Hillary J. Haldane
When I agreed to write this quarter’s column, the FIFA Women’s World Cup had just concluded in July 2019. The United States Women’s National Team (USWNT) won their 4th championship in a glorious final that served as a fitting end to a spectacular tournament in France. In celebrating this win, and the lessons it sends to children of all genders around the world (as well as Megan Rapinoe’s pointed message to our current assaulter-in-chief), I had wanted to write about all that was sacred and profane at the intersection of violence and sports, and its impact on women’s lives and livelihoods at a global scale.
In this moment writing about soccer feels like an incredibly luxurious topic. Hopefully by the time you read this we are easing our way back into the wider world, beyond the intrepid trips to a grocery store, or even more dire, seeking medical assistance in a local clinic or trying to secure a COVID-19 test in a Walmart parking lot. As I write this from home, in the current hotspot for the US (the NYC metropolitan area), I’m attempting to balance my newly developed on-line classes, run my children’s 10th and 11th grade classrooms, care for my own and other individuals’ heath care needs, and worry about my job security. And this is privilege. At least I have a home, a job (for now), the ability to stay home and not be required to go out into the world to seek shelter, and an Internet connection that works. Many of us have discussed amongst ourselves that we have colleagues and students, family and friends, as well as many of the individuals who have assisted us with our studies, who are not as fortunate. These acquaintances, colleagues and interlocutors are without a job, a home, or medical insurance. Or they may be required to venture out to work in unsafe conditions. Pandemics lay bare privilege and precarity.
It seems safe to assume that COVID-19 has impacted the lives of every single person reading this column. I’m not an infectious disease scholar, so I’m not going to write about the virus or public health more broadly, but it seems critical that we assess what this pandemic will do to our field of gender-based violence studies, and also to our Topical Interest Group (TIG), the longest running TIG for the Society for Applied Anthropology (SfAA). What I’ve found myself pondering over these last couple of weeks is the question of what use are we, and our intellectual gifts, in this time of upheaval, fear, and social change?
Like many of our TIG members, I focus on the wisdom and experiences of the frontline workers. A little over four weeks ago I had met with the entire frontline staff of the local family justice center, the region’s main orgainzation for domestic violence and sexual assault response and prevention. I wanted to find out how researchers could be of use to frontline staff, to their clients, to their work. It was sobering to hear their needs, what they wanted from us, and what they expected of us. Yesterday I received notice from my town’s First Selectwoman that the family justice center had closed and yet the staff were still attempting to assist individuals and families fleeing violence via a hot-line system. But how does one flee violence in a pandemic? Where are these individuals expected to go when there are shelter-in-place orders? How does one safely contact a crisis counselor when you are quarantined with the very people who abuse you, who can hear your every word, watch every movement that you make? Now imagine you are without legal papers to be in the country, or are terrified of the very state actors who are meant to assist you in a time of need. For years within our TIG we’ve debated and discussed a range of topics, everything from the very nomenclature we use (should it be gender/ed violence, gender-based violence, violence against women, etc) to which theoretical frameworks we draw upon, to whose voices get amplified and whose gets erased. This moment is presenting us with an opportunity to consider how our current scholarship is falling short, but also, more productively, what we as applied anthropologists usefully have to say about interventions and prevention approaches that have circulated in local and global contexts for the better part of four decades and which now seem irrelevant, inadequate, and insufficient. More critically, we have much to contribute in refashioning interventions and institutions that will respond to, and ultimately prevent, violence in all its forms.
For now I have no answers. I’m attempting to produce these words on paper while my mind is in a fog. One thing that has lifted my spirits is the community that has been built through this TIG. In the few weeks we’ve been living under stay-at-home orders, I’ve been gifted the opportunity to support other TIGers with job references, review manuscripts, celebrate birthdays, anticipate the birth of babies, and amplify our members’ work. Through my computer I’ve stayed connected to the brilliant scholars I had expected to see in Albuquerque, and now desperately hope to hug in Norfolk. We will mourn collectively for all that has been lost. Yet we will be inspired by the unfolding insights our colleagues generate about the institutions and systems that we’ve long known are unkind to survivors of violence. In the immediacy of now, I am sustained by the community of support we have formed and the anticipation that our TIG will offer us a new way of seeing and building the world.
 A First Selectperson is the equivalent of a mayor. This designation appear in many New England municipalities.
Thanks to Emma Backe, Jennifer Wies, and Elizabeth Wirtz for their feedback and editorial acumine. The good ideas in this piece are theirs; the errors are mine alone.
Hillary J. Haldane, PhD is Professor of Anthropology and Director of General Education at Quinnipiac University, Hamden, CT. Dr. Haldane has been a member of the Gender-Based Violence Topical Interest Group (GBV TIG) since its inception in 2009, serving as co-chair until 2014. Her research for the past two and a half decades has focused on the wisdom, expertise and experiences of anti-violence frontline workers in Aotearoa and Australia. In addition to her research, Dr. Haldane teaches courses on gender-based violence, sustainable development, ethnographic methods and medical anthropology.
For more information on the Gender Based Violence Topical Interest Group (GBV TIG) or to join our listserv, please drop us an e-mail at email@example.com.