The Victorian Government is about to embark on a Royal Commission into Family Violence, with detailed stories so prevalent in the media over the past year since the tragic death of 11-year-old Luke Batty by his father. His mother, Rosie Batty, who spoke out about the scourge of violence at the time and many times since then, was last week awarded the Australian of the Year honour for her effort and campaign to try and stop the violence. Workers in the field have documented family violence as an ‘epidemic’, where one in three women will experience violence from a male partner in their lifetime and many women are killed each year by their male partner. Women also kill their male partners, but it’s not as common as male homicide.
The focus in all the stories I’ve read, the workers who are fighting to stop the violence and the underlying imperative of the royal commission is ALL about males as the perpetrators of this violence against women and children. Males are the ones who need to stop their violence, change their behaviour, and moreover, are overwhelmingly blamed for all the violence perpetrated behind closed doors in suburbia across all socio-economic levels. Of course, they mostly are the perpetrators of the violence, but I am greatly disturbed by the royal commission focus in so far as it appears, from everything I’ve read and heard, that men are violent in a vacuum; as if they stand alone apart from their female partners, as the gender with all the problems. This is so unbalanced and one sided that I have considered writing so many times to the Premier of Victoria about needing to broaden the focus to explore and examine the females too who partner with these men. It has always been my belief that to understand the complexity of gender relations in our society, particularly female inequality et alia, one has to examine both gender roles as we live and coexist together in our social milieu. It seems to me that you cannot understand women’s oppression and inequalities by looking at women alone as a gender; likewise, you can’t understand the issues men also face in our society without looking at women in their lives, and of course, this applies to the issue of family violence. That’s not to say that I at all believe or am suggesting that females necessarily provoke or are complicit in their male partner’s violence; what I am suggesting is that females are involved in these relationships too, bringing their own complex psychological traits to the relationship as much as the men do. For so many women involved in these overt physically violent relationships, they have been with these men for many years, not leaving even when initial outbreaks of violence have occurred. These outbreaks of violence do not seem to have made them realise they need to get out, before they’re killed or really harmed physically AND, even more tragically in some ways, psychologically. They too have so many problems; albeit perhaps very different ones to the males, but I’ve always believed it takes two to tango. What do I mean by that?
I have researched this subject for decades, spoken to many men who perpetrated violence and some women, as well as growing up in family violence and as I’ve written, had my own relationship with a violent man over 40 years ago. I’ve written many stories on the subject too, and I know only too well that my mother had so many problems of her own even before she married my father. There was no overt physical violence in their relationship; no black eyes or bruised bodies; just rampant psychological violence where my father expressed his inner rage and frustration externally, while my mother’s rage went on relentless inside her; buried in her psyche so she needed sodium amytals and then vented her low self-esteem onto me, even my sisters, though they couldn’t realise, and then they too, projected their inner inadequacies onto me, too. I once wrote in my teenage diary that people seemed to destroy one another when they were close; of course, that’s how it appeared to me as an adolescent, but as I got older, I realised, at least as far as my family was concerned, not only were we not close, but that my mother and father were not “CLOSE” to themselves on the inside, destroying each other on the outside because on the inside, they were intrinsically destroying themselves, albeit unconsciously. They were in part cut off from themselves; my mother sadly, knew how she was feeling in part, ‘like exploding’ but did not seek the help she needed and I’m not even convinced she would have received the sort of help she really needed if she had indeed sought it out. I know this sadly from my own experience more than 20 years later. Instead, she was prescribed sodium amytals; take a pill and shut the fuck up while my father never seemed to even understand at all his own inner rage and self-destructive behaviour. So much of my sisters’ behaviour was likewise; cut off from themselves and projecting their personal inadequacies on to me, albeit several years later. I also wrote in that same diary we were all strangers; what is interesting is that it was the strangers within themselves to some extent that was the overwhelming problem for us all as a family unit. (Billy Joel sings a brilliant song about this). My mother did glimpse some of it, I did too, but it took me years to clarify the complex dynamic of psychological violence in the family and in us all as individuals. Mine seemed to manifest in my early teens as a bitchiness towards some other females; never spoken out loud but recorded in my diary; some of that because the friends I had were never real friends who I could openly confide in and share my inner personal turmoil with; I did share some of it with my mother but sadly, she shared too much of her own with me. I couldn’t understand it of course, retreating to my bedroom too often to cry myself to sleep. Furthermore, I later realised I had a real conflict of self-esteem, part of me very cognisant and aware of what I was involved in with my violent male partner, but at the same time, unable to walk away permanently until I nearly got killed. I’m alive today and lucky to be. Certainly, I had problems which I didn’t understand at 21 years of age, but what was indeed tragic in so many ways is that I consulted a shrink about it who blamed me of course, my boyfriend didn’t want to come with me to see him, and my mother also blamed my boyfriend for it all. I always accepted my responsibility for being involved in that relationship; not that I believe for one moment that I can condone his behaviour, but our relationship was such that he should have walked away from me as much as I should have walked away from him before it escalated into a near- murder. (We had such diametrically opposed views on so many things; about my sexuality and fidelity, journalism and what was really important in life; at the same time at one stage, I was engaged in an affair with my boss; his boss too, who threatened him and that’s when he really should have walked out on me).
I had my conflict of self-esteem for a myriad of reasons that are all to do with psychological violence, by the females in my family, not my father. He was the one who while shouting, screaming and yelling at times over trivia and all sorts of issues that were insignificant, was always positive and proud of my achievements; at school, at work and even with boys. He never knew my boyfriend was violent; my mother did, but she was always blaming him for it all, unable to look at me and the problems I had and certainly, unable to look at herself and the environment I had grown up in. When I was 13, my mother penned a letter to the family; my father, my sisters and myself, and I kept it and still have it. She typed in it that she felt like ‘exploding’ inside; it says so much about her and how she couldn’t articulate or express herself to us, certainly not to my father, while he just exploded on the outside. Furthermore, she wrote that I should learn to take my medicine; and I don’t mean for sickness, she added about me. Indeed, she was ‘punishing me and instructing me to accept all the madness of our family, as I used to tell her that I couldn’t deal with it. It was like – well, I’m suffering, so should you! Just accept it all, was the way I analysed it, not so clearly at the time, but certainly, as I got older. That was so much of my problem; on the surface, she appeared cool, calm and collected, inside, she was angry, resentful and projected so much of it all on to me, and understanding her psychological violence towards me took quite a few years to unravel. Her real tragedy was that she wasn’t at all happy with herself, and as she got older, and after what she and my sisters later projected on to me in 1980 as I’ve written, she was consumed by a guilt that manifested as a deep psychotic depression with suicide on her mind. She went mad, stayed that way until she died, and although others might not have realised (on the surface, she was the same friendly, good natured woman), I realised she was no longer the same woman. Those negative and destructive emotions she unconsciously buried in her own psyche played out on me, as does my sister now and it’s those emotions I took with me too in my relationship with my violent partner. A conflict I had about how I felt about myself; the sad reality was that I saw some of the same negative and destructive emotions in my partner and the real issue in the end was that I faced them and myself and he wouldn’t or couldn’t, projecting all his inner and unconscious self-hatred onto me. I saw it in some ways in not just my mother and father and sisters, but with so many of the men I interviewed about their violence, and a woman I talked to who was the subject of a documentary I helped film about a violent woman. I have also read many books about violence, and we all come to relationships with so much ‘emotional baggage’ in a way that you need to stand alone sometimes to see your way clear of the trees in the forest.
But the focus of the family violence royal commission is just about men; not the negative or psychological abuse or violence foisted on so many millions of women who also have either low self-esteem or a conflict of it as I did. Too many of these women also blame the male partners; unable to accept they have problems too, albeit manifested very differently perhaps. Indeed, some women appear on the surface as cool; they can be ‘exploding’ on the inside just like my mother was, unable to understand their own inner rage and resentment and often vented as bitchiness and destructive to their men as well as other women, too. How many people I oft wonder can really and genuinely feel happy with themselves; like themselves and enjoy who they are? So often, they just ‘appear’ all cool and flourishing on the outside; they look good, their hair is clean, their make-up well applied and furthermore, many of these women can be successful in their careers. They can earn big money, live in a big house and yet, on the inside, they have never really achieved or sadly, even really pursued their dreams. They’re often frustrated and unable to clarify why. On the inside, they are ‘exploding’ too, taking anti-depressants or valium or some other chemical fix as Betty Freidan penned in The Feminine Mystique. The mistake she made is that most of the women in her 1964 best seller were bored suburban housewives; now, with education and more opportunities for women, they have careers so-called, but are they really engaged in work they really thrive off and enjoy. Is work something they do to be accepted and admired for supposedly Making It? I have known so many of these women over the years who have condemned me as delusional for my self-belief; my young confidence and positivity. It’s not about jealousy per se; just an inner sense of inadequacy they can’t face in themselves, and my violent ex was much the same; pursuing money as if that would earn him the respect and applause from his mates and colleagues. He tried to ‘buy’ or impress me, too, and it’s at that time in our relationship that I started to walk away, at least on the inside. He never faced any of his complex problems and I stopped trying to make him. He was living on the outside; a success as a journalist, married to a very good-looking woman, living in a harbourside flat in Sydney and for so many people, had MADE IT! On the inside, sadly, he was the same self-destructive abusive man I discovered some months on in our relationship. He was an alcoholic and drugs were a feature of his life; cocaine, marijuana and god knows what else. Our relationship for me was over as he made money to attest to his success, not for what money can achieve for others or even really enabling a good quality of life, but money for its own sake. And that dictum is sadly entrenched in so much of the world. Certainly, I had a few black eyes, tried to make him understand his own behaviour as much as I tried to understand it, too, but the reality for me was that he became a man I didn’t respect or like anymore, chasing all the outside accoutrements instead of understanding how meaningless and insignificant these could be if he was still ‘fucked’ on the inside.
I’ve written so much about all of this and in family violence, it is indeed relevant because it exists in rich and successful families as much as those impoverished and supposedly disadvantaged socially and economically. Money, so-called success, and having all the ‘politically correct’ and conventional, conservative and conformist seals of approval count for nothing if you’re still ‘exploding’ on the inside. Men and women, both.
The sad reality is that what our society prescribes as success; I’ve seen it too many times in so many people who then drink or drug away their inner pain; running away from themselves because it’s just too painful. The truth is that you never can run away from yourself on the inside; the hurt, pain and emotional torment flare up in different and complex manifestations in so many people; familial patterns of behaviour repeat themselves generationally, so that until we can face the huge problems of people’s general and pervasive dissatisfaction and at times, dislike of themselves, there will be no solution to family violence; be it physical or psychological or both. It is interesting for me that my ex never did put me down intellectually when we were together; he did almost ten years later because I walked out of a humiliating job, then he screamed at me at a party ‘you’re fucked in the head”. My sister wouldn’t and hasn’t said it that way and neither have any of the shrinks etc or my ex friends, but that’s obviously what they believe too as I’ve certainly found out. Their projection?
I am only left pondering whether there’s any way out of family violence; and sadly, the royal commission it appears is focusing on physical violence too, not the emotional or psychological violence too common in too many relationships across our society. I have decided not to bother writing to the Victorian Premier and live in peace, albeit on my own and with few friends, because I prefer my own company to those who belittle, demean, or humiliate me, male or female. I’m not sure family violence will ever go away. We don’t know how to love ourselves, so how can we love others? Maybe that’s the human conundrum; what is love, really? I found it enough for me and I don’t know about anybody else. L’chaim!