The Republic of the United Netherlands has always been considered as the bastion of the bourgeoisie. In no other European country in the 17th century did merchants and regents from bourgeois backgrounds acquire so much wealth, political and social status. Excluded from gaining wealth or status in this time were women, who had a weak social position and were not considered full persons. Men were responsible for the women, women were dependent on them, and the law allowed men to “correct” women violently. The 17th century Netherlands certainly was not “the golden age” for women. On the contrary, it was the beginning of a new severely patriarchal society in which we still live today.
This video installation is situated in the Netherlands of the 17th century and connects two different subjects: domestic violence nowadays and the development of the middle-class in this “Golden Age.” Starting point are etchings by the Dutch artist Geertruyd Roghman made in 1657 and paintings by the Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer. While Roghman worked on simple etchings of woman workers busy in the house, her famous contemporary painter Vermeer depicted happy and relaxed women sitting or standing in affluent interiors. It’s very likely that the paintings by Vermeer show an invented or idealized reality. Reconstructions of the interior of the house of Vermeer are used to make a small-scale model of two of its rooms where the video is shot. It is accompanied by dialogues of improvised interactive theater: A form of theater based on the “Theater of the Oppressed,” developed by Augusto Boal in the 1950s and 60s, implying that the disadvantaged would be able to change their situation by rehearsing on stage.
Jan Breckenridge, Lesley Laing (ed.), Challenging Silence: Innovative Responses to Sexual and Domestic Violence, Sydney, 1999 (pp. 155–156)
Zvi Eisikovits, Eli Buchbinder, Locked in a Violent Embrace: Understanding and Intervening in Domestic Violence, London, New York, 2000
Scott Peck, The road less traveled, New York, 1978
Bell Hooks, Communion: The Female Search for Love, 2002 (pp. 13–21)
Els Kloek, Nicole Teeuwen, Marijke Huisman (ed.), Woman of the Golden Age, 1994 (p. 34)
Marion Leuze-Mohr, Häusliche Gewalt gegen Frauen: Eine straffreie Zone, 2000 (pp. 99–107)
This work has been shown at
Any Day Now, Kunsthalle Nürnberg, 2010
Fuck Patriarchy!, Viafarini, Milano, 2004
Kunstverein, Hannover, 2004
Spoken Text in Video: Screen 1
“Violence in domestic circles is the most extensive form of violence in our society.
Violence in the home is more widespread and more serious than people thought possible a few years ago. Many investigations into the nature and the extent of domestic violence, made it obvious that physical, sexual and mental cruelty is not incidental but widespread.
The use of domestic violence within existing patriarchal structures is always an expression of fear and helplessness and a reaction of the suffered ‘Narcissist pain’ or subjective felt ‘devaluation’ of the man within the patriarchal Society.
Where as the man is interested in keeping up his position of power and is willing to use a broader or less broader range of violence to reach that goal, the mental construction of the woman to undergo this violence, comes from the same patriarchal mechanism and is independent from class.
Contrary to the widespread opinion, violence in the partnership is not just a problem of working class people. Scientific studies and investigations show that around half of all abused women come from a middle-, or higher-class background. Among the aggressors are professors, cultural workers, policemen as well as factory workers or employees.
Especially in the higher middle class, traditional man-woman relationships are characterized by a large inequality for the worse for the women.
It is not true that in the relationships in this class violence is less used in comparison to social weaker groups, they are only more silenced.
The reasons for this are; first the social position of the couple within society, where violence is supposed not to take place, and second because of the use of even a broader range of violent behavior. Physical violence is less often used than in working class relationships but this is completed with massive social and subtle psychological violence.
As a result of the violence, abused women have often a low self-esteem, have feelings of depression and hopelessness and are blaming them selves. They try to stay away from confrontations with negative views by a third person on their own experiences and behavior. In their partnership they already experience enough humiliation, so they don’t want to hear additional from others, how they ought to have behaved or should behave in future.
Because violent behavior typically returns and escalates, abused woman are convinced that no one will understand them or that they are even accused or made responsible themselves. They withdraw from their social surrounding and build a protection shield around themselves in this way.
The result is that abused women often stay silent and don’t want to speak about the experienced violence or even play it down. Even within friendships it takes a long time before they speak about their experiences of violence, because the women are ashamed, most of all because of the humiliations.
The question why for a lot of women the relationship to a violent men remains the focus point of their lives, not seldom over a long period of time, can be connected to the idea of submissiveness of women.
In non-violent partnerships and in other socio-cultural contexts, female sacrifice is seen as an ideal in society. But the same ideal is suddenly seen as a personal mistake of abused women, when she doesn’t leave the relationship ‚consequently’ after the first abuse.
If the victim sees the Partnership still as the middle of her life, her surrounding, the people who know of the abuse, usually don’t understand this.
Here, another presumption stands in the way of a real understanding, that science tries to clarify with the so called masochism theory, according to which these women would be already submissive in their nature.
Who investigates the situation and psychic of abused women seriously and talks with them, will quickly come to the conclusion that there is no woman that, because of masochist feelings, likes the tortures that are inflicted upon her.
From girlhood on women learn that conversations about love are a female subject. Obsessions about love begin not with the first crush or the first fall. They begin with that first recognition that females matter less than males.
That, no matter how good we are, in the eyes of a patriarchal universe we are never quit good enough. Femaleness in patriarchal culture marks us from the very beginning as unworthy, and it should come as no surprise that we learn to worry most as girls, as women, about whether we are worthy of love.
Raised with competitive, fault-finding mothers and fathers whom we can never really please or in a world where we are ‘perfect’ Daddy’s girl who fears losing his approval to the point where we stop eating, stop growing up because we see Daddy losing interest, because we see he does not love women, we are uncertain about love. To keep his love we must cling to girlhood at all costs. All girls continue to be taught when they are young, if not by their parents then by the culture around them, that they must earn the right to be loved – that ‘femaleness’ is nor good enough. This is a female’s first lesson in the school of patriarchal thinking and values. She must earn love. She is not entitled. She must be good (or beautiful) to be loved. And ‘good’, is always defined by someone else, someone on the outside.
Learning faulty definitions of love when we are quite young makes it difficult to be loving as we grow older. We start out committed to the right path but go in the wrong direction.
Most of us learn early on to think of love as a feeling. When we feel deeply drawn to someone, we ‘cathect’ with them; that is, we invest feeling or emotion in them and heave the feeling that we ‘belong’ to them, care for them. That process of investment wherein a loved one becomes important to us is called ‘cathexis’. Most of us confuse cathecting with loving. We all know how often individuals feeling connected to someone through the process of cathecting insist that they love the other person even if they are hurting or neglecting them. Since their feeling is that of cathexis, they insist that what they feel is love.
When we understand love as the will to nurture our own and another’s spiritual growth and well being, it becomes clear that we cannot claim to love if we are hurtful and abusive. Love and abuse cannot coexist.
Patriarchy has always seen love as women’s work, degraded and devalued labor. And it has not cared when women failed to learn how to love, for patriarchal men have been the most willing to substitute care for love, submission for respect.”
Scripts for Interactive Theater
Man: Stupid bitch, nobody loves you! You don’t deserve to live! I fuckin’ wanna destroy your life!
Man: Why did you say yes to that job?
Woman: (very silent) Well, it seemed a good thing to do.
Man: And you didn’t think about me?
Woman: (even more silent) Well I guessed…
Man: Oh, you guessed… Can you maybe once in your life try to think? Can you? I asked you something, can you? (Slaps her) Stupid bitch. You’re so stupid. How can anybody be so stupid. More stupid is not possible, If I were you I would die of shame. (he hits harder)
Woman: Stop it! Leave me alone! It’s my life!
Man: OK, then go! But then go now, there is the door. Disappear from my life. You are a meaningless person anyway. You could be thankful, that you have someone like me as an enemy. And that even for free! (he walks agitated back and forth) It’s probably true that I don’t want to see your name in relation to mine. This outrages stupidity with which, by cheating and stealing, importance is claimed without the slightest idea what it is all about. It is just about your ambitions, your ego, your inferiority feelings and some kind of other needs, that makes me sick. (he kicks the woman, who is crying on the floor)
Woman: Stop it. I’ve heard enough.
Man: And you think you can tell me what to do? Fuck you. (woman is crying)
Woman: And you think this is love?
Man: It’s your own fault. (slams the door)
Woman: We are invited to a party of friends of mine, do you want to come with me?
Man: Why should I go there? Your friends are so boring and mediocre! But maybe it is some-thing for you! Or not, Miss Superficial and Mediocre?
Woman: Oh please stop it. Those jokes are not funny. As if it isn’t difficult enough for me.
Man: What is difficult this time?
Woman: You know well enough that I am heavily insecure about myself. Thought I am working real hard, I don’t know whether it is good what I do.
Man: Oh, she is working REAL hard!
Woman: Yes, I am. And I never have the feeling it is good enough, that I have to prove myself even harder. I have the feeling that I am not appreciated for what I do.
Man: But you are even doubting about yourself? Why do you expect then from someone else to appreciate what you do? What do you want? You are lying if you are doing work in which you don’t believe.
Woman: I just want some respect and hear once also that it has a worth what I do.
Man: Well, you know how I think about that. I think it is not good what you do. It’s bullshit! But, that doesn’t matter. You have to decide it is good. You should try to work for another couple of years until you know for sure that what you do is good. Gain some self-esteem! You are not even worth the effort to be taking seriously. And besides I think you don’t even understand what it is about anyway. That’s probably why you don’t have any friends. Who wants to be friends with you?
Woman: Why do you always have to be so mean? I don’t want that anymore.
Man: Hey, I am saying this for your own good! It is really impossible to talk with you. It is impossible to love you!
Woman: For my own good, but it isn’t good for me. Why can’t you once try to support me instead of always criticize me?
Man: Why, as if it would help.