Monthly Archives: June 2014

Why doesn’t she just leave? Because society says she’s a bad single mom when she does?

Damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

We reprint this article from New York Times not to detract from the two-parent family, but to point out how battered women are blamed when they don’t “just leave” but are labeled as bad parents if they are single mothers.

AFTER spending two years studying services for domestic violence survivors, I was surprised to realize that one of the most common barriers to women’s safety was something I had never considered before: the high value our culture places on two-parent families.

I began my research in 2011, the year the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that more than one-third of American women are assaulted by an intimate partner during their lives. I talked to women in communities that ranged from a small rural mining town to a large global city, in police stations, criminal courts, emergency shelters, job placement centers and custody proceedings. I found that almost all of the women with children I interviewed had maintained contact with their abusers. Why?

Many had internalized a public narrative that equated marriage with success. Women experiencing domestic abuse are told by our culture that being a good mother means marrying the father of her children and supporting a relationship between them. According to a 2010 Pew report, 69 percent of Americans say single mothers without male partners to help raise their children are bad for society, and 61 percent agree that a child needs a mother and a father to grow up happily.

The awareness of the stigma of single motherhood became apparent to me when I met a young woman who was seven months pregnant. She had recently left her abusive boyfriend and was living in a domestic violence shelter. When I asked if she thought the relationship was over, she responded, “As far as being together right now, I don’t want to be together. But I do hope that in the future — because my mind puts it out there like, O.K., I don’t want to be a statistic.” When she said this, I assumed she was referring to domestic violence statistics. But she continued: “I don’t want to be this young pregnant mom who they say never lasts with the baby’s father. I don’t want to be like that.”

Shame about not meeting certain standards of motherhood was prevalent in upper-middle-class families, too. Women with professional and social prominence often feared tarnishing the veneer of their perfect-looking lives. Others were afraid of being judged for putting their children at risk by choosing a dangerous partner. One explained that she kept her abuse a secret because “I was embarrassed by the things I was seeing; I couldn’t let people know that he wasn’t the husband and provider we pretended he was.” Regardless of who they were, most survivors were acutely aware of how their victimization would influence their public identities as mothers.

The truly alarming part, however, is the extent to which the institutions that are intended to assist domestic violence survivors — protection order courts, mental health services, public benefits programs and child custody systems — reinforce this stigma with both official policies and ingrained prejudices.

Mental health professionals, law enforcement officials, judges and members of the clergy often showed greater concern for the maintenance of a two-parent family than for the safety of the mother and her children. Women who left abusive men were frequently perceived at best as mothers who had not successfully kept their children out of harm’s way and at worst as liars who were alienating children from their fathers.

In court, I watched a judge order the very first woman I interviewed to drop off her son at his father’s house every week for visitation. When she tried to tell the judge that she had a protection order against her child’s father and that she was concerned for her safety, the judge responded: “You know what? You are just trying to keep this child from his father, aren’t you?”

I saw women lose custody rights because they had moved with their children to friends’ houses or even into domestic violence shelters to escape abuse, and judges considered these “unsuitable living arrangements.” The children were sent back to their abusive fathers, who could provide “more stability.”

Another survivor I spoke with was tangled in a custody battle with her former boyfriend, who was also being prosecuted in criminal court for injuring their children. One afternoon, we sat outside the town’s courthouse. She had just lost two additional days a week of custody to the children’s father. The primary evidence against her was a picture of her drinking a cocktail, illustrating her apparent unsuitability as a mother. She said: “I tried to get my kids out before things got really bad, and the court was like, ‘Where are the bruises? It’s not so bad. Why are you alienating the kids from Dad?’ Next time they said, ‘Why didn’t you get out? Why didn’t you protect the kids?’ They want you to get away from the abuse and then they make it so hard.”

The very system meant to punish perpetrators and protect survivors of violence bound the two more tightly together. This reality deeply affected women’s choices; many calculated that they would rather live in abusive homes with their children than risk leaving them alone.

Since returning from my fieldwork, I have been struck by the pervasive narrative across the ideological spectrum regarding the value of two-parent families. To be sure, children who enjoy the support of two adults fare better on average than those who do not, and parents with loving partners often benefit from greater emotional and economic security. However, I have seen the ways in which prioritizing two-parent families tethers victims of violence to their assailants, sacrifices safety in the name of parental rights and helps batterers maintain control. Sweeping rhetoric about the value of marriage and father involvement is not just incomplete. For victims of domestic violence, it’s dangerous.


Safe at Home – Softball Tournament Benefits S.H.A.R.E., Inc.


The Schmeeckle Brothers Construction Company team won the Safe at Home Softball Tournament, an annual fundraiser to benefit the S.H.A.R.E., Inc. Morgan County Domestic Violence Program, held Saturday, June 7 at the Joslin-Needham Softball Complex in Brush.

Cargill Team

Cargill was the Event Sponsor, shown above with Jan Schiller, Executive Director on left, and Jerilyn Hall, Board President on right


Winner – Men’s Homerun Contest – Matt Rocha, with his pitcher on the left.


Winner – Women’s Homerun Contest – Kelly Harding.

Funds go directly to assist battered women and their children in Morgan County and outlying areas.

#YesAllMen Can Be Allies

Elliot Rodger’s fatal rampage set off an anguished public conversation that continues to reverberate around the country.

There is no “upside” to the horror of what happened in Santa Barbara. But given that it did happen, we are heartened to see that now—finally—we may be having the right conversation.

Yes, we need to talk about mental illness. Yes, we really need to talk about guns. But we also need to talk about men’s violence against women, the culture that fuels it—and the role that men can play to stop it.

This is the national conversation we did not have after similar mass murders, such as when George Sodini shot and killed three women (wounding nine more) in 2009, having earlier written that “30 million women” had rejected him.
It’s the conversation we need to have about the content of “When Women Refuse,” the Tumblr launched two days after the shootings that collects stories of violence against women who rebuffed men’s sexual advances.

Finally we are having this conversation today, more broadly and visibly than before, and with more men than ever before.
Let’s be clear. A small minority of men is violent. A micro-minority of men is as violent as Elliot Rodger.

But, as the hashtag that took over Twitter in the wake of the violence dramatically demonstrated, #YesAllWomen have, in some capacity, experienced (and most make daily decisions in order to avoid) men’s violence.

The already-existing hashtag #NotAllMen resurged in defensive response. (As in: not all men rape, not all men kill, not all men are evil. Of course not. That’s not the point—and, by the way, that’s also a pretty low bar to set.)
But what else happened?

Men started reading the #YesAllWomen posts. Many were men who maybe understood intellectually that men’s violence and discrimination against women are not good things—but who had never realized the full extent of their infusion and intrusion in women’s daily lives. And many were men who went on in numbers and with passion we’ve never seen before, to tweet and blog about this, vowing to be allies and partners in challenging it.

Men like Arthur Chu in the Daily Beast, and like Andrew Garda of Dad Moon Rising,who wrote:

“We, as men, have a responsibility to change this. Not just by not being jerks to women, but to actively support women in their rights as human beings. Forget equality because it’s not even about that. It’s about treating people like people.”

This is what it’s going to take. Men holding other men accountable; men challenging the cultural scripts about masculinity that incubate discrimination and violence. These scripts equate male power and success with dominance, money, access to women and sex and indeed, a sense of entitlement to all these things.

We need to give our boys other scripts: power and success, even love, through respect, integrity and humanity; and teach them that women are equals, not spoils. We need to say “Come on, dude,” when our buddies make sexist comments or gestures.

And we need to encourage men like Arthur and Andrew and their peers, because—as the positive response to Breakthrough’s “Be That Guy” animation shown at the Indy 500 and elsewheredemonstrates—stepping up both takes courage and makes you the coolest guy in the room. #NotAllMen are a part of the problem, but, #yesallmen must be a part of the solution.

In his chilling manifesto, Rodger wrote, “Who’s the alpha male now?” This phrase may be an allusion to the terminology of communities of men who practice certain dominance-based “pickup” techniques and with whom Rodger interacted. But really he’s talking about his final Rambo-style blaze of so-called glory, about the model of masculinity he felt entitled to and was denied of.

Let’s change that. Let’s make this tragedy the national cultural watershed it should be—our no-going-back moment. Let’s see the national response as analogous to the men and women marching side by side in Delhi’s streets in the wake of the infamous—and also watershed—2013 gang rape of “Nirbhaya.”

Let’s make violence and discrimination against women unacceptable by making equality and respect more acceptable—even aspirational. In that model, everyone wins: Men aren’t held to impossible ideals of masculinity and standards of male success; women aren’t blamed when men can’t live up to those ideals. Men and women together, we can all work to build different, diverse, humane ideals for ourselves and others. Who is the alpha male now? Now is the time for new answers.

Phoebe Schreiner is Vice President and U.S. Country Director of Breakthrough, a global human rights organization working to make violence and discrimination against women unacceptable.

Michael Kimmel is Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Gender Studies at Stony Brook University, where he directs the Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities. He is the author of GUYLAND and ANGRY WHITE MEN.