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When I Hit You by Meena Kandasamy – a review

Author:
when i hit you

By Anna Hill

Content warnings: domestic and sexual violence

When I Hit You by Meena Kandasamy is the first book I’ve read from the Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist this year (you can see the whole longlist and the newly released shortlist here), and it has certainly set a high standard.

I’ve never read anything from Kandasamy before but after reading this I will be picking up her other works. I originally heard about When I Hit You when it was being talked about last year with its full title When I Hit You: Or, A Portrait of the Writer as a Young Wife. I was really drawn to it because women, writing, and survival all interest me. The book has a pretty simple plot; it’s about a young wife leaving her marriage with an abusive leftist man. As a survivor of sexual violence I always struggle to figure out if I want to read things that I know will contain some traumatic experiences similar to my own because I’m searching for other ways to explore, survive, and escape from my own life, or out of a place of self destruction – out of an impulse to consume media that I know will be triggering for me. But the way this novel sets itself up – saying from the beginning that the unnamed main character gets out of her marriage – allowed me to read, and even enjoy, the narrative, and to find a kind of sisterhood within the pages, despite our very different experiences.

The reading experience, far from triggering me, was actually surprising, at points funny, and ultimately hopeful. The tone of the novel was something I was absolutely not expecting: it’s this clear-sighted voice, which at times is poetic and at others has a kind of astute dry humour. In part it was the tone of this novel that allowed me to read it, and to read it as fast as I did. There are these accurate, painfully funny moments scattered throughout the entire novel. The opening can provide some kind of glimpse into the irreverence of the narrator and the way she creates in-jokes between her and the reader; when talking about how her mother retells her escape she notes that, “this is how my story of Young Woman as a Runaway Daughter became, in effect, the great battle of My Mother versus the Head Lice”.

As the subtitle would suggest, this book is not just one about domestic violence, it’s also about the act of writing itself and the way that fiction and stories can help you escape. The narrator thinks during an episode of violence from her husband that “I just have to wait for this to end and I can write again”. The instruments of fiction allow an escape from the abuse which is such a relatable impulse, and a really interesting one. Kandasamy is so eloquent about the way that writing your own story and crafting a narrative is an empowering and sometimes life-saving tool, with the young wife talking about her impulse to survive as her “restless urge to tell a story”. This desperate wish propels her out of the pain, and offers her a balm. When she is writing a poem about the situation she says “the poem is the healing, I tell him. It’s by writing this that I can get over it.”

Another aspect of the book that I wasn’t expecting was the way it ruthlessly presents men on the left’s deep misogyny and “distilled hypocrisy”. The abusive husband at one point writes a poem which articulates the horrendous and almost laughable approach to violence against women that they have:

When I hit you,

Comrade Lenin weeps.”

Like so many Leftist men he uses left ideologies as “a cover for his own sadism” – always presuming his own integrity is superior, his own violence is called for – “in this marriage in which I’m beaten, he is the poet”. Later on, the novel covers the difficulty in calling out abusive political men and how consistently people ask you to find kind things to say about abusers. When I Hit You exposes some of the ways that the left wing specifically (but also people in general) facilitate and allow domestic and sexual violence against women – and how it refuses to genuinely listen to women alongside feminist critique.

The novel intensely and clearly debunks myths about victim blaming throughout; why and how women stay in abusive relationships, who is vulnerable to abuse, and even how abuse is underplayed and how the outside world (and language itself) refuses to intervene. In my paperback copy of When I Hit You, one of the reviews of the novel is included at the back, and I’d like to end my review by sharing some of it. The review is formatted as a list of people who should read the book and this is part of number three:

Women who have escaped or those who need to know they have a right to”

This is such a kind book to us. Kandasamy’s affectionate concern for her fellow survivors triumphs over any editorial demands of explicit sensationalism. Trigger warnings are folded in gently at the beginning; I was married to a rapist, he beat me, I left and am living still. This is not the kind of binary story that says the only acceptable survival is escape or death – every tiny rebellion, every pragmatic compromise is documented, meticulously, as the victory it is. Kandasamy understands that winning sometimes looks like just coping.

(emphasis mine)                          

In case you do want to read this and you’re a survivor, as this review and the quoted one covers there’s obviously a general warning for the whole book of domestic violence. More specifically (in the paperback version) there is a mention of sexual violence against the narrator as a child on page 60 and intense description of rape from page 163 in depth for about 20 pages. Please do take care and remember that you don’t have to finish the book if you can’t!

“Probably Just” – a poem by Jane Atoms

Author:
selflove

Content note: Domestic violence, partner violence

My mother says, “I know you can do better”
But she probably just doesn’t like the way you look.
Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

My sister says, “He wouldn’t be a responsible father”
But she probably just thinks you party too hard.
Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

My grandma says, “Are you sure he’s the one?”
But she probably just thinks you’re too poor.
Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

My best friend says, “You need to choose yourself first”
But she’s probably just jealous, and wishes you were hers.
Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

Your sister says, “Be careful with him”
But she probably just thinks her brother can do better.
Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

Your ex says, “Don’t believe him, he’ll cheat on you too”.
But she probably just hasn’t gotten over you leaving her for me.
Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

My neighbor says, “Are you sure you’re safe?”
But she probably just doesn’t like to hear our kinky sex.
Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

My therapist says, “It’s your childhood abandonment issues”
But she’s probably just projecting her own trauma.
Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

My gynecologist says, “Reproductive choice is your right”
But she probably just thinks I’m too young to have children.
Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

My boss says, “Is everything okay at home?”
But she probably just doesn’t want me to be late for work.
Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

My doctor says, “It’s not love, it’s just oxytocin”
But she probably just doesn’t understand feelings.
Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

My teacher says, “That doesn’t sound healthy”
But she’s probably just being overprotective as her job.
Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

My landlord says, “Are you sure you want him here?”
But she’s probably just worried about the utility bill.
Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

The triage nurse says, “He’ll die of alcoholism soon”
But she’s probably just fear-mongering to make more money.
Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

The woman on the street says, “Is this guy bothering you?”
But she probably just doesn’t get that I said something wrong.
Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

My old journals say, “Don’t fall into this again”
But I was probably just young and angry then.
Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

My brain tells me, “This is harmful, it has to end”
But it’s probably more important to listen to my heart.
Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

My heart asks me, “Are you sure?”
And I realised that I haven’t asked myself…
Because I think I love you, but do you really love me too?

I thought, “I know what love looks like”
But it probably doesn’t look like this.
Because I love you, but I don’t think you do.

You say to me, “Fine, I’m leaving right now”
But it’s probably not going to work this time.
Because I’m onto you, and I think you know it too.

I used to say, “Please don’t go, I’m sorry”
Because it was probably just my fault
Because I loved you, and I thought you loved me too.

So today I say, “See ya later”
But it’s probably just “goodbye”.
Because I love me.

Head over to our Facebook and Twitter to get involved in a discussion about “Probably just”.

If you have been affected by domestic or sexual violence you can contact these organisations:

UK –

National domestic violence helpline

Women’s Aid

Refuge

Solace Women’s Aid

Rape Crisis

NHS

My Body Back

US –

The national domestic violence hotline

NCADV

Domestic Violence Resource Centre

H.E.L.P

Women Against Abuse

Government website

Domestic shelters

What the Torah says about sexual assault

Author:
weinstein

By Sofia Heller

Content Note: Sexual assault, sexual violence, rape

“Dustin Hoffman accused of sexual assault.” “Mario Batali Tells Fans: Sorry for the Sexual Assault, Here’s a Cinnamon Roll Recipe.” “More Women Accuse Russell Simmons Of Rape, Sexual Assault.” “California Democratic Party official resigns after rape, misconduct allegations.” “Former Intern Accuses Wyoming’s Secretary of State of Sexual Assault.” “Houston firefighter arrested for sexual assault of teen.” “No charges for alleged sexual assault at Kansas basketball dorm.”

These headlines are only a few in the recent surge of coverage about sexual violence. The avalanche of sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape allegations over the past few months – catalysed by the sexual harassment and assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein – make it clear that sexual violence is a problem deeply embedded in our society; it even finds credence in Judaism’s foundational text, the Torah.

Deuteronomy 22:28-29 says, “If a man comes upon a virgin who is not engaged and he seizes her and lies with her, and they are discovered, the man who lay with her shall pay the girl’s father fifty [shekels of] silver, and she shall be his wife. Because he has violated her, he can never have the right to divorce her.”

In other words, the Torah determines that a rapist must marry his victim, thus framing it as punishment for the rapist. The wording in the last sentence – “he can never have the right to divorce her” – makes it seem like we’re supposed to feel bad that the rapist is trapped in this marriage. No part of this passage recognises that the person truly being punished in this type of arrangement is the victim – a disturbing example of the Torah’s patriarchal views and authorship.

If the Torah had been written by women, I’m pretty certain that marriage between a rapist and victim wouldn’t be conveyed as punishment for the rapist, and this type of “punishment” probably wouldn’t have appeared at all. The text, as it is written, completely erases the woman’s victimhood and trauma, and, while framing it as a punishment, actually gives all of the power and privilege to the rapist. To add insult to injury, the text makes it seem like the woman benefits from this type of arrangement, when in reality, we know that couldn’t be further from the truth.

This text illustrates the great importance of being aware of who has a voice and who doesn’t; who gets to tell stories, and who isn’t given a voice. The recent flood of sexual violence allegations as well as the #MeToo movement represent women seizing control of the narrative, and that’s extremely significant. However, there remain those voices that sympathise with the predators because of how they’re being punished, just as the Torah does, when it’s the survivors who should finally be receiving the sympathy and support they deserve.

In the aforementioned headlines, there’s an emphasis on men in positions of power who have taken advantage of women beneath them in rank. These men seem to feel that they are invincible, and they have a basis for feeling so entitled. Companies and even whole industries often work to protect men who have been accused of sexual violence. Women are intimidated or threatened into staying quiet. We see this in the Torah as well. After all, since women are forced to marry their rapists, staying silent is theoretically a way to avoid that fate.

While these past few months are not, by any means, the first time women have come forward to speak out against their attackers, hopefully the mass media attention and the actual punishments we’re starting to see represent a positive shift in our society – a shift away from the type of male privilege we see in the Torah, privilege born of a patriarchal system that’s intentionally designed to benefit men and oppress women. These allegations, and subsequent repercussions, serve as a new message that sexual violence will no longer be tolerated and that sexual predators will no longer be protected.

This content has been provided by the Jewish Women’s Archive

Why Snape’s character makes me unsurprised about JK Rowling’s defence of Johnny Depp

Author:
johnny

By Pip Williams

Content note: Reference to domestic and sexual violence

Like much of my generation, the Harry Potter books were an intrinsic part of my childhood. The later films mapped alongside my own teenage years, with the final installment coming out the summer I began sixth form. I watched it in the cinema in Tasmania, and distinctly remember the guy in front of me gasping “no f***ing way!” when it was revealed that Harry was the final Horcrux.

It wasn’t until after the franchise reached its natural end (or so I then naïvely believed) that I began to see the gaping holes in my idyllic childhood favourites. Be it the lack of minority representation, or Rowling’s dodgy ret-cons attempting to correct them, there was plenty to raise an eyebrow at.

The one thing I could never get my head around was how Snape was meant to be a hero. How was I meant to buy into that redemption arc, when–despite eventually dying for the cause, Snape was an abusive bully? Snape treated Harry how he did purely because Harry bore a resemblance to his own father, who happened to bully Snape in school. As if being bullied in school is an excuse for becoming such a vile, vindictive adult human being. I don’t know about you, but “wanting to bone my mum so much that he kept on the straight and narrow” isn’t really a substitute for a moral compass.

The fact that Rowling’s story hinges around the dubious redemption of an abuser should perhaps have been a red flag when it came to her personal politics. Self-satisfied centrism notwithstanding. I’m talking about her miserable response to the tidal wave of fans calling for some accountability over the casting of a known abuser in her upcoming film.

Johnny Depp was cast in current Harry Potter universe franchise, Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them, before ex-wife Amber Heard accused him of domestic abuse, filming a brief cameo for the first film’s climax. Since Heard came forward, the calls for Depp’s role to be recast have been insistent and unwavering. The appeals to Rowling, a producer and screenwriter of the franchise, to explain how on earth his continued presence can be justified, have finally been answered, but not in the way most of us had hoped. Instead, Rowling issued a statement defending Depp’s role in the series.

Rowling’s statement is a sickening indictment of how deeply abuse apologism runs through the fabric of our society. We see one of the world’s most famous authors declaring that she is “genuinely happy” to retain a known abuser in her franchise, and that she believes she is doing “the right thing”. Like director David Yates, who claims Depp is “full of decency and kindness,” and states that allegations against him “[don’t] tally with the kind of human being I’ve been working with,” Rowling seems to have mistaken a lack of abusive behaviour in her presence for proof of his innocence. Much like Snape’s questionable character arc, they hold up unrelated qualities as insistence that he was a good guy all along.

We’re not buying it.

The #MeToo movement is toppling the careers of sexually abusive men at every turn. We need to remember that this isn’t the only kind of abuser out there, and hold domestic abusers to the same level of account. Rowling might believe that “conscience isn’t governable by committee,” so it’s up to us to speak a language she and her team might consider worthy – cold hard cash.

I will not be paying to see the next instalment of Fantastic Beasts, and neither should you. It seems incredible that we have to teach the author of a series about love overcoming evil the basics here, but hopefully, if enough disappointed ex-fans boycott the movie, our message will get through.

Let’s End Violence Against Women

Author:

By June Eric-Udorie

Living-Without-Violence

Trigger Warning

Jayden Parkinson was only 17 years old when she was killed. She was killed by her 22 year old ex-boyfriend, Ben Blakeley, after he discovered that she was pregnant with their baby. Blakeley had been obsessive and controlling and had regularly beaten Jayden. In November 2013, Jayden broke up with Ben because she had had enough of his “possessive, controlling and abusive behavior”. Often, we say, but why did she stay? This is how we blame the victim instead of blaming the perpetrator.

The truth is that the greatest risk of homocide and violent occurs when a woman leaves an abusive partner. 76% of women who leave report experiencing post-relationship violence.  It takes incredible strength to endure – and leave – these relationships. This is why we need to make sure there is the best support possible to prevent this from happening, protect women who are in danger, and prosecute perpetrators.

We can’t pretend Jayden’s is a one off incident. Violence against women and girls (VAWG) is one of the most pervasive and unaddressed human rights violations worldwide and remains an issue of growing concern. In the UK 31% of women and girls experience domestic abuse and 2 women are killed each week by a current or former partner. In England and Wales at least 233 women and girls are raped every day. 6o,000 girls under the age of 15 are at risk of female genital mutilation (FGM) and there are nearly 3,000 cases of so called ‘honour violence’ in the UK.

We may try and deny that violence against women and girls is not an endemic in the UK, but the statistics and personal stories speak loud and clear. Women and girls are regularly facing violence through no fault of their own, simply because they were born female. The violence experienced by women and girls is a way for men to exert their power and control over women, to silence women and to remain dominant in society (I am not saying that all men are perpetrators of violence, but the vast majority of violence acts committed against women are done by men).

Even though violence against women and girls is widespread, there is little support for survivors. Rape crisis centres that provide invaluable support to women are strained. Refuges that offer women the support they need to rebuild their lives are being shut down. We all know too well that when the government introduces cuts, it is the women’s services that will suffer the most – with few consequences for the government. This needs to change urgently.

Currently, the UK government cannot be held to account for not providing vital services or introducing laws to protect women and girls from violence. There’s a petition on change.org asking the UK government to keep its promise ‘to help end violence against women and girls by ratifying the Istanbul Convention’. The Istanbul Convention, (otherwise known as the European Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence) is widely recognized as the ‘golden standard’ to tackling violence against women and girls.

Once the government ratifies (commits to) this convention, they can be held to account for their response to violence against women and girls. They will have to take all the necessary steps to prevent violence against women and girls, protect women and girls from violence by offering general and specialist support, and prosecute perpetrators.

The UK Government said it would ratify this convention but it hasn’t. 15 countries, including Denmark, France and Slovenia have. The question we must ask ourselves is, why hasn’t the UK ratified the Convention yet?

Every day the UK Government delays the ratification of this convention, women and girls are left without the full protection they rightly deserve.

Please sign the petition here and get your friends to sign it too. Also, please share the petition far and wide on social media with the hashtag #ICchange.

Thank you.

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