Barry Opens a Dialogue with ATW Readers: Sexism & Domestic Violence

(Note: These are the words of Barry Goldstein and do not necessarily reflect the views, position, or beliefs of Among the Wolves. ATW strives to remain neutral, and present the information so You, the Reader, can come to your own conclusions.)
Barry Goldstein has read the reader comments on ATW and graciously offered a dialogue so he (his own words),”concentrate on how the material impacts you and the questions you have“. Barry is offering his thoughts, and looking forward to receiving your thoughts and/or feedback in return. This is not a “formal” article but rather a response generated by ATW reader comments, and general observation Barry has made in his years of experience working in the legal profession, and as a domestic violence advocate.
As always, please keep comments related to this post and maintain a respectful tone. We look forward to continuing this dialogue with you. Also feel free to leave any additional questions, comments or concerns that may not have been covered here.
Thank you Barry, and thank you ATW Readers!
Barry, Thursday, May 30, 2013 at 9:12 AM:
1) We focus on sexism because sexism is the cause of domestic violence.
Part of the problem is that sexism like other oppressions is often invisible particularly to those who receive unearned advantages which in the case of sexism are men. I think it is important to understand that what we mean by sexism is different than is usually understood in the rest of the world. Most people think of sexism as something extreme like a crude joke, sexual assault or the kind of things Rush Limbaugh would say. In reality a lot of sexism is subtle and unconscious. That means that good people engage in sexism.
I was just talking last night in class about my experience as a new instructor and watching other new instructors since then. Inevitably a new male instructor will say or do something that is sexist and someone will tell them that it is offensive. Every new instruct has reacted by trying to say that we misunderstood or let me rephrase, but we ask them to be silent and listen and try to figure out why they were told it was sexist because it almost certainly was. The same process occurs when we speak of racism, heterosexism and other oppressions.
It is of course hard to hear that I said something sexist, racist, offensive, etc but in reality someone being willing to tell us this is giving us a valuable gift. It is difficult and often unsafe for someone from a marginalized group, like women when we speak about sexism to tell someone they did something offensive. Accordingly we need to make them feel safe to do so. Otherwise no one will tell us when we offended. When I say safe it means more than just not assaulting or threatening them, but being open to what they are saying, promising to change and not being defensive. I think too many people are quick to take offense when someone shares how their behavior has impacted them.
2) One of the places I want to take this discussion is to understand that in our society there is a huge difference between men and women, the privileges we have and how we are perceived. That is the context for everything that happens.
Too often courts and others seek to create a false sense of equivalency between men and women and this favors men because they have so many advantages in this society. Very often situations that seem the same on the surface are really very different.
Lynn Hecht Schafran wrote a wonderful article called Evaluating the Evaluators that illustrates how gender bias works in the courts. She tells the story of a new psychologist who is assigned to evaluate a young family. She goes to the father’s home and it is a complete mess with no food in the refrigerator. The evaluator writes that the father lives in a typical bachelor apartment. When she visits the mother’s home it is somewhat messy but not as bad as the father’s. She has food in the refrigerator but not as much as preferred. The evaluator writes the mother lives in a messy apartment with inadequate food. The evaluator has a supervisor because she was new and the supervisor asked if she saw what she had done. She was shocked at the gender biased approach she used and quickly corrected her report. I love this story because it shows how easy it is for someone acting in total good faith, and even a woman (by a process called internalized sexism) would engage in gender bias. So many of our assumptions are automatically colored by stereotypes so that the many gender bias committees appointed by courts have found that women are given a higher standard than men.
Periodically we will see news articles based on deeply flawed studies that suggest women abuse men almost as often as men abuse women. This is based on bad practices such as just counting the hits and a failure to understand dv dynamics. We often see cases where a man hits a woman, woman hits a man and it is treated the same, but there are three important differences. In general men are bigger and stronger, hit harder and cause more serious injuries. The second is that men hit women to maintain control and coerce compliance while women hit men in self-defense and to make him stop his abuse. Most important it is very common for women to be afraid of their male partner, afraid he will kill or seriously hurt her so that she will given in, do whatever she thinks he wants, let him make the decision. It virtually never happens that the man is so afraid of his female partner, that she will kill or seriously hurt him that he does whatever he thinks she wants. Nevertheless, court professionals with no understanding of dv dynamics often treat these situations as if they were mutual.
I will stop here and gauge your reaction and then we can continue. Hope you will find this useful.