Quick disclaimer: I’m busy and tired and I pretty much post my first draft. Edits ain’t happening. Love me anyway.
I started this blog as the story of Dick and me, written serially. And I will get back to the story, I promise. There’s more to tell and I will tell it. But in the intervening two years since I last wrote a post, something else happened.
I got into, and out of, another unhealthy relationship. I won’t be telling that story. But I digress.
I’ve mentioned that many of my relationships have been abusive. When you read about that, was your first thought anything at all about me? Did you wonder how I got myself into that situation repeatedly? How did I not see the signs after gaining some experience from the past? Did you wonder what was wrong with me that I attract these men or am attracted to them? Did you feel sorry for me? Think me weak? Or think I have such bad luck with men? Or maybe you’ve read that children who grew up in abusive homes are more likely to end up victims. If I were you, one or more of these would have crossed my mind. Until I trained myself to think differently, I always focused on the victim (or survivor if you prefer that term).
But what we should be asking is, what about the abusers? What’s wrong with them? Why do they do it? (The simple answer is, they benefit from it. They get to have things their way.) My point is, we incorrectly look to victims for explanations about abuse when the entire explanation lies everywhere but with them. The cause of abuse is simple. We live in a patriarchal culture that objectifies women. Boys absorb this value system and some grow up to believe that their partner is something they own. Ergo, they can do whatever they want to it in order to control it.*
I hear a lot of “women are abusers, too” and I’m not sure what the point of saying that is. Domestic violence against women is an epidemic, yet folks want to level the playing field for some reason. I’m not sure why. This calls for a little Lundy:
There certainly are some women who treat their male partners badly, berating them, calling them names, attempting to control them. The negative impact on these men’s lives can be considerable. But do we see men whose self-esteem is gradually destroyed through this process? Do we see men whose progress in school or in their careers grinds to a halt because of the constant criticism and undermining? Where are the men whose partners are forcing them to have unwanted sex? Where are the men who are fleeing to shelters in fear for their lives? How about the ones who try to get to a phone to call for help, but the women block their way or cut the line? The reason we don’t generally see these men is simple: They’re rare.
I don’t question how embarrassing it would be for a man to come forward and admit that a woman is abusing him. But don’t underestimate how humiliated a woman feels when she reveals abuse; women crave dignity just as much as men do. If shame stopped people from coming forward, no one would tell.
Even if abused men didn’t want to come forward, they would have been discovered by now. Neighbors don’t turn a deaf ear to abuse the way they might have ten or twenty years ago…If there were millions of cowed, trembling men out there, the police would be finding them. Abusive men commonly like to play the role of victim, and most men who claim to be “battered men” are actually the perpetrators of violence, not the victims. -Lundy Bancroft, Why Does He Do That…, p. 45
I talk about abuse a lot. Everywhere. I do this in the hope people will come to recognize abusive behavior more easily and realize how common it is. Maybe then more people will care about it and we can start to change culturally. In my experience, it’s common for people to think that abusive situations are in fact normal, and they should “just ___” and somehow it will be ok. People excuse abusive behavior all the time. I don’t. I point it out if it’s appropriate to do so. I say, “No, that’s not just someone being frustrated. That’s abusive behavior because it’s intimidation and control, not regular frustration. Do you treat people like that when you’re frustrated?” I get the strangest looks.
A colleague of mine at work has mentioned that she teaches her daughter how to avoid rape, kidnapping, and other forms of gender-based violence. I asked if she invested that much time teaching her son not to be a rapist. She’s such a good sport and a dear friend. She wasn’t offended. She reflected for a minute and answered honestly, “No. I didn’t.”
(FYI – you can’t avoid rape, kidnapping, etc. If they were avoidable, they would never happen. Why can’t victims avoid these horrible crimes? Because perpetrators are responsible for them, not victims.)**
The other day when I picked Alice up from daycare, a boy was rushing by and he slammed into her from behind. She had no idea he was coming. He came from behind her. She was standing in a place kids normally stand to put their jackets on. He was traveling in a forward direction and he slammed into her. He had no business running into her. He should have been watching where he was going. After he hit her, Alice automatically glanced back and said, “Sorry!” I stopped them both. I said, “Alice, you have no reason to be sorry. He ran into you from behind.” I looked at the boy and said, “She is not sorry. She didn’t hit you. She did nothing wrong. You need to apologize to her because you hit her.” He glanced over at her, “Sorry!” and went on.
This boy did not intentionally abuse Alice. That wasn’t abuse. My point is, boys are taught, without even knowing it, that all space is theirs. And girls are taught to apologize for being in any space. This is the abusive culture. This is the training ground for our girls and boys to learn adulthood.
And I’m out here like, WHAT? HELL NO! FUCK THAT.
And that’s why I talk. And why I write. And why I will not shut up. Forty years of abuse, friends. Forty years. That’s the legacy I’m contending with.
If one of you listens to me, and one of you raises your child differently because of something I said, then I’ve done something big. What if my mom or dad had listened to a me? Man, that would have been huge.
Long ago, Therapist #26 tried to get me to talk to my childhood self. I couldn’t do it. I still can’t. I can’t look that little girl in the face. I want to rescue her from all that horror and I can’t. I can’t save her. I imagine trying to reach through that porthole and she’s screaming and crying and our fingers can’t quite connect and I’m trying to get her, but I get sucked away and that’s it. I’ve left her there forever and she’s frozen in 1982 thinking her mother is being murdered in the bathroom.
And that’s why I talk. And why I write. And why I will not shut up.
Because you might know someone. It might be your little girl. And there’s still time.
Here’s the link to the National Domestic Violence Hotline. Make sure you’re in a safe place before you click. The phone number is: 1-800-799-7233 | 1-800-787-3224 (TTY)
*The information I’m imparting comes from Lundy Bancroft’s book, Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men. (Link to Amazon) My page numbers are from the Kindle edition and my be off. Let me know in the comments and I will correct it.
**Other information I’ve learned comes from Black Feminist experts on Twitter. These are not my original ideas, but an aggregate of information I’ve read over time.