The only exposure I had to domestic violence when I was growing up was watching Farah Fawcett in The Burning Bed. That movie portrayed domestic violence as a secret. There’s nothing secret about it over here in Honolulu, Hawaii. Men hit the women they are involved with regularly and it’s referred to as “domestics,” as in, “that’s just domestics” which means that’s a normal part of an intimate partnership. Men threaten women in public, and the women flinch, hand shy, quietly accepting one of the favorite forms of address “you dumb c***” while the man positions himself as if preparing to backhand her across the face. In prison, I watched the women form relationships with each other which took the form of one “girl” or traditionally feminine woman, and one “butchie” or “boy,” women who had life long identities as lesbians and had chosen a shaved head masculine appearance in their ordinary lives. “Girls” were usually only “gay for the stay,” with no history of same sex relationships outside of prison. There will be more on the subject of same sex relationships behind bars, but for now I will limit my comments to the subject of intimate partner violence. In these relationships with one partner playing the man and one the woman, it was the norm to see the “man” hit the docile “woman.” I have always intervened when a person is getting hit in my presence, no matter what the situation, but whenever I stepped in between the one woman who was punching the other, non-resistant woman, both of them would tell me, “It’s ok.” And neither would be particularly upset, like they were play acting relationships as they understood them. There is a script to these public displays of violence (pdv). It is considered bad form for anyone to intervene, although I always did (even if all I could do is shout from the safety of the opposite sidewalk), but you know me, I never know the best way to fit in until after I have screwed up a social interaction and someone tells me what I did wrong. If you see an altercation in public and you say anything, the man will turn the verbal abuse on you. Once the woman is not as concerned for her safety she too will harangue the interloper with verbal abuse, never seeming to recognize that the only reason she can focus on something else is because of the person who stepped in. It is well known that police deal with the anger of both partners fairly often, but that is not only true for police.
At first it is surprising to think about the fact that I was never hit by the man when I interrupted a bad scene by shouting something from various distances. When you understand the etiquette of pdv it is much less surprising. Men are not as quick to hit women they don’t know because that would be out of line. A woman is hit by her husband or boyfriend, unless she is still under her father’s authority, in which case her father can hit her, but her boyfriend better not or he’ll face the wrath of the father. Thus hitting and being hit is reserved for those closest to you, and it is one of the most trustworthy signs that the relationship is serious. I once repeated something to a woman I had heard on a talk show.
When I man hits you, it means he doesn’t like you, I parroted.
No, no. When he hits you it means he loves you, came the swift correction from a woman who would later tell me she had been in love at the time and had since changed her views.
People do not have to be legally married in Hawaii to be recognized as partners. If people have been together for a long time, or if they have children together, they automatically refer to the parents of their partner as their “in-laws.” Young people use the terms “ole man” or “ole lady” when speaking of themselves or when referring to others. For example “aren’t you Larry’s ole lady?” people had asked me when I was 23 and new to Hawaii–and completely amused to refer to myself as an “ole lady” no matter the context. There is no verbal distinction between wife vs. girlfriend or husband vs. boyfriend. I suppose in a place where relationships are defined more by social cues than legal bindings, the more obvious indicators that there is commitment, the more people can define what they mean to each other. If he hits you, he is serious about you. I have heard of women being jealous of a man’s ex if the man used to hit the ex but he doesn’t hit the current girlfriend. I have seen women provoke and provoke and provoke a man with verbal abuse, daring him to hit her. As unpopular as it is to say, there are women who will insist upon this treatment because of the status it confers. Even if you are not the only one, you are the most important one. It really is true that when it comes to hitting, if he hits you that means he loves you, under these circumstances.