I Object

I

People are very critical of women who are being abused physically. Why do they not just leave … why do they then get into another abusive relationship … and on, and on. “They are sick, that is why!” shouts the chorus in glee. The chorus forgets to consider how many predators there are, and how very greatly these predators are empowered and encouraged, even by the choristers.

Why do so many choristers sing this song, at the same time as they work actively to keep people from seeing abuse as such? Why must abuse be seen as an exceptional situation? Why cannot it be seen in what I am sure is a truer perspective: a context which incorporates a continuum of poor behavior ranging from Puritanical suspicion and passive aggression to state sanctioned torture? Covert or overt, subtle or blatant, the abuse of women is not widespread because women are “sick” but because it is a primary tool of patriarchy.

II

Since childhood I have been aware that one of my great failings is the inability to absorb sufficient amounts of verbal and emotional abuse. One ought to absorb more than I can and still function at a high level. Had I been a more moral individual, according to both my original education and my Reeducation, I would have been able to achieve at least one of two things. Most ideally, I might have become more accepting and accommodating of abuse and still functioned at high and higher levels. Alternatively, I might have accepted that the degree of abuse one should absorb is in fact disabling. I might then have found an abuser who would at least not disfigure me, and who could support a disabled person in style.

I find it very interesting that we are expected to escape physical abuse and are heavily criticized if we do not, but to absorb verbal and emotional abuse. We are to say it is happening because we have a “communication problem.” Had we phrased things just right, we would have avoided “misunderstandings” and would not have been abused. Now that we have been, we must be quiet and wait for the next episode. In the meantime we must still function at a high level.

III

Following is one of the many letters I wrote in 2006, to a man with whom I was having “communication problems” (some details are changed or omitted for purposes of anonymization). I had gotten involved with him two years earlier, realized soon that it had been a terrible experiment, but stayed largely out of guilt: I was the only really good thing in his life, said my friend.

I was also afraid to leave because my friend was also a good friend of the Dean of my college. I did not know what they might do to me if I left. I did not realize this constituted sexual harassment, either, because I had not been openly coerced or explicitly threatened. Observe my attempt to communicate and my reasoning. Note that I realize that I have been discarded long since, but also kept on a very short leash that I am fearful and guilt ridden about trying to break.

Note what I am saying, although I do not realize it myself: I want to leave and I know it. I know I am not important to this person in a real sense, but I feel terribly responsible for meeting their companionship needs. I am convinced that if I can only communicate correctly, I can resolve the situation. I do not want to be in the relationship, but I have forgotten I have the right to leave.

IV

The letter:

“Sorry to keep harping, but I think this actually is important. I hope you won’t think ‘she’s just in one of her moods’ — (that’s another sexist thing, by the way, the discounting of what women say). I made a serious error that Sunday in 2004 that you were in a state of nerves over your [tenure decision] and I called your friend M–. I had tried to break up because I couldn’t see how to share the life you were leading, listen to the plans you had to sabotage or undermine other people, and also maintain my health.

“By the end of that afternoon I relented – rescinded my decision to break up – because it felt so bad to see you so hurt. That was the day I decided I would fit myself in with your life and support you until you [made tenure]. This was a poor decision since the result is that I go into these states of exhaustion, frustration, and claustrophobia which harm all concerned.

“I really do understand that you love the live you lead. This is why I don’t know what to do. I do not want to lead that life, and yet I do not want to hurt you. At the same time trying to spend time with you is very detrimental to my own work and health. I understand that the sensible solution is for me to enjoy your life more, and I keep trying to talk myself into it. But I want to lead another kind of life and I find I am unable to repress this.

“DEEP BREATH. I am afraid that if I act on these things I will leave you behind and thus hurt you even more than I have so far by not enjoying the life you want to lead. Much of my energy over the past two years has been concentrated on alleviating the pain of the ‘train wreck’ you also claimed to be living. This, again, was sexist (as well as unrealistic) on my part: the sexism is in the assumptions that (a) my life *had to* come second, by definition, and (b) that ‘train wreck’ alleviation was my responsibility.”

V

I am still in Abu Ghraib, but I have smuggled this post out. Here in Abu Ghraib I am dealing with some whitemen and I do not know yet how things will go. It seems that the situation is the same as the one I was in with the man to whom I refer above: I am attempting to communicate. I am being asked to empathize with an oppressor.

This is what society allows and expects, but “better communication” is beside the point if what is really needed is an exit strategy. If that is the case, I need to find a way to stay in the house, not be further destroyed by what takes place here, and work to leave.

I am not yet sure how to accomplish this. What I find interesting, however, is that the same behavior from men I would be berated for accepting at home, I am expected to accept at work.

The chorus would say: just leave now! If you do not leave now, it is because you are sick and you want to continue to be abused! But if this chorus is serious, they will just have to bankroll me. And whether or not they bankroll me so that I can take their advice as quickly as they would like, they have no right to speak to me in that abusive way.

Axé.

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16 Comments

Filed under Banes, Da Whiteman, Questions, Resources, Theories

16 responses to “I Object

  1. Isn’t it strange how we are socially conditioned to see all others as kind of ethereal souls on an equal plane with us, who just need our respect and sympathy in order to function better?

    Actually, it is better to see — as Nietzsche did — human beings as a battle aftermath; some missing hands or feet, and other missing brains and more essential items.

  2. Yes. I see myself as battle aftermath, actually, but not anyone else. My question of the day is still how to deal with such people, in the context of a large bureaucracy in which not everyone is conscious. I do not have an answer yet.

  3. well, something I have started to do is to take a different perspective. A lot of people use their wounds as a form of strength. It can appear that way, too. The loss of a hand makes them more ferocious. The exaggeration of a leg makes them more likely to kick hard, etc.
    What you need to do is to turn it around so that you see how the lack of balance in the person can be used to their disadvantage. The wound is a wound and not an advantage. So, if someone is inclined to become more ferocious, then you can use this as a weakness by letting them be ferocious towards thin air — you’re not around to take the abuse. If someone has an exaggerated leg, you can talk to their head or to another part of the body, forcing them to use a part of themselves that isn’t their acquired strength.

    It’s like kickboxing. Everybody has a strength and everybody has weaknesses. You work out what they are.

    But in Western culture, people have been taught to view their injuries as means to attack. So be especially wary of their injuries, and of the swollen exaggerated limbs that can be used to smash you.

  4. Yes – this is definitely true – good point.

  5. I think it has to do with Western mind-body dualism. It is a system of thinking and of culture which doesn’t allow for much individualism. It doesn’t allow the quirks of personality to become public and freely expressable. So people repress and repress and repress their natural personalities, under the force of moral imperative until… suddenly… BRAVO!

  6. ooops…let me continue…

    They acquire a psychological injury, and it dawns on them that they are now able to differentiate themselves from others on a legitimate moral basis. They feel special. Suddenly they are publically able to posture as “individuals”. So, henceforth they use their particular form of specialness to dominate and harrass others.

  7. Really, there was so much in this post that I relate to that I had a hard time organizing a comment.

    I was in only one romantic relationship (and I’m 40) with a man who really listened to what I said, and he was for many, many reasons, a bad partner but was always, up until his death, a friend, precisely because, despite all else, he did listen.

    As for the rest of my relationships, there seems to be a pattern that is immensely troublesome–my not being listened to because I am a woman. If I bring up a problem that could easily be solved with some honest communication, it’s brushed off as “one of [my] moments,” “[my] having a meltdown,” etc. When such relationships have ended, the other parties have been clueless, as though things were over without warning. That has always baffled me: no, I said what was wrong over and over and…(sigh)

    Ahem, anyway, I have noticed that there is at least one advantage in being stereotyped. Those who stereotype become so predictable as to give thinking others an advantage since they are always responding to preconceived notions rather than to reality, and it’s easy to see what those preconceived notions are. I know that’s not a profound conclusion, but it has worked for me a few times for me in professional situations, though not without my feeling a tinge of regret that perhaps I’ve been a little sociopathic in dealing with the abusers.

    I really enjoyed this post.

  8. though not without my feeling a tinge of regret that perhaps I’ve been a little sociopathic in dealing with the abusers.

    I made a post on a similar topic to this on Pandagon. Basically, my feeling is that if people are abusing you, you need to defend yourself in as clean a fight as possible.

    Part of fighting a clean fight seems to me

    1. to be able to realise that you are, in fact, being attacked.

    2. To realise the difference between a defence and counterattack, and to use both in ways that are self-disciplined, skilled and proficient.

    –That way, you minimise any feelings that you are being turned into a barbarian by being attacked.

  9. J – good advice. I’ll try to use it right here in Abu Ghraib.

    A.F. – that’s a rich comment, I’m trying to absorb it! For now: I’ve had this problem not just in romantic relationships but in platonic friendships, including with women, and I have it rampantly in academia and in particular, here in Abu Ghraib:

    “If I bring up a problem that could easily be solved with some honest communication, it’s brushed off as “one of [my] moments,” “[my] having a meltdown,” etc. When such relationships have ended, the other parties have been clueless, as though things were over without warning. That has always baffled me: no, I said what was wrong over and over and…(sigh)”

  10. “If I bring up a problem that could easily be solved with some honest communication, it’s brushed off as “one of [my] moments,” “[my] having a meltdown,” etc. When such relationships have ended, the other parties have been clueless, as though things were over without warning. That has always baffled me: no, I said what was wrong over and over and…(sigh)”

    My advice is is someone ignores your “emotions”, you should also ignore their emotions. Two can play at that game. Keep demonstrating that your position is utmostly rational and logical and that you are not interested in their emotional investments in their position, you just want to know where you stand.

  11. And certainly one should ignore their emotions when their emotions impede their seeing one’s logic.

  12. Yes. But their emotions are really their own human take on the situation. It is used very much in patriarchal thinking: “adopt my perspective and my gestalt construction of the situation.”

    “No, I’m afraid I cannot do that Sir, for it seems too emotional a point of view to me … However, if you were to refer objectively to the situation, independent and detached from you ‘gestalt’, I might begin to understand you.”

  13. “My advice is is someone ignores your “emotions”, you should also ignore their emotions. Two can play at that game. Keep demonstrating that your position is utmostly rational and logical and that you are not interested in their emotional investments in their position, you just want to know where you stand.”

    Thanks, Jennifer–that’s great advice that has to result in not turning anger inward, owning one’s reality, and protecting boundaries. I should send you a check :)

  14. What the police famously told me one time: “Ma’am,
    you are not looking here at a COMMUNICATION PROBLEM, you are looking at a CRIME SCENE. And I do not mean to disempower or diminish you by saying so, but in this crime scene you are the VICTIM.”

  15. Pingback: Don’t sue–run for your lives! (Part I) : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present

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