To the Editor, a Response to ‘How The Other Half Lives’

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Writer Sarah Backholer

“Sexism is fundamentally a male problem,” wrote Mitch Salmon in his article in YVQ: MESSY as he urged men to take responsibility for their attitudes and actions toward women (YVQ12, July 2016). His statement stems from his frustration with those who deny the very real trauma going on constantly in homes around them. But if women are simply waiting for men to take responsibility for treating them with dignity, does this not leave us, as women, utterly powerless? Does such a perspective perpetuate the disempowerment of women it so heartily seeks to contest?

To those who deny the reality of violence against any person… why? This is the tendency to shirk, downplay and therefore avoid being moved by the pain of another. To acknowledge such pain, to share it… there is real risk in this. It poses a threat to our comfortable equilibrium, to our familiar world view.

If I were a man, assertions concerning domestic violence—particularly regarding the statistical weight held by male perpetrators—may be perceived as attack, accusation; they may threaten my own sense of identity, or expose unexplored tensions within myself. Would I, by accepting these facts, be implicated in this violence simply by my maleness? Does denying or shirking this reality display an attempt to distance myself from evil, and so culpability? Does it stave off the crisis whereby my identity is implicated in human compromise? Do I perceive myself as a victim here, and so join in a game of ‘out-victiming’ the other? Or does it unmask a hidden sense of being threatened by the vulnerability involved in admitting the equality of the other?

The distanciation created by downplaying violence may initially succeed at obscuring my complicity in it; yet it would not be my maleness that implicated me in this violence, but my humanness. I am daily faced with the temptation to blame, deny, inflict, and perpetuate frustration and anger toward those around me. To be implicated in missing the mark by my humanity necessarily implicates my gender and sexuality, but has a wider source. Implicated as human, I experience a double loss—being able to identify with the pain of victim, and the volition of the perpetrators, because both share my humanity. This taking of responsibility as human then, is a risky response—it invites the courage to lose; it invites the courage to face the reality of possible complicity in violence; it invokes responsibility to speak out for human dignity for both male and female because in Christ there is neither male nor female; thus, when the arm of the body hurts, the whole arm hurts, for we are all part of the body of Christ. 

Men and women face different limits and challenges. The temptation for men to use their strength against women is horrific; it is typically human. The only way to challenge this is not to ‘just oppose’ such violence—‘Don’t be violent!’—but to turn domination and strength inside out. This is the reality and challenge of life in Christ. 

What then, is our response when faced with those who will not acknowledge, let alone take responsibility for the sorts of attitudes that espouse this insidious cloud of division and disrespect which is a great affront to human dignity? What do we do with those cutting comments, those invisible razors which cut a chasm between us and undermine the human dignity of both giver and receiver?

At times, we feel powerless. There is real grief in this; another person, even one I love, does not have to consider, let alone share, my view if they do not want to. They are human; their freedom permits them to hold even to the most hateful attitude. I realise my own impotence before the freedom of others; all I can offer is an invitation. I may stand alone on a horizon I wholeheartedly believe in, and want to share it with others who will not join me; this is lonely. But precisely in this way I refuse violence, for violence is the refusal to be reconciled to another’s freedom. Is not such refusal of violence precisely the story of God-in-Christ? 

To live, to speak, to advocate; to link arms and so create a network of strength that is moved by the blow issued to my neighbour, is rocked by it, but manages to keep linked and so create a strength that can only be found together—this is our calling as the self-giving community of Christ. To live affirming the human dignity of one another, whoever other—may God give us the strength of love. And perhaps this togetherness gives each of us the strength to stand up for ourselves and each other, because we are not doing it alone. Such togetherness, whose impetus is Christ, must not remain in some abstract sphere of opinion, but in the tangible generosity of joyous, risky real life. 

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