Academic journal article Western Folklore

Place, Space, and Disruption: A Response to the Question "Why Doesn't She Just Leave?

Academic journal article Western Folklore

Place, Space, and Disruption: A Response to the Question "Why Doesn't She Just Leave?

Article excerpt

My earliest memory is-I was . . . I'm going to say I was three, and-this is a screwed up first memory-I witnessed my father get murdered by my uncle. My uncle came in and shot my dad. From there I moved to a new apartment and I got a new dad . . . then we moved from the city to a small town . . . then my mom was in the hospital, lots of years at the hospital. . . then we lived with my uncle back in the city . . . then we left the city and moved back into the country. I made friends in town, but then we lived out in the country. Then we moved up to the city and mom died when I was eleven. (Tape #3; 6/2/98)1

I took off walking one day. I had no destination, didn't know where I was going, didn 't know what I was doing. I just walked. I walked from the truck stop in Macon all the way to Indiana-just walked and walked with nothing. I had $15 and a pack of cigarettes and I just walked. Didn 't say nothing to nobody. I just got up, went outside, and walked. (Tape #14; 2/14/1998)

Places and Spaces. What can women's words tell us about their conceptions of these elusive terms? Primarily what we might perceive in the two quotes offered above is the fact that both stories invoke "space," but neither clearly identifies any significant "place" that resonates for the women speaking. In the first account, moving from one place to another seems literally to be happening in a vacuum of space, landing nowhere, offering no stability for the narrator. In the second account, the place that she has abandoned is neither described nor invoked, but we know it can no longer provide security for her. It was a "place" we know because she "took off from that place. She "got up, went outside, and walked away"-into an unknown space, a void that she perceives at that moment as offering her even less security. The "gap" in these narratives is the acknowledgement that leaving one's home "place" and entering a void, an unknown "space" in the world, is terribly traumatic for women. In fact, recognizing the critical significance of this act of leaving can help us better answer the question, "Why doesn't she just leave?" a question most often asked when a woman's predicament in a violent home is revealed. Most often this question is followed by the assertion, "If he hit me one time, I'd be out of there." What can we learn from hearing women's words about places and spaces that can help us understand the naivety of these questions and assertions? The key may be in first exploring the significance of how women construct very real, very material places out of indeterminate space(s) that come to carry meaning, hold memories, and offer (sometimes false) promises of a created place in which safety, love, warmth, sleep, and quiet are guaranteed. This exploration should also help us understand why women typically return to the home they share with an abuser as many as seven times before she leaves for good or is killed by her partner.

Places are spaces created in the image of the maker; usually these "makers" are women. In the majority of American heterosexual homes, women, more than men, actively participate in the making of a place for their families. Whether with an abundance of money or with limited resources, women create a place of comfort, filled with objects purchased and photos they framed; they create a "home" out of a house. Even if both partners work outside the home, the tangible, material constructions that create the unique identity of the home often fall to the woman in the house, and she often claims to enjoy these creative activities.

Some years ago, I wrote an article on the exploding world of women's arts and crafts, the stores that cater to these constructions by women, and the kits and the kitsch that fill contemporary homes across the nation, both rural and urban. The research I did in the Midwest (mostly Illinois and Indiana) revealed that women felt they had almost total control over the construction of places within the spaces of the home; their partners/spouses cared almost not at all about what they did within the walls of the home. …

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