May 31, 2007

Interesting conversations and offensive posts

Posted in abuse, recovery, violence, women's issues at 12:18 pm by nevavegan

Some thoughts here might be controversial, hence the title: offensive posts. I’m trying to honestly look at issues that affect my life and probably affect the lives of many others as well.

One thing that I try to keep in mind as I wander through my life is the concept of equality. Not that all of us are the same, because that’s patently ridiculous, but the idea that the differences between us don’t automatically rank us on some kind of hierarchy. Instead we all bring different things to the table and in an ideal world our different viewpoints and different skills could fit together like a jigsaw puzzle and we’d all be able to contribute and participate.

Then the cold hard world shows her face and I know that all around me I’m surrounded by people who in one way or another are cut off from participating in our common culture. The sense of powerlessness became palpable in some communities. In other situations, people with all the trappings of being important may in fact feel very shut out. They keep their ideas to themselves, potential contributions are never made.

Clearly the “isms” can shut people out of participating in society: racism, sexism, ageism, and the not-an-ism, homophobia. Some people struggle against these forces and insist that their voices matter, others get discouraged and retreat to the quietness of family, chosen family, or small communities where they can feel accepted.

There also comes with this the strange phenomenon where people start to think that prejudice is acceptable, if it’s good prejudice. Yet in any case, to assume that we know something about someone based on external factors, like race, gender, age, or socio-economic status is always prejudice. Because quite literally we pre-judge them. We think we know who they are and their capabilities before we ever actually get to know them.

This leads me to another point. I have been thinking lately about the topic of how women hurt each other and hurt children, and yes, even hurt men. Which is a no brainer, because women are human beings, and all human beings probably hurt someone else at some time, and there are some human beings who practically make careers out of hurting other people, and then there’s the whole spectrum in between.

But when I’ve talked to some of my friends in the past about female on female abuse, or child abuse perpetuated by mothers, I often run into this wall. Many of my female friends will insist that women are natural nurturers, that we are automatically filled with compassion and love. So if a woman turns violent or abusive, it is only because she herself has been abused to the breaking point.

I rankle at this because 1) I do think most abusers were abused themselves, but this applies to men as well, and we don’t tend to excuse their behavior because of that. Instead we ask that they act like adults, get help, and take some kind of responsibility for their actions, and 2) Women can be pretty awful sometimes even in the absence of abuse (again with that being human part).

This lead me to a fascinating exchange with Angie Reed Garner, and I just have to quote her, because she said it perfectly:
“I have always thought that one of the primary ways that women are stunted and deformed by sexism is that there is a lack of literature and general awareness in the culture about the ethical issues pertaining to women’s behavior. There is more about how women go crazy, but not much about how women fight against each other and children for power, control and resources.”

How very, very true. We decry sexism and yet at the same time we allow certain damaging behavior to go totally unchecked because we are attached to the myth of the perfect mother, the madonna and child, the female angel of mercy. So we cannot accept the idea that women also fight for power and prestige, and that they may backstab, slander, or shun other women to achieve those goals. We don’t like the idea that a mother might look over the limited resources of her family, and put herself first and her children last. We give a resigned sigh when a father spends his money on alcohol and doesn’t pay child support, but we neglect the whole concept that women might make similar decisions.

I want to explore this topic more over the next couple weeks, well not just this exact topic, but aspects of sexism, aspects of abuse, and just the general lack of research and documentation on issues within female culture in this country.

I also got some information from the moderator of the Survivors forum, though I’ll leave her anonymous for the time being. As expected, she said, most members when they sign up for access report abuse or attacks perpetrated by men. But it was not so lopsided as you might expect. She told me the split is about 60/40 in favor of men as the abusers. Further she said that about 25% of the community is actually male, which was a surprise to me as most males in the forum are very, very quiet. I expect though that rates of abuse for men, especially men abused as children, are probably fairly high, but just going on anecdotal evidence from my own experience, men are less likely to seek therapy, and less likely to join support groups or forums.

I’m not sure where all of that fits into my thinking other than a kind of general “wow, our culture can be violent.” But hopefully I’ll be able to form more thoughts on the topic as time goes on.



  1. Deb said,

    I’ve never been physically abused, and I’m not sure I’d say I’ve been emotional abused either, but when I think about the traumatic emotional things that have happened where it was someone doing something to me, it was always women. We talked in an earlier post about girls in 3rd grade. I have a friend who is a teacher, and he has been paying attention this year, and he says that starting in 3rd grade girls get vicious. They lobby against others. Where does this come from? I can’t imagine it is our natural inclination as women.

    So, not the same as abuse, necessarily, but it seems like it must have similar roots.

  2. Neva Vegan said,

    Women can be really rough on one another. I think it probably is natural to some extent, given that we are social animals who would likely form an hierarchy in a “natural setting.” However, the ways that it has become acceptable to vie for power can in fact be very destructive. And as Angie said, we just sort of ignore that entire aspect of our culture, likely out of the sexist belief that women can’t hold power or seek it, except perhaps in “male” ways. Because the aggression of women is ignored, and we actually pretend it doesn’t exist, the aggression girls express is often done in damaging social ways but not in such overt ways (though physical fighting among girls does seem to be increasing). It of course does all have the same roots as other abuse because first of all it involves the belief that we can and should control what others do, and that it’s ok to find ways to punish people who express themselves in ways we don’t like. It often also involves scapegoating which you will see in abusive families. In some families one child will be singled out as “the troublemaker” and all the dysfunction in the family is blamed on him, and he bears the brunt of the physical and emotional abuse. Likewise among girls in a school setting often one girl will be singled out and the other girls will say things like “everything would be so much more fun if Rachel weren’t here” or “the only reason we don’t all get along is that Sue is causing trouble.” Therefore the group can ignore the underlying dynamics and no group member needs to address her own behavior because they blame everything on someone else. And bullying brings in the “other” element as well, when people feel it’s ok to be cruel to someone because they’re an “other.” We used to see this more in terms of race or sexuality–ie “he’s gay so he’s not like us” and so on. Men can also use this against women and you might have a man who knows how to interact respectfully with other men, but he doesn’t see women as human, so he doesn’t bother. When bullying occurs in school, the bullies will pick out a characteristic that makes the victim “not one of us.” Sometimes it’s about clothing, or physical appearance (I mentioned I got called ugly for having big lips and a flat nose with wide nostrils–ie, not typical anglo features, therefore hideously ugly), or it can be about religion, cultural identification, simply being larger or smaller than most of the other kids, having an obvious emotional or neurological problem (there was an autistic kid at my school and people were horrible to him). Whatever the trait is, the crowd picks it out as different, and they stop viewing the victim as a human being and turn off empathy toward him/her. Scary stuff really.

    Some people theorize that animals would ostracize other animals that had genetic defects so severe that their survival wasn’t likely. In leaner times, it might not be a good investment to work for the survival of a group member that simply wasn’t going to make it. However we also see among animals some incredible compassion. I read an article about a mother leopard caring for her injured daughter who couldn’t hunt for many years. In one feral colony I helped, the oldest male had been hit by a car and the other cats were very nice to him even though after his recovery he was not as quick or as able to stand up for himself. They would simply scoot over and let him have food.

    So it’s hard to say where the behavior among humans come from. I have to think much of it is learned and that kids who are bullies probably have parents who are bullies, but that’s just a theory on my part.

  3. woundedwoman said,

    I just found your blog and started reading your amazing posts!

    I’m a vegetarian, childhood abuse and domestic violence survivor. I arrived at vegetarianism as my awareness increased.

    I have been abused by several key women in my life as a child and adult. Many abuse survivors were abused by their mothers, or had mothers that allowed them to be abused.

    I’m very uncomfortable with the generalization of the entire female gender as natural nurturers and earth mothers. Generalizations are never helpful or truthful.

    I’ve known many mean, cruel, vicious girls and women in my lifetime and they are as plentiful as mean, cruel, vicious men.

    Several times I have received a mass email entitled “The Woman.” It’s long so I will not post it here but you can find it by doing a search on the first line “By the time God (or the Lord) made woman, He was into his sixth day of working overtime.”

    I did not know how to tell the women behind the mass emails why the myth portrayed by this story, bothers me so much. There are several reasons.

    1) It’s an untrue generalization of the entire female gender as the most loving, nurturing, supportive beings on earth. 2) A couple of lines are just the type of brainwashing that convinces women it’s their “job” to put on a good face, sing through their misery, and smile even when they’re screaming inside.

    I recommend the book “Heal & Forgive” by Nancy Richards. The author was abused by her mother’s husband, then scapegoated, abused, villified and defamed by her mother for telling the truth. The author’s path to “forgiveness” defies the typical perspective on it by actually being realistic.

    I’ve searched to find blogs by other veg’an abuse survivors, but yours is the only one I’ve found so far.

  4. Neva Vegan said,

    Thank you Woundedwoman, it would be interesting to know if there are other blogs by survivors who are also vegan or vegetarian. For me this is a fairly new thing, coming out of the closet so to speak. I think lots of people are dealing with these issues actually but many of us keep quiet about it.

    I’ll have to check out your blog as well. Thanks for your comment!

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