by Stephen Whitehead. "men, as a gender group, are omnipresent across the social world. Are not men the very centre, the core, the drive, the universal 'mankind'? Certainly, many men have been prone to seeing themselves as such. But is being at the 'centre' the same as being visible?, No, for paradoxically, being at the centre can serve to hide, obfuscate, confuse and obscure. Often we do not see, through any critical lens, that which is most obvious."

This is essentially what I am saying. In all of our world dealings we deal with men, the white male either controls or indirectly controls almost all of the worlds resources. In all our transactions, either social, financial or otherwise, we deal with men, and yet, they are hardly ever in front of us for a serious critique. It is because men, and women, are encultured to accept men's ways of being. It is feminist scholarship that have brought men, sometimes reluctantly in the critical gaze.

Hilily said...

jenni dear,
You say they are your thoughts but all I see is the same old, same old. Please read Lynn's article again, very carefully.
I am a strong, intelligent woman with an excellent education and a wide range of life experiences but I got caught by one of these men.
He will never leave. Why would he when he has trained for himself a person who will do anything to keep her children and herself safe.
As I said read the article again with an open mind and start to see the problem from a view other than the one peddled by thew media.