Friday, July 22, 2011

And I thought helping victims of violence was a good thing . . .

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), first passed in 1994, has been an invaluable tool in the struggle against gender-based violence. VAWA has helped strengthen victim services and provides funding for investigation and prosecution of violent crimes against women. VAWA is up for reauthorization, with Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, and even Dr. Phil McGraw supporting the measure.

Who could oppose reauthorizing legislation that has helped countless domestic violence and sexual assault victims? Several voices from the far right, that's who.

VAWA's impending reauthorization has drawn fire from several Religious Right figures, including Phyllis Schlafly. Schlafly, an anti-feminist who gained national attention in the 1970s for her opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment, has stated that married women can't be raped by their husbands and was scheduled to speak at an anti-VAWA event in 2008, according to Right Wing Watch.

In a July 12th column at Town Hall entitled "Violence Against Women Act Must Be Rewritten," Schlafly claimed that VAWA is "feminist pork," spent by radical feminists in the pursuit of their agenda. Feminists, according to Schlafly's stereotype, believe that men are inately batterers, and women are innately victims. She provides no examples of feminists who have supposedly claimed this, nor does her stereotype account for the many male feminists working to end domestic abuse and sexual violence (i.e., Men Can Stop Rape, NOMAS, MASV).

Schalfly complained that VAWA focuses on female rather than male victims, ignoring the fact that the women are far more likely to be victims of domestic abuse or sexual violence (see here, herehere, and here) and might therefore require special attention. Furthermore, she insists that VAWA should be rewritten to account for the "tremendous" issue of false accusations, claims that women who report domestic violence are not required to produce evidence, and insists that accused men are not accorded due process, while providing no evidence to back up any of these claims. Prosecution and divorce should not be routine strategies for dealing with "only minor" abuse in relationships, she asserted.

Schlafly's hostility toward feminists and domestic violence accusers was startling, and I wondered why her anger was being directed at feminists and VAWA rather than abusers. This hostility, however, is nothing new, nor is this the first time Schlafly has lambasted VAWA. (To read Shlafly's Town Hall column, visit townhall[dot]com/columnists/phyllisschlafly/2011/07/12/violence_against_women_act_must_be_rewritten.)

However, Schlafly's essay is not the only recent attack on VAWA. In a July 12th essay at Renew America entitled "Violence Against Women Act: Do the Rights of Men Matter?", Carey Roberts claimed that while VAWA seemed like a good idea when first implemented, it has allegedly been "hijaked" by a "radical ideology" opposed to patriarchy. Roberts claimed that the struggle against domestic violence morphed into an ongoing attack against men, fueled by alleged propaganda that women are non-violent. The true goal, he wrote, was not to prevent domestic violence but to undermine the patriarchy. Like Schlafly, he insists that VAWA promotes unjust policies at the expense of the accused, allegedly eliminating the presumption of innocence and presuming accused men to be guilty.

Again, Robert's focus is not on the countless victims of domestic violence in our country, but on accused men and a stereotypical image of feminists. His column displays a hostile attitude toward feminism highly reminiscent of Schlafly's rhetoric. Both columns ignore what feminists actually believe, and what the anti-violence field actually looks like. (To read Robert's essay, visit www[dot]renewamerica[dot]com/columns/roberts/110712)

Finally, in a June 25th commentary at American Thinker entitled "Dominique Strauss-Kahn vs. the American Anti-Male Justice System", Theo Willem cited the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case and the Duke Lacrosse case as alleged examples of unfair treatment of accused men. Willem claimed that since the 1994 passage of VAWA, the presumption of innocence is not longer operative for accused men. (To read Willem's commentary, visit www[dot]americanthinker[dot]com/2011/06/dominique_strauss-kahn_vs_the_american_anti-male_justice_system.html)

These three commentaries left me shaking my head. Why do the authors emit such animosity toward legislation that has helped countless victims of violence? Why the stubborn insistence that presumption of innocence has somehow evaporated in this country? Why do the authors focus on men accused of violence, rather than a myriad of problems facing victims, such as barriers to victim services, misclassification of cases, or victim service centers closing due to lack of funds? Is their distaste for feminism so strong that even efforts to address violence against women must be met with contempt?

For additional commentary, visit the following links.

Right Wing Watch: Schlafly: Violence Against Women Act Protects Women Too Much

Casey Gwinn: Non-Violent Men Have Nothing to Fear


  1. I believe it was Gloria Steinham who said she wanted her daughter to grow up to be a housewife just like Phyllis Schlafly. I continue to be amazed by Schlafly or Bachmann or Palin, etc. who enjoy successful careers thanks to the feminist movement they claim to oppose.

    The Violence Against Women Act focuses on female rather than male victims. Why wouldn't it? Unbelievable "logic."

  2. Donna -- I have a hard time wrapping my head around that kind of hypocrisy. Don't they understand how much they've benefited from the women's movement?

  3. I've seen this type of hostility in my own backyard. For example, I'm a member of a professional listserve and a couple of my colleagues are often complaining about how laws that protect women are somehow anti-men. You can feel their bitterness, anger, and victim mentality.


    The feminist movement at its core is simply a push to elevate women to the status of real people. Some men - and stunningly even some women who have clearly benefited from the feminist movement - have a terrible time accepting that fact. Indeed women are some of the feminist movement's most harmful antagonists. Strange.

  4. Cognitive Dissenter -- I suspect that to make oppression work, some of the oppressed are turned into kapos against their own kind. This seems to be the dynamic with powerful anti-feminist women.

  5. Excellent analysis, Ahab.

    RE: Roberts: What is going through that guy's head to think that any attack on violence against women must be an attack on the male patriarchy? Is he admitting that the male patriarchy ultimately relies on violence against women to endure? Seems to me that's an implication of his criticism.

  6. Paul -- Good questions! The impression I got from the article is that he doesn't understand (or maybe doesn't WANT to understand) that domestic violence is a result of patriarchy. He accuses the DV movement of wanting to dismantle patriarchy rather than curb DV, but I can't see how one is possible without the other.

  7. Exactly, Ahab! How are you going to end domestic violence -- or at least ameliorate it -- if you have a patriarchal ideology that says women deserve to be put in their place? I don't know of any culture that has not ultimately had to enforce such an ideology through violence. If one exists, I'd like to know about it.

  8. Another fine example of Christians being on the side of the bad guys. In the age of slavery, this guy would've been fighting for the pro side.

  9. Paul -- I don't know of one either. Violence, or at least force, undergirds patriarchy no matter what the culture or era, much like other forms of oppression.

    Exfundy -- Indeed. This seems like such a simple issue. After all, who WOULDN'T support victims of violence? And yet, these fundamentalists are on the wrong side of it.

  10. Shouldn't she be home washing her husband's feet and baking cookies rather than preaching such nonsense to the public?

  11. Buffy -- :: snickers ::

    Don't you know? All that housewife stuff is for OTHER women, not her!


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