"Our house was small, and when you grow up with domestic violence in a confined space you learn to gauge, very precisely, the temperature of situations. I knew exactly when the shouting was done and a hand was about to be raised – I also knew exactly when to insert a small body between the fist and her face, a skill no child should ever have to learn."
-Patrick Stewart on The Legacy of Domestic Violence,
He had me at "Tea. Earl Grey. Hot." In my opinion, his Jean-Luc Picard is the only Star Trek captain worthy of helming the USS Enterprise; Picard makes Kirk and the others look like a pack of braggarts, whiners, and wimps. For more than 20 years, my love for Patrick Stewart has burned strong and bright, "the star to every wandering bark". A talented Shakespearean actor, Sir Patrick nails every role he plays, from Othello to Shylock to the Seattle Opera director with a crush on Frasier. Then there's his one-man version of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. I can't think of another actor who I would want to see play 40+ characters. And let's not forget the lecherous caricature of himself that he played in Extras. Good gravy, I loved him for that!
My love for Patrick Stewart is sexless, as chaste and pure as that of the heroine in a Victorian novel. I feel for him what the young X-Men must feel for Professor Charles Xavier - admiration, respect, passionate loyalty. It's a love, I know, not meant to be tested in real life. Yet I can't help myself.
I've never met Patrick Stewart. I know almost nothing of his personal life beyond the fact that he choses to use his fame to support human rights. He's been a long time supporter of Amnesty International in his native UK. I've written recommendation letters for students applying to the internship program he endowed at Amnesty. None of them were ever selected for the Patrick Stewart Human Rights Scholarship, so I can't even claim that two-degrees of separation.
What really took me 'round the bend on Patrick Stewart, though, was his decision five or six years ago to talk about his own experience with growing up with domestic violence.
"I experienced first-hand violence against my mother from an angry and unhappy man who was not able to control his emotions or his hands. Great harm was done by those events - and of course I mean the physical harm, the physical scars that were left, the blood that was spilled, the wounds that were exposed - but there were also other aspects of violence which have a lasting impact physiologically on family members. It is so destructive and tainting.
It's taken me a long time to be able to speak about what happened. Then, two years ago, around the time of the launch of the Amnesty International campaign to Stop Violence Against Women all that changed. After consultation with my brothers, we all felt that it was time for me to speak out about what had happened in our childhood, and to show people that domestic violence is protected by other peoples' silence."
- Patrick Stewart, Turning the Tide,
Domestic violence is a worldwide epidemic. It cuts across race and class and economic status and nation of origin. It violates the fundamental human rights of women and often results in serious injury or death. Studies show that between one quarter and one half of all women in the world have been abused by intimate partners. Certainly men experience domestic violence as well, but women are victims of violence in approximately 95% of cases of domestic violence. (For sources and more statistics, see StopVAW.org
It took the human rights community far too long to recognize domestic violence and other gender-based rights as human rights abuses. Because the violence is committed by private actors rather than the government in the context of family life, domestic violence was long considered to be a "private matter". Fortunately, the international human rights law has progressed and violence against women is now considered a human rights abuse. The government has a responsiblity to prevent violence against women from taking place and to prosecute or punish the perpetrators of the violence. The UN Committee Against Torture has even clarified that violence agains women, including domestic violence, can in certain circumstances be defined as torture under the Convention Against Torture.
Implementation of laws that protect women from domestic violence is, of course, the ongoing problem throughout the world.
It is never easy for survivors of human rights abuses to talk about the violence they experienced. It comes at great personal expense and sometimes that expense is just too great for people to overcome. There has been a lot of outrage recently about Rihanna and Chris Brown. I wish Rihanna would become an advocate against domestic violence -photographed holding an Amnesty International placard - but I can't judge her or the decisions she makes about her life. It does make me think, though, that it is doubly important for male celebrities like Patrick Stewart to use their fame as a platform to raise awareness about violence against women.
I defy you to watch this video and then tell me my love for Patrick Stewart is wrong.
What will it take to end domestic violence worldwide? It will take more than Sir Patrick Stewart. As he says in this Amnesty video, it will take sustained government action to ensure that domestic violence is treated as a public health issue rather than a private matter. But Patrick Stewart's decision to use his celebrity to speak out about the domestic violence experienced in his childhood home puts us one step farther along that road.
"Violence against women diminishes us all. If you fail to raise your hand in protest, then you make yourself part of the problem."
- Patrick Stewart, Turning the Tide,
Amnesty Magazine, May/June 2006
"I do it for my mother because I could not help her very much then."
Stop Violence Against Women.
"Make it so."