A few days ago I learned of a new campaign to raise awareness of domestic violence.
This is a good thing. It’s always a good thing.
This latest campaign is by the artist Saint Hoax and is titled "Happy Never After". I’ve seen work by the artist before, and a lot of it revolves around politics, violence and gender. Saint Hoax is from the Middle East. The artist is referred to as ‘He’ in several reports that I read about this latest work, but I couldn’t actually find evidence of that specific gender. I suppose it doesn’t matter, but on Saint Hoax’s website the artist is referred to only by that pseudonym.
Gender along with gender and sexual politics can be complex issues. Enough said.
This campaign against domestic violence depicts the faces of four Disney princesses on four separate posters: Aurora from Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Jasmine from Aladdin and Ariel from The Little Mermaid. They each have a black eye, a bloody nose, a split lip, a torn cheek and a bruised shoulder. The configuration of injuries is essentially identical in each image, and the strap line for each poster is “When did he stop treating you like a princess?”
I say again, highlighting domestic violence can only be a good and positive thing.
This is a simplistic view of domestic violence for any number of reasons. Of course people in intimate relationships are sometimes treated like this. Men and women sometimes sustain black eyes and split lips, bloody noses and torn cheeks, because they are beaten by their partners, who might also be either men or women.
These are the domestic violence cases that are easiest to spot and define, and potentially the most straight forward to resolve. Thank goodness.
What about the blows that don’t leave marks? What about the body blows that leave marks that are covered by clothes? Many abusers, most abusers are far too astute to leave a battered face every time they choose to attack their partners, or any time they choose to attack their partners.
The physical abuse is also only a small part of the story.
What about the abusers who belittle, snub, pour scorn on, berate and overwhelm their partners with myriad forms of psychological mistreatment?
What about the fear of saying the wrong thing? Or of putting the wrong meal on the table? Or of putting it on the table ten minutes late, or ten degrees too cold or too hot, or of there being a water mark on a piece of cutlery?
What about the coercion?
What happens the day you realise that you have no friends, because one by one your partner has driven them away, because they’re ‘dull’ or ‘a bad influence’ or just because your partner doesn’t like them or their other-half or their kids? Or because the person you love would rather spend time with you alone than in company with other people?
What do you do when you sit in silence all evening and when you’re getting ready for bed your partner picks a fight? How do you sleep after that? How do you ever get over the fatigue? How do you live with the tension?
We live in the twenty-first century, and I don’t believe that most of us want or expect to be put on a pedestal, whichever gender we happen to be. I suppose we might want to look like a prince or a princess the day we walk down the aisle or stand in a fancy hotel ballroom or on a beach somewhere to say our vows, but that’s about as far as that dream goes.
The Disney princess theme is, in its own way, degrading to strong, independent, intelligent, modern women. They are not passive, and do not belong to the kinds of traditional female stereotypes peddled by Hollywood in general and by Disney in particular. But they are victims of domestic abuse.
I believe that most of us go into longterm relationships, whether we take formal vows or come to our own arrangements organically, hoping to form strong bonds with partners who are our equals. We want to be treated fairly, with love and respect, and I think we expect to treat our partners the same way.
I think that’s true of couples of all kinds between all genders, regardless in which combinations they happen to be.
We are not fools. We are not princesses. We do not expect happily ever after.
We can expect many things from our relationships. Some of those things will be wonderful. Some of them will be painful and difficult. That’s life. Go figure.
What we should not expect, any of us, ever, and what we should never for a moment tolerate, let alone accept, is abuse. Sadly, much of the physical abuse that occurs in the home and in intimate relationships does not occur in a vacuum, and when it does occur the victim is often already suffering from stress, fatigue and low self-esteem. These conditions make it easy for the abuser to strike out, and very hard for the victim to leave the relationship.
Saint Hoax has taken a direct, simple approach with the “Happily Never After” campaign. I’m not convinced that it’s art. I’m not convinced that it’s really a campaign to highlight domestic violence so much as it’s a self-serving shock tactic. And, sadly, I’m not at all sure that it’s very helpful.
I’m going to give it the benefit of the doubt, though, because if one young woman watched one of those Disney movies over and over again when she was a kid, and spent a year or two of her childhood desperate to be one of those princesses... If she is being abused and one of those posters gives her the impetus to stop that abuse and get out of her situation then any judgement I might want to make is utterly redundant.
For help with domestic abuse: UK: http://refuge.org.uk and in the USA: http://www.casa-stpete.org