This is for mainstream feminists, women’s organisations, liberal feminist journalists, and groups who rely on research and government funding that real, truth-telling women might put in peril. Include us, not as stories to drop into your fluffy PR campaigns, but in real ways, even though this will mean accepting our criticism. Especially because of that.
Stop talking about us like we’re not in the room, or positioning yourselves as saviours instead of service providers. Stop dominating the discourse. Stop shutting down dialogue about the use of court fines as a funding stream, as if none of our voices matter. When you speak for us, you silence us, and then insist you’re doing the opposite. That contributes to our feeling revictimised, and you won’t even listen enough to hear that.
Don’t speak for us, and don’t divide us into categories that make certain groups of women seem like less-surprising victims. Don’t feed the beast that feeds off “some women” narratives by validating it. This has nothing to do with what kinds of women we are, and everything to do with abusers, who thrive in a system that colludes with their violence against us. Use your platform to turn the conversation around. Stop making abusers into invisible monsters when they are people we know. It isn’t a cancer, it’s a crime. You cannot fight for justice when you speak in the passive voice.
Don’t conflate us with “mothers” or say things like “it could be your mother or your sister”. Don’t place our value in relation to others just because that’s an effective way to communicate with people who otherwise think we aren’t worth much. Insist we are worth something on our own terms, and accept nothing less. Otherwise you are validating misogynistic narratives about women’s humanity that prioritise some imaginary woman in the future who will be served by the funding it generates, and not the real, present women who need solidarity right this minute.
Stop running campaigns about what “real men” do or don’t do, and resorting to oversimplified essentialised categories and gender binaries that you wouldn’t let slide in a Sociology 101 class. Stop being afraid to talk about the patriarchy for fear of alienating it, and stop sanitising violence and its effects with a balloon-filled purplewashed media strategy. Stop pretending race, class, and sexuality have nothing to do with it. Respect us enough to know that we’re not too stupid to be political. We need you to use your influence to insist that we are too valuable to be collateral damage in a political war that aims to prevent our liberation.
You’re forgetting that we see the messages you send, too, and even if they help you get your funding, they hurt us. Let us be people, with dignity, no matter how unlike perfect victims we are. The images and narratives you present do not help victims of domestic violence identify ourselves; we can’t identify with perfect victims, only with human ones. If what gets you funding is actively hurting us, why aren’t you dealing with the root cause of that? And if you are addressing it, why aren’t we included?
Let our stories be told with all of their truth, and amplify our voices instead of setting the terms for the telling. Demand that we be treated with dignity that is not conditional, no matter what uncomfortable details are in our stories. Build on those stories to insist that our worth not be dependent on the people who depend on us, or on the bullshit respectability we otherwise have (or don’t have) in our communities. Whatever it is you’re doing right now, it isn’t this.
Don’t speak for us, or force our stories to be honed carefully for your PR and marketing strategy. It isn’t just about getting women into refuges and helping us “survive”. If that’s all you want for us, then that’s not good enough. If you want more for us, then include us. Stand with us, noisily, and not quietly over us. Let go of your balloons, and smash the patriarchy instead.