Earlier this year I criticised the decreasingly radical Green Left Weekly for echoing the conservatives’ claims about the “underlying causes of domestic violence” (see Letters, DA #8). It seems from GLW’s latest article on domestic violence (“Poverty, domestic violence: Women bearing brunt of economic crisis”, GLW #815) that it still believes that “the social basis of violence against women” is “unemployment, insecurity, poverty, disadvantage and women’s financial dependence on male partners”, and/or women having a male partner who has himself experienced recent employment problems.
The GLW #777 editorial I had earlier criticised overlooked the existence of women’s oppression and, particularly, the role played by the family unit, other capitalist institutions and corporate media in encouraging sexist attitudes and hence misogynist violence. GLW’s latest article on domestic violence (DV) continues in a similar vein. While the article mentions “sexist social attitudes” in its last sentence, it at no stage attributes these as a direct cause of DV. And women’s socially-prescribed role as unpaid caregivers is, for GLW, merely significant in that it impedes women’s financial independence.
The article’s author, Resistance national coordinator Jess Moore, lists some very serious statistics on DV. She comments that recent US studies have shown “a strong link between financial stress and domestic violence” and that “women whose male partners experienced two or more periods of unemployment over five years were three times more likely to be abused”. This is important information, and it helps feminists demonstrate the urgency of a major increase in funding of programs dealing with many aspects of DV.
But the statistics don’t prove what Moore claims they do. Of course, “poverty” and “disadvantage” aggravate the incidence of DV, but they don’t explain why most of its victims are women and children. Let’s face it, if poverty and disadvantage caused DV, then the majority of perpetrators would be women. But they are not.
We need to be clear about the difference between actual causes and aggravating factors. What GLW does not recognise is that the largely sexist nature of DV is a result of cross-class women’s oppression. While “women’s lack of financial independence” certainly makes it harder for some women to escape violent situations, that does not make it a cause of these situations. It can in fact be an effect, as abusive men often attempt to deter their spouses from leaving by manipulating them into limiting their social and employment activity, causing social isolation and loss of independence.
Another tactic is creating the fear that children and pets will be harmed or kept from DV survivors if they leave. Leaving is not always a completely-effective solution — Australian Social Trends, 2007 noted that in 2005, 25% of women separated from a partner who had been physically abusive towards them “reported that they had experienced violence from their partner during the temporary separation”. It’s also quite obvious that leaving one’s home can itself be a cause of financial problems.
Capitalism (not simply “poverty”) tries to deny solidarity among working people as a solution to our problems (as that denial helps keep the capitalists in power). This lack of solidarity, promoted through sexism, racism, nationalism, homophobia, the competitive pitting of individual against individual, etc., is a major cause of violence, rather than “poverty” and “unemployment” per se. Although Moore advocates “collective opposition to attacks on women’s rights” as the solution, her confusion about this aspect of women’s oppression leaves her implicit conclusion as advocating that all society should work together to improve women’s finances. Not only is this a misunderstanding of the causes of DV, it misses the point that not all of society has an interest in doing that. The capitalists’ basic interest is in maximising their profits, not human rights (which is why capitalist governments support capitalists, not women’s services, whenever they can).
Women will always be oppressed and have inferior conditions of employment under capitalism, just as capitalism will always reinforce misogyny. This does not mean that the fight for women’s rights can be delayed until the overthrow of capitalism. Through this fight, feminists and our allies increase our collective political understanding and strength. And understanding the problem through the right lens is vital. Liberal ideology leaves people recognising the links between problems (say, sexism, poverty and violence), without understanding the causal relationship between them. By contrast, Marxism (scientific socialism) gives us the ability to correctly identify causes, effects and the social forces with the potential for radical progressive change, empowering us with a fighting framework.