Why Bother?

Some days I wonder why I keep arguing about feminism on the message boards, especially when I should be working on my next book.
But then I turn on the television for ten minutes – 10 minutes of PBS – and there’s a public service announcement co-funded by Liz Claiborne that states that one 1 in 5 teenage girls is sexually or emotionally abused by their boyfriends.
So I did a little research and discovered a website dedicated to preventing relationship abuse called Love is Not Abuse.

And in its statistics section, this is what I found:

  • 1 in 3 teenagers report knowing a friend or peer who has been hit, punched, kicked, slapped, choked or physically hurt by their partner. (Liz Claiborne Inc. study on teen dating abuse conducted by Teenage Research Unlimited, February 2005.)
  • Nearly 1 in 5 teenage girls who have been in a relationship said a boyfriend had threatened violence or self-harm if presented with a break-up. (Liz Claiborne Inc. study)
  • 13% of teenage girls who said they have been in a relationship report being physically hurt or hit. (Liz Claiborne Inc. study)
  • 1 in 4 teenage girls who have been in relationships reveal they have been pressured to perform oral sex or engage in intercourse. (Liz Claiborne Inc. study.)
  • More than 1 in 4 teenage girls in a relationship (26%) report enduring repeated verbal abuse. (Liz Claiborne Inc. study.)
  • 80% of teens regard verbal abuse as a “serious issue” for their age group. (Liz Claiborne Inc. study.)
  • If trapped in an abusive relationship, 73% of teens said they would turn to a friend for help; but only 33% who have been in or known about an abusive relationship said they have told anyone about it. (Liz Claiborne Inc. study.)
  • Twenty-four percent of 14 to 17-year-olds know at least one student who has been the victim of dating violence, yet 81% of parents either believe teen dating violence is not an issue or admit they don’t know if it is an issue. (Survey commissioned by the Empower Program, sponsored by Liz Claiborne Inc. and conducted by Knowledge Networks, Social Control, Verbal Abuse, and Violence Among Teenagers, December 2000)
  • Less than 25% of teens say they have discussed dating violence with their parents. (Liz Claiborne Inc. study of teens 13-17 conducted by Applied Research and Consulting LLC, Spring 2000)
  • 89% of teens between the ages of 13 and 18 say they have been in dating relationships; forty percent of teenage girls age 14 to 17 report knowing someone their age who has been hit or beaten by a boyfriend. (Children Now/Kaiser Permanente poll, December 1995)
  • Nearly 80% of girls who have been physically abused in their intimate relationships continue to date their abuser. (City of New York, Teen Relationship Abuse Fact Sheet, March 1998)
  • Of the women between the ages 15-19 murdered each year, 30% are killed by their husband or boyfriend. (City of New York, Teen Relationship Abuse Fact Sheet, March 1998)
  • That’s why I keep arguing. While it may not seem that discussions as to whether or not women can use their sexuality as a kind of power have any relevance to the above statistics, I think they do. There is a tendency in the world in general to gloss over the actual lives of women, and instead fixate on the exception. Ironically, I think that comes out of an optimistic impulse: we don’t really want to believe that women’s lives can be so horrible only because they’re women.
    But there’s something really wrong here. Women’s lives have not gotten better because they can show some cleavage and get some guy to buy them a drink. When a married tranny argues with me that getting yourself bought a drink or turning a man’s head is power, I often wonder if they think first to ask their wives why they don’t use their sexuality as power. After all, a lot of us are attractive women. But we’re also smart. And we don’t use that power for a reason – and it’s not because we don’t think we have it. It’s because once you use it, there’s this raft of assumptions about who and what you are. Most of us, frankly, just want to get through a day on our skills or our brains and really don’t need our tits to help out.
    These arguments are not abstractions for me. I’m not arguing for the hell of it – I’d rather be writing. But I have very little patience for people who want to and willfully try to believe in something that makes them feel better instead of dealing with what’s really going on in the world. And I acknowledge that I get especially impatient when that person occasionally dresses as a woman, but remains somewhat oblivious of the reality of most women’s lives.