Academic journal article Sociological Viewpoints

And the Bear Just Keeps on Dancing: Violence against Women in the Context of a Violent Society

Academic journal article Sociological Viewpoints

And the Bear Just Keeps on Dancing: Violence against Women in the Context of a Violent Society

Article excerpt

I've had several people comment to me that the title of my talk today is "interesting." And I think that what they really mean to say is, "what the heck does it mean? What are you talking about?" So let me begin by explaining the title.

In 1996, I wrote a chapter for a book I co-edited with Kevin Hamberger; the chapter was entitled, "On Dancing with a Bear: Reflections on Current Debates of Domestic Violence Theorists." The chapter was about some of the key issues over which domestic violence theorists were heatedly disagreeing, and I discussed why I thought the debate was important and healthy. These were - and still are - complex issues without simple or straight forward answers, but we have to keep at it; we can't give up searching for the answers because the answers will inform how we respond to domestic violence. Not long before I wrote that chapter, I had heard former surgeon general, Jocelyn Elders, deliver a speech to a conference on the HIV/AIDs epidemic. In her speech, Dr. Elders beseeched the audience to keep searching for the best ways to prevent HIV infections and for an AIDS vaccine and cure. She said that these tasks weren't easy; they were like dancing with a bear. You can't sit down when you get tired; you have to wait for the bear to get tired. I decided that her analogy was appropriate for domestic violence researchers as well, so I quoted her and encouraged my readers to muster the stamina to keep on dancing.

Well, I have to say that until September 11th, I was starting to feel like we were really making some progress in our understanding of domestic violence and violence against women in general. I thought the bear might finally be getting a little tired. I edited the only international, interdisciplinary journal devoted exclusively to the problem of violence against women, and I have the advantage - no, it's really more of a privilege - to get to see some of the very best, the most innovative, research and practice in this field. The journal starts its eighth year of publication in January, and there is so much excellent work being done in this area that we have been publishing monthly for three years now. I was beginning to feel that services for abused women were growing and improving; research on the Violence Against Women Act was showing the significant impact this law was having on not only reducing violence against women but also on holding perpetrators accountable for their actions; and the programs for perpetrators were growing and improving.

But September 11th changed my outlook - just as it changed everything else. It's not just that I'm feeling the sadness, shock, and concern that are affecting all of us, although I certainly am. It's something else; it's made me realize that some of the progress we have made could be eroded in the months to come, and that other problems that not paid much attention to, but should have, are likely to come to the fore. It's made the whole picture much more complicated, and there are no simple or easy solutions. And so the bear just keeps on dancing.

Prior to September 11th, I was planning to talk with you about trends in research in violence against women - our successes as well as the issues that we have not done so well in addressing. On the latter topic, I planned to include some of my own current research on violence against very poor women who live in public housing developments in Philadelphia. But after September 11th, my plans for this talk - and for so many other things - changed.

In the week following the terrorist attacks, I spent some time going through my address book, calling people I hadn't heard from in awhile just to make sure they were okay. I figured they were, but like everybody else, I was looking for reassurance. I was talking to a friend of mine who runs several programs for battered women in the Pacific Northwest and, after our initial catching-up talk, she said in a grave tone, "We're in trouble, you know. …

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