COUPLE-RELATED VIOLENCE: THE MATTER OF SEMANTICS

I’ve been mulling this matter over since attending CIME 2011 last week. In that conference the expressions ‘domestic violence,’ ‘sexist violence,’ ‘gendered or gender-related violence’ and ‘male chauvinist violence’ were bandied about without much agreement on what this all-pervading type of violence should be called. I would certainly not call it a ‘phenomenon,’ as the media are so fond of doing, for this is not a new, temporary matter –a fashion– but a deeply-seated part of ancestral patriarchy. Two main problems in relation to the wobbly semantics of the term were often mentioned. On the one hand, ‘gendered violence’ is more widespread than ‘domestic violence’ and included crimes such as the mass rape of Muslin women by the Serbs during the 1990s Balkan wars; besides, the too neutral adjective ‘gendered’ conveniently conceals that most attacks are misogynistic while not all women share or have shared a domestic situation with their attackers. On the other hand, the focus on sexist heterosexual violence obscures the fact that abuse also happens in situations in which the couple or ex-couple in question is gay or lesbian. Too many problems for any of these terms to be effective.

It occurs to me that we’re simply speaking of ‘couple-related violence.’ I assumed someone would have already used this but quick Googling only throws up this passage of the California Civil Harassment and Domestic Violent Actions Research Guide from the San Diego County Public Law Library: “Generally, Domestic Violence refers to family and couple-related violence or abuse. Civil Harassment pertains to all other, non-domestic types of violence and abuse situations.” I’m no lawyer and I don’t want to get lost in the jungle of legal nuances but it occurs to me that the couple, of any variety, is the socio-cultural institution generating the violence we call so inaccurately domestic, gendered, sexist or male-chauvinist. Let’s then call it couple-related violence and make it clear that forming a couple, whether temporary or permanent, and ending it, are high-risk situations for anyone unlucky enough to attach her- or himself to an abusive partner. Obviously, it’s quite clear to me that heterosexual women incur a MUCH higher risk than anyone else but this denomination would also cover violence within non-heterosexual couples and the very small percentage of domestic abuse heterosexual men claim to suffer.

Having said this, let me explain what happened yesterday in the Catalonia Fantasy and Horror Film Festival at the lovely town of Sitges. During the projection of Lucky McKee’s film The Woman –which won an award for best screenplay… – the audience composed by mostly young men cheered and clapped at the sight of a particularly demeaning, violent scene in which the victim was the woman of the title. Alex Gorina and Jaume Figueras, the seasoned film critics reporting this on Catalan TV, were certainly scandalised. This misogynistic attitude was justified, though, by a veteran spectator who explained that Sitges audiences are very loud in their appreciation of screen violence of any kind; they weren’t being particularly sexist. I myself didn’t see the film but I can very well imagine what it must have been like for the women in the cinema to see their male couples cheering and clapping. They must have been certainly disappointed, perhaps scared that gendered violence would eventually lead to couple-related violence.

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