Encountering the 'Submerged'

Last Monday I had cause to be working in Glasgow, in a theatre just south of the Clyde. At the end of the day, I planned to take a train back to the city centre. I arrived at the station ten minutes after someone had committed suicide, jumping onto the tracks. The police and ambulance had arrived moments before me, and had not yet been able to remove the body. He lay there, lifeless and nameless like a mannequin. All last week I searched all the news media for an account of what happened, but there was nothing.
With no chance of a train, the tube was a better option, and I was soon in the city centre once more. Just outside Queen Street station, I met a man with a red face and no teeth selling the Big Issue magazine. The magazine was giving away some free post-cards, so I bought his last copy. I had intended to send a postcard to some friends I had stayed with over the weekend, but they turned out to be a promotional pack for Amnesty International, who are running a campaign of awareness of domestic violence. Did you know that on average a woman is assaulted 35 times before she seeks help from outside authorities, and that every day two women are killed by a current or former partner?
Not for the first time, a doctor friend was telling me today about the evidence of domestic abuse she sees in hospital. She told me stories of young women who conceal pregancies from violent partners or disapproving parents. Others manage to live for months without even realising they are pregnant. They arrive in the hospital with pains, and despite not menstruating and the appearance of a huge, baby shaped lump in their abdomen, they insist that they cannot be pregnant. They only have to wait a month before unwelcome contractions prove them wrong.
Surely the biological facts of the matter are so obvious as to be unmistakeable? Apparently not, said my friend. For social or religious reasons, some live in denial, scared to admit even to themselves a fact that would bring shame upon them. Others have a more clinical mind-block, a psycological refusal to see the truth in a manner similar to anorexia.
I think these are relevant digressions, because they are all examples of someone so far removed from our own daily lives, that they could be living in another country. And yet we all live in the same country. Men so sad they will jump in front of a train; men without teeth or a roof over their heads; women suffering and dying in silence, unnoticed; and girls so illiterate they do not understand what will happen if they have unprotected sex. I am reminded of a passage in Fergal Keane’s book A Stranger’s Eye (2000), where talks of the ‘submerged’, people, those whose lives are so far removed from the rest of the country, that they seem to no longer undersatnd us, nor we them:

For a few weeks in a Leeds courtroom, the story of her life and death illuminated a parellel universe in which young men, women and children lived not so much on the wrong side of the tracks, but far below the surface of the nation. Submerged. The majority did not end up killing or engaging in senseless violence, nor could they in any sense be said to inhabit the same moral universe as those who murdered Anglea Pearce.
But they did live in a submerged world. It was there all around us, in every city in the country, a world of unexplained departures and missed connections, a great, quiet tradgedy that went stalking down the generations. When it spilled onto our front pages – a child dead from neglect or cruelty, a frightening drug statistic – we took notice, we were shocked. But the waves always closed over and the underwater silence resumed.

11 Replies to “Encountering the 'Submerged'”

  1. Interesting. But as a concept it seems to be premised on some absolute notion of the level of the metaphorical waterline. Perhaps the red-faced man considers *you* to be the submerged one? (If not, why not?)
    If certain experiences cause people to be disconnected from others who do not share and cannot/will not empathise with them, then I feel that to describe this phenomenon as submerging is rather unbalanced, since the disconnection is mutual, whereas the idea of something/someone being submerged seems in itself to be a thing that perpetuates those people’s submersion.
    On another note, I disagree that anorexia constitutes a psychological refusal to see the truth. On the contrary, I’d say it’s a defensive response to a whole array of unpleasant truths, possibly even a protest at being “submerged” by one’s culture/society, albeit one that backfires because of other people’s inability to see it as such?

  2. Thanks Justin!
    Clarice, of course ‘submerged’ is a relative concept, but the metaphor is not the substance of issue. The guy without teeth is welcome to use it of me if he wishes, but I’m not sure it would have the same rhetorical force as Fergal Keane’s writing.
    On the other hand, it would probably be inadvisable for a government policy referred to a group of people as ‘submerged’, because the government shouldn’t be speaking relatively, as I can do.

  3. Without being sexist in anyway, it should also be remembered that many men are also subjected to domestic abuse and due to the stereotyped idea of maleness, they sometimes find it even harder to come forward.
    I agree with Clarice too that anorexia is a response – it is their way of telling a truth which is impalatable to be spoken in any other way.

  4. I agree with both Rob and Clarice on the anorexia question. I think anorexia is a defensive psychological refusal, which is wholly or at least partially unconscious, to see the truth. So there is not a conscious refusal which implies something very active. Of course you have to accept Freud’s notion of the unconscious to hold this view. I also agree with Kathy.
    And is the concept of the submerged the same as the socially excluded ? I work in the NHS and social inclusion is, quite rightly one of the current buzz words.

  5. May I ask, Granny Rose, and Rob also, what is this “truth” that anorexia represents a refusal (conscious or otherwise) to see? I pray that you’re not going to say something about a distorted body image.

  6. Thanks for your reply Rob. I just feel slightly disquieted when people’s response to the experiences of these various “submerged” types you refer to is one of incredulity etc. Positioning people as “other” is harmful and not productive, (though I can see it is rather easier and more comfortable than the alternative) and that is what the whole “sumbersion” metaphor seems to achieve rather nicely. That is the point I was trying to make in my first post to this one, though I see (hope) that Feargal Keane was merely referring to the practice rather than engaging in it.
    Also Kathy, although what you say is of course true (and is an argument against stereotyped views of maleness), the statistics do show that women who kill their partners are a) in a TINY minority and b) tend to have been severely abused by those partners for years. On the other hand, men who kill their partners make up the vast majority of “domestic” murders and have usually been rejected by their partner (hardly a capital crime) or maybe even been “nagged” by her (heaven forbid), and tend not to have difficult backgrounds at all, only a history of violence against previous or current partners. And let us not forget that men are responsible for 90% of violent crime. What is that about?
    On the topic of stereotyped views of maleness, I feel sad and angry that we (even women) are more prepared to question them when they might, just maybe, in a blue moon, harm our sons, but not when they continually harm our daughters. What is *that* about?
    Personally, I find it more shocking that other people find these things shocking than I do the ability of the human mind to try to protect itself from pain. (A circular remark, perhaps:-)) Empathy, empathy, empathy.

  7. Agreed Clarice, the men are in the minority but please let us not minimise their problem because they are in the minority, and also statistics show that a lot of abuse against men by women is mental, and will not show up as a GBH or murder – again I want us to look at domestic abuse as against a person rather than a male or female

  8. Agreed, Kathy, and no-one’s trying to minimise anything, but I think in seeking to understand it, we cannot ignore the psychodynamic aspects of domestic abuse, and the gender imbalance is very probably either a cause or a symptom of such aspects. I therefore think it’s quite important, in terms of trying to understand what goes on.
    Also, if I had a child with an abusive partner, I’d definitely prefer them to suffer mental abuse than to be GBH’ed or murdered. Mental abuse doesn’t show up as GBH or murder, because by itself it isn’t either of those things. Perhaps the statistics should include cases of mental abuse, but it’s such a difficult thing to quantify or prove, and I guess we have to start somewhere.

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