It’s personal. It’s everybody’s business.
I am one of the two in three women that have never experienced violence in their homes and I have a responsibility to support and speak up on behalf of my sisters. This week all around the world, women, children and men, danced their way to a new world of nonviolence – the goal was to have a billion rising.
As I got ready to go to my local event I was quite emotional thinking about who I was rising for – its personal. And the personal is political is the fundamental first principle of feminism.
As a social worker I counselled and supported many women and children who were choosing to say no to domestic violence and helped them on their way one way or another to a new start. I didn’t do this for very long and it was incidental to my main role and responsibilities at the time. But rising up wasn’t for professional reasons – it was personal.
I was rising up with two women in mind.
For Maxie and Mavis (names changed) – two very different women from two very different worlds.
Maxie: in her 30s, user of drugs and alcohol, mother of two young boys, friends in motorcycle gangs and friends in prison, lived in suburb with highest unemployment rate and in public housing. Literacy rate of a ten year old. Honest, hardworking and loved her kids.
Mavis: in her 40s, glass of wine at Christmas, devout Christian, mother of three teenagers, friends in the church choir and clergy. Lived in a suburb and indeed same street as the highest elected official, home owner and employed. Honest, hardworking and loved her kids.
Both victims of domestic violence.
One turned up in a women’s shelter one didn’t.
One was stalked by her ex and murdered in front of her children – lured to the site of her death by her own child maliciously used by his father.
One is happily re-married and living on the edge of a beautiful national park.
I knew them both. One was the mother of a young friend in a youth group I supported, the other was an employee of a shelter where I was on the Board of Directors.
When I heard the news that Maxie was dead, I was in my car taking one of my children to school.
I helped Mavis move out of her home and packed up her kitchen – all the pots and pans – leaving one or two for the man remaining behind – she didn’t want to leave him with nothing to cook in.
I have never experienced violence in any home I have lived in. I have always been respected and protected.
On the street, outside of the security of my home, I have had a knife pulled on me as a teenager at dance; a gun held to me while doing a home visit as a social worker; driven past unexploded land mines in a war zone and been subjected to verbal and physical abuse for speaking my truth about injustices I’ve seen around me. I witnessed one of my daughters being assaulted on public transport.
I don’t like the words domestic and violence being put together. Violence is violence and there should be no distinction. If you get attacked in your home or in the pub – it shouldn’t be any different – violence is violence. Violence is not domesticated because it happens in the home!
Maxie was killed on the street, in a shopping centre car park. It was reported as domestic violence and her death was recorded and reported in that way. If it had been an outlaw motor cycle gang member killed in front of the same shops it would have been a very different story on the news that night.
In your time Hildegard, women flocked to your convent – leaving the land, their families and their lives to join you. I wonder how many of them were also leaving behind violence and taking up with you as their ‘no’ , their rising? I remember reading once that Clare of Assisi had attracted over 10,000 women to her order in the first 10 years – can you imagine what kind of impact that would have made at the time (early 1200s)? I can’t help thinking that the women joining together in this act of solidarity was their rising up, to say no to the patriarchy around them, to choose a life that was defined not by their relationship to their father, husband or brothers, but to their relationship to other women and their God. Unlike Clare, you Hildegard were a property owner and used your power to redistribute the wealth and for land reform. Your genius was honoured by B16 when he made you a saint – I find this link between you both quite amazing now given the turn of events. He has used your example in his letters and sermons as someone who challenged the church to turn away from the abuses it was experiencing at the time.
The redistribution of wealth is happening now too, and as the church bleeds from the violence of abuse compensation is transferring to those who have been the victims and are now the survivors of that abuse. For me their bodies are the Body of Christ and through the unholy acts, their witness to call the church to account is no less prophetic as the acts you took dear Hildegard.
They are rising and in their rising, they are helping to purge the Church. This too is not domestic. It is personal and it is political … and for me it is spiritual too.