Archive for the ‘ Domestic Violence & Child Abuse ’ Category

REVIEW: “The Color Purple” by Alice Walker

The Color Purple

[WINNER OF THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD (among others), 1983]

Alice Walker
Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 2007

CHALLENGE(S): Banned Books Challenge, Book Awards Challenge, GLBT Challenge (mini), Read the Movie Challenge, Social Justice Challenge, Women Unbound Challenge, Year of the Historical Challenge

Finished 16 April 2010

I got an amazing amount of mileage out of this book. It won an Award (Book Awards Challenge), it is frequently banned (Banned Books Challenge), it features a lesbian relationship (GLBT Challenge) and domestic violence (Social Justice Challenge), was made into a movie (Books and Movies Challenge), it is deeply feminist (Women Unbound Challenge) and it’s set in the early 20th century (Year of the Historical Challenge). Whew!

On top of that, it is also a wonderful book that I highly recommend.

The story is told in epistolary style, as a series of letters from the main character – Celie – to God. When the book begins, Celie is being abused by her father, by whom she eventually has two children. Her mother is dead and the only person she can really rely on is her younger sister, Nettie, who is cleverer and prettier and her best friend in the world. When a man she refers to only as Mister ——- proposes to Nettie, however, Celie’s life takes a turn for the worse. Her father refuses to allow Nettie to leave, and offers Celie in her place; to their horror, Mister ——- agrees. Separated from her sister, Celie’s only consolation is her developing relationship with Shug Avery, a beautiful singer who is the mother of Mister’s children.

The storyline gets more complicated as the novel goes on, but I don’t want to spoil it for you so I’ll leave the synopsis there. I will say, however, that there is a lot of musing about God and the nature of love throughout the novel, which I very much enjoyed. It did tend to get a little philosophical towards the end of the book, which kind of jolted you out of the story a bit, and I agree with many other reviewers that the ending was just a little too neat for me to believe completely. However, these flaws aside, some of my favourite parts of the novel were when the characters started discussing the nature of God. For example:

God love all them feelings. That’s some of the best stuff God did. And when you know God loves ’em you enjoys ’em a lot more. You can just relax, go with everything that’s going, and praise God by liking what you like.

God don’t think it dirty? I ast.

Naw, she say. God made it. Listen, God love everything you love – and a mess of stuff you don’t. But more than anything else, God love admiration.

You saying God vain? I ast.

Naw, she say. Not vain, just wanting to share a good thing. I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.

What it do when it pissed off? I ast.

Oh, make something else. People think pleasing God is all God care about. But any fool living in the world can see it always trying to please us back.

Yeah? I say.

Yeah, she say. It always making little surprises and springing them on us when us least expect.

— pp.176-177.

I really enjoyed the way the characters’ shifting affections and developing natures were used as a sounding board to illustrate the fluidity of love and its connection to God. I may not believe in God, but I did appreciate the warmth and strength with which Walker imbued the narrative, and her fantastic ability to give her characters a unique voice. Celie came across strongly throughout, as did her sister Nettie when we read some of her letters to her sister later in the novel. Even the secondary characters, from whom we do not hear directly, have a vibrant inner life that makes them leap off the page and into your imagination.

The book is also profoundly feminist. Its main theme is essentially humanity, both human beings and the quality of benevolence they show so infrequently towards one another, but it focuses particularly on the strength and resilience of the female characters, how they face the obstacles life places before them and deal with abuse from the men around them. That is not to say it is intrinsically “anti-male”, however; one of the most moving parts of the book, for me, is how Mister ——- and his son change and are changed by the strong women in their lives, eventually coming to see their true worth and nature beyond sex and domestic slavery. It is an optimistic book, at heart: it postulates that both sexes can, given time, come to a place of equality and respect, and love each other for who they are rather than who the world would have them be.

A deserving classic, and nowhere near as intimidating as I had originally imagined. If you haven’t read it yet, then I highly recommend that you do!



REVIEW: “The Woman Who Walked into Doors” by Roddy Doyle

The Woman Who Walked into Doors

Roddy Doyle
Penguin, 1997

CHALLENGE(S): Social Justice Challenge

Finished 15 April 2010

It took me a long time to finish this book, even though it’s only around 200 pages long, and there’s a good reason for it. It is not the sort of novel that you read for entertainment or enjoyment – it’s the sort of thing you read because you really want to know what it’s like to live with domestic violence.

The main story is about Paula Spencer, who grew up with an abusive father and married an abusive husband. We follow her as she meets Charlo, falls in love with him, and as their relationship gradually falls apart we feel every blow. And we experience Paula’s guilt and triumph as she finally gets the strength to kick him out and move on – sort of.

It was, I think, not what I would call a good book in the usual sense. It was well written, but not in a lyrical way: I have frequently described it to others as like crawling over glass because it’s so brutal, honest, unflinching and absolutely one of the most painful things I’ve ever read. I have seldom been so involved with a character’s emotions, so the author has to be doing something right. At the same time, the stylistic choices (e.g. the use of dashes instead of speech marks) and the unrelenting sadness of it all made it hard for me to read much at a time, and even harder for me to come back and persist with my reading.

Overall, I think it’s worth three stars. It’s not brilliant, but anything that can make you truly experience the character’s inner life in that manner deserves praise, and as a book on domestic violence it is invaluable for opening people’s eyes. Just not one I’d recommend if you want a light, enjoyable read!


Social Justice Challenge: ACTION! for Domestic Violence

For this month’s activist-level Social Justice challenge, I have:

  1. Begun participating in the international Thursdays in Black campaign against gender-related violence and discrimination.
  2. Decided to commit to posting a new Human Rights-related link, article or other media item every second Thursday, also in support of this campaign.
  3. Begun the novel The Woman Who Walked into Doors by Roddy Doyle (to be completed).
  4. Watched the preview of Power and Control, a documentary on domestic abuse in America. Unfortunately it has yet to be released, so I was unable to find a longer segment to view.
  5. Watched a number of short videos pertaining to domestic violence awareness, including these two by Patrick Stewart.
  6. Read this essay on surviving sexual abuse.
  7. Participated in Amnesty International’s campaigns against violence.
  8. Signed the petition at UNiTE and subscribed to their YouTube channel.
  9. Made a committment to speak to my counsellor about my own experiences with emotional abuse.
  10. Signed the petition at CARE and subscribed for updates.

What have you been doing?

Thursdays in Black: Why Wear Black?

Thursdays in Black official logo

Link(s) of the Day:

Thursdays in Black on Ning
Thursdays in Black at the NZUSA
Thursdays in Black Official New Zealand Website (under construction)

Why I Chose This Link:

While searching for a way to contribute to the fight against Domestic Violence and Child Abuse for the Social Justice Challenge this month, I came across this campaign. Although it was started by a Christian organization (and is therefore something I would be wary about taking part in), the idea transcends the limitations of dogma. It’s perfectly simple: for one day a week, wear black to show your support for survivors of discrimination and violence, and to work together for a world without brutality.

To quote the Student Association website where I first encountered the campaign:

Thursday’s In Black is part of an international movement to demand a world without rape and violence. The campaign has its roots in groups such as Mothers of the Disappeared in Argentina, Black Sash in South Africa and the Women in Black movements in Bosnia and Israel. These groups include Argentinean mothers who gather every Thursday in silence to protest the loss of loved ones under the military dictatorship, women who expressed outrage at the rape-death camps in war torn Bosnia, and women who opposed the Israel occupation of the West Bank and the abuse of the Palestinians.

However, Thursday’s In Black is not a campaign confined only to countries officially at war. In fact, a war against women is being raged all over the world, and has continued for centuries. Its weapons include domestic violence, sexual assault, rape, incest, murder, female infanticide, genital mutilation, sexual harassment, discrimination, sex trafficking. In short, sexism.

Today, I joined those wearing black. In addition, I have decided to add a bi-weekly feature to this blog, in which I will feature a specific Human Rights-related link, article, blog post or other media item and discussion, encouraging others to get involved. This is the first of those posts.

Wearing black on Thursday’s indicates that you are tired of putting up with rape and violence in your community. It demonstrates a desire for a community where we can all walk safely without fear of being beaten up, verbally abused, raped, of being discriminated against due to your sexual orientation, political affiliation, gender or ethnicity.

It shows that you want to be free.

Let’s take a stand.

Social Justice Challenge, Month 3: Domestic Violence and Child Abuse

This month’s topic for the Social Justice Challenge (as I have belatedly discovered) is Domestic Violence and Child Abuse. To start off, let’s think about the questions posed for this month:

  • What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of domestic violence and child abuse?

    That’s actually quite a tough question. What comes to mind for me, I think, is the problem inherent in the social definition of the subject. Many people regard domestic violence/abuse as primarily physical: that is, that it is about one person using or threatening to use physical violence to inflict injury on another. Alternatively, and particularly with children, it involves unwanted sexual contact that violates the child’s trust and rights. What we are less inclined to view as abuse, and what is consequently more difficult to quantify and to combat, is the emotional head-games that can be equally as damaging. When I think of domestic violence and child abuse, I think of someone who needs to control others and is abusing their position of power and/or trust to do so. Whether this be by physical, sexual or emotional means does not make it any less abusive or any less dangerous and damaging to those being abused.
  • What does domestic violence mean to you, personally?Beyond what I said above, this month’s topic has a special significance for me personally because domestic abuse is rife in my family. Both of my parents were abused in different ways by their parents, and to some extent those patterns of behaviour have passed on to them. I guess you could say I have experienced firsthand some of the fallout that comes from sexual and emotional abuse, and how it can affect people’s lives long after the events themselves are over.
  • What is your current knowledge of domestic violence and child abuse?
  • I know that it is much more common than people realize. I know that it is not just perpetrated by men against women, although that is the most prevalent, and that female-on-male violence carries with it an unfair stigma. I know that rape within marriage is still not considered legitimate rape by a disturbing number of people. I know that it can be difficult for survivors to leave abusive relationships and/or speak out against abuse, and that they need all the support they can get. I also know, as my mother once told me after discussing what happened to her as a child: “It’s something that happened to you: it doesn’t make you a certain kind of person.”

  • Are you aware of the resources available for men, women and children who find themselves in domestic violence and child abuse situations? Yes, but for the benefit of those who don’t who may happen to stumble across this page, and to give some specifically New Zealand resources, let me list some:Lifeline
    National Network of Stopping Violence
    Women’s Refuge
    Are You OK?
  • Have you chosen a book or resource to read for this month?There are so many to choose from! I’ve been interested in reading The Colour Purple for a while now, and The Woman Who Walked into Doors also sounds very good. I also know of some local examples too: Alan Duff’s Once Were Warriors series (I think it’s a series) is a particularly famous example, and the book I read in January, A Dangerous Vine, deals with some aspects of domestic abuse (emotional abuse and neglect) as well. Those of you who like a musical accompaniment may also enjoy this song Luka sung by Suzanne Vega:If memory serves, there is a brilliant young adults book about a boy who was abused by his father I read a few years back…I can’t remember the title, unfortunately, but I’ll go and search it out, because it was fantastically written and should definitely be more widely known.

I hope that this month is as edifying and enlightening as the others have been. I’m looking forward to blogging about the books I’ve selected and exploring this disturbing topic.