In the late summer of 2001, my estranged husband broke my arm and hand. His weapon of choice was a thick heavy rake handle, similar to a youth baseball bat, but uniform in diameter. His justification of choice, that Jesus didn’t want us to get divorced and I kicked over his bike.
There are many on the planet who believed that I had it coming. Like the policeman at the hospital, who I had to inform that I was a lawyer and former Assistant States Attorney before he would fill out a report. My Aunt, who rushed to the hospital and whose first words to me were “Don’t do anything to cause him to lose his job”
The thing about patriarchy and violence towards women is that even those who haven’t been battered are victims. Like so many other people, I thought that I shouldn’t have told him he wasn’t shit and kicked over his bike because on some level the sanctity of my body was not as valuable as a crappy $300 bike that he was too fat and too lazy to ever ride. Or that I was a bad wife or mother because I wanted out of a marriage that was emotionally and verbally abusive, spiritually draining and not satisfying on any level.
Lies, Lies and lies.
For years after the incident I blamed myself and felt guilty and responsible, because I didn’t run, I didn’t think of my children. The first sense I was under attack was the movement of air and the swish sound as he swung behind my head. I don’t know if he missed or was trying to scare me. I just remember being filled with rage. I went Hulk. I couldn’t believe that he would come after me to hurt me, let alone from behind. I had bent over to place some of the children’s things in the back seat of the car and heard the swish – felt the air and lost it.
For years after the incident, I blamed myself for not trying to run away – I am 5’5’’ and had on 3’’heels he is 6’2” and had on gym shoes. Instead of running, I screamed, I cursed, I talked about him, his momma and yelled that he had to try to beat me with a stick because his dick didn’t beat a god damn thing. I advanced yelling accusations, obscenities and challenges. He retreated – backwards- swinging wildly, confused and off balance. I took four licks, two on my left hip and two to my left arm. I grabbed the stick from him as he stumbled backward on uneven pavement. Yelling what a sorry excuse of a man he was, how his momma should be slapped for ever having sex, let alone pushing his sorry ass out. What a puny human he was and how he got the god he deserved. Throwing the stick into a neighbor’s yard, I then ran to my car and called the police while driving to the hospital. It would be over five years later that some lovely woman would tell me that I may have saved my life and that had to forgive myself for not running or cowering in the traditional sense. That my rage and outrage had startled and confused him, and protected me from a worse beating or death. Maybe I had thought about my children and made sure, like any enraged lioness that they had their mother, fiercely fighting for myself and for them.
In the days that immediately followed, there was not a single person who offered to hold my rage or anger, nor was there one who offered rage or anger of his/her own. There was no family member to speak to him and say “you don’t hurt one of ours”. There was nothing but inquisitive faces and lies. Lies on my part and that I supported. Perhaps I was in shock and when that shock subsided and I wanted truth over lies… there was only silence. There was no “how dare he!” only one person asked me about pressing charges, no medical professional talked about, shock, victimization. Only silence. I was treated as if I in some way invited it and or deserved it. And yet…
Metaphorically – I feel a movement of air and hear the swish sound again… NO MORE SILENCE
For me as a Black woman the notion of my body, love, and thoughts having less value that someone else’s are inextricably wrapped up in the history and politics of race, gender, class and income. The notion of people who look like me being sold as chattel and women who look like me having no say in their lives. I think about little Black boys who lives are less valuable in hoodie and little black girls who aren’t safe in the park. Rape victims and victims of domestic violence who are harassed and asked why were they drunk, alone, … breathing. And the Rapist and Batterers who receive the sympathy and concern of news commentators when convicted.
Several days ago – my aunt said to my daughter “I hope you don’t get married, because you don’t like to clean and some men would whip you”
The Aunt in question is my mother’s twin sister (not to be confused with the baby sister that came to the hospital) and she doesn’t get, how she is perpetuating the patriarchal notion of men being more valuable than women. I have tried to explain to her just how antiquated and inappropriate her statement was and in the middle of the conversation I flashed back to her silence about my broken bones. At some point I confronted her and she explained that I shouldn’t have gone to the house. The notion that as a woman, a person, I have a duty to avoid violence and that there is no equal or lessor duty on the perpetrator to not be violent.
As women, we often actively and inadvertently support rape culture and violence against women. We judge and ask “Why were you there?” “Why would you say that?” We order and demand, “Don’t be so loud, smart, sexy, fast.” We judge, “She had it coming.” “She is mouthy, slutty, bossy.”
How about, instead of teaching girls to make themselves smaller to avoid abuse, we need to teach boys not to abuse. Let us teach girls to value themselves and each other rather than suffer from the belief that they are nothing without a man. How about we address the notion of people, men and women as property head on and dispose of it once and for all.