Feminism, Social Issues

randomness: natural hair, accomplices, and scheduling

Hello all!

It’s been a pretty good week, despite what happened Monday. I’ve been seeing a physical therapist/masseuse for back and neck problems I’ve had since my classical-piano-training days, and those sessions are finally becoming productive. Handsome had a four-day weekend. I cleaned out my office and found a ton of stuff to donate or sell. We had a barbeque with friends, then went to a free Big Band concert on the Potomac. Yesterday I did absolutely nothing, and today I’m experimenting with a new way of managing my oh-so-crazy hair (“Tousle me Softly” from Herbal Essences and “plopping“).

Speaking of, I wanted to apologize for something. Last Friday I talked about the struggle with my hair, but I chose to talk about it using the “natural hair” phrase. It was very innocently done– as a curly-haired woman, “going natural” has been something I’ve heard since I was a teenager. But then, all day Saturday I followed #NaturalHair on twitter, and listened to people like @thetrudz talk about how white women have co-opted “natural hair,” which hurts women of color, who struggle with their hair in ways I cannot fully understand. By describing my hair– which I inherited from my Jewish grandmother– as “natural,” I was participating in an online culture that has robbed women with Afro-textured hair of their words. Because now, even “going natural” is something white women do, and a white-woman’s naturally curly hair is now what “natural” means in many online circles. I regret that, and have committed to describing my hair as “naturally curly” if that distinction needs to be made.

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A few weeks ago, I received some criticism for my reaction to Stasi Elredge’s use of “accomplice” to describe abused mothers. A few people questioned how I thought women who “allowed” their children to be abused were not accomplices in some way. First, Stasi makes a distinction between abused women who are mothers and mothers who are also abusers– and she is talking about abused women when she uses the term “accomplice,” which is why my reaction was so visceral.

I don’t want to participate in erasing people who were abused by their mothers. Being an abuser isn’t limited to any gender. I also don’t want to dismiss the feelings of children who were abused by their fathers while their mother stayed with him. I can understand some of those feelings in a very small way. Many times, the relationship between my parents was unhealthy, and my father’s anger, fueled and encouraged by the biblical patriarchy he was being force-fed by a cult leader, caused him to do abusive things occasionally– things my mother disapproved of in private, but “stood with him in solidarity” about in front of me and my sister.

Experiencing that, watching that, is why I refuse to use the term “accomplice” to describe abused mothers. I refuse to assume that “why don’t you just leave him/her?!” is ever a good question to ask an abuse victim, regardless of whether or not the victim has children. All of the same dynamics that trap people in abusive relationships also exist when children are involved– sometimes those dynamics are exacerbated because of children. Leaving an abuser and getting full custody, or custody that requires supervised visits, can be an extremely bitter and violent process; I can understand why abuse victims might think that staying in an abusive situation is the best option. Throw in the conservative religious aspect that Stasi’s audience experiences, and you have a recipe for disaster.

I am extremely sympathetic with the feelings you might have if one parent was an abuser and the other refused to help you. Those feelings are legitimate. Your anger is justified. You have a right to feel betrayed by that.

However, I do not feel that using the term accomplice is ever appropriate to describe anyone who isn’t actively participating in violence. Forced compliance under threat of violence, abuse, attacks, excommunication, and other forms of religious and relational punishment does not make anyone an “accomplice.” It makes them a victim right alongside their children.

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You have probably noticed that my posting has become slightly more sporadic as of late. I assumed that would happen when I started my YouTube channel (making each one feels a bit like writing a graduate-level conference paper), but I’ve also started shifting my focus from free-lance editing to free-lance writing. I have plenty of energy left over for writing when I’m editing someone else’s work, but writing my own work doesn’t leave me a lot left over for blogging.

However, I don’t want my blogging to be “sporadic,” so I’m going to start experimenting with different schedules. I’m going to try posting regularly on Monday-Wednesday-Friday and see how that works out for me. Thank you, everyone, for being a part of this journey. I’d never try doing something like becoming a writer if it weren’t for all of you.

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  • Hey Sam,

    I hope the MWF schedule works for you with your blogging; I went to a schedule like that during the last part of the school year, and it helped immensely with decompressing from writing (having two to three days to write a post instead of only one is so much nicer).

    On the subject of the word accomplice, I was wondering about appropriate uses of the term. I agree with you that in instances of domestic abuse it’s never a word that should be applied to a fellow victim, though I’m wondering about your thoughts on its application as part of anti-bullying campaigns. A frequent point that’s brought up in educating students about bullying is that if you remain a bystander while someone else gets bullied, you become complicit in that action. It’s still a variety of abuse, though this is typically social, emotional, and psychological rather than physical, and I’m wondering how you feel about that context. I’m not sure what my own feelings about the issue are, to be honest; bullying’s a major problem at the school where I work, and the nature of the students that I serve leads to lots of efforts on the staff’s part to try to promote group cohesion, often by emphasizing responsibility to the well-being of the group. It seems like a complicated question to me, and your post left me wondering about it.

    Anyway, thanks for all the stuff you’ve been writing.

    • I think there’s a huge difference between being the victim and being an innocent bystander.

  • daydreamer42

    Sam, this is great – as per usual. It’s honestly really awesome to see someone make a legitimate mistake, learn from it, apologize and go on with their life. (Not that I look forward to seeing someone make a mistake, I mean the learning part of it.) So often when someone gets ‘called out’ (although I dislike that term) about something, their first response is ‘Well I didn’t know!’ and then complain that *they’re* being victimized because they should essentially be allowed to say whatever they want with no repercussions. Not that I expected that from you, of course. Also, I agree with what you said, there’s is a big difference in being a victim and being complicit in abuse. I thought your original wording covered it very nicely.

  • fyi there is also the concept of the “oppressed oppressor” in sociology

    & some of us had mothers who happily sacrificed us to paternal wrath (& some to worse than that) for their own comfort & fiscal security — &told us we deserved it bc jesus & original sin

    pans labyrinth is a movie every conservative christian mother & daughter shld watch esp the pro life ones

    because it tackles that wo flinching ( & yes it is super triggering altho there is no sexual abuse whatsoever ) & what degrees of complicity in sacrificing others to yr ideals ( & how self serving are those ideals to begin w)

    there is no such thing as a life that is safe & free from pain (anyone who says otherwise is selling something , as the man in black said)

    • That is true– there are mothers who are what I mentally have thought of as “co-abusers,” in whatever form that takes, such as verbal and emotional abuse (such as telling their children they deserve it because of sin).

      In the original context of critiquing Stasi Eldredge’s “Captivating,” she was specifically blaming any woman who is in an abusive relationship for staying.

  • You actually have a posting *schedule*?? Daaaaaamn… more power to you! I *wish* I had that sort of focus for my blog! I *need* to set a schedule, really I do… but it’s Not Easy and you have my absolute respect for it.

    As for the Mea Culpas… again, much respect. The ability to acknowledge that you’ve made a mistake and learned from it is one heck of a gift and it’s something you have in spades.

    As long as you’re still writing, I’ll keep reading.

  • You respect my anger and think it’s legitimate, but you don’t consider my perspective of my abuse to be valid. You don’t believe that the words I use to describe *my own experiences* are valid.

    My mother was an accomplice to my father’s abuse. Not because she didn’t stop him, but because she spent her life defending his innocence, convincing her child that they were crazy, making sure every step of the way to bury a good chunk of what he did. Not because he made her, not even eventually because she was scared of him because she was certainly willing to kick him out of the house, talk about all kinds of other abuse, and eventually there was that thing where he died. she wasn’t an “active participant” of the sexual abuse, but she gave him the space, the excuses, she made sure her “daughter” *specifically*, understood that “she” was a spoiled brat who got away with too much and really deserved *more*. She never lifted a figure to do anything about it, even when she had the choice. You wrote of your mother having to go along in public but condemning in private. my mother (and mothers’ of other survivors I know) condemned none of their husband’s abuse. Ever.

    But more than that abuse is complicated and I’m not going to question the validity of the perspective of a survivor of child abuse. what’s the difference between saying, “look, your anger is legit, but the way you see this is wrong” and the people who’ve told me that my father *had* to be mentally ill to fuck me so i’m wrong to say otherwise, also I’m probably wrong about this aspect of my memories because someone just thought to mention it, also repressed memories aren’t a thing, also sexual abuse is always always worse than neglect which isn’t really abuse — a survivor of both can’t say otherwise or I’m wrong. I mean, I’m allowed to be *angry* of course, but I must make sure I see what *really* happened.

    Hell, I know survivors whose mothers did active abusive things of their own volition, who don’t blame their mother because they saw it as an extension residual trauma from their father. Should we tell them that at that point, her mother made her choices and therefore she was an abuser and they should be angry at her for it? Or does it not apply if your deciding in one or both of your parents favor — are these survivors accurate in how they see their abuse and others not?

    At some point it gets really fucking tiring and triggery as fuck to have to defend the validity your own experiences, especially places you never thought you’d have to qualify why what you went through is real. It gets really tiring and triggery to be told that your *emotions* are valid, but irrational.

  • Dany

    Hi Samantha,
    I love your blog, and I appreciate your expounding on the ‘accomplice’ idea, because I was initially very troubled when I read that post. My father abused me and yes, my mother too, but I always felt that she could have stepped in and helped me as a child but never once did so. I understand that she was abused as well, but I still faulted her for her inaction (which was done under the guise of ‘submitting’ to her husband, as the church preached women ought to do–ugh), and frankly I think she used the idea of submitting to avoid responsibility towards her children. My mother was never a quiet woman and did stand up for herself to my father, but never stood up for her children. She never excused his abuse, always said he was in the wrong but always tried to make it seem like it wasn’t really as bad as it was, and whenever I expressed distress she would insist that I needed to forgive him because Jesus said so, and then blame me for our deteriorating family situation when I still cried/expressed anger towards my father. ‘Accomplice’ may not be the best word, since she didn’t approve of or encourage my dad to do anything he did, but I do think she was at fault for her inaction–though not as culpable in the abuse as, of course, the abuser. I guess I think that mothers (or fathers) who do nothing while the other parent abuses their child might not be accomplices, but they don’t get a free pass either.

  • L

    Enabling parents suck and they do bear a lot of responsibility. Of course there are extenuating circumstances and I can understand how fears of harm, poverty, religious and social ostracization, etc. make it so much harder to leave. Also, abuse tends to cause trauma bonds which make it exponentially harder to leave someone even when you know about the cycle of abuse.

    HOWEVER. If you have children and you willingly allow or cause them to be neglected or harmed in any way, then I do blame you. If you are doing the absolute best you can and your children still are harmed that is forgiveable, but otherwise I have no problem calling someone out for being an enabler. It took me a long time to realize my mother could have prevented so much and it makes me so angry to realize how much unnecessary suffering went on because of her need to look like a good Christian woman. I understand her reasons, probably better than she does, but they are no excuse for how much us children suffered.

  • J. Rachel

    Really appreciate the deep thoughts, Samantha. Thought it was kind of interesting (and really sad) that a phrase like “natural hair” would need to be fought over. If we didn’t still have such appalling problems with ethno-centrism, racism, classism, or other isms that demand absurd and violent conformism (which some Americans like to ignore or pretend are gone) such a phrase hopefully wouldn’t be an issue.

    But as it is, I can really see that when a person with white skin uses the phrase “natural” to describe any part of their body, it’s often going to be used, subconsciously or not, to enforce the idea that they are the only ones who are “natural”. Everyone else is a foreign “other” who needs to find a way to be like that “natural” white person (especially a northern “native” european, but not only).

    But… all bodies are good. In an ideal world, it shouldn’t have to be an either-or, “I’m natural” or “you’re natural” kind of a thing… we (especially women) should all be able to feel and be more confident in the bodies we have inherited.

    So ideally, I think any woman who ceases stifling her hair’s natural states with any kind of harsh chemicals and treatments or whatever could be said, without choosing some other code-word, to be “going natural” with her hair (or any other body part). It’s a pretty intellectually honest statement, I think (as far as those kinds of vague phrases go).

    Again, the fact that this phrase is even a problem, I think, deeply underscores the fact that America’s violent past and present have been (phrase intended) whitewashed.