Stop Signs: Recognizing, Avoiding, and Escaping Abusive Relationships

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Another book by Seal Press, Lynn Fairweather’s first book “Stop Signs” is a must-read for all women. It is clear from her work on domestic violence cases, combined with her bachelor degree in social science and masters in social work, that Fairweather is not only passionate about helping women who suffer from abuse, but that she has extensive knowledge and skills to do so.

Her book is thoughtfully laid out like a road map for women, providing them with all the tools and information they need to navigate an abusive relationship and to safely find their way out. 

I chose to read this book because the very fact that domestic abuse is so common infuriates me. A woman’s safety is not something she should have to compromise when in a relationship, and the fact that it frequently is is testament to how fucked up our society is. What kind of culture do we live in that men grow up either thinking it is okay to harm their partners, or that how they treat them isn’t actually abuse? What kind of culture do we live in where domestic abuse wears such a shroud of secrecy and shame that women don’t feel they can voice their pain, or that their troubles will not be recognized by court?

So how do we stop domestic abuse? Well, the obvious answer is to make men stop abusing women. But until we find a way to do this, the alternative is to arm women with the knowledge and skills, both defensive and offensive, to combat the violence men perpetrate on them. This book does just that.

Here is some of the knowledge I gained through reading “Stop Signs”:

  1. Abuse is not simply physical, and it is not always visible. Fairweather outlines the varying kinds of abuse that much of society, myself included until reading this book, doesn’t take account of. She reveals that “most abuse starts with non-assaultive behaviours that often move forward on a continuum of ever-increasing aggression and control tactics” (35). Physical abuse, then, is just the tip of the ice-berg, the most easily observed type of abuse that may be built upon a whole mountain of less visible abuse. Examples of other types of abuse;
  2. Verbal Abuse: insulting, degrading, threatening the victim, etc
  3. Economic Abuse: Exerting unwanted/inappropriate control over victim’s finances and property
  4. Spiritual Abuse: Ridiculing, denouncing, preventing the victim from practicing their beliefs
  5. Psychological Abuse: ‘playing mind games’, destroying victim’s possessions, brandishing weapons, humiliation, intimidation, isolating victim from friends/family, stalking, etc
  6. Non-injurious Abuse: Menacing/threatening behaviour, aggression, i.e. confinement
  7. Injurious Abuse: Behaviour that physically injures the victim, i.e. burning, choking
  8. Sexual Abuse

Another section that altered the way I view dating concerned Fairweather’s suggestion to practice “zero tolerance” when dating. She suggests that women make a list of what behaviour they consider acceptable and what behaviour they will not stand for in a relationship, and to keep this list in mind or in reach when they begin to date someone. Another way of thinking about this is boundary setting. Fairweather argues that “understanding yourself and your own boundaries puts you on firm ground, presenting you to potential partners as a strong and decisive woman who cannot be easily swayed or shaped” (79). This has double benefits since: 1) you’ll be able to determine whether a partner is right for you or not much easier, and 2) abusive partners are less likely to seek out women who are decisive and firm. The zero tolerance policy is so important for women because we are so often expected to ‘fix’ men, to ‘be understanding’, and to ‘forgive and forget’. Fuck that. There are no excuses for men who cross boundaries into abuse, and women should never be expected to forgive them. There is no forgive-and-forget when it comes to your happiness and safety.The last point I want to touch on is Fairweather’s section titled “Love hurts: It’s not real if it doesn’t” (172). The sociology of this section grabs me and reminds me why books like these are so important in today’s society. Here’s how it starts:

“Sometime at the starts of second grade, a cruel, hostile boy stole my lunchbox and shoved me to the ground, resulting in copious tears and a school year full of anxiety around future attacks” (172).

Some shade or tint of this same story seems all to familiar to many women. An unexpected and undeserved violent and/or aggressive act of a male towards a female which is then explained as attraction. The most common explanation usually goes something like, “he just pushed you on the playground because he likes you”.

Here’s the formula:

He just (insert agressive action here) because he (insert positive emotion here)’s you. 

Since when does a negative action equal a positive emotion? Why does violence so often equal love in our society? Fairweather puts an end to this twisted line of thinking when she says “the moment that a man or a woman intentionally causes physical harm to an intimate partner, they have crossed a line into the entirely unacceptable” (173). That’s just it; abuse never equals love. Abuse is never acceptable.

Throughout her book, Fairweather keeps a conversational yet determined tone that speaks straight to the reader. She seems to say, hey, this shit is real, and it needs to be dealt with, and I’ll be here every step of the way to support you in your journey to safety and happiness. And it’s true; like Dr. Patti Feuereisen in “Invisible Girls”, Fairweather isn’t enchanted by a television ideal of justice that puts victims through trail in order to lock abusers away for heartbreakingly short sentences. Fairweather stands firmly on the victim’s side, offering numerous resources from crisis lines to councillors to legal aids to support groups, acknowledging that justice for an abuse survivor must be defined by the survivor herself, and that’s a form of feminism I can stand behind.

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