This is a post in response to Whispering Jack, after a recent blog that got me thinking, and arguing back! To read the original post, see here. In it, the energy of violence and a potential non-violent response is outlined, including how this may facilitate transformation. In reflecting on the post, and subsequent discussion, a couple of issues come to mind.
Firstly, any reflection on human violence should be consciously aware of the fragility and wonder of the body. Each person’s body is unique and integral to identity; it is impossible to ‘be’ without a body. It is an organised biological system, but more than that, each embodied being is a mysterious cauldron of life, a person, whose ‘consciousness is harnessed to flesh,’ and who is worthy of love, respect and compassion. When violated through violence, the body responds. And mostly, it does not respond well. Flesh bleeds, tears and is easily broken down. We cannot overlook the corporeal suffering of those who experience violence. The body is tender (also tough sometimes) and any intellectual discussion of what it may mean to absorb the energy of violence, without returning it, requires a moment of pause to consider what this means for the affected body.
There is a long history within Western philosophical systems of silencing the body, but I mean here to reinscribe silence with an alternative meaning, one of respectful listening to the body in pain. The humanity, bodily integrity and potential for healing of those experiencing violence must be at the forefront of this discussion.
Secondly, the levels of violence already absorbed by women must be accounted for. Violence is the number one health risk for adult females and ongoing resistance to this oppression needs to be clearly enunciated in any discussion of a response to violence. Women (and men) need an unambiguous message that abuse is completely unacceptable. Further, there are no guarantees that if women wholly absorb the energy of violence, without returning it, destructive cycles will end in transformation. Many times it ends in death, trauma and misery. The power of suffering is that which destroys personhood, there is no venerating it as a path to redemption, especially for women.
This brings me to the third issue. Christianity has been complicit in encouraging women to absorb inter-personal, social and structural violence, not least of all through the cross of Christ. So much is this still an issue that it was reported in the SMH on Friday!
Christian theology has interpreted abuse and suffering in ways that play down the profound physiological impacts for women, and by implication, reduce the spiritual space needed for healing. By being told there can be positive results from abuse, or that suffering connects us with Christ, women are religiously conditioned to endure further violence. And while I concur that your post, ‘The Energy of Violence’ examines this issue from a totally different standpoint, it is the same message that is being disseminated. Accept it, turn the other cheek, and submit as Jesus did, absorb the energy of the violent encounter. Further to this is the socialisation that females go through, and which the church has especially encouraged, by honouring and teaching women to embody the ethical characteristics of submission and sacrifice, which doesn’t leave much room for autonomy, assertiveness and agency, necessary requirements for addressing abuse.
Your work on non-violence must be balanced with theological perspectives that acknowledge the injustice of suffering, a right to wellbeing, and the possibility of healing, and also with a greater awareness of the long-standing impacts of structural inequalities.
Yet this is not the end of the story. There is truth in what you say and I see this in the life of Rosie Batty. In many ways, Batty embodies multiple (and even paradoxical) considerations in this discussion. She experienced violence for many years, culminating in the brutal murder of her child. What was suffered by Batty has been well documented, not silenced. And at the heart of her story is failure, the failure of the state, the community, the church, the police, to address her suffering. Instead she was blamed, ignored, oppressed. She was the human subject of structural injustice. This cannot be erased or denied.
And yet, after her child’s murder, Batty has consistently refused to dehumanise her ex-partner, neither did she retreat from public expression of rage and grief, but has stood as a powerful voice of truth, challenging her own treatment at the hands of the justice system and unmasking social acceptance of violence against women. She has thoroughly absorbed the energy of the abuse that was done to her and not returned in kind and, in the process, is helping to interrupt larger cycles of injustice and violence. She is challenging accepted practice through her own embodied victimisation. I am thankful for this woman, her courage and work, while acknowledging the great pain of her situation.
You’re right, the violence of humanity must be addressed, and contextual understanding is important for working out a way forward for those trapped in life-diminishing abuse. Yet in upholding the ways of non-violence, what is required is greater nuance and clarity about how this may work in particular circumstances. The ambiguous and complex nature of the proposition to end violence with non-violence, through the absorption of its energy, also needs to be addressed. This is not a conventional approach and there are many ways to interpret a response to violence. The broader implications for women, and all marginalised groups, should also be further fleshed out.