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Feminism, Privacy, and Battered Women

posted by:Krystal Kreye // 11:53 PM // January 17, 2006 // ID TRAIL MIX

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I am sure that some of you have heard about the "Heron" case in British Columbia. For those of you who have not here are very brief and general facts about the case, taken from the Globe and Mail,

"VANCOUVER -- The legal strategy of the federal and B.C. governments to blame Sherry Heron and her mother for their slayings has been described as "alarming" and "beyond comprehension" by groups that work with abused women.
Ms. Heron, 41, was a patient at Mission Memorial Hospital when she was shot to death by her husband, Bryan Heron, in May, 2003. The provincial corrections officer also killed his mother-in-law, Anna Adams, at the hospital before committing suicide three days later.
Ms. Heron and her family had spoken to the RCMP about her fears of her husband, and she obtained a restraining order.
The four siblings of Ms. Heron have filed a lawsuit against the RCMP, the provincial government and the Fraser Health Authority, alleging negligence in their failure to protect their sister. In response, the defendants are claiming Ms. Heron and her mother were negligent and contributed to their own deaths." (Shannon Kari - for the Globe and Mail)

The 'privacy' connection in this case may not be absolutely apparent to everyone at first glance but the privacy and confidentiality needs of battered women continue to be among the most important and pressing ones in our society. The central question being: can we really fault those who are unable to secure their privacy against their abusers?

This issue is problematic and does a good job of highlighting 'the value problem' of privacy. I call it the 'value problem' because in some cases we want to value privacy and in some cases we should not value privacy. The case where I do not believe feminist theorists should champion privacy any longer is in the home. I know some of you are probably shocked and appalled right now but let me make some clarifications and some arguments before you dismiss this as absolutely crazy. I do feel that the rationality behind people's conception of privacy in the home contributes (maybe even the origin?) to the abuse of women in the first place. The "my home is my castle" mentality is a driving force behind people's ability to abuse their spouses. Very rarely do you see someone hitting his or her spouse in a public place or in a communal living situation where violence is unacceptable. When we theorize the home as a private space not only are we misrepresenting that space (I say misrepresenting because the home is never really 'private') but also we are doing great injustice to those who are made prisoners or subjects of cruelty by this sometimes termed 'intimate sphere'. Does this mean that we should all live in glass houses? No, of course it does not. What it means is that when feminists theorize about privacy we should stop trying to create an 'intimate space' out of the household and try and focus on those whose lives are ruined and in many cases taken away by the rationality of that household. I believe that once spousal violence has been stopped (and it can be) then it would be productive for feminist theorists to start theorizing and championing an 'intimate sphere' (away from government interference) but until that time our focus and efforts should be on those who are terrorized by such a space. It is the job of feminist theorists to help provide a platform on which people suffering from violence or oppression can speak. This is not done when we talk about the home as a space of love, care, and positive identity formation. Certainly, the positive view is representative of some homes, but those are not the ones that require our attention. It just does not seem to help to say 'look some homes which provide intimate spheres help women flourish so we just need to work on transforming your home into providing this same kind of intimate space and you should flourish' - it seems to miss the problem entirely. The problem, again, being why women are the victims of violence at the hands of those who (supposedly) love them? I should clarify that I do not believe it is the space itself but rather it is the rationality that this space helps to create.

So, how do we still value privacy when we have recognized it as a source of great suffering and oppression? Well, we value it in its seemingly contradictory nature, always sure to clarify and contextualize all instances in which its value is contested. It is not always a 'good', it has not always served everyone in society equally or well and it will continue along this curiously bad/good path in ways that are unpredictable.

In conclusion, if we return to the case of Ms. Heron, it saddens me to think that her case is actually representative of most spousal homicide cases. It is when women leave their abuser/abusive space that they are usually the victims of homicide (divorced or seperated men, as opposed to husbands living with their wives, commit 79% of all spousal violence - Joan Zorza "Recognizing and Protecting the Privacy and Confidentiality Needs of Battered Women"). We, as a society know this, have known this for years, and yet are considering holding these women (who are no longer with us) responsible for our inability as a society to come up with a way to live with one another without hurting one another. This is not just Ms. Heron's families issue or problem this is definitely all of our problem. What is it about our society that we continue to create individuals that want to harm others? What is it about the way that individuals relate to eachother that makes one act violently towards the other? Our world does not have to be this way; women do not have to continue to fear for their life. We should be disgusted and outraged that in the twenty first century this is still occurring in our society. In the case of spousal abuse/homicide privacy is a woman's worst enemy and best friend; the privacy helps create the oppression and yet it is privacy that they must seek to save their lives and those of their family.

I look forward to hearing any thoughts or comments on this issue as my thought itself is continually changing and in constant turmoil over the nature of privacy. peace.

Comments

Great article! :)

Posted by: Darrell Paquette at April 9, 2006 02:09 AM

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