I'll start with statistics.
From the Domestic Violence Resource Center:
One in four women has experienced domestic violence (physical, sexual) in her lifetime. Three in four Americans know personally someone who is or who has been a victim of domestic violence. 30% of Americans say that they know a woman who has been physically abused by her husband or close intimate in the past year.
Women ages 20-24 are at the greatest risk of nonfatal domestic violence. The poorer the household the higher the rate, and African-American women experience far higher rates of domestic violence than do their white counterparts.
Also consider that these statistics do not include the significant number of women who do not report domestic violence to the authorities.
Violence by men against women is a troubling and persistent reality. I knew this. But I knew it too often in the abstract. Two items this week grounded it in truth, and alerted me to the frustrating fact that many of these women --those who survive the violence and those who don't-- do not get to choose their fate. It gets chosen for them.
The first is my viewing of Precious, a piece of fiction, but a fact-based film about the real lasting impact of violence and sexual abuse in the home. It also, in subtle ways, a story about America, and American women. I watched the film last night. The young woman (Gabourey Sidibe) who plays the title character is captivating. Her acting is true, her emotional scenes completely honest and unrestrained. She acts when she isn't speaking, and she never breaks character.
The title character is a 16-year-old, living in Harlem, still in junior high, and pregnant with her second child. Her father (no longer in the picture) is the father of both of them. Her mother, in a strong performance by Monique, allowed the sexual abuse to happen since Precious was at a very early age, and she resents Precious for bearing more children than her husband "gave her." Now, angry and scraping by on the scraps of welfare, her mother dishes out a daily torrent of verbal and physical abuse against her weakened daughter.
Precious accepts this because she knows no other reality. She knows it is not right. She knows she does not deserve it. She knows there is another way. Yet her reality has become so hard, so grounded, that she sees this "other way" in the form of glamorized, stylized distant fantasies -- as a celebrity R & B singer, or an actress on the red carpet. Fans covet her, and the men are kind and adoring. This is her escape.
She speaks to us, in voice-over, about a world of closed doors: "There's always something wrong with these tests. These tests is painting a picture of me with no brain. These tests is painting a picture of my mother, my whole family, as less than dumb. Just ugly black grease to be wiped away. Sometimes I wish I was dead... I'd be okay, I guess. Cause I'm lookin' up. [Laughing] Lookin' up for a piano to fall."
Precious finds reason to look up, in the form of an alternative school and an impassioned teacher that sees in her a bright spot and a need for love. She also finds strength in commitment to her newborn, which acts as a powerfully ironic symbol of her freedom from her family oppression.
The transition, as played out in the movie is a bit sudden; and it pushes Mother, hastily and perhaps unrealistically, to the sidelines of Precious' life. But it is a genuine change, and suggests promise for our heroine. I resist the cruel impulse to tell you the ending.
The second item is a personal story. This story was told to our Feminist Legal Theory class two weeks ago by Professor Pruitt. It is elaborated here. It is a touching reminiscence of a standout woman and former King Hall student. I will not add much to it, because to do so would be to subtract from its impact. You should read it. The post is a demonstration of the powerful effect we can have on each other. It is also a reminder of how a woman's life is precious -- men's violence can be swift and sudden, and it can be completely and maddeningly inexplicable.