See What You Made Me Do: Power, Control and Domestic Violence by Jess Hill

‘This is a book about love, abuse and power.’

I wasn’t going to read this book.  I added it to my list when it was short-listed for the 2020 Stella Prize, and started reading it after it was announced as the winner.

I wasn’t going to read this book: I’m wary of yet another book about domestic violence.  What more needs to be said? Surely, we know what the problems are, surely it’s time to move beyond shock and horror?

But, although my expectations were low, I did read the book because I wanted to try to understand why it had been chosen for the Stella Prize.

And I am glad I read it.  Why?  Because this book goes beyond the statistics, looks at different ways in which control is exerted and (most importantly) looks at some of the ways in which behaviours might be changed.

I could write a long, detailed summary of what I read.  But I won’t: Ms Hill’s research deserves to be read and thought about firsthand.   I do have some reactions to share though.  Firstly, this point leapt at me:

‘The feeling of shame is biological and psychological, and the way we react to it is gendered.’

To some this will be obvious, but to me (at least) it wasn’t.  What does it mean?  Chapter 4 discusses shame, and how (for some) a desire for intimacy and belonging can mutate into violence through shame.  And men and women generally deal with shame differently. Much of what I read in this chapter makes sense.

And secondly: this point, about patriarchy:

‘Patriarchy is not just a system populated by men; it’s one we’ve all been raised in.’ 

Patriarchy is covered in Chapter 5, and I was drawn to an explanation of patriarchy as a dual system of power: ‘men’s power over women, and some men’s power over other men’.

What does this mean? Consider this as an obsession with control.  And control is on a spectrum: at the extreme end there is violence, but very close to violence is the behaviour often exhibited by very powerful successful men.  The impression of control is important.

I kept reading.  Each chapter is important, but Chapter 11 is the one that gave me most hope. There’s discussion of different models being applied which have reduced domestic abuse:

‘Courageous people around the country are pushing the boundaries of what’s possible and getting remarkable results.’

And that’s where I’ll leave it.  With a mixture of concrete examples (Chapter 11) and hope.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith