By Hannah Hilditch
[Trigger warning: this post contains material about sexual and emotional violence]
Gender-based violence (GBV) can be defined as a harmful act that is perpetrated against a person’s will. It can involve sexual violence, physical violence, emotional violence, or harmful traditional practices such as child marriage or FGM. It is based on socially ascribed differences between males and females, and the majority of survivors of GBV have fallen victim to deeply entrenched patriarchal beliefs that lead to a sentiment of girls and womxn’s subordination to men. During COVID-19 and with nearly half the world population being in lock-down, unsurprisingly there has been a global rise in the number of gender-based violence acts. And, due to COVID restrictions in the recent months, shelters have been unable to take in more people. Globally 234 million girls and women aged between 15 and 49 have been subjected to sexual or physical violence by an intimate partner in the previous 12 months. Statistically, one of the most dangerous places a woman can be is her home.
Ironically, this is where she* is meant to feel safest, she is meant to feel protected, she is meant to feel secure. It is imaginable that because of the current restrictions of freedom, and being trapped indoors in potentially cramped conditions, that the rates of domestic violence are predicted to have risen significantly. Of course, the official statistics may not mirror this intuitive rise due to the fact that being left indoors in tight confines can mean that women, or men, are unable to call helplines or the police. So what is it about feeling trapped indoors that is likely to have caused this trend? Our freedoms that we have so readily and obliviously exercised each day have been slashed, and the simple act of even going to the supermarket, became the sole outing of the day. The ability to see and confide with your closest allies and confidents was near impossible and moreover illegal unless they were a neighbour, in which case it was still impossible to fully relinquish the pressures and sufferings that you may be undergoing for fear of someone overhearing. The UK was lucky that the ability to exercise once per day was not forbidden, whereas in other countries even this seemingly basic right was policed and restricted. All of this added to the fact that many have faced further stress due to potential unemployment, isolation and uncertainty. What lies behind closed doors, is often a complete mystery to the outsider. With multiple people acting a spectacular performance to their audience, and yet when the curtain is down, the abuser changes, and crumbles into violence. In her book When I Hit You, Meena Kandasamy describes a similar element of performance, as she falls victim to torrents of violent abuse from her husband: “it is easier to imagine this life in which I am trapped as a film; it is easier to imagine myself as a character”. She describes how becoming an actress in her fictional film set/ world makes everything less painful, less permanent and less real. This complex world of private, secret experiences and silent suffering makes if feel impossible to be able to shed light upon, and the cycle of violence continues. An average of only 40% of women experiencing violence seek help and refuge, an unsurprising figure with regards to the nature of the act. And now more than ever, we must all be aware that asking for help when in tight confines is even more challenging. Philosopher Susan Brison wrote about the importance of reminding people of the realities of GBV on a political level. As a ubiquitous and on-going crime, it is surprising that it is not seen as a politically significant event. Instead, GBV is seen more as an interpersonal and apolitical act in the sense that it is seen as private. It must thus be repositioned as an act in the sphere of on-going politically significant phenomenon. This would change the scope in which GBV, an inescapable, personal and universal crime, is regarded and talked about.
In When I hit you, Kandasamy inserts a poem into the beginning of each chapter. I felt that this one was particularly prevalent in line with what I have discussed regarding performance.
Performance without rehersal.
Body without alterations.
Head without premeditation.
I know nothing of the role I play.
I only know it’s mine. I can’t exchange it.
I have to guess on the spot
Just what this play’s all about.
Ill-prepared from the privilege of living,
I can barely keep up with the pace that the action demands.
I improvise, although I loathe improvisation.