[Leslie Carol Botha: Barry Goldstein, nationally recognized domestic violence expert, speaker, writer and consultant has penned a poignant article that every Republican – and Democrat – for that matter should read.]
Goldstein is the co-editor with Mo Therese Hannah of DOMESTIC VIOLENCE, ABUSE and CHILD CUSTODY.
Peaceable Response to the War against Women
Mitt Romney, the leading candidate for the Republican nomination for President and Reince Priebus recently attacked complaints that Republican leaders are conducting a war against women. They claimed that President Obama was twisting their words and deeds and there is no factual basis for complaints that the Republican Party supports policies and practices that hurt women. I have deliberately sought to avoid discussion of issues that involve partisan differences between the parties in my articles because I would hope ending domestic violence would be a non-partisan issue and protective mothers need the support of both parties to create the needed reforms. I feel compelled to write about the war against women because it is so related to domestic violence, but I hope to discuss it in a way that sheds more light than heat.
Sexism is critical to the discussion of domestic violence because it causes men to abuse their partners based on a sense of entitlement and superiority. It promotes many other practices and policies that mistreat women such as the issues that led to discussion of the Republican war on women. Most people become deeply insulted and angered when called sexist, but most sexism is far more subtle than the over-the-top hateful comments recently made by Rush Limbaugh. Good and caring men engage in sexist behavior, often without realizing they are doing so. I would urge Republican leaders, as well as Democrats and independents to avoid the normal defensiveness in responding to accusations of sexist behavior.
Instructors at the New York Model Batterer Program where I teach receive ninety minutes of training every week. Almost inevitably, male instructors, and sometimes also female instructors, say or do something sexist. The staff or other instructors explain that what they did was sexist. The normal response, particularly from newer instructors is to try to explain or suggest a misunderstanding. We ask the instructors to sit and listen and try to understand why someone says it was sexist because it almost always was. We consider this process of informing an instructor of his sexist behavior as a gift because it is hard in this society to say this to anyone. It is important to respond in a way that encourages colleagues to share this important information with us.
As part of this process, I have heard many things that made me uncomfortable. I needed to recognize my sexism, racism and other unearned privileges in order to work to change my behaviors. I wish the Republican leadership could understand the criticism of their war on women as a gift that should encourage them to consider the harm they are causing instead of defensive justifications and renewed attacks.
When we speak about oppressions, the experts are members of the group that is disadvantaged by that oppression. Women living with an abuser pay very close attention to his tone of voice, words, body language and other indications of his attitude in order to gain some advance warning of danger. They do this as a matter of survival and men do not need to pay similar attention because they are not at risk. When men in the batterer program or court professionals claim that men know as much about domestic violence as women, it is because they do not understand this fundamental dynamic. I believe it was significant that Republican Congressional Leaders held a hearing about contraception in which only men listened to only men. This is an example in which the damage they did to their reputation was self-inflicted and belies later claims by Republican leaders that their political problem was caused by unfair coverage or Democratic criticisms.