Steinem speaks about domestic violence

Gloria Steinem speaks about domestic violence (Stamford Times) Amanda Pinto reports.

Solving the national domestic violence epidemic is not just a matter of aiding victims, it is a matter of “uprooting the deepest normalization of violence in the most intimate setting.”

Renowned women’s rights advocate Gloria Steinem discussed the importance of that message before a crowd of 600 at Tuesday’s Women of Courage Spring Luncheon, sponsored by the Domestic Violence Crisis Center [DVCC], at the Stamford Marriott Hotel.

“We’re standing on the side of a river plucking people out who are drowning … but now we have to go to the head of the river and see why people are falling in, and see how to prevent them from falling in,” she said.

Steinem was the DVCC’s 2007 award recipient, joining past honorees like journalist Anna Quindlen and former prosecutor Jeanine Pirro. She was also the event’s featured speaker.

DVCC Executive Director Barbara Heffernan, who introduced Steinem, said she was inspired when Steinem first began speaking publicly about feminism 30 years ago.

“The message I learned is someone who stands up and speaks her own truth can change the world,” Heffernan said. Steinem’s speech Tuesday focused on domestic violence awareness — where it has been, and where in the future, she hopes it can go.

“It’s come a long way to have a name and laws against it because when I was growing it up it was just daily life,” Steinem said in an interview before the luncheon.

Awareness needs to be improved upon, she said, highlighting reports that the Virginia Tech campus was not locked down after the initial two murders because campus police assumed it was “just domestic violence.”

The term itself is misleading, Steinem said. Domestic violence makes it seem small or limited when in fact it acquaints many with violence in a comfortable, deeply personal setting, normalizing it, Steinem said.

She said a more appropriate term may be “original violence.” “This is the most difficult trauma to uproot,” she said. Today’s reality — when one in three women, one in 14 men, and one in four teenage girls, are victims of domestic abuse — was not formed in a vacuum, Steinem said.

Persisting folklore like the “rule of thumb,” which originates from a law that husbands could beat their wives as long as they used a rod no thicker than a thumb — has been “enshrined and accepted” in our culture, she said.

Society has bred a cult of masculinity that requires males remain dominant and find a “fix of dominance,” often through violence. “Men are not naturally more aggressive and violent then women, they’re not.” she said. “Anyone that studies any other species will tell you that the females are much more fierce in self defense, in defending their young. We as humans have been talked out of that.”

The same cultural impression spawns not only domestic violence, but street violence and militarism as well, Steinem said. While women have learned to be more assertive and less subservient through feminism, and parents have learned to be more comfortable raising their daughters like sons — men have not reaped the same benefits, Steinem said. Men have few role models that contradict the perceived necessity of masculinity, she said. To cure domestic violence, this must first be addressed, Steinem told the audience.

“A lot of us feel uncomfortable raising our sons more like our daughters, but that’s exactly what we need to do, because we’re not raising whole people,” she said.