Abuse and feminism are incompatible, yet many people who call themselves feminists are also abusers. It sounds like a drastic or incorrect statement, but we know it's true either from experience or through reading. That's why there are articles like this one on Everyday Feminism, warning you about the types of feminist men who abuse their status as feminist allies. That's why in activist circles, there are high status individuals who get away with bullying, coercion and other forms of abuse. We intuitively know that simply stating that you're a feminist doesn't change your ability to abuse people, yet many of us call ourselves feminists without reading literature on abuse, checking ourselves for these "toxic" behaviors or by practicing non-abusive forms of communication with our loved ones. We know that this is true, but we still don't believe victims or survivors who come forward about their experiences.
But still, abuse and feminism are incompatible, so what can we do to ensure we stop normalizing abuse in our communities and our relationships? For our feminist work to be meaningful, it has to be void of all manner of exploitation, so learning about abuse and ending abuse is critical! With abuse, we cannot have liberation for women. We cannot have liberation for any group of oppressed people when we accept oppressive power dynamics in relationships. After all, social norms are built off of our every day relationships and how they function.
I have five suggestions for what we can do to change the way we relate to each other and work on expunging abuse from our lives. Note well!! I do not mean this as a guide for how victims should respond to abuse, but rather what we can do to ensure that we are not abusing others and showing compassion to people in our community who have experienced abuse (whether emotional, physical, financial etc.)
Learn To Empathize With Victims Of Abuse (Including Yourself!)This means believing people who come forward about abuse. This means speaking out against abusers in your community and not covering up their abuse for the sake of social status. This means educating yourself about the reality that victims of abuse live in. When you learn the truth and learn to never blame victims of abuse, you'll have finished the first step in extending empathy to victims. Do your research! Some great resources about abuse can be found on the Center of Disease Control website or in the book Why Does He Do That by Lundy Bancroft.If you are a victim or a survivor or some kind of abuse, be sure you extend this empathy to yourself too.
Study Non-Violent Communication And Boundary SettingTo do what you can in your own life, you can practice non-violent communication. This blog shows some "rules" for fair-fighting that do not include yelling or belittling your partner. Yes, everyone is allowed to be angry, but no one is allowed to degrade another person out of anger. Studying ways to communicate with people in our lives without violence even when we're angry ensures that we have relationships where we promote healthy communication instead of verbal abuse and intimidation to manipulate the other person into our point of view.Setting boundaries is an aspect of fighting abuse that will allow us to clearly delineate what behavior we will and will not accept from others before we start friendships or relationships with people. Having a clear idea of our boundaries is not a fool-proof way to prevent abuse. However, it has the potential to help us weed out people who test boundaries instead of respecting them implicitly.
Recognize Your Toxic Habits And Practice Changing ThemThis is in line with studying non-violent communication but includes other ways you might be using abusive or manipulative tactics to get your way with the people in your life. Do you use the silent treatment to get a partner to acquiesce to your wishes? Do you yell until your partner agrees? Are you dishonest about your intentions in a relationship to get what you want?These are only a few toxic habits, but looking at your behavior for toxic habits and then learning alternative ways to get your needs met can improve all of your relationships. When you work towards healthy communication, respect for others' boundaries and setting healthy boundaries of your own, you can only see positive results! Relationships based on positivity and respect are far more fulfilling than those built on abuse and manipulation. It almost goes without saying, yet some people equate abuse/manipulation with love when really, the two can never coexist.
Learn "Red Flags" That Will Help You Identify (And Avoid) Abusers. Abuse is 100% the responsibility of the abuser. I reluctantly put this point on because I know there is a lot of room for it to be invalidated as well as a lot of room for it to be misinterpreted. I decided to add it because even if abuse is not the responsibility of the victim, it can't hurt to become aware of some red flags. If abuse is normal in your life/relationship dynamics, without learning red flags you may never learn to recognize some critical signs that may point to someone having ill intent with you.I don't want to list all the red flags here, but I will point you to some good resources. How To Spot A Dangerous Man Before You Get Involved by Sandra L. Brown is a great read (although it is heteronormative, so warning for that). For a quick summary of red flags, you can visit this website.
Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is: Show Compassion To Abuse Victims/Survivors
Donate to (good) charities that deal with domestic violence! Or show compassion to abuse victims/survivors in your own life. If you can't help financially, reach out to charities or individuals who may need your time. This does not mean being invasive because you suspect someone is being abused, rather, try to get involved in community or individual initiatives.If you don't have time or money at least take the time to educate yourself and stand up for victims of abuse in conversations with your friends. Educate them when they make ignorant statements and correct misconceptions. Do what you can to extend compassion to your community!
Ending abuse is critical to an effective feminist movement in the Caribbean. We all need to do this together.