Talking Cultural Diversity

a discussion board for cultural and diversity issues by Thomas Kochman and Jean Mavrelis

Adult on Girl Violence

By Jean Mavrelis - 12.14.2009

A white woman I know asked, is the movie “Precious” about race or about poverty or about abuse? It’s about all three.  While abuse of women knows no race or class boundaries, abuse happens within a social and cultural context, and is exacerbated by social and cultural situations.

If you have an opportunity, google Laurie Schaffner’s working paper titled “So Called Girl-on-Girl Violence is Actually Adult-on-Girl Violence”.

Schaffner points out that poor girls of color are more likely to be vulnerable to predation by local idle older men…more likely to lack access to resources to heal from trauma early in life, and less likely to be protected by the law.

The Adult-on-Girl violence Schaffner alludes to is not from their mothers, but from society’s refusal to fund infrastructure: housing, jobs, schools (I would add healthcare), and the ruthlessness of a highly profitable prison system.

I’m dismayed by the backlash to what is called “Big Government Spending”.  Our constitution pledges to “promote the general welfare”.  Big business trickle down doesn’t help girls like Precious.

That said, there is also a crisis of parenting that is a legacy of poor infrastructure for all poor people in the United States.

The challenge for girls is to create agency: “the ability to know what you want and to go for it”.  That challenge, says Dr. Laurie Schaffner, is exacerbated by sexism, racism, homophobia, and poverty.

Mo’Nique’s final scene in the movie was haunting, when, portraying the negligent and abusive mother, she asks who is going to love her.

When a mother hasn’t been sufficiently loved, she relies on her child to be the one to do that.  When the “parentified” child looks at the mother, the mother doesn’t see the child; she is trying to get the child to see her.  Such children base their self esteem on their ability to help or satisfy others.  What’s hard for women ultimately is to be for themselves without shame or guilt. When Precious is able to develop agency despite the triple whammy of sexism, racism, and poverty, it gives us all hope, and we leave the theatre inspired.

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