With V-Day fast approaching and One Billion Rising on behalf of women, I join others the world in speaking out, but I never consider myself among the victims.
Those years of spanking, with the belt, on my naked bottom, over his lap–those were a legitimate act of parental discipline, right? And the time when I was a grown woman, home from college… and he hit me across the face with the back of his hand; not once, but three times; that wasn’t the kind of wrong where you press charges because I had mocked the authority of the man who provided for me, right?
When does standing up for yourself shift from disobedience to claiming ones rightful place in the world? And what earns that place?
Money or size?
And what about respect? How is that come by? Does it only flow in one direction? Who decides?
These are the questions I’ve asked myself as a woman, but up until now I’ve never realized that I was among those violated. Until my husband punched our door in the middle of a heated argument, and then kicked the wall beside the bed until the sheet rock collapsed on itself; then, I realized; this is about “them,” this is about all women.
My first thought was the children. My teenager remained safely behind his closed door while my 12 year old called out from his dreams. I rushed to his room and sat beside him until he settled back into a softer sleep.
Then I quickly returned to the bedroom, grabbed my things, and headed downstairs. I considered leaving, as I had in college when my father gave me the black eye, but where would I go and why would I go?
I made up a bed on the couch and put the phone beside me. The room was dark except for the glow of the wood stove so I could barely see my husband arrive at the bottom of the stairs.
“Don’t come any closer,” I said. “I’ll call the police. I mean it.”
He said my name desperately, unbelievably, before resigning himself to leave. I ached for his grief but I felt afraid of him at the same time. His outburst had triggered a lifetime of vulnerability and intimidation.
I wondered if I was to blame like I had been as a child… when I was bad; or as a young adult when I was disrespectful. I was reminded of what my in-laws once “joked” in a heated moment when they felt their son was victimized by my constant demands: “Maybe he takes you out back and beats the crap out of you.”
I tried to fall asleep, but I kept thinking about the wall, and about how that could have been me, and about how some woman somewhere was definitely being kicked across a floor while her children screamed. I was definitely not returning to that room until the wall was repaired.
When the floor creaked above me, I froze. When another tall figure appeared by the wood stove, I sprung upright, and reached for the phone, ready to dial.
It was my oldest son. He lay down beside me in a space that was smaller than a single bed even though our queen had been too close for his comfort for years on end. He wrapped his arm around me and took my hand in his.
“I’m sorry,” I said.
He stayed for an hour. We talked. About ourselves. About anger. About self-expression. About power. About helplessness. When I heard the floor creak again, I moved my hands through the blankets, but I couldn’t find the phone. My son asked what I was doing, and at first I said, “Nothing,” but then I attempted to explain the vulnerability that is unique to women.
He listened attentively and then apologized for not coming to me when he first heard his father’s outburst.
After he left, I lay there, softening, wishing for my mother, wanting the comfort of my husband. I suddenly understood how a violated woman might return to the lover who had abused her.
I remembered that my father once confided to me that he’d hit my mother “only a few times” when she was overly emotional. I was appalled; and couldn’t understand why she hadn’t stood up for herself or for me when he hit me. But we were both petite women, and he was towering. That and the fact that my mother was born only twenty years after women claimed the right to vote; and I would be ten before “marital rape” was a crime in every state. That kind of subjugation lives on covertly in the dynamic of the culture for generations.
My own husband is a kind, gentle man, not prone to anger, but he grew up in what could be a volatile home, as did his parents before him. Those legacies don’t just disappear. Not without attention. And consciousness. And courage.
I began to realize that the threat I felt was not so much about the man upstairs as it was about the position of women throughout time. My mind turned to all those who are terrorized the men in their lives–by lovers, fathers, brothers, husbands–in the past and in the present–and especially those among us who are too threatened to get help.
I woke the next morning, in my own bed, with a pounding skull, and a tight jaw, and a stiff neck. “This is trauma,” I thought. (And I hadn’t even been touched.)
I decided that our wall wouldn’t be repaired right away after all. That we would use it as a reminder of what is at stake. Particularly today as our lawmakers deliberate over VAWA: The Violence Against Women Act.
I am certain that whatever rights and protections are bestowed upon women are bestowed upon us all; just as whatever trauma is inflicted impacts us all.
Kelly Salasin, February 11, 2013