Tag Archives: domestic violence

‘Trifles’ of Creature Comfort

A 1916 play Trifles was written by American journalist Susan Glaspell. It is a murder mystery based on a real event in Iowa at the turn of the century. A man is found Girl with a canary, 1765 painting by Jean-Baptiste Greuzestrangled. The sheriff and a neighbour man search the house and outbuildings, can’t find anything. Their wives are there too. They are friends of the widow, who is also prime suspect. The women look around the areas that the men consider unimportant – the kitchen and sitting room where only women’s  ‘trifles’ are kept.

In the widow’s sewing basket, they find a dead canary wrapped in a scrap of silk inside a fancy small box. Its neck had been wrung, strangled. Knowing the late husband had been a hard man who ruled his wife with an iron fist, they figure out what happened. They keep it to themselves.

The play is described as being about domestic violence and the subjugation of women. The clue is the dead canary. It is seen as symbolic of the husband killing his wife’s joy in singing, something she’d hoped for as a career or hobby when a young woman.

Pets and domestic violence

But an essays-for-sale site (now gone) showed a paper that I think strikes an essential point about the canary. The little bird was her pet, her small bit of warmth in a cold household. In strangling the bird, her husband took away her friend and her comfort.

I learned about Trifles while searching for information on domestic violence after listening to a CBC Radio Living Out Loud documentary in May 2011. It was about AnimEscale (AnimEscape in English), a shelter run by a Quebec woman Nicole Messier. A former victim of spousal abuse, she and her new husband turned their home into a shelter for the animal victims of domestic violence. Sadly, Ms. Messier passed away in 2013. What she did should be emulated by women’s shelters everywhere.

Nicole Messier said she had stayed in her abusive situation longer than she would have if it had been just herself. She wouldn’t leave her dog and cat, but she couldn’t take them to the women’s shelter. She learned she wasn’t the only woman doing that. Seventy percent of women, she said, will not leave their abusive households if they can’t take their animals with them.

Shelter for pets too

Domestic Violence PETA posterSo Ms. Messier worked with local women’s shelters to provide refuge for the pets. While women and children stayed in the women’s shelter, pets stayed in Nicole’s home. Dogs, cats, hamsters, birds, rabbits, goldfish – they were all welcome. For large animals like horses, she had farms who would board them.

While in the shelters, the humans and animals spent time together regularly. Violence too often is passed on to children, so she would be there to see how the animals acted towards the kids and vice versa. Animals can become afraid of or aggressive toward people they associate with abuse – usually men – so Ms. Messier’s husband worked with the pets to show them that not all men need be feared.

These remarkable people kept families protected and intact. Leaving an abusive situation is good for women and children, but how can you leave your pets? If you do so, what are you telling your kids about responsibility? Also, in the absence of the wife and kids, probably the abuser is going to turn his attention to the animal if he hasn’t already. Unless their animals also find shelter, women might not leave to protect themselves. Nicole helped fill that huge gap in domestic violence prevention measures.

This was published on my St. Thomas Dog Blog July 15, 2011. Mission AnimEscale is on Facebook. I emailed Nicole and received a lovely reply with more information about her “mission”. It is under my name in ‘Comments’ below, July 19, 2011.


Coronation Street Apr. 14/13


Kirsty-with-phoneTuesday, Kirsty’s face as Ruby cries upstairs. You know that this is the end of the storyline and the end of the road for Kirsty. The only question is what is she going to do. Is she going to end the cycle of familial physical violence or perpetuate it  Is she going to admit she was lying or start hitting the baby? She looks for help at Dr. Carter’s office. He won’t give her sleeping pills. She won’t consider a therapist. She goes home. Ruby sleeps, until Julie comes to confront Kirsty. The baby begins crying again.

She carries Ruby down from upstairs, cooing at her to try to comfort her.  But her sh-sh-sh sounds become words: “shut up shut up” still said in a soothing voice. Her patience is at the snapping screams-at-babypoint. And indeed, she snaps. The murmured “shut up” becomes a loud scream right in the baby’s face: SHUT UP.

She stops herself, horrified at what she’s done. Then picks up the baby in her carrier. Where is she going? Next door to beg Julie to take the baby? No, she doesn’t knock at Eileen’s door where inside Julie is crying on Sean’s shoulder after Kirsty hit her hard. (Why they didn’t try to rescue Ruby, I don’t know.) They hear the baby cry, then sudden silence. I fear Kirsty will head to the Canal, where so many Weatherfield evil-doers end the stories of themselves and their victims.

In the courtroom

in-courtroomMy guesses are wrong. Next episode she goes to the courtroom, baby in arms, and asks that Tyrone take the child. It was she, Kirsty says, who battered Tyrone and she feared she would do the same to Ruby. After some strange and convoluted judicial outrage about decorum, they charge her with perjury and obstruction of justice. They also release Tyrone and return Ruby to him. As Kirsty is taken to the cells, through a window she sees Tyrone walking down the street, carrying the baby with Fiz hanging off his arm. My heart broke for Kirsty.

All the actors in this story have been brilliant, but Natalie Gumede has been stunning. She has illustrated all sides of the cycle of domestic abuse. She has recollected the young girl, terrified of Kirsty-horrifiedher father and frightened for her mother’s safety. She’s shown us the young girl confused and let down by her mother’s unwillingness to protect herself and her child. She has also shown us a vicious abuser, able to hit someone she loves with anything that comes to hand and make him feel it is his fault that she is “forced” to do this.  Then she has shown the regret and horror that an abuser feels after their loss of control and the nightmare that she has become exactly the same as the person she feared and hated.

Stopping the cycle

But she stopped the cycle, early enough that probably it will not affect Ruby in later life. I thought it would be her mother who stopped it, who said I can’t let another generation of abuse exist. But by not telling the court what she knew, her mother was continuing the cycle of abuse and convicting an innocent man. She was allowing her own victimization to destroy more lives, and calling it protecting her child. stupid-stupid

But two wrongs don’t make a right. Kirsty put more on the line than she had ever asked of her mother. She declared herself an abuser and put herself behind bars in order to save her child. All she had asked of her mother was for her to leave an abusive husband and father. I think her mother has as much self-examination to do as Kirsty has.

Coronation Street Scene (Mar. 24/13)

Blaming the Victim

Kirsty’s mom listening to her tell about her situation with Tyrone. At first Alison believed her did-not-learn kirsty blaming the victimdaughter, wanted to believe her. Then you could see her face change as Kirsty’s words didn’t add up. Slips in use of “I” and “he” were caught by Alison. She heard her daughter say familiar phrases, ones that blame the victim. He makes me do it, it’s his fault I get so angry. Phrases – excuses, justifications – Alison has heard many times over the years. She has heard them from her husband, and now from her daughter.

She realized that there was violence within her daughter’s home. But it wasn’t being perpetuated by the man but rather by the woman, her daughter. You could see her mind processing this, and did-you-hit-himrealizing that sadly it made sense. She had seen nothing in Tyrone to suggest a violent nature. So she was surprised to hear that he had been charged with abusing Kirsty. Baffled even that she had so misjudged him. She wants to support Kirsty because she is her daughter and also because she knows she has let Kirsty down so many times before. She well knows that her daughter grew up amid violence and abuse. Knows that both she and Kirsty were direct victims of her husband’s violent temper. She must know too that often the abused becomes the abuser.

Victim and/or abuser

with-whatever-came-to-handAn innocent man is in jail, an abuser is free and on the streets and a small child is caught in a situation in which she too may become part of the cycle of domestic violence. Possibly vulnerable to abuse herself, certainly being in a situation in which she in later life, like Kirsty, will have to make some sort of sense of the circumstances of her upbringing.

Alison knows it’s time to stop the cycle of violence. She knows Kirsty must admit what she did, for her own sake as much as Tyrone’s and Ruby’s. She succeeds in getting through to Kirsty. Kirsty’s emotional protective wall collapsed as i-let-them-thinkher mother asked her straight out and Kirsty nodded, yes, it had been she who hit Tyrone repeatedly. Kirsty will retract her statement to the police.

But next day, apparently not realizing that telephones have been invented, Alison goes to Tina’s apartment to tell Tina and Fiz. Of course Kirsty sees her. All Kirsty’s remorse goes out the window, vengeance shall be hers. She confronts her mother with the set up job by Fiz and Tina, and her mother’s betrayal by colluding in this with Tyrone’s current girlfriend. Skilled in manipulation and aided by her mother’s already existing guilt toward her, she convinces Alison to not further betray her now.

show-him-you-are-sorrySo Alison tells Fiz that she will not help Tyrone, that her first and only obligation is to her daughter. She will let the unjust accusation and charge against Tyrone stand. She will not let her daughter down. I only hope she remembers Ruby and remembers that once before she let a little girl stay in an abusive home. She is seeing now how that worked out for that child, her daughter Kirsty.

Coronation Street Scene of the Week (Oct. 7/12)

Tick Tock

A quiet build up of scary tension in four parts Thursday. Kirsty, wound tighter than a Kirsty nervously holds Ruby - tick tock timeclock on a time bomb. Wait – that’s just what she is! The baby is crying and fussing, and Kirsty is tired. You don’t notice the signs of tiredness as much as the signs of tension at the breaking point. She’s calm on the surface and trying to show Tyrone she can handle it alone.

He goes back to work but he’s worried about the baby and Kirsty. Kev doesn’t want him to take off for 10 minutes to check. They’ve got work to do. So Fiz and Sally go, with Tyrone’s reluctant agreement. He knows what the sight of Fiz will do to Ms Nutbar and hopes Sally will alleviate Kirsty’s suspicions and animosity.

Kirsty telling Fizz and Sally she needs nothing from themDoesn’t quite work that way. The tension that started in the audience, at least in me, at the first sight of tight, controlled Kirsty, builds when Fiz and Sally come in. Fiz is wary and, given her druthers, would leave. But Sally blithely pushes her way in, oh we can help, we’ve been through it too, let’s put the kettle on.

“Get out!”

Kirsty stalking around the room, ready to kirsty takes baby from sallypounce on them if they disturb the baby. She’s absolutely aghast when Sally just picks little Ruby up and cuddles her. Whew, she doesn’t attack Sally with talons out, snatching the baby back. Well, not quite immediately. She soon does, saying the baby (who is quiet as a mouse) needs changing. When Sally says she can change her and doesn’t hand Ruby back, Kirsty does take her and tells her visitors to get out. They do.

Kirsty screams at baby - tick tock buildsNext look in, the baby is fussing and Kirsty loses it. She pushes everything off the kitchen table. She picks up the baby’s mobile from in front of her little cot and throws it. Finally, she screams at the baby – what is it you want from me. But she doesn’t touch her, this time.

Tyrone keeps baby awayWe come back to them as Kirsty is cleaning up the mess she made and Tyrone comes in. Thank heavens, I think. And he, despite his willingness to put up with Kirsty’s abuse of him, shows his fear of her behaviour and his absolute unwillingness to put his daughter at risk. He turns his back to Kirsty, with the baby in his arms, when she wants to take Ruby. Then he takes her to the medical clinic, just in case she is hurt. Good for you, Tyrone.

Kirsty beseeching Tyrone to stay with babyAnd good for you, Natalie Gumede. You created a wonderfully done portrait of violence and paranoia and danger. And building tension. Tick tock.

Tales from The Street

The big Corrie bus has rolled into Canada: McDonald father and son and the Peacocks.  Poster for Tales from The StreetCharles Lawson (Jim McDonald), Nicholas Cochrane (Andy McDonald), Stephen Arnold (Ashley Peacock) and Julia Howarth (Claire Peacock) started a tour of Ontario and Alberta last weekend. They come to my area – Southwestern Ontario – at the end of March. Yippee!

While none of the four are on the show now, Stephen is the only one for whom the door is closed with Ashley having died in the tram crash. So we can hope we’ll see the others on the cobbles again.

Nicholas Cochrane, or Andy McDonald

I had the pleasure of meeting Nicholas Cochrane years ago when I was researching Other Worlds. His character, Andy, was still a McDonald family Coronation Street 1989student and we talked at the school then used as Weatherfield Comp. Nicholas got the part of Andy right out of school and had no training other than high school drama class. Working on Coronation Street every day with actors who had a wide range of experience, he said, provided a great education.

Nicholas worked closely with Charles Lawson. Jim McDonald is maybe my favourite Corrie character and that is due to his portrayal by Charles Lawson. When you look at the parts of Jim, there really isn’t much to like. He isn’t a great father, you can hardly call him a good husband. He probably was a good soldier but he never found success or happiness in any other endeavour. He’s quick-tempered, even violent. But. He’s also witty, warm-hearted, generous with his time and love, and a guy you’d like as a friend. Charles Lawson plays the whole man, in all his complexity. Jim is kind of a Janus, so he is, and you see his good face and his bad face, sometimes at the same time.

McDonalds on the street – literally

Jim hauling Liz out of car 1996The Jim and Liz story I have never forgotten is when she told him about a long-ago affair she had with his Army buddy. He exploded, hauled her out of the car, hit her and left her on the pavement. It was shocking, as was the aftermath when she and he continued to deal with it. The violence was delved into, with his sons confronting him and also examining their own relationship with him, pre- and post-beating. It also showed Jim’s examination of himself and his relationship with his family.

Liz on ground after Jim drives awayI had those episodes on tape. I showed scenes to my Popular Culture class to illustrate how a “social issue” story can be presented effectively. Then I contrasted it to a wife abuse story on the American soap The Young and The Restless.

Y&R’s story involved a character, back after many years away, and her husband and daughter who never had been seen before. It said the right things and gave information about what a woman should do in a situation of domestic violence. But, while you were horrified, it didn’t really connect. These weren’t people you knew. And then they disappeared so you didn’t have to think about them, or the issue, again. With the McDonalds, all aspects of family violence were looked at without preaching, through the vehicle of a family you knew well and continued to see. You couldn’t help but care.

The Peacocks, I say, the Peacocks

Canada AM with Corrie stars CTVAnd the Peacocks – I look forward to seeing them. I’m so sorry that Ashley will never grow old on the Street and become the next Fred Elliot, I say, the next Fred Elliot.

For how it all went, see here. The book below is not about Coronation Street, but the people it talks about could well live on the Street. And the Steve mask? Come on, who isn’t Steve sometimes.