Tuesday, November 22, 2005


A couple years ago, one of my students came to my office, apparently having decided that my teaching Chaucer made me an expert on Christianity, and told me that her boyfriend had told her that Christianity said that women should be subservient and obedient to men, and she should obey him, and asked me if he were right.

I don't remember quite what I said, something about how people interpreted Christianity in a lot of different ways, and that my understanding was that most theologians no longer supported the idea that women should be subservient.

Retrospectively, I wish I'd asked her if her boyfriend was abusive or hurting her. If someone came to me with her questions now, I hope I'd think to ask, and to make sure she had support to get out of the relationship if he was. But I was too stupid, embarrassed, unthinking, or unconfident to ask at the time.

Apparently, it's not just me. According to this article on Medline (may be time sensitive), even "real" doctors (you know, the kind who don't ramble on endlessly about Shakespeare), people who are supposedly trained to figure such things out and help people, don't actually follow up, EVEN when people answer yes to questions about domestic violence on screening materials.

Maybe I shouldn't be surprised.

When I was procrastinating about grading by trying to figure out medical benefits issues after I'd moved to the NorthWoods (and, you know, actually HAD medical benefits to think about!), I explored the web sites of local "providers." One of the websites had a questionnaire program that was supposed to help you figure out your basic health/safety status. So, I filled it out, twice. Yes, I was curious about the kinds of questions they asked, and since the first question had to do with gender, I filled it out answering the first question "both ways" (I would have tried more, but they only gave two choices. Clearly they haven't been reading Judith Butler).

Among the other questions for women were questions about being abused, experiencing domestic violence, unwanted sexual contact, and so forth. But, apparently, here in the NorthWoods, this particular "provider" (and I hate that term) doesn't ask men about domestic violence; doesn't ask them if they've been subject to it, or anything else. Those questions simply weren't there.

Do they think men aren't ever subject to domestic violence or unwanted sexual contact? Or do they think that men wouldn't answer the questions "yes" even if they were?

Way back when, I had an injury that required a doctor's visit. It's apparently an injury that's sometimes caused by being punched, and so sometimes caused by domestic violence. And the doctor asked me four or five times, in different ways, if I'd been punched, or if my partner had hit me. (I think he was unconvinced that I said I didn't know how I'd gotten the injury, but I was sure it wasn't from being punched or beaten.)

The thing is, even if I HAD been punched by a partner, I'd never have admitted it to some strange doctor. Much less some Shakespeare professor.

Recently, one of my students came to class with a shiner. I thought about it a couple times, and finally asked her (quietly, after class) if she was okay. She said, yes, sure. I pressed a little harder, making sure, and she laughed and said that someone had tossed her something and she'd missed the catch, and gotten hit in the face. And then she said that all her professors had asked if she was okay.

I think she is okay. I hope so. But if she's not, and I asked, would she even tell me? And if she did...

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