Archive | March, 2011

White, Educated, Upper Class

13 Mar

Post Secret is, for me, reminiscent of Sunday morning cartoons: something to look forward to and await anxiously each week. And when I’m through with them I’m always a little sad that there aren’t more.

They are always full of sociological examples. This week was no different but one particular one relates to things I’ve been thinking about lately:

It really illustrates well the conceptions this society has about domestic abuse (and perhaps violence in general). The assumption is that a white, well educated man would be above abusing a spouse. This kind of assumption is not only telling of people’s assumption of race and class but of the one’s it alludes to comparing. For example, do we think the post is referencing that Asian men generally hit? Or are we just referencing black American men? Latino or Hispanic men as well? Based on the cultural conceptions of race, I’d suggest that the post means some non-white groups and not others.

Additionally, the fact that class and education is mentioned references the complexity of these ideals: Apparently (according to this view, which I think is common) white uneducated, lower class men have a higher likelihood of being abusive than educated, upper class white men. And because the post simply doesn’t say “He’s an educated man” and references race and education level together, it implies that non-white men of all education levels are more susceptible to performing domestic abuse than white men in general.

The secret also reveals the common conception of the abuser being a man. Obviously, a man in this case is actually abusing his partner: this is fact. However, the wording of the post implies that it’s not a surprise that a man would abuse, only that a man of a certain race, education and class level would. In listing the identity points of the abuser, the person does not say: White, Upper Class, Educated, Man but omits the identity marker “man” because the implication is that it’s “obvious” it’s a man (and the use of “he” confirms that). Of course, this person is simply documenting their own personal experience and not trying to make a point of their beliefs. However, the post uses language that implies a cultural shared perspective between the writer and reader.

We don’t know the gender of the writer but I’ll admit to my first assumption (and I think it’s one many Americans would make) that the writer is a woman. Perhaps I’m particularly gender prejudiced but my mind fell on this assumption to reflect the notion that “men are the abusers, women the victims”. Generally, I think this conception would be shared with most people I know and it’s telling of how we still view women (some would also say it’s telling of the statistical reality that women are more likely to be abused than men, I can’t speak to whether that’s true though I do believe we live in a culture that encourages violence against women).

But the reason my assumption and assumptions like it is dangerous is that it effectively works to shield us from recognizing other kinds of victims and abusers. I truly believe that men in this society suffer much more domestic and sexual abuse than has been documented. This is not to imply that it’s more than women, I don’t know that it is but that it’s much more significant than we recognize and ought to be addressed. Of course it’s already difficult to document domestic abuse with any certainty (regardless of gender) because many victims are afraid to come out or embarrassed that they “let that happen” (more on this later). But additionally, our society places high premiums on the emotional “strength” of men to tolerate things silently without complaining or getting all “sensitive”. The expectations of men’s physical strength also means that men are expected to be able to hold the abuser off or “defend themselves”.

What’s more, because people do not conceptualize women as abusing men (the assumption being that they can’t do as much damage and that men can take it) many people do not recognize physical, violent acts within a relationship against a man as “domestic abuse”. The statement is not “She abuses me” but “oh yeah got into a fight with her, she hit me”. So men are silenced by our society’s notions of abuser and victim.

Generally, there is a mentality that blames victims or holds them responsible for their own recovery. In “The Macho Paradox”, Jackson Katz argues that stories about women who have been abused focus on their efforts to rise above and “get themselves out” but while this celebrates victim strength, it and the expectation of women to leave abusive relationships fails to recognize the responsibility of the perpetrators. I’d argue that because men are rarely seen as victims in these situations, the assumption of responsibility to get themselves out is even greater and even less conducive to recognition and support.

Because the assumption is that women do not abuse as much, they are rarely suspected of committing acts of violence or sexual abuse. Which brings me to the other Post Secret I found interesting:

This post and the words “by a woman” implies that it is surprising that a woman (and perhaps a woman of a Feminist persuasion) would sexually assault another (implied woman, though we’re not positive that it is). This references the blindness of Americans to these occurrences by women. The mental perspective follows that: 1. Men are more likely to abuse, 2. White, upper class, educated men are less likely of all men to abuse, 3. It’s a surprise when women sexually assault someone.

Of course, once someone says it out loud they would quickly indicate that it’s an incorrect set of statements but this doesn’t mean that people don’t think it. This kind of mentality has numerous repercussions for the way we live:

For example, women are often granted open access to children where as our society is highly suspicious and cautious with men being alone with them.

Another example, I have literally seen women I know hit and kick and physically hurt men in their lives without being as outraged with themselves or the friends that do it as they would with men doing the same to a woman. Often, because the taboo exists that men are never to hurt a woman (again, only when they do is it abuse) they often have to take it and submit to the abuse or refrain from defending themselves.

The second Post Secret also implies a lack of recognition of the (assumed) woman by her Feminist peers in the case of woman on woman sexual assault. This also marks the issue well: Because we don’t assume women will be abusive, we often overlook or ignore the need for help or signs of abuse coming from a woman. We don’t suspect her and we often ignore that women are capable of it. The victims are therefore silenced and without as many resources.

Jackson Katz argues in “The Macho Paradox” that to call abuse a “woman’s issue” is neglectful in that it ignores the (alleged) fact that men are often the ones doing the violence and therefore men should take up the responsibility of changing society as well as women.

I would argue as well that we cannot see abuse as the particular issue of one gender (not men as abusers, women as victims nor women as abusers, men as victims), race or class because it blinds us to the various ways it is perpetrated in our society and the kind of perspectives that contribute to it.

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