Horrible prisons of narrative

The Independent (sic) Women’s Forum[their FAQ] [counterview] in the US have been garnering much attention for their reactionary “Take Back the Date” campaign, a Valentine’s Day activist response to the horribly unromantic V-day campaigns in the States that aim to reduce the level of violence against women. They don’t like the way that people drawing attention to the reality of women getting bashed, raped and killed harshes the buzz of their romantic fantasies.

Kim at Larvatus Prodeo posted a summary and some links to other posts and then in the very interesting ensuing discussion posted this comment:

The elephant in the room with domestic violence (and date rape and violence) is all the myths that exist about men protecting women from the big bad outside. Whatever demon that may be. The stats are still terrifying. Most rapes and murders are not by random strangers but by men against women within intimate and family relationships. It’s in everyone’s interest to deal with this – men’s too. As Ann says in her column, there’s this myth embedded in all the sweet stories of romance and nostalgia for datin’ and courtin’ that men are wild beasts and women must draw the line. If they don’t, they’re sluts and deserve what they get. It’s totally in men’s interests too to break out of these horrible prisons of narrative about what does and doesn’t constitute lerve.

This is the huge problem in moving beyond traditional gender roles: those prisons of narrative. Narratives not only about the nature of “lerve” but about expectations of who does what, who earns more, who makes decisions, who does the housework and childcare, who wears crippling shoes for an “evening out” and who is expected to “have a sense of humour” about stereotypical “jokes”. Pushing the counternarrative of egalitarian relationships out into the wider culture is always getting derailed into new narrative prisons of castrating “feminazis” and emasculated “manginas” (I really hate that one), rendering all gender relations down into a suffocating view who can (and should) prong who.

A few people lately have been talking about paid (and unpaid) parental leave for both men and women: that existing (where they do exist) paid provisions for women should remain, be universalised and be extended to men, and both parents should have the option of taking blocs of unpaid leave during an infant’s first two years.

  • The benefit for both parents in being able to maximise the bonds that only actual time spent with their children during the strongest attachment-building phase would be enormous.
  • Men especially would not have the heartbreak of missing nearly all of the developmental milestone firsts and having to settle for “show daddy what you can do now” secondhandness.
  • The career “mommy-gap” would be equalised: not only would both partners stay on par with each other in terms of career-stage and superannuation contributions, but employers would no longer “know” that women are going to leave when they become parents but men aren’t.
  • Women would be more secure in their financial stability in the event of losing a partner, and men would feel less of the “breadwinner” burden: the feeling that the family’s security rests entirely on their shoulders.

That’s just off the top of my head: one simple legislative change that would benefit men and women enormously and move beyond the old single-breadwinner model which is further and further from most people’s reality. There must be more simple but profound changes which could be agitated for which would usher in a more widely held expectation of more genuinely egalitarian partnerships.

Categories: gender & feminism, relationships

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4 replies

  1. Interesting post – I very much agree with you about the prison of narrative.
    I’m afraid I don’t hold out great hope for your legislative change making that much difference – at least of itself, anyway. Right now unpaid parental leave is almost gender neutral – either parent can take it in the first year of life, and while the mother generally takes it first, there’s nothing to stop the father taking the section six months.
    And both companies I’ve worked for with paid maternity leave also make paid paternity leave available as long as there is no maternity leave being taken at the same time.
    The takeup is still (anecdotally in my experience) at least 95% female.

  2. Interesting, Jennifer. Are those parental leave provisions across the board in all States?
    I think the only way things will change is if parental leave can be taken for the first two years of a child’s life, but each parent can only take twelve months total, however that is organised.

  3. No disagreements here.
    Don’t believe those narratives aren’t laid down in part in high school when the big violent guys start attracting all the girls. There’s a very clear strong narrative dictated at that point, which most men take on board until it is imprinted on their lobes as well as any dna could manage.
    Hero worship of rugby players says the same thing. Violence and power through physical strength are very closely intertwined and the idea that behaviours or body types that signify violence can be worshipped but at the same time violence will disappear is just wrong, in my view.
    I don’t get violence towards women, indeed towards anyone who isn’t posing a direct physical threat to oneself or loved ones. It just isn’t an impulse I feel, and I think it’s disgusting and cowardly. Perps should be locked up- if not punitively then somewhere they can be counselled and treated.

  4. Hi all!

    Note from Moderator: Hello yourself, and welcome to the moderation list.

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