One Incident, Several Questions

He was physically restraining her, trying to force her into an apartment building.  911 was called.  He was pushing her into the exterior wall of the apartment building when the police arrived.  She was unable to escape unless she, or someone, used physical force, which she was unwilling to do.  When the police arrived, she was only partially dressed; she yelled for help.  The police approached.  He stepped in front of her, grabbed her arms, and wrapped them around his waist. His back was pushing her into the building.

The police spoke to them.  The entire time, he was between her and the police, and was holding her arms around his waist.  In appearance, she was holding him; but his hands never left her wrists, so she could not have separated herself from him without using force.

A friend said to her, “Do you want to leave him?  Do you want to come with me?”  “Yes,” she said.

After more discussion, she left with her attacker, looking cowed and afraid, and the police drove away. Her back had many scratches from the brick building she’d been pushed into.  At no time did the police separate the two to get her story outside of his earshot and physical influence.

The above incident is true, witnessed by me, today, with one minor change: “He” was a “she” and “she” was a “he.”

How much of a difference does that make?  How much should it make?   Is it an argument for “Men’s Rights,” pointing out that, in fact, women have the advantage?  Is it an argument for equality, pointing out that sexual discrimination hurts everyone? (For the record, my own answers are “a lot” “none” “no” and “yes.”)

I think, above all, it shows us that as a society we are unequipped to deal with the sort of mental illness that turns lovers into abusers.

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69 thoughts on “One Incident, Several Questions”

  1. I know the incident and am glad you and yours are helping. When I started reading, I admit my thought was, “what, someone else went through this just now too?”

    As for your questions, I’m with you. From my perspective, the path to that equality is /through/ feminism, as to me the problem is the idea that men can never be victims of female domestic abuse is part of the patriarchal discourse of power that feminism wants to undermine.

    Feels like this may be a little too raw for sterling discussion of gender norms though.

  2. My answer: “A little,” “none,” “no,” and “yes.”

    I witnessed something similar to this in Las Vegas when I lived there, back in 2002, with the same gender roles – a small, slender man and a large, sizable woman, although I didn’t see how the police resolved it. I just saw them in the parking lot of my apartment complex, him looking like he wanted to crawl into the backseat of the cop car, desperate to get out of there.

    I talked about it with some coworkers, and heard back a lot of the sort of sad, desperate machoistic, outdated bullshit I’ve heard from years – “he should just man up and get out” but that dude looked scared for his life. I hope that the cops took him out of there, but I honestly don’t know how the situation resolved itself. The cops were there, and they were certainly better equipped to handle it than I was, being a 26-year old game designer with a problem in confrontation.

    A victim is a victim, and it should be the job of the police to take care of anyone who thinks their life is danger, or even appears to be in apparent danger, regardless of what they say.

    Sometimes, victims are too terrified to ask for help when their assailant is nearby. That’s when they need help the most.

  3. Fuck assigned gender roles in domestic abuse. Fuck domestic abuse. *sputter sputter rage*

    If we had more fucking equality and medical care for people and social fucking safety nets and shit, that might help. I’m sad and angry over this whole situation.

  4. I saw a great thing in a church yesterday- each of the stalls in the women’s room had flyers from the local sexual abuse hotline/shelter in them, just like many of the clinic treatment rooms do these days. The men’s room should have them too, but I didn’t happen to go in there for some reason. :)

  5. I was in a casino in Canada, and all the stalls had flyers for the government gambling addiction program. I thought that was pretty cool.

    The flyers in the church do sound great. My thinking is that each stall needs a flyer with a message of “don’t abuse your partner” and “here’s where to get help if you’re in such a situation”.

  6. Jen: No argument, except that I’m leery of the idea that “don’t abuse your partner” will do any good. You know what might do good? Something to the effect of, “If you are abusing a loved one, you need help, and free help is available here.”

  7. It’s hard to say. I don’t like the fact that they left them together, free for a fresh attack. Austin police have a rule that seems both draconian and quite reasonable. When the respond to a domestic disturbance, one of the two parties is being taken to the station. It doesn’t necessarily mean that charges will be filed, but they do not leave both parties at the scene.

  8. Dan: Denver (and I think Colorado) does the same thing though they do try to remove the aggressor.

  9. Steve: I agree that just “don’t abuse your partner” is as unhelpful as “don’t rape” and needs finesse and such. Something like “x is abuse” is preferable. But I’m not designing the whole flyer. Just saying that I think the overall background message of “don’t be a fucking abuser” is much better socially than “don’t be abused”.

    Before I hit *post* I considered that “don’t be abused” is different from “here is help if you’re being abused”. But I think that the latter, if that’s all there is, contributes to an overall milieu of the former.

  10. Gotcha. Okay, valid point. In a healthy society, there would be little abuse. In a healthiER society, both abuser and victim would be recognized as having problems that require addressing, beyond jail for the one and a shelter for the other.

  11. Someone on Twitter just commented on this post: “His unwillingness to use physical force is entirely on him.”

    I don’t even know what to say.

  12. I know what to say on that Twitter post: “You, Sir, are a dumbass.”

    It’s right up there with “If a woman didn’t fight back, it couldn’t have been rape.”

    Violence is NOT right. I don’t care if the attacker and/or victim are male, female, transgendered, or pink-and-purple chimpanzee from the planet ZZyzxro. If someone is being abused, it needs to be stopped. BOTH parties should have physiological help made available to them. (Recent studies have shown that abusers have difficulty with abandonment issues, and people that stay in such relationships often suffer from something similar to Stockholm’s Syndrome.)

    I have to agree with David, though, in that when men are the victim, it is very seldom reported…and that that is due to our Patriarchal society. Men CAN’T be victims because…uhhh…men have penises, and those things are like magic wands that just cause abuse to flow away from them, or something.

    ANY person can be abused….yes, even a 6’7″, 275 lb linebacker wedded to a 100 lb Twiggy look-alike. ANYONE can be abused.

    And abuse is wrong, wrong, wrong, WRONG.

  13. Here is a most empowering quote that I believe cuts to the chase.
    “If your tired of getting shit on; Get your head out of the toilet”

  14. Free help for abusers sounds like a sting operation. Here’s how to turn yourself in! We promise we won’t tell your friends, family, potential employers, and the cops that you just admitted to being an abuser. You almost definitely won’t end up on that offenders list we keep hearing about. Nice idea, but I think the target audience will resist.

    We just need to add a little Paxilon Hydrochlorate to the atmosphere and the whole problem will go away.

  15. Yeah, but then we get Reavers. ~whines~ I don’t WANT to be raped, murdered, skinned, and have my skin used for clothing…and not necessarily in that order!

  16. If someone has grabbed your arm, shouldn’t there be a way to get loose without your getting loose being considered violence on your part?

  17. Mackerel: I believe that part of getting help for abuse situations is treatment for abusers, with less fucking over via the penal system. And I’m being vague here on purpose because this is very much not a black-and-white issue. Lots of grey, but we need methods for prioritizing help over penalizing.

    J Thomas: I think having the police there should definitely help with that, but obviously it doesn’t necessarily do so. And when someone is simultaneously physically abusing you and screaming that you’re abusing them, pulling up their clothes to expose their entire body in public to “show the bruises”, pretty much any physical action your part is difficult to separate from violence.

  18. @Angus: It’s not that easy. It is NEVER that easy.

    @J Thomas: Also, it is not that easy.

  19. J Thomas: Steve is clear that force would be required. Whether or not use of that force would be considered violence is unclear. Also unclear is whether or not the man in the incident would succeed to separate himself if physical force was used. Steve said he was unwilling to do so, but doesn’t elaborate beyond that.

    SKZB: For the record, I am the person on Twitter that had no problem with the man in the incident using force (violence) to get himself free. Here are the facts as you presented them:

    1. He yelled for help.
    2. 911 was called.
    3. He requested not to go with her.
    4. He was unwilling to use force to separate himself.

    Those facts paint a somewhat contradictory picture. If he could use force to free his wrists and separate himself from her, calling for help such that 911 was called and he requested assistance from the police seems entirely unnecessary. Alternately, if he physically was unable to separate himself, then describing him as unwilling is inaccurate. My best guess is that she was physically stronger than he, and that he was not merely willing to use force to separate himself, but that he was unable to separate himself, force or no.

    CaliannG: It can absolutely be rape sans a woman fighting back. Moreover, I will not pretend that “Violence is not right.” Violence used to separate a victim from his abuser is entirely defensible, especially when no other options are available.

    In the case as described, I have to fault the police for not talking to the two individuals involved separately.

    Finally, as to feminism, I’m with Billie Jean King:

  20. This reminds me of something I saw several years ago: Three friends and I were waiting to get in to a show. “Alan” gave “Bill” a cigarette, and “Cathy”, Bill’s girlfriend, got very upset, as Bill had promised her he would stop smoking. She went away, came back, and started slapping and hitting Bill. Nobody intervened–which is to say, Alan and I attempted to reason with Cathy, but she ignored us. Finally, Bill attempted to restrain her physically–I wouldn’t say violently, by any means, but using enough strength to keep hold of her hands and prevent her from hitting him. Immediately multiple people (all men) in the line moved to break up their interaction and to remonstrate with (or, in at least one case, threaten) Bill. After a very tense two or three minutes Cathy left again, and when she came back there were no further blows.

    I didn’t see the incident Steve brings up, and it’s probably not wise to draw a general conclusion from a single incident, but I was struck by the way the bystanders responded to the event I saw. It seems quite plausible to me that the man in Steve’s incident might have been reluctant to use physical force in those circumstances out of fear that he would somehow put himself in the wrong–or at least be thought by those present, including his friend and the police, to have put himself in the wrong. At which point he might well be in a whole ‘nother world of hurt.

  21. Oh, my. I once watched as a young woman ran through several blocks of lower Manhattan, screaming for help as she was chased by a large and apparently angry man. Several times, we asked if she wanted us to call the police, and she answered no each time. Once we urged her to turn into a public building (I think a restaurant), and she refused. The contrast between her visible fear and her refusal to accept help or escape was so dramatic that it haunts me to this day, some 40 years later.

    Mostly, it haunts me because after all these years, and considerably more exposure to victims of abuse, I still don’t know what we could have/should have done. (If there had been cell phones then, we probably would have called the police, but that it obviously not always a helpful course of action.)

    What these posts make most clear is that witnesses are victimized as well as the parties directly involved. (This is now widely recognized in cases of bullying and the best prevention programs address all three “parties” in the triangle.)

  22. @seth burn: To add to the litany of very reasonable suggestions, maybe he didn’t want to use force because he knew he’d pay for it later. Breaking someone’s grip one time doesn’t immunize you from future harm. So, fine, this guy’s unwillingness to use force is “entirely on him” — but, as long as he’s in this relationship, it may be the best decision he can make. (If your plan is to reply with some variant of “Well, he should get out of the relationship,” I *really* encourage you to think it through a bit.)

    As to the apparent contradiction: You might say you want to leave with someone else, but if the person you’re with won’t let you go and no one can or will make her do it, what do you think happens? People who are willing to act crazy and violent have a lot of tactical advantages against people who aren’t. That’s what makes these scenarios difficult. (He said, thankfully innocent of any special knowledge about domestic violence.)

  23. I want to say something kind, intelligent, and insightful. All my brain will provide at the moment is “Arghhhhhhh!”

    The question of gender is interesting. As best we can tell (and our information is very incomplete) men are much more commonly physically abusive than women in relationships which are heterosexual. As men are statistically larger than women, and the population is statistically overwhelmingly heterosexual, most of our information and models for domestic abuse involve a guy hitting a girl. Moreover, it seems clear to me that there are many ways in which this norm is validated and enforced by popular culture, which in turn make the whole ugly mess more likely to happen when relationships go bad. Some months ago, when describing this situation to a co-worker, my co-worker looked baffled and said, “Well, why doesn’t he just pop her one?”

    It’s been interesting, if one can use such a term for something so incredibly distressing, to watch the situation play out exactly as we know it plays out for thousands of women. The fact that the gender roles are reversed doesn’t seem to make any difference at all to the way these two people are acting. The abused spouse is saying and doing everything that the research tells us is common and likely, and the abusing spouse is doing all the same things we expect of an abuser.

    The Men’s Rights Activists, though, are full of crap. While I agree that there is no actual moral difference between abuse depending on the gender of the participants, the simple fact is that we’re pretty damn sure that the problem is statistically much more likely to be one where a woman is the person being abused. And that our culture has many, many ways of reinforcing the environment that can lead to that. This does, indeed, present special problems when it turns out that the man is the abused party. Yep, sure does. But that does not negate all the other ways in which the problem is very commonly gendered, and understanding how we perform gender in this society is an important piece of figuring out how to make it all stop. And the MRA people completely ignore the ways in which the second class status of women in this culture leads, not only to the abuse of women, but the difficulty of getting men the help they need, too. They seem to think that if they can just claim the same status as women (without actually experiencing it) that somehow it will all come out in the wash. This is another example, in my opinion, of people who view an oppressed group as being a privileged group, and argue that the oppression experienced is somehow actually privilege. It’s like rich people who feel that they are being oppressed because some of their tax money is going to support people that clean their houses and work in their factories.

    TL; DR: Arghhhh.

  24. One reason some victims don’t accept help is bad prior history with the help. For how many years did police officers ignore partner violence and have a policy of not interfering between spouses? I was brought up to never go to the government because it would be worse than handling things privately (e.g., child services would take us kids away from our mother because we weren’t eating anything except free school lunch, and she convinced us that would be worse because we’d all be separated).

  25. @Lydy – I spent a lot of time recently arguing with MRAs about such things. My answers, which of course they didn’t believe, was that the solution to their problem was more feminism.

    They, needless to say, didn’t believe me.

  26. Like evergreen said, if he were to use any physical force to get out of the situation, that would immediately make him look like an abuser. And like Matt said, there’s the possibility he could pay for it later.

    When my husband and I were dating, we both lived with our parents. So to get private time, we’d drive somewhere remote and park the car.

    We were interrupted by police multiple times. Some gave us a hard time, most just told us to leave.

    One time, while well into the heat of things, there was a knock on the window. I rolled it down, and the officer looked me in the eyes and said, “Ma’am, are you here of your own free will?” He was the only cop that ever asked us that.

    When I said yes, he said, “Okay, have a good night,” and drove away.

    While we both agreed that he was the coolest police officer we had encountered, afterwards I said to my the boyfriend, “But he didn’t ask YOU if you were here of your own free will!”

  27. Something that some of your commenters may not take into account is that when mental illness is involved on the part of one or both parties, things get … complicated. And this situation is a prime example.

    Another factor is that people who are abused by their parents when they are children, or who see one parent abuse the other, sometimes grow up to be abusers. But sometimes they grow up to be victims. Or sometimes both.

  28. “… maybe he didn’t want to use force because he knew he’d pay for it later. Breaking someone’s grip one time doesn’t immunize you from future harm.”

    That’s true.

    “People who are willing to act crazy and violent have a lot of tactical advantages against people who aren’t.”

    That’s also true. Under some circumstances they wind up in jail or a lockup mental ward, but usually not unless somebody they victimize is willing to put them there.

    I have been in this sort of circumstance a little bit, with a couple of people. I hate to admit it since people assume that if you get involved with crazy people there is something wrong with you.

    I was with a woman who had an “abusive” relationship with her two children. I asked her about it. She told me a lot of theory that she had learned in mandatory training classes. You mustn’t try to make children obey by force because they will always disobey and you have to keep escalating the threat until it gets to high. It’s just wrong and she was trying to learn never to do it. But when I watched, that wasn’t what they were doing. She would come home after a stressful day and she’d yell at them some, and find something one of them had done wrong and yell at that one more and hit them a little bit. They would cry. The other child would interfere. “You can’t do that to my little sister!” Then it would be over and they would continue the evening. It was a ritual that never changed much. It never escalated. Sometimes when they were all tired the could get through the whole thing in less than 2 minutes almost like they were all bored with it. To them it was normal.

    I was with a woman who sometimes got rather dramatic. A defining moment for me — she came into my room to scream about something. To show me how serious she was (or something) she started scratching herself with her fingernails, drawing blood. I didn’t know what to do so I grabbed her arms, and she got a vicious smile and reached over and scratched my arm. I realized I needed to leave the area, I couldn’t keep her from hurting herself and I couldn’t keep her from hurting me unless I was willing to immobilize her which might hurt her. I pushed her against the wall hard enough to distract her for a few seconds, I grabbed my shoes, and I ran. She chased me out onto the stairwell, naked. She yelled, “Look what you’re making me do! You’re making me come out here naked!” I got my shoes on my feet while running downstairs which is easier than you’d think when you’re in a high energy state. I ran out of the building and around the corner and tied my shoelaces. It was cold and I didn’t have a coat. My arms were bleeding in long scratches. A lot of Peruvians lived in my neighborhood, and an old Peruvian woman saw me on the sidewalk and laughed merrily when she saw my arms. I didn’t know what she meant by it but it felt creepy.

    I realized it was a right thing to do. When somebody wants a dramatic scene that you don’t want to participate in, leave the area. They probably will not do it without an audience. And they won’t do it to you.

    That same woman started to throw breakables when she got mad. Her parents had done that. She threw glassware which broke. Once she threw a salt shaker out the kitchen window, and I cut myself replacing the pane. The third time, I said I’d do it too. I grabbed a coffee cup she liked. “You aren’t really going to do that are you? You’re going to do that in cold blood? That’s just wrong. You aren’t even that mad.” Crash. I threw it into a wastebasket so it wouldn’t make a big mess when it broke. She never threw anything again around me.

    I was with a woman who was depressed a lot. When she had angry fits and threatened to hurt me or my stuff I’d leave quick. Apart from everything else that was going on, it seemed like her angry stuff was set up to establish that things would go her way. I was the rational one so I would do what she wanted, since the alternative was that things would get awful.

    “People who are willing to act crazy and violent have a lot of tactical advantages against people who aren’t.”

    She broke a glass and picked up a sharp piece and cut herself on the arm, long slices down her arm. She bled but she didn’t slice hard enough to actually open anything important, and her aim was off. She said if I left she’d trash my computer and my books. I believed her. She hit her head against the wall and started punching herself hard in the face. I started moaning. I hit myself in the chest and made loud thumping sounds. I jumped up and threw myself at the ground with a lot of noise. I babbled incoherently so individual words would make sense. She stopped everything she was doing and asked me if I was OK.
    “I just don’t know what to do!” I ground my teeth.
    She got a completely rational voice. “What’s wrong? Why are you doing this?”
    “I just don’t know what to do. Nothing works. I can’t live like this.”
    She sounded concerned. “But you aren’t being reasonable! Why aren’t you being reasonable? What happened?”
    I screwed up my face like I had a logical contradiction. I made my voice thick and barely understandable. “Rationality sucks. It just doesn’t work. I’m sick of it.”

    She started trying to placate me. She was nice to me. I think she was worried.

    In my experience, the abuse was a form of social ritual. Everybody involved knew what to expect, unless somebody like me was naive and did not know what to expect. People dropped out of the ritual whenever they got responses they did not understand. It probably had something to do with establishing dominance, but it was not going to get out of control. If my limited experience was typical, it very seldom results in broken bones or serious cuts or concussion, mostly just scratches and bruises.

    People like me whose culture does not include that, get way more upset about it than the people who act it out and who know what to expect.

  29. I think it comes back to what Jen said about the need for medical and social support; there are no easy answers but I’m fairly sure that there is a real difference in perceptions between stranger on stranger violence and violence in established relationships.

    We can try to deter the first by the threat of state sanctioned deprivation of liberty, but it is much harder to draw bright lines in what used to be referred to as ‘domestics’. It is only fairly recently that the courts accepted that there could be rape in marriage; it will take longer to establish that women can terrorise men by physical and/or mental violence, not least because the violence usually flows in the opposite direction.

    I did once call the police to intervene in my own ‘domestic’; they were a bit surprised at first to discover that I had done so because I felt I was in danger of losing my own self control, after my then husband had ‘accidentally’ smashed something of considerable emotional significance to me, but they were very helpful.

    He was good at ‘accidentally’ damaging things which I greatly valued when he was in a bad mood, and it occurred to me afterwards that perhaps the police had come across this pattern of behavior before, though usually only after someone had gone ballistic in response, rather than calling the police immediately I knew I was in danger of completely losing it.

    It doesn’t fit neatly into the way we perceive relationships; my divorce lawyer summed it up as ‘eleven years of hell is worth less than one punch on the nose as far as the courts are concerned’, but nevertheless I got my divorce on the grounds of my husband’s unreasonable behavior.

    A lot of people continue to carry on in relationships like that, for whatever reason, and I am not suggesting that they all should follow in my footsteps; I had a child, otherwise I would have got out a great deal earlier, but I had the income to support myself and my child. The people who remain in such relationships may not have sufficient income to do so…

  30. Stevie: It’s pretty easy to say, “do not remain in a bad marriage for the child’s sake.” It’s much harder when you have to face a real world of keeping a roof over your head, and seeing to it that said child has, like, food.

    God, but I hate capitalism.

  31. Capitalism IS as the root of continued D.V. relationships. Every single person I’ve talked to who has refused to leave such a relationship (mostly female, some males) did so because of finances.

    Whether they were financially dependent upon the abuser, or too much of their finances and livelihood were tied together with the abusers….it always boiled down to, “I don’t have the *means* to leave.”

    Now, I am not saying that there are not people out there with plenty of means to leave, that stay in such relationships due to the mental abuse that goes with it, and having been beaten down. Only that it is common enough that those who stay for financial reasons are the ONLY ones I have interacted with to the point of discussing such topics.

    And that, my friends, can be boiled down to Capitalism.

  32. Was it better under feudalism?

    Some women could take their children and go back to live with their parents. For some women that’s possible today.

    If you were a serf, and your husband mistreated you, the other serfs might intervene. Maybe.

    What if you were an Inuit? I gather that they varied a lot. But it was a hunter-gatherer society without as much gathering as usual. Something of a communism — good hunters put their meat on the rack to share, and anybody who needed it could take it. But there was the epigram — “Whips make sled-dogs, and gifts make slaves.”.

    Sometimes an Inuit women might handle an abusive husband by finding another man. They would kill the husband and then live together. The village had no penalty, but the husband’s relatives might object.

    I don’t think it’s just capitalism. Some societies build structures to deal with this sort of thing, and many don’t. A wife’s parents are the obvious first line of defense — they care about her. That can fail if they are dead or too poor etc. A new man is the obvious second line, and that’s harder with children. Public opinion, village elders, police and courts, etc are a very weak third line. To do better than that you need to build customs or institutions or something.

  33. J. Thomas: “Was it better under feudalism?” For god’s sake. If by now you don’t get that I believe capitalism was once progressive and is now reactionary, then you have been studiously avoiding paying any attention to anything I’ve said.

  34. Has anyone who was present written the police? The department’s approach to domestic violence is something that they can change, and that some police departments have changed. It might be useful to write to the main local paper, too.

  35. Steven, I’m saying that the institution of marriage is a primitive one that goes back at least to the neolithic period and was practiced in the 20th century by hunter/gatherers. From hunter-gather societies on we have had customs for dealing with failing marriages that often worked but sometimes failed. In particular they have tended to fail for low-status women who lacked extensive family networks.

    If we want to take care of those women we need to build new customs or institutions.

  36. The fear that police will make things worse instead of better is often justified. If the police just give the abuser a good scolding, or even put the abuser in jail for a day or two the victim could be much worse off. Brendhan Behan’s comment that “no situation is so bad it can’t be made worse by the presence of a policeman,” sadly is right much of the time. Also, victims are not held prisoner *only* by economic pressure. Statistically abusers most often kill their victims when they try to leave, or immediately after they have left. So even an economically independent victim whose job site is not accessible to the abuser (rare but it happens) needs someplace to run to.

  37. J Thomas, read Engels’ The Origin of the Family. Parts are dated, but it does a nice job of pointing out that the family is an ancient institution, not marriage. It’s nice to think that people can always go back to their families, but in practice, that’s not so, no matter what economic system they’re living under.

    Gar, a quibble: “Statistically, abusers *who kill their victims most often kill them*…” That said, yes, shelters should be available for everyone.

  38. @will – “Has anyone who was present written the police? The department’s approach to domestic violence is something that they can change, and that some police departments have changed. It might be useful to write to the main local paper, too.”

    This is right. Gender norms are really hard to change, obviously. But local specific policies can be shaped.

  39. @David Perry — In thinking about this at work tonight, I realized that the thing that is the same in our friend’s case and in the more stereotypical case of domestic abuse is the power imbalance. Our friend may be male, but in general the power differential is such that his spouse has a great deal more economic and social power than he does. Given how extremely stereotypical the situation is, if one ignores the genders, this leads me to contemplate the issue of power in general. One of the reasons feminism is important is because it attempts to address the ways that power is systematically distributed in our society, most frequently privileging men. The problem with MRA is that they completely ignore this particular, systemic problem, and focus on the exceptions. I agree with you that the real way to address their problems is more feminism. Addressing the power imbalances is key. And I think it extremely likely that if we can weed out that particular set of entrenched power imbalances, the times that it occasionally plays out in the same fashion, but with reversed genders, will dramatically drop. And then we’re left with special cases, and a whole new tool box of ways to address it. Seems like a win, to me.

    Not, Steven, that I’m ignoring the role of capitalism in this. I agree that it’s complicit. But I think that one of the ways that it is complicit is by reinforcing status quo power distribution. There is significant value to the current capitalist system in having a large percentage of the population whose work is either unpaid (housework) or underpaid (everything else women do). And that power differential is, as has been pointed out, often a very powerful force for keeping people in scary, unsafe relationships. I know it helped keep my mother with my father for 25 years, even though it was an horrific relationship.

  40. “…the family is an ancient institution, not marriage.”

    OK. I used the wrong word.

    “It’s nice to think that people can always go back to their families, but in practice, that’s not so, no matter what economic system they’re living under.”

    When it works, it works. Under a whole lot of systems it can work sometimes. It isn’t easy or painless, but it can end an unendurable situation.

    It doesn’t work for everybody for various reasons.So far there hasn’t been anything that worked for everybody.

  41. “So far there hasn’t been anything that worked for everybody.”

    That’s why socialists want to share the wealth. No one should be under economic pressure to stay where they don’t want to be.

  42. “No one should be under economic pressure to stay where they don’t want to be.”

    At risk of derailing — sorry, Steve, feel free to delete if you need to — this has been on my mind for reasons unrelated to domestic abuse. A couple of friends of mine are getting divorced (for reasons unrelated to domestic abuse); he does very well for himself, she’s chronically ill — not terminally, but she can’t work full-time and has high medical costs.

    He is a good guy and will take care of her for a while, but he’s hoping to start a family, and of course he’s not guaranteed to be making bank forever. But she can’t work. So there’s the point at which he’d like to stop paying, and the point at which she’d like him to stop paying, and the latter is farther in the future than the former, and that’s a source of tension. The capitalist question is “Why should he be responsible for supporting her?” but the same question, flipped, is more trenchant to me: Why should she have to go to him? Why should a woman with a crippling illness be forced to rely on the wealth of a man she doesn’t want to be with? How many post-divorce friendships could we save if the partners’ material needs weren’t tied to the endurance of their love? How many kids’ lives would we improve? &c &c &c.

  43. Matt, your question ties into the “unpaid labor” of Capitalism.

    How much unpaid labor did she give him before she got sick?

    While men ARE getting better, the vast majority of home-supporting labor in this country is still done by women. As well as the vast majority of worker-supporting labor.

    If both of them had been paid for ALL of the labor done for the other, would she even need his support?

    Capitalism depends upon a slave class. Why do you think so many states are enacting anti-reproduction-choice laws? Without access to birth control and such, more women become tied to the home, and that means more women in unpaid, worker-supporting roles.

  44. Matt–I lived in such circumstances for years. Often quite grim, emotionally as well as financially. Our society does not adequately provide for those who cannot work because of their medical status, or because they are raising children with “special” needs that add up to extra financial and time burdens. In such a situation, the spouse who has left the family continues to hold a certain power because the family must continue to depend on that person financially.

    Lydy — I cannot buy the argument that more feminism is the answer. More equity, yes, especially in the distribution/access to sufficient finances. But new jobs in this so-called recovery are now proven to be mainly part-time or temporary, and that will affect both men and women. Instead of fighting each other for the scraps, we need to fight together for the wealth we produce. Sorry, old song I know, but still true. What Will said.

  45. @CalliannG: That’s a more complicated question than usual in this case, because the same illness that makes it impossible for her to work has also made serious housewifery impossible for the latter half of their decade-plus-long marriage. But, in general, I take your point.

    I was going to raise a philosophical question about how housework should be priced, but then I realized that thousands of households price it every day, my own intermittently included. That may underscore your point about the invisibility of unpaid work, or maybe it just says something about me.

  46. “So far there hasn’t been anything that worked for everybody.”

    “That’s why socialists want to share the wealth. No one should be under economic pressure to stay where they don’t want to be.”

    What about the other side of it? Should people be pressured to accept others who want to be where they are not wanted? My immediate thought is to say yes, they should. If people aren’t naturally tolerant then they should be forced to be tolerant. When I think about it some more, my answer is more “It depends.”.

    “Capitalism depends upon a slave class.”

    Up until about the last 200 years, almost all wealthy societies and a whole lot of others depended on a slave class. When I try to look at the big picture, they couldn’t increase production very fast, and a reasonably high reproductive rate would swamp them. It’s easier to control reproduction among female slaves than anybody else.

    It would seem to follow that when reproduction is no faster than the growth of production of whatever resource is currently in shortest supply, we don’t have to get poorer on average and rich people needn’t feel like they need to destroy a middle class. When the limiting resource is human labor, we can reproduce as fast as we want to.

    But when per capita production declines, definitely some people will try to grab more than their share, some of them will succeed, and the rest will be left to fight over the scraps.

  47. Matt: Remember all of those posts in which I refer to morality as tied to and a product of a particular form of society? Keep that in mind when you answer this question: Why should the resources someone requires for a decent, healthy, fulfilling life have anything whatever to do with what the person does for a living?

  48. “Why should the resources someone requires for a decent, healthy, fulfilling life have anything whatever to do with what the person does for a living?”

    I will misinterpret this question. In medieval times, mercury workers reduced symptoms of mercury poisoning by eating a whole lot of butter. That butter was a resource that they required for a healthy life because of what they did for a living.

    Putting that sort of thing aside, deciding who deserves what resources is a question that societies answer based on their own assumptions. As a moral relativist I don’t see that one society is better than another, except that some get results I personally like better.

    But objectively, some societies are more stable than others. There are some ideas that people are willing to try out a little and then throw away, and others they hold onto as hard as they can in the face of overwhelming evidence that they are plain wrong. To some extent the ideas that people hold onto are different in different societies.

    For a society to continue, it first has to maintain itself adequately in material ways. If it fails to organize its people to do the things it needs to maintain itself then it will turn into something else. And second, it has to motivate its people enough to support it. If they decide they would rather do something different and it can’t convince them to stay with its traditions, then again it will change.

    I am not making any moral claims there — just, some societies survive with their core unchanged for a long time, and others do not. Stable societies can be things I disapprove of. Like, a society that believes everybody is their enemy, that they must be constantly ready to fight, that they must keep their neighbors down or lose everything, that there is no reason to keep their agreements because their enemies will not keep them either, that they must put off the final day when they are destroyed and exterminated — that can be pretty stable. It can change when the world does defeat them. There’s some evidence that the followers of Odin gradually gave up because they found lives they preferred to live. But usually — bleak and stable.

    The idea that people shouldn’t get anything they don’t deserve is kind of stable. Particularly for middle-class people, who particularly have the idea that middle-class people shouldn’t get anything they don’t deserve. If rich people can grab more, maybe they deserve it for being so cunning. Provided they’re already rich. Middle class people who use cunning tricks that help no one but themselves are of course despicable. These ideas tend to keep middle-class people stably middle-class.

    As long as a whole lot of people hold tight to that idea, it will be hard to turn them into a society that separates the resources people should have from the things that they do to deserve those resources.

    While that idea breaks down, there’s increasing room for alternatives.

  49. “When I try to look at the big picture, they couldn’t increase production very fast, and a reasonably high reproductive rate would swamp them. It’s easier to control reproduction among female slaves than anybody else.”

    Until Malthus (and maybe a few precursors in the same general era), there’s no evidence that people thought this way, so drawing a causal link between slavery and the need to limit reproduction does not, I think, have a strong evidence base.

  50. “Until Malthus (and maybe a few precursors in the same general era), there’s no evidence that people thought this way, so drawing a causal link between slavery and the need to limit reproduction does not, I think, have a strong evidence base.”

    They didn’t have to think that way, they just had to do it. Societies that controlled reproduction adequately would be more stable than societies that didn’t. The citizens didn’t have to know how it worked, as long as they kept doing the things that worked.

    (Though one alternative might be to produce a surplus of young men who could be sent away to attack and destabilize other societies, with the survivors gaining land and brides for themselves.)

  51. @skzb: At risk of seeming willfully obtuse — requirements are requirements, right? Whether someone thinks you “should” need something doesn’t have much to do with whether you do. (Nor, presumably, do your abilities, opportunities, connections, &c, per your point.)

  52. The real answer to Steve’s question as answered by our present society is, of course, “because otherwise Those People would get a free ride”.

    Somehow there’s always a Those People.

  53. I usually do not reply to Steve’s more serious posts because I am, generally speaking, an idiot on these fronts. I claim no special knowledge and have only my opinions – and generally these opinions are relatively uninformed (albeit thoroughly thought out to the point of being overthought).

    I’ve also found it’s an easy trick to win points with Steve by blaming everything on capitalism.

    But every notion of anyone getting something that they DO or DO NOT “deserve” is fraught with peril. Because it means that someone, somewhere, is making a decision about what it means to “deserve” something. And humans have proven that they are not really capable of making these decisions terribly well. “You deserve punishment because you did a bad thing!” “You deserve lots of riches because you are a wonderful and special human being!”. “You deserve to have adequate resources to live because you are born, and so you are free”.

    I accept the last one much more strongly than the previous two, because the alternatives are unpalatable. It provides a place to start that puts the world in a better situation, where human beings have more room to exercise the freedoms that are, indeed, self-evident.

    But like the situation with domestic abuse – it’s just not that simple. It’s never that simple.

    Come the revolution, everyone will get resources allocated based on how many points they’ve won with Steve. And he’ll probably allocate points over the poker table….

  54. In one sense domestic abuse is simple. The protection of the victims should be priority. Yes treatment is important too. But the idea that socialism is enough is where I think you are right about oversimplification. Domestic abuse existed long before capitalism. Capitalism transforms most things, so it is true that under capitalism domestic abuse takes place in specifically capitalist ways. But that does not mean that if we achieve socialism, this will magically melt away. If we ever succeed in getting rid of capitalism, the diseases of capitalism are likely to remain long after capitalism itself is gone. Rough economic equality will take away an important weapon of abusers, but they will remain. The case SKB described of a woman abusing a man may well have been a case where the man was economically independent. Statistically the odds are rather better than 50%. At any rate, I know of several cases of women abusing men, including one that famously ended in the man being murdered, where the man was completely independent financially. On the other hand, one reason men are victims of abuse much more rarely than women may be because men are much more likely to be economically independent of women than thee other way around.

    So I’m not saying that socialism would not greatly reduce abuse. But it would not by itself abolish it. That would require specific actions within socialism. I would add while one can argue that most of the nations once called socialist were state capitalism of one kind or another, it is also true that many of them sincerely struggled to create socialism. Cuba strikes me as an example of a nation that pushed hard for economic equality for a long time, and also struggled sincerely for racial and gender equality. And yet, people with white skin in Cuba all through its most strongly egalitarian phases, ended up better off than the African descended majority. When large numbers of Cubans fled to to the USA after the revolution had been going on for generations, the white refugees came with more money, and better educations than the Black ones. Women have never truly escaped the double shift in Cuba. For a long time gays were outlawed, and even today gay people, though no longer outlawed, face all sorts of discrimination that has been outlawed in the USA. Part of the problem is that you can’t legally form a movement for rights in Cuba without government approval, and (as of 2010 at least) no gay rights movement had been approved. So gays have not been able to legally organize the way women and black people have.Of course now Cuba is moving away from egalitrian capitalism or distorted socialism or whatever you wish the call it, and in a less egalitarian direction. Less economic equality with no increase in political freedom And that will make everything worse, to some extent already has.

  55. I don’t think anyone’s said socialism will end all social evils. I only think people have said—or at least, meant—they’ll greatly alleviate them, and the first things socialism will help are the things that involve economic desperation. Domestic abuse is among them, not just because victims often feel they can’t live adequately elsewhere, but because economic stress increases violence among those who feel economically responsible for others. Google “Criminologists identify family killer characteristics” and you’ll see a bit more about that. Also, I didn’t dig deeply, but in the recent case of a girl who was abducted by a man who killed her mother and her brother, I noticed the man was about to lose his home. Humans break, and they break more easily when they don’t feel secure. But they still break in supportive societies, of course–see Anders Behring Breivik.

    As for your last point, sure, there are totalitarian socialists out there, just as there are royalists who want to restore monarchies and capitalists who think only property owners or high-IQ sorts should vote, but I’m a democratic socialist. To most socialists, and especially to left-libertarians, personal and political freedom matter enormously.

  56. @skzb: I thought I was making an anodyne statement about the lexicon (i.e., about what it means to require something). I’m not sure how that’s invalidated by the fact that circumstances change over time, except in the J Thomas sense — if the right sort of person comes to think I should have my kneecaps broken, then I will come to need medical attention.

    Sorry for the continuing obtuseness. It’s sincere, I swear.

  57. Matt: Okay, I think I see what you’re getting at–maybe I’m being obtuse. If I’m right, we aren’t actually disagreeing. If I’m wrong, someone needs to explain, slowly, using small words.

  58. @skzb: In the hopes of curing our strange communication problem: I agree that the resources someone requires for a decent, healthy, fulfilling life don’t have much to do with their choice of profession, because people need what they need more or less regardless of what they can or choose to do (which is what I meant by my initial response to your initial question). Of course, the resources that people *receive* are, these days, intimately related to their capabilities and choices, and the big question is how large a difference we ought to tolerate between what people need and what they get.

    I don’t have a comprehensive answer to this question, but I personally do not like the fact that so many Americans are so justifiably anxious about their continued existence, and I suspect that making it easier not to starve or get ill would help more than it hurt.

  59. “I personally do not like the fact that so many Americans are so justifiably anxious about their continued existence, and I suspect that making it easier not to starve or get ill would help more than it hurt.”

    This is why I’m a big fan of Universal Basic Income.

  60. Does money equal Happiness?

    As was eluded to previously I agree there is a disconnect in a american culture between needs and wants. What our identity’s need to survive is different then our body’s. Although the way our society and culture are set up has our Identity’s survival inextricably linked to our body’s survival. Therefore creating a logical context for unnecessary things for bodily survival. As society progresses things that seem normal now will be archaic in the future (Duh!) but that is relativity and the way the mind works.

    As for so woes regarding economic security I say that the power of suggestion is a very potent stimuli especially in abstract and ethereal matters such as money( ie. the news perspectives)

  61. Money stops equalling happiness around $75,000 a year, based on the studies I’ve seen. Which is to say, once your needs are met and some luxuries are available to you.

    I would say the threat of losing your home is more than the power of suggestion.

  62. Money doesn’t equal happiness, but poverty certainly leads to misery. Let’s take care of basic needs before we quibble about happiness, all right? And if you want to argue about “basic needs” versus “wants” you are welcome to do so, but if you are ignoring the millions with no access to health care, without decent food, without housing, without education, without a future, I’m not going to care much about your definitions. What say we solve those problems first, then worry about “need” and “happiness” and other stuff?

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