Saturday, April 04, 2009

A fantasy of domestic violence.

Kiera is an actress. Attractive, vivacious and well-liked, she works hard for her money.

At the end of a long day, it's late, she's tired and happy to get away (although not as late as many of the all male crew who have to stay and pack away, prepare for the next day, and close up). She's in such a hurry to leave that she waits until she's driving to take off her makeup. But is she really happy to get away?

Back home in a pristine new block of apartments, all nice, clean glass and pine surfaces, she steps into her place and calls out "Sweetheart?". But then she notices the broken mirror and trail of blood. She doesn't seem surprised and there's no cry of "My God, what happened?!" so we're driven to realize that this is nothing particularly unusual.

Sweetheart comes around the corner and looks at her. He's bleeding from his right hand, she notes he's hurt and hands him a rag. He says something about her being in a leading role and asks if it feels real. "Gentle heart, please" she says "it's my job", and he throws the rag in her face.

Bizarrely, she turns and looks at you and says "Sorry, we didn't agree to that, that wasn't in the script". What? But before we're given the chance to figure out what's going on, he hits her, with his open left hand, knocking her to the floor, where her cheek is already bleeding - it could be his blood, but we're clearly meant to think it's hers, so we'll just go with that and assume he must have been holding a weapon. "Please, I didn't agree to this!" she cries and shrieks as he pulls her hair, and then starts kicking her.

The camera pulls back, and we see that the kitchen where he kicks and kicks her is actually a TV set, but the kicking goes on and on as fantasy blends with reality and the tagline "isn't it time someone called cut?" appears before a cut to black.

Well, yes, it is time someone called cut, because this little vignette has about as much to do with reality as CSI or Doctor Who. What is the point? It is an ad for the "women's aid" charity in the UK - they want you to spend 2 pounds a month on them to help them stop "two women a week" from dying from domestic violence. I'm willing to bet a lot more than 2 pounds a month that none of those 104 women a year are even remotely like Kiera Knightley.

I know for sure that the unknown number of men who die at the hands of their partner every year are nothing at all like her.

The aching irony of the tagline is clearly unintentional. It really is time someone called "cut" on this kind of thing. Domestic violence is hardly ever, perhaps never, very much like this. Yes, there are deeply disturbed, controlling men and women out there, and yes, there are purely innocent victims who keep coming back to them and martyring themselves to their problems, doing nothing to provoke them and barely making any protest at all as they're used as a punchbag time and time again.

That is the fantasy, anyway. It is the TV studio's conception of domestic violence - malignant, inhuman perpetrator and innocent helpless victim - aided and abetted by those who would sell this strawman to us so they can continue to fight their already over-financed crusade against it. Because anyone who's had any contact at all with real human interpersonal problems knows that it is a blatant, even criminal misrepresentation of reality. Grossly simplistic, it is nothing more than cynical manipulation of a gullible public.

"There is no excuse for domestic violence" is one of those phrases that sounds good, but says nothing. Like "in the best interests of the children", it is a magic incantation which allows you to do anything at all to the designated scapegoat, starting with dehumanizing stereotyping and caricaturing, moving to demonizing and then finally locking him away in a real or metaphorical jail built from an imposed idea of what actually happened and which probably has very little to do with reality.

Any woman identifying with Keira Knightley in that ad clearly has only a very tenuous grasp of reality anyway. I'm sorry girls, but the bitter truth is that not many of you look very much like her, even after you've spent hours making yourself over (moreover, I'm not sure I'd want you to). Likewise, how often does your boyfriend make an unprovoked, brutal attack against you like that? Most likely, he's never done more than yell at you, possibly pushed you away, as you yelled at him. But no worries, that's enough for you to count yourself one of the one in four British women who will supposedly suffer domestic violence. Feel free to quote the number without citation, everyone else does.

No man is going to consciously identify with the interestingly faceless aggressor in the ad. (His facelessness is a dead giveaway, he doesn't really exist.) More likely any reasonably normal man will feel his protective juices rising and, if he were there, look for ways to stop the attack on Keira. But a man's protective urges are always double-edged, based, as they inevitably are, on a deep-down realization of his own potential for violence. Thus, should anyone see something of themselves in him, it is probably with some considerable amount of internal cringing, unless he happens to be psychopathic. But a smart psychopath would probably be much more devious than that and a dumb one much more obvious to everyone.

The same, by the way, would go for women, if the roles are ever reversed.

But we're not supposed to identify with Keira or her attacker. We're the audience, on the outside, looking in, not part of this problem. We're supposed to get all generously protective of her and hand money to people who hopefully, but by and large probably don't, have a more sophisticated idea of what really goes on in a conflictive relationship.

In the meantime, the same old stereotyped, caricatured, criminally simplistic message gets peddled to the gullible public, reinforcing their prejudices of domestic violence and building up their approval of a society which pillories a man at the merest hint from a woman that he might be less than perfect, handing her the perfect weapon with which to control and abuse him.

Monday, March 30, 2009

An incomplete meditation on good and evil, innocence and wisdom

Wisdom and innocence are incompatible. Innocence implies ignorance of evil. Wisdom implies knowledge of it. To be knowledgeable of evil, one must have either taken part in it or been its victim. Knowledge of evil cannot be theoretical, or it is not properly understood, only suspected.

Understanding of evil does not imply power to control it - as one can understand the laws of physics, one nevertheless cannot control them, one is only beholden to them. To understand evil does not mean that one has the power to defeat it, or bend it to one's own will. The most that one can hope to achieve is to manage its effects, either by limiting them or taking advantage of them. Clearly good lies in limiting evil's effects and evil in encouraging them.

Claims to wisdom are suspect. To claim to be wise is to presume to know what one does not know. The core of wisdom is recognition of ignorance. Wisdom is aspired to, not possessed.

Innocence is inevitably surprised by evil. Because an innocent does not know evil he or she cannot recognize its advance. Evil is known by its intentions and its effects. An innocent, once exposed to evil, is contaminated by it, and no longer innocent. Lack of innocence implies guilt. Wisdom implies guilt.

Guilt does not imply evil. Evil is celebration of guilt. Good is not so seduced. Good knows guilt and regrets it.

Just as innocence is ignorant of evil, it is also ignorant of good. As such, innocence is only potentially good, or evil. Innocence must be lost to achieve that potential, or stain. One must suffer the effects of evil, or taste it and reject it, in order to become good.

Good and evil are subtle. Both seem to disappear under close inspection, leaving nothing to identify one way or the other. Good and evil are not objectively real, they are not identifiable substances. As such, they are vulnerable to claims of the supernatural, but that is no more than an appeal to maintain ignorance. To choose to remain ignorant of evil is to give it free rein. To choose to remain ignorant of good is to betray it.

It may be more difficult to understand and identify good than evil.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Semper Fi

I once heard it said that women do not have the same sense of honor as do men. It has been too many years for me to remember who said it or in what context, but it has stuck with me. That is not to say that I think it is necessarily true. Too often claims like that are interpreted to mean all women and all men and it does not define what is meant by honor, a quality which is itself very much open to interpretation.

With all that spineless qualification said, however, I now find it quite plain that western society does not hold women to the same level of honorable behavior as it does men. Yes, I am fully aware that this statement can be read in two ways. I feel secure enough in the claim to make it without reservation and rarely do we see it as plainly demonstrated as here: Marine free after conviction tossed out.

Embroiled in a nasty divorce and custody case, a man's wife claimed he "spousal-raped" her some years before. Despite an apparent complete lack of evidence, he went to jail for 17 years of which he served ten before the appeals court finally got around to reviewing the case and kicking it out. The only real novelty here is that the whole thing was before a military court because the man was and is a US marine.

A number of points leap out at me:

- Sergeant Brian Foster appears to bear no grudge against the system which, on the word of a completely unreliable accuser, took away ten years of his life. Far from it, he appears to see this as a success in that the military court eventually pulled its finger out and did the right thing. I guess this all depends on your degree of indoctrination, or what you are comparing against.

- An army prosecutor declared this to be "a black eye for the military justice system". A man loses ten years of his life and the "system" gets a black eye. Clearly, this was not a fair fight.

- This was a military court, so my guess is that the vast majority of the people involved were men. One can hardly claim, as is so often the case, that the "patriarchy" was looking after its own. Quite the reverse, in fact. The powers that be tore their victim to shreds and tried to forget about him. Was this a blatant case of scapegoating in an atmosphere of hysteria against the "rapist" male? Are we talking about a bunch of testosterone-laden men wound up to destroy one of their own by a manipulative woman? Is, in point of fact, the "patriarchy" actually the opposite of what it is supposed to be - more destructive to non-alpha males, who are inevitably the majority, than to any woman?

- The mother has lived nowhere near Fort Leavenworth, where Foster was jailed, nor Texas, where his parents live. There is no mention in the entire article as to whether Foster has even spoken to his boys during his incarceration. Indeed, no-one seems to give a damn that the mother has taken off with the two boys and completely eradicated their father from their lives, they're not even sure where she is. I don't know about you, but I call that child abduction. (Remember, this was a man, a soldier, who fought for custody of his children, not someone who wanted to walk away from them.)

- Foster hopes to get back pay, but will be happy to serve as a Marine until his retirement. “The courts," he says, "which I joined the Marine Corps to defend, ultimately made me free. It just took a little bit of time.” Frankly, the military ought to be falling over itself to give him whatever he wants.

By the way...

I have been quiet for a while. A number of anniversaries have passed. I have still not seen my son. Life goes on. I distract myself as I can. Perhaps I am a little better able to cope with the ongoing loss, but that does not make it any less of an outrage, nor am I any less committed to whatever I can do to put anything right. Like Foster, I am not fighting a fair fight.

I have received a few comments on my blog recently. Most tragically from a woman who found "How to talk to a disenfranchised father" and who expressed her gratitude for it from a woman in the same shoes. I feel for her because if there is so little compassion for a father who is shut out of his children's lives by the courts, even less will be found for a mother. This may seem odd for an institution so dominated by the idea of mother-as-victim, but the fact is that this system generates invisible victims in the form of non-custodial parents, whether fathers or mothers, at the behest of vindictive custodial parents, all in the name of protecting a meaningless concept labeled "the best interests of the child".

I've also gotten some flames, particularly and unsurprisingly, in "Feminist-bashing, a rant". I don't publish these comments in fair trade for the typical feminist's blog's inability to suffer dissent either. Nevertheless, there is a common thread in that the commentary is typically an ad hominem attack from someone who is not interested to understand my point of view and hasn't noticed that the posting is a carefully constructed point-by-point reply to a newspaper article on feminism. More pointedly expressed, the article is a long whinge from a feminist and my reply an extended "quit whining!" exhortation to grow up and out of it. Fair's fair grrlz, you complain unreasonably, you get flamed.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Judge not...

I love it when this happens - two news sources giving very different views on the same topic and between them being embarrassingly and inadvertently revealing of what's really going on. With a little careful cross-examination and cynical spin, quite a different picture can emerge.

Let's start with the BBC, who report on a review of why "so few female" lawyers become judges (guess the author's gender). At first blush, we hear that it's because of the culture of "male self-confidence and intellectual posturing." Gosh, isn't that awful? All those horrible old men blustering around and going on about some incomprehensible thing or another. What appalling company, eh?

But, but, waitaminute, isn't self confidence supposed to be a virtue? And "intellectual posturing" sounds a lot like sour grapes from someone who can't understand what's going on. Perhaps something lies behind the eye of the beholder, such as insecurity, maybe, and a nagging suspicion that she's not smart enough?

The piece goes on to suggest all that this dreadful self-confidence and general intelligence will remain "until there are sufficient women appointed to change the look of the environment".

Neurosis and a bit of dumbing down is what they need. Call in the women!

Hey, they said it, I just read between the lines.

But, just a moment, what is it they want to change? "The look of the environment"? Not the environment itself, just what it looks like? They're quite happy with the furniture, they just don't like the color of the wallpaper? Very profound, I'm sure.

This is, of course, all so much fluff and I suppose we should be grateful that the BBC still has just enough journalistic integrity to report on the real story, albeit right at the end of the article when they've already got you all scandalized about all the horrible men who're keeping women out by being all smart and sure of themselves, 'n'all.

It seems that it's altogether too much work. I mean, you have to travel, sometimes you can't have dinner at home and, well, let's get to the root of it: there's no money in it.

Yup. Cold hard cash and lots of fun, that's what counts.

One female Queen's Counsel (fancy name for a lawyer) revealed the true depths of the issue: "It's a very jolly life NOT being a judge. Getting loads of money, making jokes and doing really interesting work." Yes, she's just having oodles of fun screwing her clients out of their fees. What a jape, eh?

But I said there were two articles, did I not? Let's flip on over to the Telegraph where we are imparted the wisdom of The Lord Chief of England and Wales, whose name, oh wizard wheeze, get this, is "Lord Judge"! Really, I checked, that's him on the right:

Lord Judge >tee hee< has written about why lawyers in general become senior judges, or not. Apparently his judgment (geddit?) is that they're put off because the profession is "old-fashioned and fustian".

The Telegraph then feels the need to inform us that "fustian" means "pompous and pretentious". Frankly, I think it completely unnecessary to be told what a word means when you can figure it out immediately based on who's saying it and why, but I sniggered anyway.

(Nevertheless, I prefer to think of them as slightly moldy according to the first possibility that sprang to mind - fusty.)

The UK's chief old fashioned, fusty old fart thinks that lawyers of unspecified gender don't want to be judges because, well, then they'd be old fashioned and fusty. That's a little different from the self-confidence and intellect that the women are supposedly bothered by, but OK, whatever.

Lord Judge (!) protests, however, that he and his fellow judges aren't old fashioned and fusty at all! No, they're mostly young, strapping chaps in their 50s and 60s and quite a lovely bunch of chums. Actually, he said, "warm collegiate support", but I thought that a little, er, fustian for this blog.

In spite of their terrible reputation, he did come up with one reason why people want to become High Court judges, namely they get to be called Lord Wotsit or Dame Thingummy, which has got to be worth some respect, eh, bro? Yo, man, 'n'all. You be pwned by my Lordiness, lowly peasant.

Actually, he didn't say any of that last bit, but I just know he was thinking it. Wouldn't you if your name was Lord Judge?

But the Telegraph are really no better than the BBC about getting to the point which, again, is moolah. That and the fact that it's actual work.

Once more, it's left to the women to sum it up. Having complained about losing her dough, one woman deeply committed to the practice of law says: "The idea of spending the next 15 years of my life being a High Court judge doing rubbish work is frankly too depressing to contemplate."

"Rubbish work"? Helping define the law of the land and develop some actual justice is "rubbish work"? I despair for this nation.

You know, lawyers are quick to complain that they're the butt of a lot of unfriendly jokes, but let's face it, a awful lot of them do themselves absolutely no favors at all.

Interestingly, the Telegraph's final sentence speaks volumes - those lawyers who're on their 2nd or 3rd marriages find it especially difficult responding to the call of duty (or a peerage). As you sew, so shall you reap.