Theorizing and Violence against women

So as you all know, November 25th was the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. It was also Day 1 of the 16 Days of Activism that are supposed to end on December 10th which is International Human Rights Day.

I decided to pull out a recent story from earlier in November, about a man that bet his wife. It was a short story in one of the newspapers from Uganda so I am going to quote the brief here:

In Iganga, a staunch Arsenal football fan is looking for a home for his family after he lost his house in a bet over a game between English clubs Arsenal and Manchester United.

Before the game, Henry Dhabasani staked his two-roomed house in a bet with Rashid Yiga, that Arsenal would win the game. On his part, Yiga staked his new Toyota Premio car and his wife that Manchester United would win.

The two put their stake in writing, with local leaders and fans witnessing the deed. Dhabasani, married to three wives with five children, fainted at the end of the match on realizing Arsenal had lost the game 1–0. On Monday, several Manchester United fans stormed Dhabasani’s home and threw him and his family out.

A friend on social media told me “I don’t see it. I see commodification and inept leaders (some of whom might have been women) but I see no violence.” Even after explaining in some pretty long posts about where I saw the connection, I was told that I was just theorizing but that was not what got to me. This was the comment that got me in a bad way: “Well, for some of us we’d rather real violence, real physical abuse, is not neglected at the expense of theorizing. Start with that then you can have the luxury to do this.” 

Is theorizing done at the expense of physical suffering?

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4 thoughts on “Theorizing and Violence against women

  1. Becky – I agree with you, obviously. Commodification itself is the violence, a form of abuse that both does and does not enter the realm of the physical (the bodily trading and use of women is physical and readily visible; the psychological cause and ramifications are not as readily visible). But to take a step back and see the importance of theory in relation to practice, I have a few thoughts:

    1) Theory is the question of “how” to counter the “what” of more readily-tangible effects – in this case, we could say: what = physical abuse of women, how = the context, circumstances, and functioning of acts of physical violence, why = what occurs in the human mind that first allows this act to take place.

    To remove the how/why from the equation is to view human experience as a set of actions, done without full consciousness, and therefore without responsibility. To act on action, divorced from cause/theory/why, is behavioral modification reminiscent of training animals to obey, or programming a machine to perform a specific command. That is deeply dehumanizing. It is psychologically and morally violent, an ethics of disregard and devaluation. It makes purpose, agency, and desire inconsequential.

    I suppose the counter-argument might be that activism should be concerned with improving people’s lives, decreasing suffering, and without the physical body, there is no psychology/mind/desire to speak of. I would say a dose of psychoanalytical thinking is in order at this point, to point out how actually our bodies and minds are not separate nor hierarchical, but rather completely interdependent. Body and mind desire, and body and mind experience violence and oppression and abuse. They map onto each other. If we take seriously the human as our object of concern in these activist efforts, we have to take the full human, not just one part.

    2) I have given away my hand a little already – to me, the question of “Is theorizing done at the expense of physical suffering?” is itself a false one. This question has separated theory (mind) from suffering (body). If we work with these parameters to begin with, we proceed toward a point of human-as-animal, without consciousness and consequence. Or else we move toward that tired mind-over-body paradigm, which is a privileged and delusional view of human experience – and which, it seems, your friend is so devoted to combatting.

    3) Theory is not an empty academic practice from a position of that mind-over-body privilege. Or rather, it should not be. The Marxist dichotomization of theory vs. praxis has a lot to answer for in this regard, I think (i.e. “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.” -Theses on Feuerbach).

    Theory is itself a changing of the world – the psychological landscape onto which our physical reality maps, as that’s how we (in our minds) interpret and understand our contact with the world (through our bodies/senses). Theory is cognizance of “what am I doing?” and “why am I doing it?” – and from there (and only from there, I might argue) “how may I change what I am doing?” in a conscientiously, humanely manner.

    Didn’t mean for this comment to be quite so long, but yeah. I’ve been having this same argument with people for years now, and it only bothers me more as time goes on that we are trained by biopolitical ethics to think as we do re: this false dichotomy of body/mind.

    Reducing suffering is the holy grail of all activism, I’d like to think, in whatever form. But the flip side of reducing suffering must be respecting desire, and to respect desire we have to respect the human in total. Without that, we’re only reproducing systems of thought that slip too easily into dehumanization, exclusion, and very, very tangible violence.

    • June, can I send this to my friend?

      Actually, let me just give him the link to this and tell him to read the comment. 🙂

      • Go ahead. 🙂

        And a sort of post-script thought: forms of activism should not be thought of as coming at one another’s “expense”. I mean, it makes sense that we do not have infinite time to do everything, and we choose what to focus on/do. But one person choosing to do one thing does not invalidate all other forms of activism, because others can take those up. It’s a sort of…specialization (I hate this word but let’s use it for now) of labor, on the individual level, that allows us to be intersectional, as a collective. I guess what I’m saying is that there are personal priorities, in terms of activism, but there is no absolute priority for “what activists should be doing”. Theorizing, and academic/psychological intervention, is simultaneous with legal/physical intervention.

  2. Pingback: #MoreFeministThanCosmo | Girlpower

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