Trigger Warning for the many ways we experience violence at the hands of (not all) men, including CSA, SA, rape, VAWG.
I saw a quote a while back that hit home for me. I can’t find it now, but it went something like this:
The issue is not that all men are violent. The issue is that nearly all women have experienced violence at the hands of men.
The sad but true fact is that while not all men are violent, men do commit violence against women and non-binary people (and other men—in fact, according to the FBI, most violent crimes are committed by men).
I have told parts of my story before here and there. And I suspect that I will do so again. In this case, I’m reprising my tale now in order to join others who have shared their litanies of violence as a counter to the superfluous yet oh-so-ubiquitous cries of “not all men.” Because FFS, dudes. Enough already.
“Not all men” is a derailing tactic and serves literally no other purpose than to focus attention away from male violence and center it on the man decrying the unfairness of it all.
When people who are not men say “men do this,” we’re reporting that our experience is that enough men do this that it stands out that men do this. The fact that men do this contributes to an overall feeling of oppression. Men do engage in behaviors that perpetuate patriarchy. Men do engage in behaviors that perpetuate sexism and misogyny. Men do these things without even thinking about them because the men who came before them did it and because too often no one does so much as turn away in disapproval when it happens.
Not all men did these things to me, but these men did.
The man who sucked my tongue, fondled my genitals, and taught me to give him a blow job when I was three.
The man who was my uncle by marriage and came in my mouth when I was six, then spent hours trying to get into my underwear as we camped out in the yard.
The man who fondled my nipples when I was seven or eight during a nighttime hide-and-go-seek game at my cousin’s house.
The man who flexed his exposed erection at me and my friend when we were 9 via the leg of his shorts.
The man—a trusted family friend—who gave me music lessons when I was 9 and performed oral sex on me while my parents weren’t home.
The man who used a finger cot to make his penis small enough to fit inside me when I was 10. Who also gave me a cigar tube to practice with at home.
The man who pulled his truck over as I walked down the street, opened his door, stepped out naked and masturbated while staring at me.
The 14-year-old boy who violently raped me when I was 12 and smoking weed with him in a fort behind my neighbor’s house.
The man who had sex with me in his van knowing that I was a 12-year-old rape victim (but probably not really believing that second part).
The boys and men who repeatedly “pantsed” me over my loud objections and ridiculed me when I was angry.
The two men who took turns raping me while I was passed out drunk at my first kegger when I was 14.
The many, many men—adults—who gave me alcohol and drugs and got their rocks off on me when I was a troubled teen.
The man who exposed his genitals to me in a grocery store parking lot when I was 16.
The man who spent a drunken night trying to coerce me into sleeping with him when I was 16.
The man who raped me when I was 16 because I said no after a night of partying with him and his friend.
The man who attempted to grab me on a dark street as I rode my bike to a friend’s house, 16 and pregnant, and only stopped because I scared him with my primal and guttural GET THE FUCK AWAY FROM ME.
The man who beat the shit out of me in front of my 2-year-old for leaving a party when I was 18.
The man who decided that the fact that I was unconscious on his sofa meant he could go ahead and rape me.
The man who thought because we were friends and had been sexual in the past, it was ok to straddle my drunken body and ejaculate on my chest after I said no to sex.
The many men who have wished me harm here on my blog and on social media.
How many men is enough? How many men must commit violence upon my person before it’s ok if I just say “men did this”?
Men did these things. Not all men. But enough of them that this list is not even complete. Men did these things. And every time some dude Kool-Aid-Mans into a thread where people who are not men discuss male violence to declare that not all men did these things, the only thing he makes clear is that he is utterly ignorant and unwilling to listen to people who are not just like him.
Not all men. Just dozens of men in my case. Hundreds if you count my circle of friends and relatives. Thousands if you count their friends and the people they love.
And that’s enough.
PSA: Abusive commenters will be deleted and banned, so kindly piss off in advance. (Comment Policy)
Related on MMAS:
- A Brief History (the Bad Parts Version)
- #IStandWithDylan: My Story of Childhood Sexual Abuse
- I Am Jane Doe
- The Time My “Friend” Sexually Assaulted Me
Trigger warning for discussion of the various types of abuse perpetrated by those humans known as “trolls” incuding rape and death threats and suicide.
Back in July, during Netroots Nation 2014, Zerlina Maxwell spoke on a panel about online harassment. I wasn’t there, but someone tweeted a quote that stayed with me:
“Don’t call them trolls. They’re assholes.”
I think this is important. By calling these people “trolls,” we are basically letting them off the hook. It’s a lot like the “boys will be boys” mentality that helps to keep rape culture thriving, but it’s also different, because boys are expected to be human. By calling these people “trolls,” we relegate them to non-human status, and we make it clear that we don’t expect them to live up to the same behavioral standards as human beings.
So, who are these assholes? Well, the subset of the population we refer to as “trolls” is mostly (almost exclusively, in my personal experience) made up of men who—for reasons that range from angry entitlement to I-don’t-know-what—make it their business to perpetrate harassment and abuse on targets who are mostly not men.
As a woman online, I’ve dealt with and watched others deal with all of these things and more:
Men who insist that we engage them because they disagree with something we’ve said.
Men who keep tweeting at us or commenting when we’ve asked them to stop.
Men who keep tweeting at us after we’ve told them in no uncertain terms we’re done and have blocked them.
Men who create sock-puppet accounts pretending to be women and use them to harass us, gaslight us, threaten us.
Men who haunt hashtags they disagree with so they can harass people who are not men who speak out about issues that matter to them.
Men who haunt hashtags about gender violence, sexual assault, and other painful topics and target the people there telling their stories.
Men who band together to create armies of sock-puppet accounts to harass us and discredit the work we do.
Men who reply to our stories of rape to tell us that it wasn’t rape. (And who are very likely defending their own behavior.)
Men who play devil’s advocate on issues that disproportionately affect people who are not men.*
Men who chime into conversations about sexual & domestic violence to speculate on what the victim should have done differently.
Men who attack those of us dedicated to fighting for equality simply because we fight for equality.
Men who call us “feminazis” and “white knights” because we identify as feminists and talk about feminist issues.
Men who use racist and sexist and transphobic slurs to attack marginalized people, often for months on end, with no consequence.
Men who send us graphic photos of everything from sex acts to gaping wounds in order to punish us for talking back.
Men who tell us all we need is a good fucking to set us straight.
Men who tell us we should get raped.
Men who tell us they hope we kill ourselves.
Men who tell us how they hope we die.
And of course, all of this is in hopes that we will simply STFU, or better yet, cease to exist.
I think Zerlina’s right: we need to start calling them what they are. Assholes, yes. But also, men who choose to harass and abuse others online, sometimes to the point of driving their victims off the Internet, out of their homes, and even to suicide. So, when you talk about these men, consider using words that describe what they actually do and are, such as “harassers” and “abusive assholes.”
These men are human beings who treat others as less than human—who purposely cause pain and suffering and sometimes even death. It is time we stopped letting them off the hook.
Note: This post has been updated to include the suggested term “harassers” per my friend Mandaray.
*Post pub note: The idea that I would include “playing devil’s advocate” in a list like this seems to have confused some folks, so I want to be clear about what I mean, here: There are people who innocently wonder about the other side of an equation and there are dudes who use “I’m just playing devil’s advocate” as an excuse to argue with women and other marginalize people simply for the entertainment value of engaging us and wasting our time and energy (and even when there’s no ill intent, it’s often really unhelpful and can even be harmful, such as when “devil’s advocates” engage in victim-blaming). Yes, there are degrees of trolling, and this is the least of what anti-feminist trolls do, but feminists—especially those of us who engage in online activism—must, on a daily basis, deal with a barrage of people who are primarily cis white males telling us what feminism really is or isn’t, what misogyny really is or isn’t, what street harassment really is or isn’t, what rape really is or isn’t, and “devil’s advocate” is one of the flags they wave when they’re reminded that they are being part of the problem, as though it excuses them. I hope this clarifies my meaning. Also, if you’re pulling this one item out of the list and ignoring everything else, you may be missing at least part of the point.
Oh, and just for good measure:
Trolls Harassers and abusive assholes who comment here will be deleted and banned, so kindly piss off in advance. (Comment Policy)
This week it finally hit me like a piano out of the sky: nine out of ten* people who argue with me on points of problematic representations/treatment of women in the media and by society in general are…wait for it…dudes.
I’ve come to use the term “dude” (as in Those Dudes) ironically to mean men who are not trolls but are not my allies (though they may believe they are) and who tend to engage in a thing the Internet has come to call “mansplaining,” specifically in response to women speaking out about sexism and misogyny and anything related to it. They seem unable to understand the concept of differing experiences and perspectives or listening and learning from others, and if they disagree on a point, they a) feel they must convince you that you’re wrong or b) believe you owe it to them to convince them you’re right. Or both. Entitlement issues, much?
So here’s a note to Those Dudes. May they give it some serious thought over their next White Russian, or whatever Those Dudes drink.
To Those Dudes:
I’m writing to you today to ask a question and offer some information and advice I hope will be useful to you in your endeavor to be a decent human being.
Here’s my question: Why is it so difficult for you to understand that experiences exist outside your own; that your perspective is yours alone; that you can’t know what it’s like to live in someone else’s skin—a woman’s skin?
Because you just can’t. You can say that you empathize, but that only goes so far because it is actually impossible for you to walk in our shoes. And most of you wouldn’t if you could. (If you bristle at that, I dare you to challenge yourself to pass as a woman in public for 24 hours, because that’s as close as you’ll get, and I guarantee you it’ll change your life.) And because you can’t know what it’s like to be us, you’d think that logic (that thing you’re always telling me my arguments are lacking) would dictate that you cannot be an expert on us, on being us, on how to be us, on how things affect us, and all that stuff you always want to advise us on. I’m really hoping that if you give it some serious, logical thought you’ll understand how your telling us how wrong we are when we talk about how we experience the world doesn’t make a lot of sense.
And yet you crawl up out of the woodwork every time we speak to tell us we’re mistaken and misguided, that we’re not seeing things clearly, that our perspectives are out of true, that we’re far too sensitive and emotional and are just creating “drama”–that because you don’t see it the way we do there’s nothing to talk about and why do we make such a BIG DEAL out of everything.
This behavior has a name. There was a time when I didn’t use the name because frankly, I didn’t want people to think I’m one of Those Feminists who hates men. I don’t want to use gender-specific terms to describe bad behavior if I can help it. I’d rather just say “That guy’s a pompous ass.” But there came a day when even I had to admit there’s a damned good reason that term exists, and that’s because it’s a fucking problem. The problem I’m talking about is “mansplaining,” and the word describes what so many of you engage in when you try to sit us down and tell us how our experiences as women are not what we believe they are and that the issues we feel passionate about are the wrong issues and that we’re going about all this in the wrong way and that you’ve got all the answers.
So, here’s my advice to you, Dudes:
Stop telling women they’ve got it wrong** when they speak out about the problems they see in the world. Stop telling us we’re thinking, writing, and saying the wrong things. Stop telling us the things we see as problems aren’t—your belief is not required, and your disbelief doesn’t magically erase an issue from existence. Stop insisting on our time and energy like needy children—if you’ll read the fine print, you’ll find we don’t actually owe you a debate, a conversation, or even a hello. Stop pretending you have any idea what it’s like to be us, and for Petunia’s sake, stop whipping out your “woman-friend-who-agrees-with-me.”
Stop with the fucking mainsplaining, and I promise I’ll stop using the term. Until then, I’m going to call you on this crap, because I’m sick of dealing with it. Learn some listening skills and some humility. Put some skill points into Self Awareness and Tact and Not Being a Dick.
If you want to be an ally, you’ll take this to heart. If you don’t, you really ought to find another hobby.
*I don’t know what I was thinking when I wrote “9 out of 10.” It’s honestly more like 99/100.
**(Added post-publication for clarity.) This doesn’t mean you can’t disagree. There are ways to communicate disagreement that don’t include telling a woman she doesn’t know what she’s talking about (or implying you know better than she does) when she’s talking about woman things or her perspective as a woman. But do stop and consider whether your presence in a given conversation is necessary or you just want to disagree, because sometimes it’s just not. Read some of the articles below for tips. Also, because I feel I must say it: this article is directed at men who exhibit specific behaviors, not men in general.
- Mansplaining 101: How to Discuss Politics and Feminism Without Acting Like a Jackass (policymic)
- A Cultural History of Mansplaining (The Atlantic)
- #497: On “keeping the peace” with an unlikeable mansplainer (captainawkward.com)
- Men who explain things (Los Angeles Times)
- I’m Tired of All the Damned Splaining So Check Your Privilege, Please (makemeasammich.org)
- Dear Entitled Straight White Dudes (makemeasammich.org)
PSA: Trolls who comment here will be deleted and banned, so kindly piss off in advance. (Comment Policy)
Today I have a guest post up at The Outlier Collective for their week of conversation about Feminism. Have a look at this and the other contributions, as well as the conversations that have ensued. Fascinating stuff. I’m proud to be a part of it!
Here’s an excerpt from my post:
Why it took 47 years and six months or so for me to get to that place, I’m not certain, but I do know one thing: I had met the type of feminist who feels the need to speak up every single time someone says something that might be construed as sexist in any situation, and I did NOT want to be one of them. I don’t remember ever saying, “I’m not a feminist, but…” but if I did, then I was–I was a Feminist Butt. I wanted everything feminists want, I disliked everything (most) feminists dislike and work to change, but I did absolutely nothing to promote equality, and I certainly didn’t call myself a feminist because yikes, what if someone thought I was one of those feminists?
Tomorrow will mark six months since I learned that my best friend had betrayed me. Six months since he got caught, confessed, and ran out the door as fast as his cowardly feet could carry him. Four months since I gave up any hope that he was still capable of being a friend or even a decent human being when it came to his treatment of me and broke off all contact with him probably forever.
This has been one of the (if not the) most difficult periods of my life—a life that has included other betrayals as well as beatings and even rape. And though I’m doing much better than I was six or even four months ago, there are times when the whole thing hits me all over again and knocks me back down onto the floor where he left me back in December. A photograph, a dream, the bar where we had one of our first dates which I can’t avoid visiting because friends must support friends—these things and so many others poke holes in the armor I’ve built around myself these past months and stab me right in the heart.
Some folks tell me that all this only has as much power over me as I allow it to have–that it is my choice whether to dwell in the past or move on with my life. It’s true, I have no choice but to move on–it’s that or die. But this healing I’m doing is a process, and I don’t actually control how my body reacts to stimuli such as an image, a place, or just a vivid memory. There’s a sensation like a kick to the gut or chest, and then the tears come, and *then* I get to choose what to do next. And I have chosen life. And there have been good times. I have optimistic days. Sometimes I think I might be ok. But that doesn’t mean that it won’t happen again and that I won’t feel agony every time—at least for a while.
The support I have received from friends and acquaintances (and here I must acknowledge that even the ones who say and do things I don’t find particularly helpful are usually trying to be supportive) has been overwhelming. Social discomfort has mostly been due to the place (my old apartment building, the bar I mentioned above, a local convention, or just downtown Seattle, for that matter) or my state of mind. There are those times when people ask how I’m doing and then change the subject when I tell them the truth and it’s not happy, and that can be awkward and can leave me feeling like they didn’t really want the answer to that question. (I’ve never been one for small-talk anyway, so if you ask how I’m doing, you’re very likely to get an honest answer.) There are those people who I know are still friends with my ex, and that can be uncomfortable for me because he hurt me so much and they remind me of that by their very existence in my social sphere (it’s not their fault—it just is). There are those people I suspect are still his friends, but who don’t tell me so—don’t say anything at all about him (which is as it should be—as I have requested—if they are still friends). All of this can be awkward and painful, but it honestly pales in comparison to the outpouring of support from people from all areas of my life—especially from my online friends and acquaintances (some of whom are also RL friends and acquaintances).
That very much includes you, dear readers. Very much indeed. Without this place to share my stories and my personal…challenges? …this past year, I can’t imagine what my life would have been like. Without this place to vent my pain and rage in December and January, I’m afraid to think what would have happened to me. And without you showing up here, whether just to read or to comment or commiserate, this place would not be what it is for me. I know that I can talk about the things that feel important–whether they are about all of us or just about me–because you have helped me see that our stories are one of the most important ways we learn, grow, and connect with our fellow human beings.
Thank you for being a part of mine.
Respectful discussion is welcome and encouraged. When in doubt, see the Comment Policy.
Guest post by Joseph Paul Haines
Joe posted this “rant” on Facebook yesterday and kindly gave me permission to share it here. Enjoy. ~Rosie
Hell, I’ll even show you how to use it with a series of statements and where it applies.
Statement: Women only pretend to be interested in cons.
WYST: (What you should think): Maybe. That could be true, depending on the woman. I’m sure that there are some women in the world who couldn’t give a flying fuck about geek culture but see it as a great place to meet fairly affluent single men. Then again, some of them could school your ass a hundred ways to Sunday on almost anything you think you know.
Statement: Women are physically weaker than men.
WYST: Maybe. Some women are, due to their physique, less able to perform certain feats of strength than a similarly built man. Then again, I’ve also had my ass handed to me in sparring matches with women of all shapes and sizes, depending upon their skill level and mine.
Statement: Women are more emotional.
WYST: Maybe. I’ve known women who on the surface seemed to react more strongly to certain external stimuli than other men I’ve known. Then again, it seems I keep running into men who I would classify more strongly as “little whiny bitches” than any woman I’d met in years.
Statement: Women need someone to take care of them.
WYST: Maybe. There have been people on this planet who have experienced situations and trauma that left them temporarily incapable of tending to their own needs in a proficient manner. Then again, maybe you can move out of your parent’s basement before you start whining about it.
Statement: So maybe? How am I supposed to operate off of maybe?
WYST: The same way you do with every other human being on the planet. Some people are better than others at certain things. It has absolutely nothing to do with their gender. As a matter of fact, the gender should be the last thing you consider when getting to understand another human being. Is it true that some women are hyper-emotional? Damn straight. Some men, too. You should deal with the state of being, not the gender. It’s not your job to somehow behave in a different manner with women than you do with men. You don’t have to behave like a “knight.” You don’t have to behave like a “perfect gentleman” although manners never hurt anyone. (Side note: If you think that your behavior has to change in so-called mixed company, you might take some time to think about your manners in a general, overall sort of way. Just a thought.)
Most of all, when you consider a person’s abilities or behavior, it should be based upon their actions and demonstrated talents. So in other words, all this clichéd nonsense about women? Yeah, it could possibly be true in specific instances when dealing with one particular human being.
STATEMENT: Most men aren’t capable of getting past their own cocks and learning this lesson.
WYST: Maybe. But maybe not.
See now? That wasn’t so difficult, was it?
Note: Today Joe posted this PSA, which I know he won’t mind me adding here:
Gentlemen, I’m going to provide you with another safety tip here today. Never, and I mean EVER, start a sentence to a woman with the following phrase:
“Jeez, don’t get so hysterical,” or “Calm down, already,” or “Let’s not get all emotional now . . .”
If you don’t understand why not, well, just take my word for it. If she’s standing in front of you and waving a gun or a knife or hitting herself in the face with a sledgehammer, then and ONLY then would the use of any of these phrases be justified.
Just don’t do it. And you’re welcome.
Respectful discussion is welcome and encouraged. When in doubt, see the Comment Policy.
Recently Mandaray told me about the Kitten Setting: a method for dealing with trolls on the Internet. I’ve been dying to try it out. Behold my first attempt at employing the Kitten Setting. For SCIENCE!
See the ongoing saga here (see warning below):
Part I: FUN
Part II: The Troll Came Back…
Part III: Disappointment (sad trombone) [Warning: Contains porn.]
Part IV: The Silence of the Kittens
Part V: Kitten Claims VICTORY
Respectful discussion is welcome and encouraged. When in doubt, see the Comment Policy.
Really, I ought to capitalize that: Asshole. Because that’s my name for you now. Used to be, when you popped into my head, I thought words like “love” and “sweetie” and “baby” and “honey.” Now, without even thinking about it and without my permission, I think–and say out loud every single time–“Asshole.” Or “Fucking Asshole.” Or “What a Fucking Asshole.”
I can’t believe I ever thought you were one of the Good Guys. That I ever thought you were my friend. I’m so sorry that I trusted you–that I didn’t retain some modicum of protection that might allow me to see you for who and what you really are. I can’t believe I let you hurt me–that you still have the power to hurt me.
I once told you I’d forgiven you. I really wanted that to be true. But it’s not. I can’t forgive you. I don’t know how. I know how to say the words, but not how to make them true. The last time I talked to you I told you how hard the week of our anniversary was for me, and you responded by ignoring me on that very day. Ignoring every attempt at communication and then claiming paralysis, and THEN whining about the unfairness of it all when I told you what an asshole you were. You just kept piling hurt upon hurt, but really, it didn’t matter. You had already done the unforgivable by doing everything you did and then leaving me alone to deal with it all by myself.
I truly hope you get better and cease to cause pain to every woman foolish enough to become involved with you. But my experience has taught me this:
You are a narcissist. You are a serial monogamist. You are a sex addict. You are a man who pretends to be good and then lies and cheats and hurts women over and over again. You are a man who believes you are entitled to have your needs met at the expense of other people. You are a man who has learned what he needs to say after he destroys a life (or several) that will make people see him as a good guy who just makes mistakes and never meant to hurt anyone even though you set out every single day for several months fully intending to lie to me, betray my trust in you, and fuck another woman behind my back in downtown hotel rooms while wondering aloud at home where all our money went. You are a liar and a cheater and you don’t know how to be a friend or a partner or even a good human being.
You are an Asshole.
Respectful discussion is welcome and encouraged. When in doubt, see the Comment Policy.
Poem by MMAS reader Karl Jesse, published with permission.
when I was young, I didn’t care.
The other was a fascination.
A mystery I wanted to swim with.
Now, seeing how complex is our predicament,
I begin to understand.
But I am not afraid.
Because I have walked with you.
Talked with you.
We have wound together.
Stronger, wiser, inseparable.
Something I will never forget.
No, it never got easier,
but it sure got a lot more interesting.
Guest post by Sid
Three of those relationships were abusive.
Guy one (G1) was fine in this regard, as was guy five (G5). They each had their own issues, of course, but they weren’t abusive.
Guy number two (G2) choked me one day. We had been together for well over a year, closing in on a year and a half. Some months later, he dragged me with his car for about twenty feet. Any time I tried to break up with him, he sobbed and sobbed, berating himself until I recanted. He yelled at me if I disagreed with him, prayed before a meal, or called him out on one of dozens of pathological lies.
Guy number three (G3) also choked me, but it was much softer. It was as though he didn’t intend to actually hurt me, but wanted to remind me what being choked was like (because of course he knew G2 had done it) and wanted to show me he could do it just as easily. To my mind, this is just as bad. It was more threat than act, but it amounted to the same. Some months later, he was holding my hand while angry and crushed it. It hurt for several days.
Guy number four (G4), though…he’s the tricky one. He didn’t choke me. He didn’t drag me with a car or crush my hand. His thing was all about how much I wasn’t listening to him. He was also quite tall, so when he felt I wasn’t listening to him, he would bring himself up to his full height and grab me by the arms—tightly, so that I couldn’t get away. He would then push his face into mine so that my head went back, and he would scream at me.
I struggled away whenever I could, but often I was backed up against a wall or into a corner and had nowhere to go.
I would scream back, of course, because I felt trapped and threatened, and I was trying to understand what was happening. Any time we had an argument, if I tried to step away from it to calm down and sort my thoughts, he would follow me after just a few minutes. In one of our homes, as soon as I closed the bedroom door behind me, I would sneak out the sliding glass door and walk down the street so I could get some peace. It wasn’t long before he figured that out, though, and ran down the street after me. A couple times, when I’d gotten far enough that he couldn’t see me, he came after me in his car, window rolled down and sobbing for me to get in.
Honestly, I just wanted thirty minutes to be alone. I couldn’t get five.
When we moved, my office didn’t have a sliding glass door (or a window on the first floor), but that’s still where I went when I wanted space. When he still wouldn’t respect my request to be alone, I started sitting in front of the door. It didn’t have a lock.
This worked for about ten minutes, at which point he panicked and forced himself into the room. This happened so many times, I couldn’t even tell you how many. I often ended up hurt because the door would throw me into the wall or would hit me, or he would step on me on accident because I was right there on the floor. Once he was in the room, he would start calm, but would eventually escalate, sobbing about how we had to work this out right now and no I couldn’t take any time to work through the problem on my own. Often, it would take us back to him grabbing me by the arms and pushing his face into mine, and screaming.
Like I said, my office didn’t have a lock. But the bathroom did. Once I locked myself in there with my back against the door. He used a credit card and forced his way in. I got hurt this time because I was leveraging myself against the door by pushing against the toilet with my feet, and eventually my knees gave out.
I started leaving the apartment when we argued. But I would literally need to run, because he would be after me in about two minutes. It was kind of amazing, actually. The first time I went to leave, he looked at me and said, “Really? You really think you have to leave the apartment?” He was aghast at my lack of trust—after all, he’d agreed to give me time to think in my office. Again. Two minutes later, he was behind me on the street, begging me to come back with him.
Finally, I started heading for the stairs instead of the elevator—but I went upstairs instead of down. That was the one thing he never figured out. I finally had some time and space to think—about being a grown woman who was hiding on the floor above her own just to escape her boyfriend who literally made a habit of chasing her.
This relationship did not last.
Now, was I an angel in this relationship? Good God, no. I mean, I tried. The good times were so good that we were engaged, and we both thought our relationship was fine. (I didn’t notice the pattern, see. Not at first. Not for a long time.) At the end of the day, though, I was not my best in this relationship, as much as I wanted to be. As much as I tried to be. But that doesn’t mean—and will never mean—that I deserved what I got.
What makes him tricky, though, isn’t that he never choked me or took a direct swing. What makes him tricky is how entwined he was with so many of my other friends. They had become our friends, and it didn’t seem right to air all our dirty laundry to them. I told two of my very closest friends, though, which was difficult because they were also very close to him. And then one of my friends said something I didn’t expect.
“Well, you know, I think a lot of it came down to you two just not being right for each other. I mean, I don’t think that’s his real personality.”
I could have the very specifics of the words wrong—it was a few years ago now—but the sentiment is dead-on. And I was confused. I had been trying to attach the word “abusive” to this relationship as I sorted through the wreckage (I say “trying” because, as with many things, it is difficult for a victim to call out what is true), and this reaction made me feel all the more like I shouldn’t attach that word. It made me feel even more strongly that the problem wasn’t him—the problem was that I evoked the reaction.
I fought with myself for a long time on this one, and honestly I don’t know when in the last three years I settled on the word “abusive,” but I know it was more recent than not. Maybe it was when I heard this same friend say that she couldn’t imagine what goes through people’s heads when they defend a friend of theirs who was called out for assaulting another friend. “How can you look someone in the face and say that he wouldn’t do that? That it was just a misunderstanding?”
I don’t know. How can you?
Or maybe it was just this last week when I stood two feet away as she hugged Rosie and said, “I unfriended that guy because I couldn’t stand to hear him say on Facebook how he was…” something. I didn’t hear the end of the sentence. I was too far inside my own head trying to figure out how it was that B was so despicable she couldn’t stand to be friends with him on Facebook, yet she had managed to remain very close friends with my abuser since I left him.
Abuser. That’s such a strong word. I look at it even now and think, “Come on now, Sid. Surely that’s not the right word. He didn’t even hit you.” Honestly. That’s the thought: “He didn’t even hit you.” I know better than that, and still.
The thing with a lot of victim blaming, I think, is that it comes from a place not of malice but of pleading. When you say, “You must have misinterpreted the situation,” you’re not really saying, “You’re a liar and I don’t believe you.” At least not most of the time. Sure, there are people who outright say that, but I think even they are really saying, “Don’t let this be true. Please, just leave me any margin for error so I can continue to hang out with my friend who has never shown this horrible side to me.”
It works like this, I think:
- You acknowledge the accusation is horrible.
- If the accusation is true, then you feel you can no longer be friends with the accused.
- You have never seen the accused display any behavior like this; in fact, you would declare the accused to be one of the nicest fellows you know.
- As a result of (3), you choose to believe that it couldn’t have been as bad as it sounds. Your natural inclination is to assume there was a misunderstanding.
- You report this to the accusing party.
You aren’t trying to disregard your friend’s feelings—in truth, you’re just trying to protect your own—but what you’ve done here is opened the door for second-guessing. Second-guessing something that was probably hard to talk about in the first place. Without even intending to, you have silenced her.
Victim blaming isn’t something any friend sets out to do. (Anyone who does so openly and candidly is honestly not a friend—I have stories about that, too.) Victim blaming is something so subtle it can slip by us without so much as a glance.
After my first two abusive relationships (G2 and G3), I was re-applying for a job as a dispatcher. During one of the interviews, the abuse came up in conversation. My interviewers informed me that these relationships proved I had poor decision-making skills and denied me the job. (Before you jump into legality, I can’t prove that was the reason. It was, though.)
It took me several years to get over the shame and the self-blame of those first two, but now I won’t apologize when I tell you that I have been abused. I won’t shrink away and say, “I…I know I should have gotten out sooner, but…” I notice the signs now, and I avoid them. In the case of G4, it took a while to notice the pattern, but when I did—and I realized it was slowly getting worse and worse—I got out, six months before the wedding.
Getting out isn’t as easy as it sounds, and I won’t look down on anyone going through a similar experience. Women in these situations need help and encouragement—not shame, not blame, not doubt. Strength.
My roommate once asked me what my biggest regret was, and I said I didn’t have any. “None at all?” “Nope. Because it’s all important. Our pasts make up who we are, and I like who I am. I wouldn’t be who I am without everything that’s brought me to this point. It’s all important.”
It’s a part of my history. I can’t change it, and honestly, I don’t know that I would given the chance. Not changing your past doesn’t mean you have to relive it, after all. I love and appreciate every lesson I’ve learned, however hard it was.
I don’t make billboards about my abusive relationships, but I don’t make any effort to hide them. And sometimes people still try to shame me—whether it’s with words, body language, or a sudden, superior attitude. It doesn’t work, though. Here’s a quick tip: you can’t shame me about my life, my choices, my hobbies, my aspirations, my friends, or my past. It’s pointless trying.
You can’t shame me because I am not ashamed.