I am constantly amazed at what I call “the arrogance of the Zeitgeist”. Every generation feels they have got all the answers and see things clearly now, as opposed to the “ignorant beliefs” of the past.
I often think about how surely a person in 1600 would have stated that the earth was flat and revolved around the sun, or a person in 1750 would condone slavery, or the disenfranchisement of women. We love to talk and to teach about all the “scientific” discoveries we have made and scoff at how people of the past were wrong on these issues. But those people proudly talked of their achievements and scoffed at the perceived ignorance of those who came before them.
If history has taught us anything, it should be that the “facts” of the present might be the targets of scoffing in the future.
When I was in my doctoral program, we were taught that “Attention Deficit Disorder” only occurred in males, and was developmentally limited (it stopped by itself with adulthood). If I did not answer this way on my psychopathology exam, I would have been marked “wrong”. Of course as the diagnosis became more popular, and drug companies wanted to expand their potential markets, it was later announced that girls, and adults, could have “ADD”, and therefore be potential customers.
Whatever you think of that issue, in points out how “facts” change and things we are born and die believing may be completely discredited in the future.
When I was an undergraduate I complained to the university administration about student smoking during classes. I was literally ushered out of the President’s office as some sort of “lunatic”. Who would even believe that people were allowed to smoke in classrooms, or on airplanes? It was accepted, “civilized” behavior at one time, and now is inappropriate, anti-social, and illegal.
What are the things we believe and the practices we ascribe to, that people in the future will look back and be astonished about? We haven’t figured it all out in 2022; we just have our current beliefs. And everytime we hear someone pontificating about the “truth” of anything, let’s try to remember that “truth” changes with time. We have the opportunity to question everything that we “believe”, and to celebrate with wonder the reality that there is infinitely more we don’t know that what we think we do know
Even though we never actually do anything about it, it is popular in 2022 for everyone to “speak out” against domestic violence. But this is always in the context of adults being violent with each other and usually in the context of adult men perpetrating violence against adult female partners.
But what about children?
The fact that we don’t consider traditional parenting domestic violence is prima facie evidence of the fact that our society still does not consider children to human beings.
For almost 20 years, I posed a two-part question to students in an Introductory sociology class. Part one asked them if they thought it was ever OK for an adult to use physical violence to control their partner. Part two asked them if they thought it was ever OK for parents to use physical violence to control their children. Hundreds of students over the years responded, and almost all said “never” to the first part, but more than half said “YES” to the second part. Of course, these were American students, and America is the most violent nation on earth, but it was still eye opening to me.
Our society cannot get its’ collective head around the idea that children are entitled to the same rights as any humans. We argue against children’s rights with much of the same rhetoric that was used to deny rights to women or to people of color.
In my opinion, any outrage about the use of violence is destroyed when we accept violence against children. And I am not just talking about physical violence. The same coercive control that we now believe defines patterns of domestic violence is a cornerstone of traditional parenting. We threaten, we intimidate, we take things away, and we yell. This is every bit as much domestic violence as the more common picture of a man hitting or controlling a woman.
The opportunity is there for all of us to realize that we cannot control any other human beings, whether they are smaller adults, or they are much smaller children. All we can do is react, and hopefully as parents that means reacting with kindness, respect and love. Accepting that we cannot control, and substituting love and acceptance for power, is likely to key to eliminating all forms of domestic violence.
This is the first of a two part series on domestic violence. Each part will highlight the main victims of domestic violence: women and children.
Being an old, white man in a world dominated by old, white men, can make it challenging to empathize with the experience of being a woman in this world. Of course I can never fully understand the experience of being female in a male dominated society, but I have had the opportunity to work with so many female victims of domestic violence through the years, and their collective wisdom and insight has helped me overcome some of that challenge.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in 2011-12 the average Australian man was 175.6cm tall and weighed 85.9 kilos. The average Australian woman was 161.8cm tall and weighed 71.1 kilos. I don’t think most men ever stop to think what it would be like to live in world where half the population was almost 14cm taller than them, and weighed almost 15 kilos more than them. We men roam the streets secure that we are the physically dominant humans, and women simply do not have this luxury. As an adult, at 184cm, I have never had someone stand over me or try to intimidate me with their size. Women have this experience so regularly they may not even notice it. Don’t ever buy into the ridiculous argument that women abusing men is as prevalent or as serious as men abusing women.
Of course, it goes even deeper than size. Little girls in our society are brought up to believe that little boys are more important than they are. Even in 2022, gender differences in parenting are incredibly prevalent, and lead to adult women who have been trained to subjugate their needs and wants to those of men.
As parents, we can mitigate against the paternalism of this society as well as try to turn the tide of domestic violence by teaching and role modeling for all of our children that violence is never acceptable. We also have the opportunity to teach all of our children that everyone is equally important regardless of gender.