Sunday, February 1, 2015

#Nomore Less Than

There’s a moment in the film Selma when Martin Luther King says “It is unacceptable that they use their power to keep us voiceless. Those that have gone before us say, 'No more.'”

That “no more” became a ongoing cry: no more Birminghams, no more lynchings, no more unprovoked violence, no more sitting on the sidelines while people of color are treated as less than equal, less than human.
That cry continues, but a new one has joined it, a force behind an ad that will be aired during the
Superbowl this evening, part of the Joyful Heart Foundation's #Nomore Campaign against Domestic Violence.

I’ve been posting the last few weeks about inclusion and exclusion, justice and injustice, and King’s insistence that “Justice is indivisible. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

He also repeated in various places: “There can be no justice without peace, and there can be no peace without justice.”

This is true in our communities, and true in our homes as well.

When relationships are about power and privilege, with one group assuming its right to control, injustice and violence are not far behind.

Read through the arguments for segregation, and they all circle back to a sense of entitlement. 

But what happens when entitlement is part of our closest relationships?

What happens when the assumption of power and privilege plays out in the most mundane matters of daily life?

Racial violence doesn’t start with a plan to harm. It starts with assumptions, unacknowledged privilege, culturally endorsed ideas about who matters most, growing anger when assumptions are challenge.. Whose streets are the police trying to keep safe, and for whom? Whose communities are we hoping to see thrive, and how? Whose country is this, and how far will we go to see that belief preserved?

On the issue of domestic violence, the statistics are staggering, conflicting, inconclusive. According to the Center for Disease Control:
  • At least one of every three women will be a victim of domestic violence.
  • One in five women has been raped. 
  • One in six women has been the victim of stalking.
  • Almost half or all women have experienced psychological aggression by an intimate partner.  
  • 1 in 4 women have been the victim of severe physical violence by an intimate partner. More than ten million children have witnessed domestic abuse.
  • More than three women a day are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends.
  • Less than 1 in four incidents of partner violence or abuse is reported – so the real number, on most of these, is far higher than anyone can prove. 

The NFL has been receiving much attention on this issue, prompting an ad by a group called UltraViolet that shows a football player preparing for a tackle, then charging across the field full force toward a woman standing alone.  A voiceover says “Let’s take domestic violence out of football,” while on-screen text reads “55 NFL abuse cases unanswered.” It ends with the hashtag, #Goodellmustgo.

The #Nomore ad is in a way the NFL's response. Reportedly based on an actual 911 call, air time and production cost were paid for by the League. 

New York Times article describes the dynamic of NFL culture that can make wives feel trapped and unprotected.But that sense of entrapment and lack of protection is hardly unique to wives in the NFL. A more troubling article in The Atlanticdescribes a culture of abuse among police officers, too often unchecked.

And while much has been written lately about rape cultures on college campuses, the reality is that less privileged young women are far more likely to experience rape, sexual abuse, and domestic violence, often in their homes rather than in college frat houses.

We have come to understand that the problem of violence against women is not a problem of individual men who are abusing individual women. The problem is a systemic one, an outgrowth of centuries of patriarchal privilege, which has defined man's relationship to woman in terms of domination, entitlement and ownership. Although the manifestations of male entitlement vary in different cultures throughout the world, it is a rare culture in which this paradigm simply does not exist. . . .Men utilize a wide array of tactics to control and dominate the women they are partnered with, not because they suffer from individual psychopathologies, but because they are socialized in cultures that encourage, support, or condone, a man's right to do so. 
A simple chart from the Dultuh Model, pioneers in community intervention, summarizes the research connecting the need to control and the likelihood of violence:

Reading the chart, I find myself grieving.

I know stories for every one of those slices. Stories told in tears on front porches, over coffees and eggs, in late night conversations when the lights are low. About marriages in trouble, explosive home situations, lingering baggage from long-ago trauma.

I read the chart and wish I had been more helpful.

Intervention is hard, support scarce, options few.

And the results of abuse are destructive and enduring.

Victims of domestic abuse can demonstrate the same symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as soldiers returning from violent war zones.

Unrecognized and untreated, these symptoms can add to more anger, more abuse. Even freed from the abusive situation, survivors can find themselves trapped in feelings of failure, isolation, and despair.  

No simple ad campaign will solve this.

And agreeing that domestic violence is wrong, or speaking out against campus rape, will do little to change a culture of abuse.

I’m reading in the gospel of Matthew this month, with Scripture Union’s Encounter with God.

The reading from January 21, Matthew 9:18-26, considered Jesus’ interactions with two women: the dead daughter of a man of influence, the marginalized woman who reached out to touch his robe.

The commentary, written by Fran Beckett said this: 
Tragically, misogynist attitudes can still be found today, reflected in dehumanizing practices such as the international trafficking of women and girls, female genital mutilation, abortion of girl babies, girls denied access to education, or women's portrayal as sex objects on the internet and in magazines. It exists in less overt although still damaging forms each time a woman's view isn't taken seriously because she's a woman, or despite her ability is denied workplace promotion because of a glass ceiling. Both women and men experienced profound injustice in Jesus' day and still do, and it was his positive engagement with women that marked him out as particularly controversial. Is there anything in our own attitudes to either women or men generally, or to particular individuals, that needs to change to be more like that of Jesus? 
In my experience (and according to a recent survey), our churches are no more likely to be safe havens for women than the other places where we travel. Women are interrupted, dismissed, shut down, and, behind closed doors, abused at statistically the same levels.   

Wives who seek help are questioned, encouraged to be “good wives,” left wondering where to turn.

The boys in our churchs, too often, are taught that they are “more than.” Their gifts are to be used, their ideas to be heard. While girls are “less than.” Abilities called into question, voices silenced, cry for help ignored.

Not in all churches, but still too many. 

Certainly not by all men. I’m grateful beyond words for the men in my life who listen to, affirm, encourage their sisters, mothers, daughters, friends.

Even so, the good news that in Christ “there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female,”  is still too often withheld from those who  most need to hear it. 

The most promising developments in the effort to stop the abuse of women have not been
in the therapeutic arena. Sociopolitical responses, befitting a systemic problem, have, in fact, begun to a make a difference. A systemic response is a comprehensive coordinated community effort: every institution in a community does its part in holding perpetrators accountable for their acts, and also provides extensive supports, including shelter, for women who are the victim/survivors. When a whole community treats violence against women as criminal behavior, instead of a private, predictable and acceptable family problem, things begin to change. When a whole community treats violence against women as shameful, looks down on those who perpetrate it, and make no more jokes about it, things will change.
Almost eighty years ago, writer Dorothy Sayer called attention to Jesus’ example: 
Perhaps it is no wonder that women were first at the cradle and last at the cross. They had never known a man like this man. There never has been such another. A prophet and teacher who never nagged them, never flattered or coaxed or patronized; who never made sick jokes about women; who rebuked without querulousness and praised without condescension; who took women’s questions and arguments seriously; who never mapped out a certain sphere for women; who never urged them to be feminine or jeered at them for being female; who had no axe to grind and no uneasy male dignity to defend; who took women as he found them and was completely unselfconscious. There is no act, no sermon, no parable in the whole Gospel that borrows its point or pungency from female perversity. Nobody could get from the words and deeds of Jesus that there was anything funny or inferior about women. (Are Women Human, 1938) 
When our leaders, pastors, teachers, fathers decide to follow that example, when they refuse to treat women and girls as less than, and hold others accountable who do, we will be well on our way to ending domestic violence.

I’m waiting, and praying, and longing for that day.