Oppression and Relationship Violence

I Learned That Oppression Leads to Relationship Violence... Which Leads To Oppression

Oppression and relationship violence go hand in hand, and we have the power to prevent them both.


Content Warning: descriptions of physical and emotional abuse and mention of rape in a historical fiction novel called "Their Eyes Were Watching God"

Our society is and has been comprised of a lot of complex structures and systematic oppression that unfortunately cannot be fixed in a day. Implicit bias runs rampant, even with the most unbiased people. Oppression is tough to beat, and we still haven't fully accomplished it.

October is Relationship Violence Awareness Month. Relationship violence has tons of issues with oppression, many of which we may not even realize. Relationship violence stems from many areas, some of which are more well-known than others. For example, violence is cyclical. It can be caused by people searching for control. It can be caused by narcissism. In my English 129 class this semester, I learned about this additional cause that leads to relationship violence: oppression.

The first book we read in this class was a semi-autobiographical novel called "Their Eyes Were Watching God" by Zora Neale Hurston. (Fun fact: Carolina Hall will hopefully be soon changed to Hurston Hall!) The book portrayed what life looked like for a black woman in the early to mid-1900s. I wrote on this topic for my paper, which was 11 pages, so here's a shortened version:

Janie, the main character, is a black woman who, over the course of the story, has three different husbands, all of which are black as well. These men are oppressed and disrespected, unable to live as freely, to say the least. Because of the way they're treated, they feel small. They feel unimportant. They feel out of control and powerless. So what do they do? They fight for it. In all of the wrong ways.

Jody, Janie's second husband, is definitely one of the main perpetrating husbands. He both physically and emotionally abuses Janie through hitting her, manipulating her, and controlling her. He tells her what to wear. He gaslights her into thinking that she should appreciate the way he's dominating her; he's saying she's wrong to feel the way she feels. When she stands up for herself, he fights her into submissiveness. Gaslighting and other behaviors such as these are avenues of abuse.

As stated before, he acts these ways because he feels oppressed as a black man. The reader can see this through his other actions as well: he becomes mayor of a town in which black people are trying to find success. When Janie is asked to speak, he takes over for her.

Later on, Jody dies and Janie marries a man named Tea Cake. At first, he seems promising they go on spontaneous dates, he brings excitement to her life. However, not long after, he shows his true colors. He causes her to suffer then grins as if nothing has happened which is a form of gaslighting. He whips her solely because he feels scared. When he hits her, he pampers her after in a way that ignites jealousy in those around them. This cyclical nature of his behavior as well as the way he hides the abuse from others are also classic signs of relationship violence.

What makes all of this worse is the fact that relationship violence can also lead to oppression. For example, Janie's caretaker, Nanny, was raped by her slaveholder. Through her life, she realizes how much men can hurt women and how important it is that Janie marries a man who will protect her and not hurt her. So when Nanny sees Janie kissing a boy named Johnny Taylor as a teenager, she tells her she has to marry a man named Logan Killicks instead. Janie protests, and Nanny slaps her, hard. Nanny, out of fear and out of knowing violence so well, engages in violent behavior as a result. The violence that the two of them endure causes them to feel oppressed because they feel they can't speak up about what happened to them. Janie has been hurt and is limited in what she's "allowed" to do as a wife of Jody and Tea Cake. When Janie is married to Jody, she's not allowed to engage in "porch talk," for example, which embodied something many people enjoyed at the time.

Through these examples, we can see that people who feel powerless try to take it back in other ways: when they feel hurt, they hurt. When they feel oppressed, they oppress. When they feel as if they cannot speak up, they put others in a place where they feel they can't speak up.

Unfortunately, these situations are still present today, many years later. People of minority groups feel they can't speak up out of fear they'll worsen stereotypes about their group. Black women may not want to report against black men because they don't want to further the incorrect stereotype that "all black men are violent." People in the LGBTQIA+ community may not want to talk about the abuse at the hands of their partner in that community because they don't want to further the incorrect stereotype that people who are LGBTQIA+ are "gross" or "sick" or simply "bad."

Further, the need people feel in which they must desperately search for control is common to most if not all people. Feeling out of control is scary. Enduring violence is scary. Feeling powerless can lower self-worth. And while this is definitely not the case for all, sometimes hurt people hurt people.

Relationship violence is incredibly prevalent. Something I didn't notice was the number of women murdered by their male partners is almost twice the amount of soldiers U.S. troops in Afghanistan from 2001 to 2012. And that only accounts for the categorically "most severe" (I put in parentheses because we shouldn't rank violence and all kinds of violence are incredibly valid) examples of relationship violence. Further, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men will endure partner violence in their lifetimes. Again, this only accounts for physical abuse -- it doesn't include emotional abuse, financial abuse, sexual abuse, or the many other variations.

What's important to know during this time is that relationship violence can be prevented and survivors can be supported. This information should be dispersed all year not only during RVAM. Some important resources include the Love is Respect organization, the Carolina Women's Center for those at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

When we serve as allies to ourselves and our loved ones, we have to keep in mind that relationship violence exists outside romantic relationships as well as inside them. I find saying Relationship Violence Awareness Month is so much more important than Domestic Violence Awareness month because RVAM embodies relationship violence at the hands of parent-child relationships, friendships, family relationships, and so many more. In addition, women can be perpetrators in addition to men. I will discuss this further in another article for my RVAM series this month, so stay tuned!

In addition to understanding the different relationships in which violence can occur, we need to be able to recognize the signs and ways to support loved ones who are struggling when they aren't able to access those above resources yet. If you go to UNC-Chapel Hill, consider taking a HAVEN training, in which you'll learn how labeling others' experiences isn't helpful, how empathy is crucial, as well as other important resources and information that you may not have heard or realized before.

As stated previously, it's vital to be empathetic rather than sympathetic by putting yourself in the shoes of the person you're talking to. Don't blame them for what happened to them. Don't pressure them to make any decisions they aren't comfortable with; remember, they deserve autonomy as well, and are currently being stripped of it.

If you're interested in helping the issue on a less direct level, share the above resources on your social media pages. Speak up when people discuss stigma and stereotypes pertaining to relationship violence. Volunteer with and attend events of organizations like the Carolina Women's Center and Compass Center when they put on RVAM events. Check out the RVAM calendar that the UNC-Chapel Hill safe.unc.edu website provides.

A multitude of ways to fight oppression also exist. For example, acknowledge your privilege. If you're a woman, acknowledge the fact you're more likely to be believed about your experience with sexual violence. If your a man, acknowledge the fact that you can walk home at night without fear. If you're not a minority, acknowledge the fact that you're less likely to be affected by violence generally speaking.

We can also fight oppression by listening to what people who are oppressed need, respecting their experiences, and supporting them however we can.

These two options aren't all that hard to do, yet they have such a big impact on public health and safety. What ways can you support other people today?

Popular Right Now

An Open Letter To Democrats From A Millennial Republican

Why being a Republican doesn't mean I'm inhuman.

Dear Democrats,

I have a few things to say to you — all of you.

You probably don't know me. But you think you do. Because I am a Republican.

Gasp. Shock. Horror. The usual. I know it all. I hear it every time I come out of the conservative closet here at my liberal arts university.

SEE ALSO: What I Mean When I Say I'm A Young Republican

“You're a Republican?" people ask, saying the word in the same tone that Draco Malfoy says “Mudblood."

I know that not all Democrats feel about Republicans this way. Honestly, I can't even say for certain that most of them do. But in my experience, saying you're a Republican on a liberal college campus has the same effect as telling someone you're a child molester.

You see, in this day and age, with leaders of the Republican Party standing up and spouting unfortunately ridiculous phrases like “build a wall," and standing next to Kim Davis in Kentucky after her release, we Republicans are given an extreme stereotype. If you're a Republican, you're a bigot. You don't believe in marriage equality. You don't believe in racial equality. You don't believe in a woman's right to choose. You're extremely religious and want to impose it on everyone else.

Unfortunately, stereotypes are rooted in truth. There are some people out there who really do think these things and feel this way. And it makes me mad. The far right is so far right that they make the rest of us look bad. They make sure we aren't heard. Plenty of us are fed up with their theatrics and extremism.

For those of us brave enough to wear the title “Republican" in this day and age, as millennials, it's different. Many of us don't agree with these brash ideas. I'd even go as far as to say that most of us don't feel this way.

For me personally, being a Republican doesn't even mean that I automatically vote red.

When people ask me to describe my political views, I usually put it pretty simply. “Conservative, but with liberal social views."

“Oh," they say, “so you're a libertarian."

“Sure," I say. But that's the thing. I'm not really a libertarian.

Here's what I believe:

I believe in marriage equality. I believe in feminism. I believe in racial equality. I don't want to defund Planned Parenthood. I believe in birth control. I believe in a woman's right to choose. I believe in welfare. I believe more funds should be allocated to the public school system.

Then what's the problem? Obviously, I'm a Democrat then, right?

Wrong. Because I have other beliefs too.

Yes, I believe in the right to choose — but I'd always hope that unless a pregnancy would result in the bodily harm of the woman, that she would choose life. I believe in welfare, but I also believe that our current system is broken — there are people who don't need it receiving it, and others who need it that cannot access it.

I believe in capitalism. I believe in the right to keep and bear arms, because I believe we have a people crisis on our hands, not a gun crisis. Contrary to popular opinion, I do believe in science. I don't believe in charter schools. I believe in privatizing as many things as possible. I don't believe in Obamacare.

Obviously, there are other topics on the table. But, generally speaking, these are the types of things we millennial Republicans get flack for. And while it is OK to disagree on political beliefs, and even healthy, it is NOT OK to make snap judgments about me as a person. Identifying as a Republican does not mean I am the same as Donald Trump.

Just because I am a Republican, does not mean you know everything about me. That does not give you the right to make assumptions about who I am as a person. It is not OK for you to group me with my stereotype or condemn me for what I feel and believe. And for a party that prides itself on being so open-minded, it shocks me that many of you would be so judgmental.

So I ask you to please, please, please reexamine how you view Republicans. Chances are, you're missing some extremely important details. If you only hang out with people who belong to your own party, chances are you're missing out on great people. Because, despite what everyone believes, we are not our stereotype.


A millennial Republican

Cover Image Credit: NEWSWORK.ORG

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Why The Idea Of 'No Politics At The Dinner Table' Takes Place And Why We Should Avoid It

When did having a dialogue become so rare?


Why has the art of civilized debate and conversation become unheard of in daily life? Why is it considered impolite to talk politics with coworkers and friends? Expressing ideas and discussing different opinions should not be looked down upon.

I have a few ideas as to why this is our current societal norm.

1. Politics is personal.

Your politics can reveal a lot about who you are. Expressing these (sometimes controversial) opinions may put you in a vulnerable position. It is possible for people to draw unfair conclusions from one viewpoint you hold. This fosters a fear of judgment when it comes to our political beliefs.

Regardless of where you lie on the spectrum of political belief, there is a world of assumption that goes along with any opinion. People have a growing concern that others won't hear them out based on one belief.

As if a single opinion could tell you all that you should know about someone. Do your political opinions reflect who you are as a person? Does it reflect your hobbies? Your past?

The question becomes "are your politics indicative enough of who you are as a person to warrant a complete judgment?"

Personally, I do not think you would even scratch the surface of who I am just from knowing my political identification.

2. People are impolite.

The politics themselves are not impolite. But many people who wield passionate, political opinion act impolite and rude when it comes to those who disagree.

The avoidance of this topic among friends, family, acquaintances and just in general, is out of a desire to 'keep the peace'. Many people have friends who disagree with them and even family who disagree with them. We justify our silence out of a desire to avoid unpleasant situations.

I will offer this: It might even be better to argue with the ones you love and care about, because they already know who you are aside from your politics, and they love you unconditionally (or at least I would hope).

We should be having these unpleasant conversations. And you know what? They don't even need to be unpleasant! Shouldn't we be capable of debating in a civilized manner? Can't we find common ground?

I attribute the loss of political conversation in daily life to these factors. 'Keeping the peace' isn't an excuse. We should be discussing our opinions constantly and we should be discussing them with those who think differently.

Instead of discouraging political conversation, we should be encouraging kindness and understanding. That's how we will avoid the unpleasantness that these conversations sometimes bring.

By avoiding them altogether, we are doing our youth a disservice because they are not being exposed to government, law, and politics, and they are not learning to deal with people and ideas that they don't agree with.

Next Thanksgiving, talk politics at the table.

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