Category Archives: The quiet revolution

Gender and Domestic Abuse

Mild content warning, no graphic details.

This week, Mel B talked about her experiences of domestic abuse, and around this, I saw someone point out how seldom male victims speak up about their experiences. It struck me that this is really important. The majority of domestic abuse victims are women.  I know there are men who think the data isn’t being recorded to reflect the true scale of abuse of men… but… about three women a week in the UK alone die at the hands of their partners, and that’s not a subjective thing or a reporting issue. The same figures do not exist for male victims. Domestic abuse is an awful thing, even if it doesn’t kill you.

It is often the case that any attempt to talk about the way gender impacts on domestic abuse will bring out the whataboutery. This isn’t really about concern for male abuse victims, it tends to be a way of derailing the conversation. But the flip side of that is that it must be making it harder for guys who have been abuse victims, who also take the abuse of women seriously, to talk about their experiences.

Talking about domestic abuse is really important. The more people understand how it works, the harder it is for abusers to keep doing this sort of thing. The more people understand, the more support there will be for victims. When we pool experiences, patterns emerge and it becomes easier to see what might be supporting and enabling abuse.

When it comes to the abuse of women by men, this is clearly underpinned by sexism. It’s held together by a couple of thousand years of being told that men are better than women and should be in charge, that the man is king in his household and that women should serve and obey. Getting ‘obey’ out of the marriage vows is pretty recent.  A feudal-patriarchal history of treating women as property and giving them no rights in law has shaped our culture and informs abuse. Add to that, that we treat women in many contexts – medical, professional, personal – as irrational and likely to make a fuss. This makes it easy for abusers to laugh off criticism – she overreacts to everything, she’s such a drama queen, she’s mad, she’s making it up…. Cultural expectations help us accept this and ignore abuse.

When women abuse men, they aren’t able to draw on the same cultural context in quite the same way to justify it or hide it. So, what is going on there? What are the mechanics? What are the beliefs underpinning the abuse? We aren’t talking about this enough, so far as I can see.

I’d like to offer this space to men who want to talk about experiences of domestic abuse without having to worry about whataboutery or derailing an existing conversation. I’d like to better understand what happens around this, and I’d like to facilitate a conversation. Get in touch with me if you want to be involved.  I offer safe space, and anonymity for anyone who needs it.

Will anyone save you?

At this point I’ve seen far too many internet memes about how now one is coming to save you, and you have to save yourself.  This is bonkers, and promotes excessive individualism and may actually make a person feel more powerless, not less so.

Firstly there are people whose job it is to come and save you. Firemen and lifeguards, mountain rescue, lifeboats, doctors and paramedics, first aiders, and in some circumstances, the police. Social workers, all kinds of advocates, support workers, people from charities. You would be hard put to get into a situation where it isn’t someone’s job to help with that. Whether you can access that help is another question, and how quickly you can get help is an issue. In theory, someone should be coming to save you, or at least be able to signpost you ways forward.

Rescuing people seems to be getting a bad rap from the people who tell you that no one will save you. Rescuing is too often portrayed as controlling, or manipulative, co-dependent, as some sort of mental health complex, as being a white knight… But in practice people rescue each other all the time. They give and loan whatever’s needed. People save each other by making spare rooms available, paying off debts, buying food, sharing experiences, listening, hugging… there are many ways in which we can rescue each other. We don’t have to know each other or like each other to be willing and able to rescue each other.

In terms of emotional distress, I know people who have been saved by dogs, and cats and horses.  Books save people. Films rescue people. Songs, and works of art and other manifestations of beauty can help rescue people and keep them going.

Rescuing isn’t the same as fixing. We can’t fix each other, we can’t make each other heal. But we can provide safe and supportive spaces where healing is possible. We can rescue each other by creating the time and opportunity to fix ourselves. We can share knowledge and resources.

It’s not down to an individual to save themselves from all perils and setbacks. We need to stop telling each other we’re on our own with life’s difficulties, and instead invest in whatever we can do to save each other. A kind word, a smile, an offer – it doesn’t have to be heroic to have dramatic effects.

And if you truly feel like no one is going to help you, it doesn’t mean there’s no one out there who would care or help. Sometimes it takes a while to find the help you need.  Sometimes what you have to do to save yourself is get to the place where someone can help you.

What if we re-thought the Police?

In the UK and America alike, we’re seeing a lot of reasons to re-think policing. What could we do that would change how policing works?

The big one for me is to re-prioritise around crime. Currently the police seem far too focused on the small scale crimes of poor people, while there seems to be no way to even challenge the crimes of the rich – and the crimes of those in government and other positions of power. Those with most power should be held to most account.

Justice should not simply be about punishing people after a crime has been committed. Justice means fairness and equality of opportunity.

If we legalised all drugs, provided them safely through pharmacists and treated addiction as a medical issue, we could do a lot of good. I gather it’s worked out well in Portugal.

If we invested properly in mental health support, we wouldn’t have people in crisis becoming a police issue.

If we invested in quality of life for everyone – especially including easy access to green space – we’d reduce crime where it relates to poverty. Interventions like Universal Basic Income would wipe out the crime that only exists because of desperation.  Investing in communities would wipe out the crime that comes from boredom, frustration, lack of opportunities and feelings of alienation.

In a fairer and more just society, most of us would feel more motivated to support said society. Inequality and injustice encourage crime. When the crimes of the rich go unpunished – as is currently happening – a sense of obligation to each other is bound to be undermined.

What if policing included more community support and mediation? What if policing was more focused on abuses of power? What if ecocide was a matter for the police? What would happen to how we police ourselves if prison stopped being the default answer to crime?

Trigger Warnings

(A blog post for which no trigger warnings are required)

In some contexts people are really good at warning other people about content they may find problematic.  When it comes to films, we have a decent and longstanding warning system, based on the age of the viewer. Not only does it tell you how old the viewer needs to be, but also what the issues are.  As an adult you may well end up using those 12, 15 and 18 guidelines to help you figure out what you’re equal to. On television, timing is used to manage more challenging content. No one expects to find that at 3pm on a Sunday afternoon they could be watching a gory slasher movie on TV that they had no reason to expect would be seriously violent.

And yet, for some people the idea of giving trigger warnings about obviously problematic content seems weird and difficult. Why are people being so weak and fragile, they ask? Why can’t I make them face up to this thing I want them to look at, right now, on my terms?

Trigger warnings and content warnings help traumatised people decide how and when to deal with things that might be difficult. It makes it more possible for us to engage, not less so. There is evidence that those warnings increase anxiety for people who are not already traumatised, and that does raise some interesting issues. But we don’t fret over that so much when it comes to films. We also don’t expect people to watch films that have horrific content, if they don’t want to. So why is it different with novels, or non-fiction content?

I think it’s simply that there’s a long history of films and computer games coming with content warnings so we take this as normal, and we’re not used to it in other areas of activity so it makes us uncomfortable.

If you want people to engage with a difficult subject, the odds are you’ll get a better response if you tell them it’s going to be difficult and are prepared for that.  One of the things that trigger warnings do is protect you, as an organiser, or presenter from having to deal with someone who is triggered – and trust me, a massive panic attack can be really disruptive. Traumatised people who are triggered can be highly unpredictable.  Best for everyone not to go there.

There are of course people who feel that making people face their traumas is how to heal them – this can be true. However, it’s generally best handled by a professional who has the tools to deal with someone being triggered and to help them move on from that. Doing it unexpectedly while trying to teach a class, or somesuch isn’t going to work. Also it’s cruel.

Yes, it’s true that some people’s triggers are odd and obscure and you can’t warn people about everything. Those of us who have weird personal triggers know this and may deal with it by asking in advance if we think there’s a risk of troubling content. However, for most of us, the triggers are obvious – and they involve abuse and violence. The kind of things that make films 18s – child abuse, torture, rape, graphic violence. These are not hard things to spot and not unreasonable things for anyone to find problematic, that’s why we have 18 rated films.  It’s the detail that tends to be the problem, not the mentioning of an area of concern which is why a post like this one doesn’t really need a content warning.

Not being able to deal with graphic or detailed content on a difficult subject does not make you weak, or lazy. It may mean you have a lot of empathy. It’s not necessary to get into the awful details to understand the issues – unless you’re going to be working as a therapist in that specific area, or in the police or some other front line job where it would be fair to assume you’ve decided you can deal with it. For the rest of us, content warnings are an act of care and respect.

And anyone who wants to inflict graphically unpleasant content on people who may be traumatised already, without even warning them first, is simply a problem and needs treating as such.

Living Creatively

Creativity shouldn’t be just for the professional few or for whatever time we can invest in creative hobbies. Creativity should be part of normal life.

I’ve been glad to see memes doing the rounds pointing out that singing, dancing, making art and so forth used to just be things people did. In having turned that into professions, and in having industrialised our lives, we’ve lost a lot of that. Obviously I’m in favour of there being space for creative professionals, but I feel very strongly that creativity should be for everyone, all the time.

We’ve traded our freedom to create for convenience.

Well, that’s almost true. Our ancestors were sold the idea of convenience, and forced off the land and into factories as a consequence of industrialisation.  Creativity isn’t something you can have when a large percentage of your working time is about making money for other people. Creativity takes time – both thinking time and the time to act.  You need the space to wonder and imagine.

A life built out of wondering and imagining is a lot richer. Whether we’re thinking about homes, gardens, meals, clothes, our neighbourhoods, our extended family our social lives… everything is richer if we have time to think about it and invest creatively in how we live.

There’s a unique pleasure in having something that is perfect for you – the perfect fit, the perfect flavour, the exact right combination of colours or scents… and you can’t buy that from a one-size-fits-all retailer. You can’t buy the pleasure of creating, or the delight of manifesting your inspiration in your life.

We should all have the time to enrich our lives in any way we like. What we have are lives dominated by work and responsibilities in which we buy the insipid things that are mass produced with an eye to not being entirely hateful to the highest possible number of people. Life should not be this narrow.

A creative life can be a relatively cheap and affordable life. However, what it definitely requires is time. If you’re constantly run off your feet here’s no opportunity to daydream, to imagine things that would be fun or pleasurable or health promoting. Delight takes time. Instant gratification often turns out to be not that gratifying – especially not compared to the joy available from something you have made yourself, in your own way and for your own reasons.

What if we took mental health seriously?

At the moment here in the UK we have badly funded mental health resources and long waiting lists for anyone in crisis trying to get help. It’s an appalling situation. But, what if we didn’t even start at the point of trying to fix people’s mental health? What if we took mental health so seriously that our laws, culture and ways of living actively supported us in getting to be well? What would need to change?

Stress, and particularly stress caused by poverty and insecurity undermines mental health. If we wanted as many people as possible to be as well as possible, we’d have to deal with those problems. The money and resources exist. Universal Basic Income would remove a lot of fear from people’s lives, which would have wide reaching mental health benefits. 4 day working weeks, and work policies that promote mental health would be great. Shorter shifts, better breaks, kinder and more humane working conditions would all help considerably.

We’d have to take the climate crisis seriously. Distress around the loss of species and habitats is affecting many people’s mental health – especially young people. The insecurity and uncertainty caused by climate change impacts mental health. Flooding, drought, hazardous heat waves, crop failures – we can’t afford this level of uncertainty and threat. We can’t protect our mental health without protecting the environment.

Everyone needs green space where they live and free and easy access to that space. The relationship between mental health and green space is known. We also have better mental health when we have time, energy and opportunity for exercise – being able to move about outside is the cheapest and most sustainable kind of exercise available. That should be on everyone’s doorsteps. To improve everyone’s mental health, we would have to fill our towns and cities with plants and set more space aside for walking and cycling.

We need healthy bodies – good food, clean water, prompt medical care. We need the time and resources to be able to take care of ourselves, which isn’t available if you work long hours for not much money. A great deal of depression and anxiety is caused by being ill and being in pain. Taking mental health seriously means we need a culture of physical wellness too – you can’t separate body and mind.

Good mental health also requires social engagement and feelings of belonging. It calls for dignity and a sense of self worth – much of which would be tackled by dealing with the points I’ve made above. We need laws that uphold dignity and treat people as valuable and not disposable. We need systems that do not punish people for the accident of their circumstances.

We have to stop seeing poor mental health as a sign of personal failing or weakness. It’s a symptom of sick systems, broken relationships and inhuman ways of treating humans. To change that, we have to start thinking that kindness is better than exploitation, that wellbeing should not be a privilege for the few and that consumption is not the answer to everything.

Stories we need to change

There are a lot of stories in popular culture that do far more harm than good. One of them goes as follows – and I’ve seen variations of it many times in films.

There are some men who have a job to do. A sexy lady person comes along and distracts them. The professional men suddenly become completely unable to do their job. They may be distracted enough that someone escapes, or plants a bomb, or otherwise thwarts what they were supposed to be doing. They may be so overwhelmed by the sexy lady person that they leave their post, hand over keys or otherwise actively mess up their job.

No one really benefits from this story. It tells men that they have no self control and will think with their balls at the slightest provocation. If there’s a sexy lady person in the room they may become unable to think or to act professionally. They may have no self control or integrity in face of a sexy lady person. This in turn supports narratives that when men experience desire they cannot be expected to control themselves or act responsibly, so it’s perpetuating rape culture.

Scenes like these tell women that sexuality is how women get things done. Sexy clothing, provocative behaviour and offering sex will allow you to manipulate men. Power for women thus becomes entangled with being young – because we don’t tend to present older women as sexually appealing. The accident of beauty is the only possible source of power and worth. Most women therefore will not have an option on being powerful on these terms. It tells women they should be glad when men focus on them sexually because this is the only kind of power they can have. Also sexy women tend to be ‘bad guys’. This is all very patriarchal.

There are stories in which the roles are reversed, but what tends to happen is that the women fall in love with the men, and may switch sides on the basis of this. The women are more likely to be persuaded by the righteous cause the man has, as well as his handsome face. Men are invariably able to use power in other ways alongside persuading key women to act on their behalf. Men using their sexy powers are more likely to be heroes than villains.

A single instance of a story like this doesn’t do much harm, but it’s such a frequently used plot device – and it is lazy as a plot device as well. We see it too often, we hear its messages too often. It’s a crappy story that may do more to shape how people think of themselves than it does to reflect how people really are.

Rights and responsibilities

One sign of a healthy society is that the rights and responsibilities of people are entirely connected. My freedom should be limited by my not having too much impact on your freedom. Your safety should be in part my responsibility. When this goes wrong, people suffer and we cease to have a meaningful social contract with each other.

American gun law is a case in point. The right to own guns has, for far too long, trumped the right of people to be safe. It’s especially hideous that children being safe in school is considered a less important right than that gun owners be free from responsibilities.

In the UK, we’re increasingly seeing things like the right to affordable food and housing being less important than the rights of a relative few people to underpay workers or make a massive profit from rent.

While covid restrictions have been awful to deal with, I do not believe that my personal freedoms are more important than other people not dying. I also recognise that my not catching a horrible illness, not enduring being sick, or facing the risk of death or long term health problems also involves other people upholding those restrictions. By collectively limiting our freedoms over the last year we have been able to keep each other safer. And again, there are issues around the ‘rights’ of certain businesses to keep making profits from unsafe workspaces at a cost to everyone’s health.

All too often we’re persuaded that we can curtail other people’s freedoms while leaving our own unharmed. The brexit fiasco has been an unpleasant illustration of this. The desire to restrict freedom of movement for other people has of course restricted freedom of movement for UK citizens. When we don’t see our rights and responsibilities as interconnected, it is much easier to persuade us that someone else can have their rights removed without it costing us anything. The suggestion that we step away from human rights laws so that the government can punish specific people it doesn’t like should, surely invite the question of which freedoms the rest of us are prepared to lose.

Because once someone isn’t entitled to a fair trial, none of us can be sure that we are. Once someone isn’t entitled to privacy, none of us are. Once the police have a free pass on committing crimes in certain contexts, none of us can be confident of being dealt with fairly.

Ask what your freedoms cost other people and not just the people around you, but also people in other countries, and the environment and other living beings. Ask what your responsibilities uphold – whether they are part of a social contract that tries to balance everyone’s interests, or whether you are being exploited for someone else’s unfair advantage.

Contemplating resilience

I’m writing this on a Friday morning. This is part of a new cunning plan about how I organise my time, and it has paid off well. I’ve shuffled about so that I don’t have to be online at any specific time in the morning. Anything that needs to happen before lunchtime is set up the day before, or earlier. This has worked out well. It means if I have a sleepless night, or am otherwise ill, I can get to the computer whenever, and nothing is messed up.

This shift also means that if I’m having a bad day for concentration, I’m under no pressure. This is as well – this is a blog post brought about by being short of useful ideas, written on a day when I’m in a lot of body pain and don’t have much energy. It’s a slow process, having ideas and writing.

I’ve become much more possessive of my time and energy. I’ve had to, there just isn’t enough of it to go round. I’ve started asking ‘what’s in it for me?’ What do I want? What do I need? These are not questions I am good at answering, but I’m going to keep asking them.

Flexibility helps. Giving myself more wriggle room for the really bad days, helps. Slack in the system helps. We live in a society that prizes efficiency, but, what efficiency really means is nowhere to go if something goes wrong. Efficiency doesn’t give you enough hospital beds in a pandemic. It doesn’t give you resilience in face of sudden change. It doesn’t give you options. Working when ill isn’t as efficient as taking time off to recover, but an overly efficient system won’t let you have time off. Ironically, trying to be efficient isn’t efficient as soon as the situation changes. There’s a lot to be said for trying to be resilient in the first place.

For me, resilience looks like being able to afford to stop and rest whenever I am too tired to continue. Days off at need would be helpful, but I’m not quite up to that, yet. I can work very short days when I need to, and on the day of writing this post, I’m contemplating that choice. I could push on with an interesting piece of work I have on the go, but I’ll do a better job if I’m not so tired. I can’t remember the last time I wasn’t tired, but it was probably more than a year ago.

Working hard doesn’t save anyone. It just grinds you down and reduces your quality of life. If your financial situation is so bad that you have no choice but to work long hours for little pay – that’s truly awful. I’ve done some of that kind of work, and I know that we need radical political change. No one should have to break their physical or mental health to be able to afford to eat. No one should be worked to death so that the billionaires, the shareholders and the people who profit from other people’s labour can keep doing that.

I want everyone to be able to take time off when they need it. I want everyone who is ill to be able to afford to rest and recover. Financially vulnerable people working when ill have certainly been part of how covid is getting around and a kinder, fairer system would have protected us all from the consequences of that.

Who should change?

CW abuse

I’ve been poking about on the NHS website. I notice that medication to deal with trauma is something they offer to victims who can’t have meaningful therapy because their domestic abuse is ongoing. I’ve read page after page about coping with triggering and how to manage PTSD symptoms on websites designed to help people with mental health problems. I’ve read what content there is about how to support sufferers – be patient with them, listen – good stuff, but lacking something.

What I’m not seeing is the mental health advice about not triggering people. I’m not seeing the pages about dealing with workplace culture and bullying. I’m not seeing the advice to people about how to curb abusive behaviour and treat partners better. The Relate website is full of advice about what to do if you are upset, frustrated or annoyed in your relationship. It doesn’t say much about what to do if you are terrified, or in overwhelming distress, or what to do if your partner ‘makes you angry’ so that you feel justified hitting them.

It’s always the victim who has to change. It’s the victim who is expected to do the work, put the experience into perspective, take the meds, and become more resilient. Where is the content about how we do more to look after each other?

Everything I have thus far found online about PTSD therapy seems to start from the assumption that it was a one off event, never likely to happen again and that once you feel that you’ll be fine. Given the stats on abuse, child abuse, domestic abuse and people being made ill by their workplaces, it’s hard to see how this can be helpful. There are so many traumatic things people go through that aren’t one off events, but part of their daily lives.

If you’re wounded and struggling, all I can really offer you right now is solidarity and this thought – just because the majority of resources are focused on fixing you, does not mean it is you who are broken. The sick society that harmed you, is broken. The people who inflicted the damage, are broken. You need to feel safe – you should be able to feel safe. Safety does not really come from you changing the story about what happened, or working to minimise it. Safety comes from living in a culture that doesn’t encourage, condone and generally facilitate abuse and bullying. There’s nothing more healing and restorative than getting to feel safe.