Fun fact about me: I’m really into slam poetry. This is one that I’ve watched over and over and I kept thinking about during tonight’s class. In it, a young woman struggles to find the courage to stand up to her abuser. She wrestles with the fact that she was raised by women who would have never “let” themselves be abused. She asks how she could not have inherited their strength and prays that “these fists were something they had to grow into, also.”
For me, I can’t help but think what she’s dealing with in this poem is what we were trying to decide in class tonight. Does being a rights-bearing subject come naturally to some people and not others? Are there people out there born with the fiery self-assurance that they are autonomous human beings with certain rights (like the right to not be battered) and the courage to assert those rights? Or does the rights-defined identity come about more organically? I am in agreement with Merry here when I say that I think the identity is established through other means.
For years, I was of the assumption that I just had a naturally ferocious, untamed personality and that that was where my mother and I differed. She was weak. She was fragile. And frail. And hesitant. And powerless. I would never let what happened to her happen to me. I blamed her. But recently, I have started to wonder how much of my fiery personality is actually consequent to what happened to her. How much of it did I develop in spite of her? I heard once that as adults, we try to develop the traits that would have saved our parents.
Merry argues that, “seeing oneself as a rights-bearing subject whose problems are violations of these rights is far from universal.” She maintains that adoption of rights-defined selves depends on encounters with police, prosecutors, judges, and probation officers that reflect back this identity. She believes that how seriously one’s claims are taken helps you see yourself as a rights-bearing subject, and that if your claims are regarded as insignificant, you lose the ability to adopt a rights consciousness. I believe that Merry is missing an element. I believe that it’s not just your interactions with the law and law enforcement agencies that can help/hinder the formation of your rights-defined self, but your interactions with all people.
Many times tonight I reflected on the dynamics between my mother and I’s relationship. How much did her experience shape who I am today? I have a bulletproof since of myself as a rights-bearing subject but how much of that do I owe to her undoing? And (something I feel is just as important to point out) simultaneously, how much did my opinion and view of her inhibit her consciousness? If everyone sees you as powerless and impotent, do you then become even more powerless and even more impotent? I’m not sure, but I think it’s something to keep in mind.
Something that we spent a lot of time on last week (when discussing rape) was the prevalence of victim-blaming, but I feel as though we didn’t give it enough credit when discussing domestic violence. We place a heavy burden on the victim’s to get themselves out of a dangerous situation. Shrugging it off, saying that if it were that bad, they would leave. This, Dunne attributes, to a gross cultural misunderstanding of how violence operates. Far too often, victims feel responsible or are led to feel responsible for what happens to them. In another poem by Anny Miner (the woman in the video) she describes how she had accepted that after years of abusive relationships “something about [her] heart was too forgiving, too soft and easy for a man to form a fist around.” How detrimental our ideas about domestic violence can be on the victims.
Here’s the poem that quote is from, in case anyone is interested: