Patriarchy & Abuse

This year, October is National Domestic Abuse Awareness month in the US. On 1st October 2012, Barack Obama issued a Presidential proclamation calling ‘on all Americans to speak out against domestic violence and support local efforts to assist victims of these crimes in finding the help and healing they need.’

Just over a week later, half a world away, the Prime Minister of Australia, Julia Gillard gave an impassioned 15-minute speech in the House of Representatives naming and condemning opposition leader, Tony Abbott’s misogyny.

Ostensibly, these two political acts are unrelated.

On one continent, one leader of a nation noted that ‘Despite considerable progress in reducing domestic violence, an average of three women in the United States lose their lives every day as a result of these unconscionable acts [domestic violence]’. On another continent, another leader of a nation condemned the sexism of the opposition leader’s statement that, perhaps ‘men are by physiology or temperament, more adapted to exercise authority or to issue command?’ One has nothing to do with the other, right?

In one part of the Western world, a President proclaimed October National Domestic Abuse awareness month ‘by virtue of the authority vested in[him] by the Constitution and the laws of the United States’. In another part of the Western world, a Prime Minister of a minority government accused the opposition leader of being ‘big on lectures of responsibility, [but being] very light on accepting responsibility himself for the vile conduct of members of his political party.’ In one part of the Western world, a President was applauded. In another part of the Western world, a Prime Minister was accused of playing the ‘gender card’. One has nothing to do with the other, right?

In the aftermath of the Gillard speech, one of my feminist idols, Australian feminist Eva Cox, noted, “Sure, [Mr] Slipper’s comments were anti-female in the same sense that schoolboy crap is anti-female. It makes one doubt his judgment, but whether they were deep indicators of sexism is another issue,” Ms Cox said. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m not grieving the fact that Peter Slipper is gone. To put it mildly, he was a dickhead. But this trivial name-calling is distracting from other issues.”

Reading Cox’s comments, I took pause, for a moment. After all, Cox’s point about focusing on the more important issues affecting women in our society rather than trivial name-calling (albeit whilst labelling Slipper a dick-head in the same breath) was a valid one. In one nation, a Presidential proclamation pronounced October to be a month for acknowledging the senseless deaths of women and children due to domestic violence. In another nation, fifteen minutes of Parliamentary time was dedicated to naming and condemning what Cox describes as ‘schoolboy crap’.

However, as I reflected on the furore over Gillard’s speech and the US women’s site Jezebel paying homage to Ms. Gillard by calling her “one badass mother—-er”, I started to peruse debates on my twitter site by feminists as to whether Julia Gillard should have used the word ‘misogyny’ or ‘sexism’ and I came to a conclusion that we are really all asking the wrong question. And that’s what Julia Gillard’s speech and the Presidential proclamation of a month to raise awareness of domestic violence really have in common. Patriarchy still matters.

We live in a world, where the leader of a Western nation has to contend with a man telling her to make an ‘honest woman of herself’. We live in a world, where one in three women will be subjected to domestic violence. We live in a world where a woman trying to do her job as the Prime Minister of Australia is denigrated on the basis of her gender. So, why should it surprise us that in Australia ‘In 2009 – 2010, 21% of all complaints to the Australian Human Rights Commission were under the Sex Discrimination Act, and 88% of those complaints related to sex discrimination in the workplace.’ These things have nothing to do with each other, right?

So, whilst we argue about what brand of patriarchy matters and which flavour of sexism we should be resisting and what we should just let slide, three women in the United States die at the hands of their partners every day. In Australia – another country, another world away, 55% of all female homicides are perpetrated by intimate partners. In the process of arguing about what constitutes ‘misogyny’ or ‘sexism’ and which aspects of a deeply sexist society predispose women to experience domestic violence, women are dying. We shy away from the term ‘female genocide’ because there is no army perpetrating this violence (as if patriarchy would need one!) But all these things have nothing to do with each other, right?

In one nation, a President – perhaps with some measure of desperation – calls for national attention to be directed towards the victims of domestic violence in October. In another nation, a Prime Minister is called ‘a cow.’ But these things have nothing to do with each other, right?

Words by Danielle Neves. Danielle is the author of “Crazy Bitch: A Portrait of Domestic Violence”. She has drawn on her experiences as a domestic violence advocate in writing her first novel. It is available from selected bookshops, including Dymocks and Co-op Bookshop in Australia and online from, amongst other places, the likes of Amazon.