sue watling

Behind Closed Doors Conference

Student led conference Behind Closed Doors revealed the reality of domestic abuse. A tough topic but someone has to do it. In this case it was Julie Burton, Programme Leader for the Health and Social Care degree, and a fantastic crowd of students who made it happen. It was a brilliant example, not only of student engagement but real world activism. Raising awareness is the first step towards making a difference. Talking is where it all begins.

Keynote Julie Bindel spoke about domestic violence from a feminist perspective. I grew up reading Betty Freidan, Adrienne Rich and Kate Millet. My first MA was Gender Studies; the limitations of gender binaries my research. Julie Bindel made it clear it was not men she was against but the sexism which underpins patriarchal customs and values. It was a blast from my past. All babies are born equal. Society empowers boys and constrains possibilities for girls. Gender specific expectations the most powerful social delineators, kicking in at birth following a cursory glance at the genitals.

Where is my feminism now? Reflecting on the keynote, I can’t remember the last time I labeled myself as feminist. I live it instead. Which is maybe a little too close to taking it for granted.  It was useful to be reminded how this is a position of privilege. I’ve worked hard but my independence as a woman of er… um…a certain age is only possible through the feminist campaigners who fought for equal rights and a life in the public domain.

Who is standing up for young women today? I look at the handmaidens of the cult of celebrity; their false tans, nails, hair, breasts, whitened teeth and impossibly thin bodies – and I think this is the retaliation. Like the 1950’s dream of perfect homes and families was a backlash to the war years where women took the male work role – and did it well – before being pushed back in the kitchen, sedated with valium. The latest oppression is the current reshaping of a young girl’s dreams. It’s not enough to be famous through WAG-hood or reality TV, you have to  exhibit a post baby body after childbirth as well. No signs of pregnancy allowed. As if fecundity has become something to be ashamed of.

We can’t escape hormonal difference. Women have babies. Children need to be looked after. Toilets have to be cleaned. Someone has to wipe the shite. For too long these roles have been designated as female. Yet evidence suggests early civilizations were matriarchal. Women held positions of power and authority. Revered for the same reasons they are now being reviled. Bleeding but not dying. It’s clear from history how femininity was once privileged. Before Lilith was demonised. Before Eve was framed.

Sometimes I wonder if most women have some experience of domestic abuse. Vicariously if not in person. It isn’t limited to men abusing women although research proves this is the dominant model. There are no excuses for harm. All abuse is wrong. It’s perpetrated through an ideology which condones male dominance while trivialising feminist politics, labelling activists as man haters, when this simply isn’t true. It’s the violence we hate. Victims need to be shown how knowledge is power. There is help available. The force of feminism can be with you. This is why conferences like Behind Closed Doors are so valuable and speakers like Julie Bindel should be listened to. The doors need to be pushed open to reveal the horrors within. Alongside information about the help and support which is available to everyone.


Behind Closed Doors website list of organisations who can help victims of domestic abuse

University of Lincoln Behind Closed Doors conference Press Release


2 Comments so far

  1.    Stephen Armourae on April 4, 2014 12:35 am      

    I’m delighted this conference has happened.
    I was working with a friend of mine 9 years ago on theatre designs when she committed suicide. She had been fighting for years the psychological effects of being raped when a child. Tragically it was her mother’s indifference to her suffering of what was done to her by a man that helped plunge into the final bout of depression that drove her to her death.

    Some feminists know that I’ve been fighting for 4 years for justice for my sister, who various police and lawyers say must be a murder case, but the investigating authority: Islington CID have ignored and I’m able to prove have lied concerning her death, which resulted from domestic violence.

    I have also been fighting the police regarding a neighbour of mine when I was living in London, who was racially abused and threatened by a members of a knife carrying group in front of her 3 year old child. The event left her traumatised and despite that her and myself immediately reporting a GBH attack on me by the same people a few months earlier, the police and Greenwich Council have done nothing. Members of the same group have been committing crimes including threats and mugging women in the area over at least 4 years.
    All this only half a mile from Plumstead Police Station.

    Every month we see reports of women and children who have been killed despite contacting the police prior to the death because of prior threats or injuries. And the police and services trot out that “they have learned lessons” until the next publicised victim let down by the police.

    But for every publicised case there will be many more which will not get media attention.

    A common problem is that victims do not know what to do when the police ignore their reports about violence or domestic violence. I’ve been contacted by a couple of bereavement organisations asking me what information I can provide in pursuing justice.

    Improving the information and the access to means of safety and legal aid are essential in fighting against domestic violence

    Steve Armourae

  2. Profile photo of Paul Whitfield   Paul Whitfield on April 4, 2014 1:59 am      

    The Domestic Abuse conference was a fantastic day which provided a great deal of information about domestic abuse whilst also providing debate regarding the fundamental issues related to domestic abuse and in particular domestic violence. I believe the day was effective in achieving its goal, and stirred emotions amongst many.
    Furthermore to this I believe the joint team working, and the passionate belief demonstrated by the lecturers and the students to create a successful student conference day, has layed the foundations for the University of Lincoln and its students to be a key player in raising awareness to domestic abuse. It is essential that these foundations are used as a platform to work in tandem with the ‘Lincolnshire Domestic Abuse team’, and with the other organisations that attended the day, in promoting awareness about domestic abuse within Lincolnshire.

    You have spoken about the personal and emotional impact of the speech given by Julie Bindel, and it is fantastic that it evoked passionate feeling and memories, and gave you opportunity to reflect upon the principles of how you live your life, but more importantly how you founded those principles.

    From a personal point of view, having known we had managed to get Julie to speak at our conference I felt it only right I should do some research about Julie, as I was writing a description about her for our website. After reading some of her articles I was very impressed and looked forward to hearing her speak.
    I found Julie’s speech fantastic, and I listened intently upon her words. I found her words were extremely passionate and the only regret I have from the day is that we had not given her a bigger time slot. Whilst listening to the end of Julie’s speech, I like yourself began to question things about myself and I asked myself ‘I am a feminist?’
    The reason why I asked this questioned to myself is that within Julie’s speech she mentioned that a feminist believes in tackling oppression against women and fighting for equality for women within all institutions of society.
    With this in mind I began to reflect on what she had said and started asking myself several questions, ‘do I believe women are unfairly treated in society?’ ‘do I believe women are under-represented within the political spectrum?’ ‘and do I believe this is due to male oppression?’, and after thinking about this and reflecting upon my experiences within the workplace and society, I answered ‘yes’. I then thought ‘do I believe that women should have equal social, political, and economic rights?’, well this question took a matter of a second to answer, ‘most definitely!’
    So as I reflected upon my answers I thought about the fundamental principles of feminism and I began to ask myself the question again ‘I am a feminist?’, the answer of course was ‘yes’, and as I sat there with a smile on my face listening to the closing of Julie’s speech I reflected upon my new found status of being a feminist, and if you had asked if I were proud of my new found status, then my answer would have been HELL YES!!


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