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Necessary Discomforts

Laura Russell photo

By Amil Niazi

Wednesday November 15, 2006

Speaking about the unspeakable I feel very uncomfortable talking about domestic abuse, let alone writing about it. There’s really not anything new about the issue that I can say and every sentence feels like an exercise in verbal tiptoeing. It’s not an issue that can be dealt with, or even adequately conveyed in 600 words, yet it demands being talked about.

Uneasy as I may be, my hand has been forced because in the last month alone three cases of spousal abuse leading to murder stunned Vancouver residents and reminded us of why it’s so dangerous to keep quiet for the sake of comfort. So godammit, we’re gonna talk about it.

Most of us have already sat through enough after-school specials and movies of the week to know the effects abuse can have on an individual, their family, and their community. We are used to seeing abuse played out in news stories, dramatizations, and help-line commercials, and we are used to thinking it can’t happen to us. Unfortunately, it probably already has.

I used to think abuse was a very black-and-white issue. In my mind it was easy to determine what abuse meant and that I would know what it looked like if I ever encountered it. I always pictured a slap or a punch, that that would be the signal. And when I thought about it in those simple terms, I wondered how so many women could be oblivious to these signs in their own lives. Didn’t they know what was happening to them was wrong? Why didn’t they just leave? Obviously I was being more than a little naïve.

Some of us grow up thinking we can do anything, that there will never be limitations to our goals. Others grow up learning the hard way that reality can appear to be nothing but limitations. We define ourselves slowly through our early experiences, our adolescent struggles, and our mature relationships. We pretend to be equipped for anything. And learn quickly that nothing can equip us for everything. Some of us thought abuse would be shocking, but it was actually much more normal than we could ever have imagined. We boiled ourselves alive in complacency and accepted what came, we thought, as part of the routine.

I don’t make judgments about abuse anymore, I only wonder. I wonder what our personal limits are. I wonder what it takes to push some and pull others. I wonder how we will stop an epidemic so entrenched in our history. I wonder if I’ll know what my limits will be or if I even know them now.

Though the Attorney General recently claimed that spousal abuse was a “cancer in the Indo-Canadian community” it is unquestionably a cancer in any culture. None of us can be immune to something that is so hard to describe, so hard to talk about; we don’t always recognise it’s happening to us.

I realise I’m afraid to talk about domestic abuse because I don’t know what to say. I don’t have any solutions, or answers or snappy one-liners that will make it feel less important. I can’t crack any inappropriate jokes because I’m not even sure what I would be making fun of. In an age where independence, ambition and “girl power” are the defining characteristics of a generation of women, maybe we feel too embarrassed to admit any weaknesses.

In any case, shutting up hasn’t done us any good, so any other approach is bound to be just as useful. We just need to keep talking about it.