Tuesday, August 28, 2007

If it works, does it still suck?

Today I witnessed a plea to help fund aid to victims of domestic abuse that really rubbed me the wrong way. The woman, I’ll call her Ms. Precious, spoke without notes from a memorized speech. She smiled a lot and made sure to make eye contact with all parts of the room. She had poise, was well-groomed, was the perfect little speaker.

She talked about her first job, making malts at a drive-in. Ms Precious learned her job from an older woman who also worked there. I’ll call this woman Ruby. Ruby was very kind. The more they worked together, the more supportive Ruby became and Ms. Precious began to see her as a mentor. When Ms. Precious finished a five-mile race by remembering how much Ruby supported her and hearing Ruby’s voice in her head telling her she could finish, she couldn’t wait to see Ruby again.

But when she got back to work, Ruby did not show up. So Ms. Precious figured she’d see her next time she worked or the time after that. But a few days went by, and still Ruby did not show up.

Finally, Ms. Precious was told the reason Ruby had not come to work. Ruby had been murdered by her abusive husband.

Ms. Precious attended the funeral and looked into the casket. Ms. Precious said, "That’s not Ruby!" She said this not only because she didn’t want to believe Ruby was gone, but also because Ruby’s face was so bruised and swollen that she was unrecognizable. Ms. Precious cried and cried at the loss of her friend and mentor. Ms. Precious looked at Ruby’s swollen eyes and realized Ruby had seen the horror that eyes should never have to see.

Later, Ms. Precious began to volunteer at a shelter for women escaping abuse. Ms. Precious learned a lot more about the horrible reality that is domestic violence. Ms. Precious became a spokesperson for the shelter and began speaking and raising money for the shelter. During one stop she met a little girl, I’ll call her Stacey, and really made a connection. They exchanged addresses and agreed to keep in touch.

Then one day Ms. Precious heard some horrible news. Stacey’s father had come home with a gun. He had shot Stacey’s mother and then shot himself. Stacey was lying in the same bed as her mother when this happened. You see, Stacey’s eyes had seen the horror that eyes should never have to see.

Ms. Precious mentioned a few statistics and gave a pitch for more funds. And she ended hoping that we could one day be a world in which no eyes would ever have to see such horror.

It was a pretty little speech, I suppose, and perhaps it had a good effect on some of the people in the crowd. Maybe they opened their checkbooks a little more and dug a little deeper. Maybe it will raise enough money for one more bed for one more woman escaping violence. If so, that’s a good thing, right?

I’m certainly not going to talk about this to other people who were at the same meeting. Maybe I should just ignore the way her talk made me feel. But, you know, fuck that.

First thing, Ms. Fucking Precious, what kind of friend were you to Ruby? It took you several days to find out why she didn’t come to work? I suppose that’s because you never exchanged phone numbers. You never visited her house. You used her as a mentor and a help to fulfill your own goals, but you never once tried to be a friend to her?

Survivors of abuse are some of the nicest and kindest people in the world. We get trained to be that way by our abusers. We get trained to never think for ourselves and to never focus on our own needs. We get taught to give and give and give and never take. We get taught to read the signals and to know when you want attention and when you want to be left alone. We read your moods intensely and constantly. We respond to your needs immediately.

And you didn’t see that. No, Ms. Precious, you are not an abuser and you are not to blame.

But you should have wondered to yourself why Ruby was being so very kind to you and asking absolutely nothing in return. Why did she know you were running a race, that you needed encouragement, that certain words would help you accomplish your goal? But you didn’t have a clue why she wasn’t at work and it took days to find the answer.

And that pretty little world where nobody ever sees violence? Are you really so fucking unaware what a small percentage of people in the world can aspire to that? Do you not understand that most of us see violence all the time and we don’t have a fucking choice?

So rather than hoping for a stupid blind world that does not see any violence, perhaps you should work for a world that does see violence and develops ways to respond effectively. Maybe you can learn something from the Rubys and the Staceys of this world who have seen violence and have not let that kill their amazing spirits.

And Ms. Fucking Precious, with your sick smile and your clueless pipe dreams, perhaps seeing victims of domestic violence as clubbed and helpless baby seals is not exactly respectful. Maybe you could talk about how so many of us have fought back and worked like hell to build a better world.

But maybe not.

Perhaps someone today will open her checkbook and make a bigger contribution because of what you did and said today. And that’s a good thing. One more bed. One more safe space. We need that.

I don’t like your tactics, but I don’t have to. I’m already fighting. You don’t have to convince me.

Plus, I’m probably not going to be effective in speaking to the people who would listen and respond to the message you gave.

So, forgive me, Ms. Precious, for my anger. At least you are trying. Which is more than others might do. Yeah, I’m conflicted. But, you know, you go girl!

10 comments:

belledame222 said...

>Survivors of abuse are some of the nicest and kindest people in the world. We get trained to be that way by our abusers. We get trained to never think for ourselves and to never focus on our own needs. We get taught to give and give and give and never take. We get taught to read the signals and to know when you want attention and when you want to be left alone. We read your moods intensely and constantly. We respond to your needs immediately.

And you didn’t see that. No, Ms. Precious, you are not an abuser and you are not to blame.

But you should have wondered to yourself why Ruby was being so very kind to you and asking absolutely nothing in return...>

-breath-, then:

oh shit. yeah.

Daisy said...

Raven, preach it! I had to listen to one of Ms. Precious' little speeches a few months ago...it irked me bigtime, but I couldn't put my finger on why. I didn't let on that I was irked. But yeah, you have explained it.

And her object-lesson wasn't 'Ruby', as I recall, it was 'Stephanie'! But same patronizing routine.

So, thank you.

Red Jenny said...

Wow. Your post rings so true. Nice to been seen once again as a passive object who has things done to her...

That's my main issue with the charity model in general, actually. Like when I get those envelopes in the mail with skinny african kids with flies on their face and their "story" - that might create a real inflow of well-needed cash, but it simply reinforces westerners view of africans as passive, and unable to care for themselves.

No political context. No stories about the amazing work people do every day for themselves. Just an attempt at horrifying the sensibilities of the privileged so they cough up a few more bucks.

Octogalore said...

Raven, that's definititely a wake-up call.

It's always a red flag (or should be) when a "friendship" is too one-sided. Age/seniority is no excuse for that, and FP appears to have been extremely shortshighted.

Maybe I'm one of those people who do respond to the kind of messages she gives and therefore not the ideal, aware, person who's fighting in the ideal way. Certainly FP wasn't a true friend to Ruby, used her, and didn't adequately represent Ruby's and Stacey's initiative in her discussion. I still view her as getting a lot more involved and caring a lot more than many out there do. As you said, she's trying, and she will likely reach some people.

I guess a reaction I get from this is that activism is a really, really hard thing. Contributing money is not enough, lazy, whatever, and contributing time isn't great either if the message is well meaning and maybe even effective but shortsighted in some ways. "Getting it" seems like a high hurdle.

Maybe it's good for those of us not on the front lines to feel a little shamed for not knowing what the messages we should be responding to are, and for responding to or giving the wrong ones. But so few are even talking or listening at all. I'm not arguing for lowering standards, but wondering if such high ones are productive, I guess...

Ravenmn said...

"I guess a reaction I get from this is that activism is a really, really hard thing. Contributing money is not enough, lazy, whatever, and contributing time isn't great either if the message is well meaning and maybe even effective but shortsighted in some ways. "Getting it" seems like a high hurdle."

Octo, this is so true and explains better what I was trying to say.

She is doing something and her methods will appeal to someone who might not respond to other pleas.

As for learning the signs of abuse, it does take effort and training. I don't really expect everyone to know. But I hope we make a commitment to learn these things.

Like all other kind of "isms", we're constantly be trained to ignore inequality when we are the ones benefitting

BTW, I talked to a couple of people I trust who were there and they both said that the speech was so practiced and badly written that they felt the speaker simply didn't believe what she was saying. She was performing it. So that's another take on the same event.

Red Jenny, welcome to the blog! I love your blog and I'm glad to hear from another marxist feminist!

Octogalore said...

Thanks for the generous response, Raven.

Re the fakeness of delivery -- now, that helps me to understand. If it was clearly coming from the heart and w/the appropriate humility, that's where my reaction would be that we're being harsh. As it was instead half-assed and fake ... ok, makes sense.

You're right -- we need to make an effort, and it's hard to not see it out there. I have a family member who was abused and raped as a child (in another country), and have a friend with a similar past. Many of us probably have these connections and aren't aware of it.

Zan said...

Here's where I'd get confused -- that kindness and encouragement without expecting anything in return? Well, I tend to do that myself and I've never been abused. So, someone like Ruby, who is friendly and encouraging wouldn't register as abused to me unless she was so accomodating she was denying herself things in order to help me. (Like, I don't know, giving me $20 to put gas in my car when it meant she wouldn't have the money to buy her blood pressure medicine or something. Because there are limits to being genuinely nice to others just because it's the right thing to do.)

I'd like to think I'd pick up on it, but honestly I probably wouldn't. (I also wouldn't turn her into a sob story. It seems disrespectful.) Here's the thing, my mother was emotionally and mentally abused by her father as a child. I saw what it did to her. She's in her 50s now and it's only very recently that she's been able to be self-focused. When I was growing up, she just couldn't say no to /anyone/. She wanted so badly for people to like her, to approve of her, to validate her in some way. She had self denial down to an art, even though it made her miserable. (She also succeeded in raising a daughter with very firm boundaries who has no problem telling people No when necessary. Drove her nuts, even when she was proud of me.) So, that kind of 'nice' I can see. But, as someone who has personally never been the object of abuse, I'll admit somethings that are obvious to other people just slip right by me.

Ravenmn said...

Here's where I'd get confused -- that kindness and encouragement without expecting anything in return? Well, I tend to do that myself and I've never been abused.

Welcome, Zan. I've been thinking about your comments. I may be misunderstanding you about this. Are you saying you often engage in unequal relationships with coworkers? And if so, why make that choice? Why not meet your co-workers on a more equal basis?

The way Ms. Precious told her story, which apparently was rather insincere, indicated that she was clueless about Ruby's life. Are you saying you engage with people the same way? And if so, can you explain why you choose this method of interating with others?

Jay said...

Hey~
This is so true. Ms. H. is now working in the DV field and there is just so much wrong that what is right is overlooked and underappreciated and...and...and.
Jay

belledame222 said...

Hey, ravenmn, on a kind of related note, wondering if you've seen this

(i blogged about it, too)