manger ~ gertrude kesabier ~ 1899
on this international women’s day, i want to share some thoughts i’ve been collecting since before the election, concerning the experience of victims/survivors of domestic violence. i realize domestic violence is not a rainbows and butterflies topic, but it is one of the most important topics i write about, and on a day that is all about women, it’s important to me to remember how very alive this problem remains.
there are a few statistics that jumped out at me when i went a-googling, in order to give some context to just how big a problem we are talking about. the national coalition against domestic violence says that in the united states, about 20 people per minute are abused physically by a significant other. also, although we know that toasters don’t make toast; people make toast! it does seem significant to me that the risk of homicide in a domestic violence situation increases by 500% in the presence of a gun. this article portrays the problem in another shockingly succinct statistic: “The number of American troops killed in Afghanistan and Iraq between 2001 and 2012 was 6,488. The number of American women who were murdered by current or ex male partners during that time was 11,766.”
with that i would like to share a friend of a friend of a friend’s words that i saw posted as a comment on one of dan rather’s pleasantly sane facebook essays. to me, it reads as a poem of sorts. it explains exactly how i feel about certain refrains i keep hearing about the current administration.
“Karen Rose says: A few things I’ve heard the last two months:
- Give Trump a chance.
- Maybe it won’t be that bad.
- All politicians are horrible.
- He’ll get better once in office.
Just a few things I’ve heard from victims of domestic violence.
- I’ll just give him another chance.
- It’s not that bad.
- All men are like this.
- He’ll get better once we’re married.
Just a few things I’ve heard months/years later from victims of domestic violence:
- She’s dead
- She’s in a coma
- He killed her child.
- He’s now beating his new girlfriend. “
this article is probably the one that hit home the most during an election campaign cycle that i personally experienced as déjà vu. many other women experienced it the same way. roughly, i’d say, one in three women, might have experienced listening to one particular candidate as traumatic or triggering, because of how it reminded them of emotionally violent partners. physical violence is only part of the story, of course, and almost always goes hand in hand with psychological/emotional abuse. in my case, the emotional violence was far worse, went on for far longer and was far more responsible for eroding my coping skills and morale than the one physical attack i endured.
actress margaret vale howe marching in 1913 for women’s suffrage in washington d.c.
(public domain, found for me by my fiance)
i’ve talked about memory issues that i have, and one of the reasons i write is a need to put my storyline back in order and keep it in order after it was fragmented by trauma. this fragmentation in domestic abuse situations can stem from the way in which the rules of fair discourse go out the window, and the rapid fire pace at which lies, denial, and fallacies of logic are lobbed at you. the shifting of blame, the abuser framing himself as victim (and finding plenty of folks who are willing to assert his victimhood!), the gaslighting (aggressively denying objective truth is a definition i like for this term); the way the subject gets abruptly turned back on you when you try to address an issue; the appeals to “everyone” who is said to agree with him about whatever egregious claims made about you; the use of voice as a weapon (the therapist who mediated between my abuser and me told me privately that he observed me becoming meeker and quieter as he got equally louder and more forceful in his speech); the confusion of being accused of dishonesty by the person who was a seasoned veteran at dishonesty (confusion, because i was receiving these accusations before i knew that he was a cheating liar. my mom saw that coming, and knew the accusations were a red flag. i now see it in other people the same way she did, and know to avoid them.)
these tendencies in emotionally abusive individuals became normalized during the election. everything i just said is represented in the way the president has spoken and acted these past months. insistent denial of a very clear public record of lying; when confronted on his appalling record with women, bringing up the other candidate’s husband’s past record with women; when confronted on tax returns, bringing up emails; grossly overgeneralizing; making sure his voice is the loudest one in the room. jane goodall, renowned expert in ethology (the study of behavior) calls it like she sees it: he behaves like a male chimpanzee asserting dominance.
the article on emotionally abusive debate tactics didn’t mention physical intimidation (since it’s not a verbal debate tactic) but invading someone’s space and positioning one’s body in threatening ways is another thing survivors are familiar with. i’ve had door frames filled by a man’s bodies who wanted to trap me, i’ve had my own space invaded in order to back me down from sticking up for myself. there is a whole world of women who know what that looks and feels like, along with me.
i’m weary of the way people are treating each other. i’m disheartened by the descent to the lowest common denominator, the name-calling, the number of times i’ve heard people i thought were otherwise decent human beings use terminology such as “libtard” (and much worse) on other human beings. i was condescendingly criticized for my “thinking style” and accused of twisting words by a childhood friend on another friend’s facebook post. i stood up for “lefty liberals” when another friend of a friend slammed “them” for bringing the demise of recreational salmon fishing, since i was able to speak firsthand about my own work to ensure that there are any salmon left for future generations (including but not limited to recreational fishing). i’ve also chimed in when called out for “crying victim” which is how some “friends” would summarize the intent of the women’s march. there is a whole post to be written on the subject of shaming and invalidation of emotions such as fear and sadness, the natural and proportionate responses to things going on in the world.
this violent, careless way of speaking to people is not limited to the political divide. sitting in karate with coparent a few months back, who shares many liberal political views, he passive aggressively spoke about what an idiot his Psych 101 professor must be, because when he asked her to define codependency she failed to respond that it is, “the refusal to take a look at your own issues.” it’s been almost 9 years since i had a restraining order, but some things (victim-blaming) still haven’t changed.
and my situation, as tough as it was at times, reeks of what a place of privilege i experienced it from, and am able to reflect on it from. there are others with far fewer resources and who are therefore far more vulnerable to the effects of domestic abuse. you caught that 98% of domestic abuse cases also include financial abuse when you read through the statistics, right? my case did as well, but i had a way bigger safety net to jump into than many women.
which is why i don’t buy that anything this administration says they are doing in the name of protecting women is really motivated by actual care for women. this (very current) article sums up how clauses in executive orders targeting domestic violence (of a certain religious bent) are more likely to pose an increased barrier to reporting domestic violence, and more like to threaten the very group of people they are claiming it will protect: immigrants. as if financial hurdles and the common threats of losing child custody and housing stability weren’t enough, these women have to deal with potentially being deported on top of it all if they speak up about abuse.
migrant mother (florence owens thompson, who at the time was a single mother of 6, and worked farm labor jobs during the depression) ~ dorothea lange ~ 1936
“After September 11, 2001, we had abusers from certain communities who affirmatively used anti-Muslim hostility as a tool of abuse… ’If you contact that police, you’re exposing our entire community, our household, and you’re likely to be treated as a criminal as well.’”
any provision to target the violence of only one religious group (and ignoring all the other religious groups with domestic violence issues), is a thinly veiled targeting of immigrants, rather than a source of help for victims of domestic violence. this administration’s threat of removal of funding from all 25 VAWA grant programs makes this case; this executive order is motivated by something other than care for the welfare of women.
which is why when it comes to abusive men, something we all need to learn (i needed to learn it!) is that even if you can’t trust anything they say, you darn well better watch their actions. as maya angelou said, “when someone shows you who they are, believe them.”
i’ve quoted her once, and i’ll quote her again. she and the women in the photos i’ve borrowed to celebrate today, are great examples of women to look towards for inspiration, as women step into the strength that is already ours, but that the world still hasn’t embraced.