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 http://behindcloseddoors.blogs.lincoln.ac.uk/information/
University of Lincoln Behind Closed Doors conference Press Release http://www.lincoln.ac.uk/news/2014/04/874.asp