Below you can read the second part of Maria Liapi’s presentation (sociologist-researcher, scientific manager of the Diotima Center) entitled “Domestic violence or what we insist on not recognizing/knowing”, on the occasion of her participation in the 8th Psychopharmacology Conference organized by the Hellenic Psychiatric Association, in November 2021. For the first part, see here.
Relationality and gendered violence
As Butler tells us, when I exercise violence on another human being I also exercise violence on myself because my life is tied to the other life/the other’s life.
Most people raised in a liberal individualist tradition understand themselves as connected beings that are separate from other lives. The relational approach can problematize these starting points.
Recognizing dependence as a condition of who each of us happens to be, is difficult enough and even more difficult is to accept social interdependence.
If we reimagine ourselves as fundamentally interdependent—and there is no shame, humiliation, or effeminacy in that—we might treat each other differently since our self-perception would not be defined by each person’s self-interest (one-self with-his-other-selves) .
If gender is doing (doing gender) as said then it can be undone/cancelled, which happens faster at the individual level, less directly at the level of our social interactions and relationships, and even slower at the institutional level where tremendous resistances are found to the change.
At the same time, what we are seeing in recent years is the existence of social islands that are starting to critically cancel the established process of performing gender and attempt it in a different way in the context of relationships/relatedness, family, organizations, community, etc.
At the same time, it is our responsibility to question how we live, reproduce or resist these structures. Thus, although change can occur at the individual level, restorative justice models tell us that individuals change in the context of communities and relationships, and thus new relational structures are built and old ones are dismantled.
In turn, this means that ethics must become more than an individual enterprise of self-renewal since lives are renewed in the company of others. It is these relationships that sustain us and therefore deserve our collective attention and commitment.
Love in the age of patriarchy
A “good” survivor is the one who leaves an abusive partner/spouse, and much work needs to be done by and on behalf of experts and counselors about the fact that survivors in some cases simply ask for the violence to end.
They love the person they are with but they don’t want to be in an abusive relationship. They cooperate in avoiding conflict and take too much emotional responsibility to keep things the way they once were in the beginning, when they felt happy and secure.
Furthermore, women have an asymmetric ability to leave the marriage and this gives husbands/partners significantly more power and bargaining leverage within the marriage. The bond between the couple is seen as providing the basis for everyday companionship, emotional satisfaction, and sexual fulfillment.
It is true that the rule of love has been harsh and oppressive and has promoted patriarchal values albeit with spatial and temporal variations. However, does the shift to the ideal of free love as a dominant narrative and collective fantasy suggest that we are indeed free to love happily, intimately, and equally?
Relationships without dominance and submission
Radical feminist criticism has fundamentally questioned the connection of love with freedom. Women, Wendy Langford tells us, love among other things to escape from the limitations of our gender and to conquer our longed-for autonomy and we gradually experience the silenced frustration that love also reproduces dependence, destructive self-denial, and self-sacrifice. That is the sacrifice of ourselves as autonomous subjects.
Focusing on love and trying to “make the relationship work” leaves us with little energy for the most important business of all: how we can begin to realize a world where human relationships are not based on the dominance and submission that undermine true intimacy (and of course, they are not essentialist qualities of men and women).
We have further abandoned such a plan with the dominance of neoliberal capitalism, the dominance of far-right rhetoric where a significant shift has been imposed towards individuality and privatized social life that undermines any collective social struggle.
Questioning love is not easy in a culture and ideology of personal fulfillment and intimate relationships.
Since power dynamics are fueled by love itself and by our efforts to live happily the question is not whether every love relationship is a power relationship but in what way and to what extent.
Because the personal is always political let’s remember that happiness, security, personal appreciation, self-realization, and meaningful life to expect from a relationship seems too optimistic!
It is therefore important to organize social actions to learn about consent in relationships and respect for the other as self, how to recognize and not underestimate the signs of violence and violating behaviors.
The approach of the Diotima Center
The attempt to utilize the intersectionality approach is an open process between situated theory and the reflexive and solidarity knowledge we gain from the field and our daily contact with the survivors themselves politicizing our intervention.
We develop mediation and advocacy actions in an effort to mitigate the frustration of professionals and the suffering of survivors in the face of system failures to adequately protect and address domestic violence and other forms of violence such as the most extreme of these, femicide.
Let’s not forget that gender power relations also organize the inside of the institutions that are called to provide protection and security, a fact that can be seen in the inability of the state and its institutions, without excluding justice and its officials, to respond to the protection needs of women and of all femininities who are in constant danger or experience the trauma of gender-based violence – without nullifying the efforts that are made from time to time.
We do not seek to rely on a punitive criminal justice system, and so while we provide legal aid for the many who lack the resources to secure access to justice, we also emphasize community and solidarity groups to build solutions beyond the system that often (re)traumatizes and revictimizes survivors by exercising institutional violence.
Empowerment, inclusive support, care
The feminist methodological approach on the basis of which support services are designed and provided and all of our interventions in the field have as their central core empowerment, inclusive support, and care, constantly learning to listen to fragmented testimonies, metonymies, words, and silences.
It includes the analysis of the systems and discourses of power, the emphasis on personal experience in the public context, the shift away from the pathologizing of the phenomenon and the self-blame it entails, and intercultural communication.
At the center is the survivor who guides the type and timing of the support services she wants to receive with respect to the times and process she chooses with as complete information as possible about her rights, the possible consequences of her choices, the support she can have in difficult decisions, and so forth.
Abused women have an indisputable right to safety, it is important to highlight their strengths and skills rather than their weaknesses and problems. Collective empowerment, gender solidarity, the activation of intentional action, and the emergence of transformative experiences, the management of trauma in terms of social context, decriminalization, empathy, and the building of trusting relationships constitute the framework of our work.
Psychosocial support includes reflexivity, equity in interaction, and attention to moving into a position of availability for change.
The anti-hierarchical structure and model of enduring consent with survivors is built on the provision of cognitive and integrative resources, information, attentive listening, reflection, awareness, and non-judgment.
Although domestic violence occurs across the spectrum of women, regardless of social class, educational level, etc., it is a fact that vulnerability is intertwined with violence, creating impasses, and for this reason, we direct the resources we have more selectively to groups of vulnerable women such as refugees/ asylum seekers, immigrants, and poor Greek women.
Empowerment groups create the conditions for a gradual collective disidentification with the position of victim and accession to a new position of the (collective) subject, which goes through a transition phase and may even take the position of mediator for other female victims.
The trauma of violence is often very painful and leaves a strong imprint on the lives of survivors beyond the periods when post-traumatic stress creates a range of mental and physical health problems and feelings of anger, sadness, denial, emotional destabilization and disconnection, stress, and lack of confidence precisely because they receive violence from loved ones and this creates a split that partly explains the silence as a component of the trauma. Suffering subjects with serious disorders are referred to the respective bodies.
Community involvement and accountability are forms of resistance less threatening than state intervention, however, communities often either lack the resources or have no incentive to act due to ignorance of the dynamics of domestic violence and neglect of its consequences.
Within this context, our strategic goal is the parallel organization of training programs for a large number of professionals and officials on these issues, and at the same time information actions for women themselves, awareness campaigns for the general public, as well as, actions for male inclusion.
Strengthening feminist ideas
The mediation and advocacy efforts to which we direct many of our actions and energies are driven by the importance of empowering feminist ideas and processes and strengthening collective action for the visibility of gender-based violence and the widest possible social mobilization.
We aim at the need to deconstruct the current toxic masculinity and develop a different narrative that includes how men define themselves. At criticizing every form of sexist, racist, and homophobic public discourse that is often uttered by the most official lips (political, journalistic, clergy, etc.), in other words, we aim at the systemic face, the patterns of power, and the intense gender hierarchy of this violence.
Patriarchal kinship practices
We do not direct our actions to men – abusers as it is an inescapable principle that women feel and are safe and protected in our services, and at the same time, we have several reservations towards criminal mediation in the way that is being tried to be implemented in Greece.
This brings us to the role of specialists and especially Ps in joint therapy such as marriage counselors/couples counseling, who have often contributed to the perpetuation of a family/relationship at the cost of mental burnout, abusive and violent forms of connection, and relationality. In order to avoid the problems of breaking up a marriage/family, in some cases a violent and abusive family is preferred over the breaking up of a family.
It is necessary today to question the patriarchal practices of kinship and socialization. To reflect on our role as mental health professionals, the techniques of control and power we exercise using a hegemonic epistemology that if not ignorant has only marginally and fragmentarily sought to actively integrate gender into the psychotherapy/counseling process. The need to place the suffering subject within the social, political, imaginative, biopolitical, desiring, etc. context.
A form of family without gender hierarchy
The recognition of the importance of the family in the achievement of social justice obliges us to still do a lot of work in order to devise social practices of family creation and childbearing beyond this age-old form of the (nuclear heteronormative institutional form of the family) by opening our thinking to examples of symbiotic, eccentric and from below that enrich our experiences because it is love that makes a family as Athanasiou tells us.
The family is not a private matter but we can think about it preserving the value of privacy and beyond the tension of the dividing line between the public and private spheres.
The question is how much public structuring of private choices is permissible in order to ensure gender justice and how do we balance claims to abolish gender injustice with other moral issues (such as freedom of religion, social organization, etc.).
We need more attention to creative and fruitful family-related policies that can reduce the centuries-old prevalence of gender hierarchy. Utilizing international experience, alternative practices, and forms of cohabitation, including policies that radically reform the labor market and legislation while providing a safety net mainly for poor families and their children.
“I will be post-feminist in the post-patriarchy.”