I’m posting this video that I’ve posted in the past because it really illustrates to a T what kind of problem domestic violence shelters are dealing with.
I hesitated before writing about this, because I really, really hate dealing with MRA trolls—who, like anti-choice nuts, have no qualms about using bullying tactics to interfere with women’s liberty on a person-to-person basis, and don’t care that their sorry asses aren’t welcome here—but it’s an important story. Because it really demonstrates the links between “men’s rights” activists and anti-choice activists, who are the same sexist beast but just have different focus points for their attempts to dismantle women’s liberty. Anti-choice nuts go after reproductive rights, but MRAs focus most of their attentions on dismantling a woman’s right to separate herself from direct oppression by a husband.* They have mostly given up trying to make divorcing itself hard—after all men file for divorce, too—but they focus on making sure that should women wish to leave a marriage, it’s extremely hard for them to do so, because they’ll lose custody of children, be dropped into poverty, or (and this is what this post is about) unable to escape an abuser.
One of the pet projects of the MRA community is shutting down battered women’s shelters. In fact, they tend to have the same relationship with battered women’s shelters as anti-choicers have with women’s clinics that provide abortion, a highly individualized obsession and loathing with the very existence of these places. The official reason to oppose funding to keep battered women’s shelters running is that they’re not equitable because most take in only women, i.e. they respond to the existing demand not the imaginary demand. MRAs resort to highly questionable statistics to defend their belief that there is a demand for shelters for male victims of abuse, instead of more reliable statistics that show that female victims outnumber male ones 5 to 1. To further massage the truth, MRAs tend to equate a woman slapping her husband once with the systematic abuse and threats that battered women’s shelters specialize in. These shelters aren’t there necessarily for women who get into one physical altercation with a partner and then move in with their mothers and refuse to see him. Nearly 31% of American women have seen some kind of beating or sexual violence from a partner, but most of them don’t need a shelter. These exist for women who have lived with men who don’t just dabble in abuse, but carry on a campaign of degradation, beating, rape, and threats of murder to intimidate a woman into submission, and their victims need to disappear off the face of the earth in order to be safe. Okay, that’s out of the way, and so quibbling about statistics in the thread will be considered thread-jacking attempts to distract people from the real issue, which is that individual women out there right now are trying to decide how they’re going to escape abusers without killing them or themselves, and for many of these women, shelters are their only hope.
“Men are victims, too,” should be taken in the same way you take “protecting traditional marriage” and “fetuses are people, too!”—bad faith arguments that cover up for an inadmissible level of misogyny or bigotry. No one disputes whether or not there are men who are hit by partners both male and female. MRA attempts to drag the argument there are a distraction from their real mission, which is to cut funding for battered women’s shelters and get them shut down. It no more makes sense to deprive female victims of help because of your belief in male victims than it makes sense to deprive women of contraception because your belief in fetal personhood.
I hate to write such a lengthy intro, but seriously, the troll problem with these no-life-having motherfuckers is just that bad. The real topic of this post is about a campaign that MRA nuts are waging against a single shelter—one that helps male victims, no less! (I guess male victims are easy to throw under the bus if it helps deprive female victims of help.) The place is called The Family Place (donation page), and the excuse for waging an intimidation campaign against the place is that they ran some ads that MRAs think are anti-male, because the ads highlight that some men are in fact capable of hitting a woman. You’d think they’d be more interested in going after “CSI” because it shows that some men are violent, murderous rapists, but that wouldn’t result in directly cutting aid to actual victims, so I guess it’s less than important. Here’s an ad:
Obviously, the point of the ad is to highlight that abusers blend in with the public, that they might be your neighbor, your brother, your friend. This is a very important message to get out there and have people believe, because the sad truth is that many female victims find, when they start casting for help, that everyone in the community around them comes to support the abuser, because he’s a nice, charming man. In addition, abusers often isolate their victims from friends and family, and to boot, victims are often morose and look badly to friends compared to their gregarious partners. By the time the relationships blow up, often the women find they have no friends at all, while the abusers have plenty. This in turn helps feed the belief that false accusations are common, because people make false claims about false accusations will often have a lot more allies than people making true claims about abuse. Shelters, again, provide an outlet, but at some point victims do have to come out and go to work and live their lives, and to do so without allies is very unsafe.
Glenn Sacks has started a campaign to defund this particular shelter by targeting donors with faux outrage over these ads. Sacks has tacked on some language about not being rude, but then Michelle Malkin and Glenn Reynolds picked up the baton, so who knows how long the “no rudeness” rule held up. That’s a lot of people trying to shut down one shelter that helps families torn up by abuse get on their feet again. As Roy Edroso points out, there’s something more than a little perverse about the idea of “politely” trying to bankrupt someone anyway. Dozens of people might go without the help they need to escape possibly murderous abusers, but I’m sure they’d feel better that no one used a dirty word while depriving them.
The good news is the attempts to shut down The Family Place have failed. Ampersand interviewed an employee there, and while she’s surely annoyed by the whole thing, it seems her organization escaped unscathed.
Glenn Sacks claimed his activists convinced some regular Family Place supporters to withhold donations. Have you seen any evidence of that from your end?
The only thing I know for sure is I got an email from a man who said he’d never give again, because of this. He once gave $25, in 2003.
It’s possible that [Sacks] convinced somebody besides that one donor.
Have you heard from any of your donors who had been contacted by Glenn’s campaign?
Yes. They were horrified.
What were they horrified about?
They were horrified that they were contacted. Not about the ad campaign. Horrified that someone from outside the state of Texas would call and say “don’t give money to The Family Place.” There was one of my board members who received 25 calls from the same woman.
Still, to no one’s great surprise, said donors are deeply unhappy about this situation because they’ve been subject to a volley of verbal abuse, but even if the callers obeyed a phony standard of politeness, 25 calls from one person to a board member is harassment in itself. Of course, the actual shelter got a litany of angry calls, with the usual right wing horror at women who show any resistance to any form of oppression, even kinds (like wife-beating) that have been formally disapproved of by patriarchs in good standing.
Some of the vile language and verbal abuse we took on the phone was horrific. The kinds of things they said to our staff about what they’re going to do to them was awful. I’ve had some “you’re going to go to hell, you’re a fat lesbian luring women into those shelters so you can prey on them.”
Some conservative groups came to the defense of The Family Place, which isn’t surprising. Seriously, how cracked do you have to be to come to the defense of wife beaters, even if you go through backdoor channels like stirring up faux outrage about an advertising campaign? I don’t know that many of the people who get swept up in the witch hunt really comprehend how they’re working on behalf of wife beaters. I think a lot of them really do wish to believe that feminists made up the domestic violence problem. Like Jesse’s pointed out, arguing that liberals made up a problem to self-aggrandize or get funding is a standard right wing trope.
If this sounds familiar, it’s because it’s the explanation for every single thing movement conservatives haven’t liked since Reagan. Global warming? Check. Evolution? Check. Labor unions? Check. Underage sex not causing your junk to wither off and die? Check. The Constitution? Check.
But believe me, if there’s one symptom of our sexist society that I think most of feminists would get rid of if a genie gave us one wish, it would be domestic violence. In a lot of ways, it’s the most soul-destroying issue out there, beyond reproductive rights, beyond sexual harassment, beyond sexual violence by non-intimates, beyond discrimination. Because it’s so personal—knowing that so many women suffer this at the hands of someone they love is just hard to take. I can usually dig the humor out of many situations and the ludicrous nature of sexism, but domestic violence defies all but the darkest humor. Activism in this area has a much higher burnout rate than pretty much any other area, because the problem is so ugly and intractable. That people would harass those who have the nerve to get up every day and do this work is also unbelievably depressing.
*No, not all husbands are oppressive. Most aren’t, I’m sure. But the institution of marriage has a history that is rooted deeply in oppression, and the only way to change that is to build legal structures and institutions to make sure that women can maintain equality even while society still tends to think of men as “wearing the pants” in marriage.