Browsing Tag

domestic violence

Feminism

Redeeming Love: Brothers and Bothers

[Content note: discussions of abuse and coercion]

Plot Summary:

  • Paul, Michael’s brother-in-law, returns.
  • He recognizes Angel, thinks she deceived Michael about her profession.
  • Paul leaves to get supplies, demands sex in order to take Angel with him.
  • The Palace burned down, so Angel’s money is gone.
  • She returns to prostitution.
  • Michael finds her, fights everyone in the saloon, takes her back to the farm.
  • Angel tells Michael about her past.

***

As you can see, stuff actually happens in these three chapters (14-16), and there’s so much to dig into. So much. It’s a little overwhelming, especially since this section pushed almost every single one of my buttons. One of the first is how magnificently obtuse Francine is about her own characters. We’ve seen this before, but it becomes a problem in this section when she introduces us to Paul. He’s been trying to “get rich quick” in the mountains, but is returning in an almost prodigal-son-like fashion to the farm, where he also has a cabin apparently.

Francine is attempting to give us a foil for Michael. We’ve only been watching how Michael interacts with Angel, so we’re given Paul in order to demonstrate just how wonderful and supportive and nice Michael actually is, because look at what this horrible brute does to Angel.

He makes an almost-incredible amount of assumptions about Angel– beginning with a bunch of (coughnothistoricallyaccuratecough) stereotypes about prostitutes, leading to the belief that Angel is deceiving Michael about what she used to do for a living, and ends with him convinced that she’s a stone-hearted bitch (a phrase Francine very awkwardly avoids using, which reminds me of the note in the beginning about her editor cleaning the book up for a “Christian” audience). He’s horrifically judgmental, calls her a liar repeatedly, and constantly thinks about being horribly violent toward her. It’s all capped off with him forcing Angel to have sex to “pay” him for the ride into town.

All of this is supposed to be in contrast with Michael … except it isn’t.

Since the very beginning, Michael has done nothing but make assumptions about Angel based on those not-historically-accurate stereotypes– she’s a prostitute, so she only understands one kind of “love.” She’s a prostitute, so she’s shallow and manipulative. She’s a prostitute, so she thinks being on a farm is boring drudgery. Etc. He’s also countermanded her about her own feelings and wants and ideas almost every single time she’s expressed any. A typical interaction is “I want XYZ” and he says “No, you don’t.” And then oh there’s this:

He didn’t want to pity her. He wanted to shake her until her teeth feel out. He wanted to kill her. (204).

This isn’t him being overly dramatic, either, because of what happened earlier: He’s taking her back to the farm while she repeatedly tells him to let her off the wagon. When he refuses, she throws herself off and runs away. He chases her down and starts dragging her back to the wagon while she resists, and then we read:

He almost hit her back, but he knew if he hit her once, he wouldn’t stop … If he had hit her back once, he would have killed her. (195) [On recalling finding her at the saloon] If he hadn’t seen her eyes or heard the way she said his name, he would have killed them both. (196)

Francine has made it as clear as she possibly could that Michael actually literally wanted to murder Angel, but through mountains of restraint somehow managed not to beat her to death. She does all of that, and yet the reader is still supposed to see Michael as fundamentally different and better than Paul. The way Michael and Paul treat Angel is fundamentally the same, but again, Michael didn’t have sex with her and reads the Bible a lot so he’s the nice one– ignore the murderous rages, those are fine.

***

One of the biggest problems with this section of the book is that it buys into common — but false– narratives about abuse. Setting aside the fact that Michael wants to beat his wife to death, he does actually restrain himself from physical violence toward her. Paul does not– during the ride into town, he “hits every hole in the road, bouncing and jarring her … He enjoyed her discomfort” (185). The book condemns his behavior here and in other places– physically hurting Angel is clearly out of bounds for Francine.

The narrative condemns physical abuse while giving us a character who emotionally abuses and psychologically torments his spouse and describing emotional abuse as not just normal, but praiseworthy. Francine utterly ignores the fact that not all abuse looks the same– and when Angel reacts to Michael, the text makes it clear that she’s reacting to her past with Duke, not Michael, and her reactions aren’t trustworthy. Her responses to Michael’s incredibly ominous behavior are supposed to be considered unreliable, instead of a realistic depiction of how a victim would react to someone who’s been emotionally abusing them. When I got to this scene, I wanted to cry:

“Because I love you,” he said thickly. He swung her around in front of him, his eyes tormented. “That simple, Amanda. I love you. When are you going to understand what that means?”

Her throat tightened, and she hung her head.

They walked the rest of the way in silence. He lifted her onto the wagon seat. She shifted over as he pulled himself up beside her. She looked at him bleakly. “Your kind of love can’t feel good.”

“Does your kind feel any better? … I felt like killing you when I walked in that room, but I didn’t. I feel like beating sense into you right now, but I won’t …” (197)

I wanted to scream. This is not what love is. If you haven’t seen Guardians of the Galaxy, there’s a relevant scene:

Yondu: When I picked you up as a kid, these boys wanted to eat you. They ain’t never tasted Terran before. I saved your life!

Quill: Oh, will you shut up about that? God! Twenty years, you’ve been throwing that in my face, like it’s some great thing, not eating me! Normal people don’t even think about eating someone else! Much less that person having to be grateful for it!

I’m a big fan of that scene, because as extreme as the Ravagers eating Quill would have been, this thought is practically textbook abuse and Quill’s response is completely brilliant and true. When Michael defines “love,” he says that it’s not killing her and not beating her, like she’s supposed to be grateful.

There aren’t words to describe how horrific and excruciating it is that when Francine is describing what love means, her definition matches that of conservative Christianity’s perfectly. When they say that God loves us, what they mean is that despite all his wrath and fury, he doesn’t murder us where we stand, and we’re supposed to fall down on our faces in worship. “I want to kill you, but I won’t” is part of the bedrock of evangelical theology, and it’s incorporated into any theological discussion of God’s love. It’s sickening.

Another classic sign that Michael is an abuser appears in his internal dialogue after the return to the farm– Angel “betrayed” him. She doesn’t have a conscience. She cut him to ribbons. She should feel ashamed of herself, she was his wife and she left him and had sex with all those other men he could just kill her.

This is textbook abusive entitlement. He practically abducts a delirious woman, manipulates her into “marrying” him, absconds with her to an isolated area she can’t escape, refuses to help her, forces her to work for him, cook for him, refuses to even use her goddamn name, all while she is constantly telling him she doesn’t want to be there, she doesn’t want to be his wife, she wants to leave. And yet when she does exactly all of that it’s such a betrayal he wants to kill her.

And Michael is considered one of the most wildly romantic figures in all of Christian fiction.

***

I promised at the beginning of the series that we’d be talking about survival sex, and we’ve gotten there. Here’s a quick definition and two very good articles about it:

Survival sex is, quite simply, exchanging one’s body for basic subsistence needs, including clothing, food, and shelter.

So, pretty much exactly what it sounds like. Much of the conversation about survival sex focuses on homeless youth because they’re especially at risk, but I think many of us have known an adult woman who had sex with someone in order to have a place to live. It can also appear in abusive relationships– having sex in order to prevent verbal/physical beatings, or to extend to “honeymoon phase.” It’s sex that, given a more ideal set of circumstances, would not happen. It’s sex with consent, but without autonomy. Things like survival sex is why I balk at reductionist approaches to consent— it’s possible that someone can consent, but for their choices to be so bounded that they don’t actually have a choice. It’s consent coerced by circumstances.

This is clearly what is happening to Angel– when she returns to Pair-a-Dice, winter is approaching and she has nothing but the clothes on her back. No food, no shelter, no money. When the saloon owner offers an upstairs room for her to get “back in business” (190), she has no other option. It’s that or either die of starvation or exposure– even if she wanted to go back to the farm and the man who’s been emotionally abusing her, lying to her, and manhandling her, it’s 30 miles away. So, thinking “I’m never going to be free,” (191), she uses sex to survive.

After Michael beats up everyone in the saloon and forces her to come back with him, Francine writes this internal thought process for Angel:

Angel felt the building warm of the sun on her shoulders and remembered Michael dragging her with him through the night to face the sunrise. “That’s the life I want to give you.” She hadn’t understood then what he offered. She had not comprehended until she walked up the stairs at the Silver Dollar Saloon and sold her soul into slavery again …

What have I done? Why did I throw it all away? Paul’s words came back: “You’re not even worth two bits.” It was true … it hadn’t even taken a day for her to fall right back into her old ways …

It was all her fault. All the ifs flooded her: If she had never left Duke … if she had never gotten on that barkentine … if she hadn’t sold herself to any passerby on the muddy streets of San Francisco or gone with Duchess … if she had ignored Paul … if she had stayed here and never left … if she hadn’t gone back to Pair-a-Dice or gone up those stairs with Murphy …

Michael had taken her straight out of the abyss and offered her a chance– and she had thrown it away. (200-202)

Francine is oh-so-conveniently leaving out the rather important fact that what Angel chose for herself was a cabin in the woods– independence and freedom. Given the information she had access to, Michael was not the “chance” she’d thrown away. She had her own chance that she’d worked for. She had a plan that was simple and completely achievable. That the Palace burned down and the Duchess left with all of her money is not something she knew when she left the farm. She didn’t choose Murphy and the Saloon; circumstances limited her. But ten pages of the book make it clear that it was really all her fault and she needs redemption and forgiveness, with God repeating “seventy times seven” in Michael’s head.

This book is grotesque.

Feminism

Review: “Black and White Bible, Black and Blue Wife” by Ruth Tucker

I heard about Ruth Tucker’s Black and White Bible, Black and Blue Wife: My Story of Finding Hope after Domestic Violence mid-afternoon on Monday, after I’d finished my review of Radical and was browsing the Twitters. Zondervan has been promoting her book with the question “is complementarianism connected to domestic abuse?” which has spurred some conversation among the people I follow. And by “conversation,” I mean a lot of us saying “duh. Yes.”

When I heard about it, I could barely restrain my excitement. I’ve been working on the research for a book of my own on this topic: the similarities between complementarianism and abuse, which in my opinion are so indistinguishable it’s pointless to try to separate them. People like John Piper, Wayne Grudem, and Owen Strachan– who teach the complementarian model– are doing their best to persuade men to have the same beliefs about women and gender roles that abusers do. And, even if they weren’t doing that, the goals of complementarianism and the goals of an abusive man are exactly the same: control, power, and the dissolution of a woman’s rights in her marriage.

As I said on Twitter yesterday, it’s impossible to truly adhere to the tenets of complementarianism without becoming an abuser. Removing a woman’s right to self-determination is abuse. At its core, that’s what complementarianism is: their definition of “submission” is for the man to assume decision-making power over the wife, and to compel the wife using biblical means (instead of physical violence) to think that she doesn’t have any other option. That is inherently a violent belief.

So, understandably, I very much wanted to read what Ruth Tucker (a champion for women’s equality in the church) had to say. Unfortunately … I was disappointed.

Part of my disappointment springs from a few concepts that weren’t integral to the book, yet were still glaring issues. Most obvious among these (and one I’m struggling to understand why she bothered including) was the racism she displayed by invoking the specter of misogyny in rap music (116, 117, 155). In one place, rap music appears alongside “African mutilation rites” when she’s talking about female genital mutilation (118). I about choked at that. While FGM is practiced in many African countries, it’s hardly an exclusively African practice– and before anyone thinks it’s something only Muslims do, it’s not. Anyway, it’s blatantly a racist double standard to repeatedly reference rap and only rap to talk about misogyny in music. For all the evidence you need, here’s the “Misogynistic Lyrics that Aren’t Rap Music” tumblr, which has thirty pages of examples.

Other problems were less morally charged, although still frustrating. For example, Ruth Tucker has a PhD and has been an instructor or professor at several seminaries, including Calvin, Trinity, and Fuller and yet she cites Wikipedia not once, not twice, but three times (for articles on Germaine Greer, the apostle Junia, and Mary Winkler, respectively).

I noticed this because Greer is the only feminist she references anywhere in the book that I could tell, and all she does is pull the introductory paragraphs off Wiki. From that reference, I’m incredibly suspicious that the Wikipedia page is the only thing she’s read by Greer, because her articulation of Greer’s view is … well, wrong. Exasperatingly wrong. She uses Greer in an attempt to bulk up her argument for gender essentialism which … arg gablarg. As transmisogynistic as Greer is, trying to use her to support your position that women are feminine from birth (66-68) is just … I might have started trying to pull my hair out. I couldn’t throw the book because I was reading it on my Nook, which is my most valued possession.

There are some other minor problems. There are some structural issues, it lacks a focusing argument or traceable thesis, and the writing becomes noticeably weaker in the last third, when she begins using more ellipses and fragmentary sentences. There were multiple places where I had to stop and read over something several times in order to understand what she was trying to say. The book also wanders a good bit– there are entire chapters on women’s legal standing through American history and whether or not John Calvin could be considered a feminist, which contain neither a compelling narrative nor address the “black and white bible, black and blue wife” idea that she claims is her theme.

In fact, at no point does she ever thoroughly address the concept that complementarian theology contributes to domestic violence. She repeatedly references how her abuser would demand obedience as “the head of the home,” but never explores the links between abusers’ beliefs and the beliefs that complementarians advocate for. In my opinion, this area is lacking because she simply isn’t informed enough to address it (which I’ll get to later). This opens up the book to the criticism that Tim Challies made— that his abuse and complementarianism had nothing really to do with each other. She’s challenged him on this, but in my opinion she did so ineffectively.

I’m disappointed and borderline sorrowful because this book had so much promise. It should be a book I should be shouting from the rooftops about and begging all of you to read. Here is a woman who was in an abusive marriage for almost twenty years with the added benefit of distance and a loving, healthy marriage. Her story is powerful and poignant, and I grieve with her over the things she went through and some of the choices she made. She doesn’t sugarcoat how complicated it can be to recover from abuse– the intermingled feelings of shame and triumph, guilt and relief, confusion and certainty. I can relate to much of her experience, and am proud of the way she unflinchingly examines a disastrously horrible choice she made at one point.

There’s a lot of good in this book. There is. But I personally feel that the good it can accomplish is seriously compromised by her utter lack of familiarity with feminism- especially intersectional feminism. The entire book is framed badly, and there are so many points where I simply don’t follow what she’s trying to do.

At several points she tries to re-baptize “patriarchy” as if it’s some ideologically neutral term, which comes out of her gender essentialist beliefs. I don’t know what her stance on LGBT+ rights is, but from this book I’m assuming not good. There are a lot of overtones of “children need a father and mother” and she spends a lot of time bemoaning the fact that her violent and abusive husband abandoned their son after the separation. At one point she even claims that “apart from abusing me, [he] was a good father” (164), which is maddening. Abusive men are not good fathers. You cannot beat and punch and kick your wife until she’s black and blue and have any standing as a “good father” whatsoever.

There’s also a few moments where I’m wondering how much research she’s actually done into abuse, its dynamics, and the mentalities of abusers. She references only two texts (Women Submit! and Joyce’s “Biblical Battered Wife Syndrome“), and the only other reference to a work on abuse (from Is it My Fault?) is pulled from Joyce’s article. She didn’t do the research this book needed, and she’s not drawing on an understanding of abuse that comes from anything but personal experience. That is harrowing enough, but she frequently uses terms like “he lost control” when anyone knowledgeable knows that abusers do no such thing. She also fundamentally misunderstands the differences between anger management classes and Batterers Intervention Programs (141). Abusers do not abuse because they’re angry. They abuse because that’s the best method of gaining control over another human being.

My last significant problem appears in chapter nine, “Fifty Shades of Rape: Is there Ever Legitimate Rape in Marriage?” As a rape victim, this was the chapter that interested me most on a personal level even though it’s not why I bought the book. For the most part she handles the issues surrounding rape appropriately, but then we get to this:

If almost everything is abuse, the nothing is abuse. So it is with rape. If we define it too broadly, the term almost becomes meaningless. So then, what is legitimate rape?

Let’s say one of my seminary students had made a serious commitment to forgo sexual intimacies before marriage … He believes that premarital sex is a sin and insists they are going too far. He says no. She doesn’t stop. He is stronger than she and could push her away and get out of the car and take a long walk. He just keeps saying no. She persists until, against his conscience and his better judgment, he succumbs to temptation. Is she guilty of rape? (125)

With the answer, to her, being a seemingly obvious “no.”

Again, I experienced the desire to tear my hair out. This, like other problems, springs out of the gender essentialism she clings to. If being a man means being “manly” by our cultural terms, then saying a man can be raped by someone who can’t conceivably physically force him sounds preposterous. But it’s not. This is both one of the ways patriarchy affects men and affects women as a result of rape myths. Rape isn’t rape just because it was violent. Rape is rape because it wasn’t consented to.

She seems to have a fundamental problem with this definition, as she struggles with the guilt of not “fighting back” when her abuser raped her and deals some with the myth that if you didn’t try to kick and claw your way out of it it’s not really rape … but she doesn’t really get it. There is a spectrum of sexual abuse, and it begins with sexual coercion— something she doesn’t seem to have any awareness of. To her there seems to be clear delineations between “sex” and “rape,” when the reality that she’s trying to access is far more complex. A rapist uses a variety of methods, and usually goes out of their way to avoid violence. If they’re violent, they’re easier to arrest, prosecute, and convict. Instead, inside of a relationship they rely on emotional abuse and relentless persistence, like in the example she gives.

Almost every problem with this book relates back to how uninformed she seems to be on feminism and abuse, which is where my disappointment comes from. This book was almost so good, but, in the end, I just can’t in good conscience recommend it.

Uncategorized

“Lies Women Believe” review: 135-167

This week’s Lies Women Believe review covers the chapter I’ve been dreading– the chapter on marriage. It was as horrific as I was expecting, and re-reading the sections I’d highlighted when I was in abusive relationship with a rapist made me sick all over again. I know this for a fact: the ideas Nancy argues for in this book keep women in abusive relationships.

So, let’s dig into this miasmic pile of filth, shall we?

I HAVE TO HAVE A HUSBAND TO BE HAPPY

It’s a good thing she started this chapter off with this “lie,” because it’s the only thing she actually has any experience with. She’s been a single woman in a Christian culture obsessed with marriage, and it’s a good idea to bring this up. I’m a happily married woman, and I thank my lucky stars every day that I met him and we fell in love. But, I’ve been in abusive relationships and I dated a lot of lackluster people, and I can tell you without a shade of doubt that I’d rather be single than stuck in a marriage with some of the people I briefly considered “settling” for.

However, instead of focusing on “singleness can be fulfilling and happy,” something Nancy at least hopefully knows about, she instead concentrates on how women shouldn’t value being happy. Amidst a lecture on how marriage is about “sanctifying each other and glorifying God” (137-140), she stresses just how ridiculous it is to expect a “fallen” man to make you happy.

Personally, I sorta get this. One of my favorite lines from Emma Thompson’s Sense and Sensibility adaptation is “there is something bewitching in the idea that all of one’s happiness can depend entirely on any particular person.” I don’t think it’s healthy to make one person the locus of all your desire, happiness, attention, interest, or activity. We are complicated individuals, with a variety of needs and wants, and it is impossible for only one person to fill all those needs. That’s why we have parents, siblings, friends, communities, peers, coworkers.

But that’s not the direction she takes this. Instead, she encourages women to focus entirely on how their unhappy relationship is supposed to make them a better person and glorify God.

IT IS MY RESPONSIBILITY TO CHANGE MY MATE

Again, agree with the general idea but not the execution. I cannot fix my husband. If my partner has flaws (which he does, he is not perfect), it’s not my responsibility to get him to see the error of his ways, to “whine, nag or preach” (141) at him until he stops having that flaw.

You can probably hear the “but” coming from a mile away.

I can reasonably expect to have my boundaries respected and for us to communicate honestly about what we need or expect from each other. For example, right away Handsome made it clear that I could ask him to do something, but I could not specify exactly how it was to be done. He would do it his way, and if I wanted it done another way, I would do it myself. This sounded reasonable to me, and I agreed. The one exception is the shower– I’m not physically capable of cleaning it every time it needs cleaned, but because I have trauma-related shower stuffs, he cleans it exactly the way I showed him.

I also have an expectation– I react extremely badly to being told that something I’m upset about is “just a ____” like “just a bad haircut” or “just a random asshole on the internet.” He doesn’t intend to belittle or dismiss my concern, but I haven’t been able to adjust to that after three years of being together. If I hear the phrase “it’s just a _____,” I feel dismissed. He respects that, and doesn’t say that particular phrase anymore.

These are the negotiations of being married, of sharing a living space with someone else. Boundaries should be respected. Concerns should be listened to. Agreements should be reached. Communication should happen.

That’s not what she advocates for. Nope. Instead we get this:

The first weapon is a godly life, which God often uses in a man’s life to create conviction and spiritual hunger. When a wife … points out the things she wishes her husband would change, she is likely to make him defensive and resistant. But when she takes her concerns to the Lord, she is appealing to a higher power … that’s a lot harder to resist than a nagging wife! (141)

I call this Passive-Aggressiveness by Way of Piety.

Me saying “hey, Handsome, please don’t do The Thing” is not nagging. I have the right to say that. And I am absolutely convinced that walking around your house, your eyes upturned to heaven, your hands gently folded, hoping that’s going to get your partner to stop doing Whatever Thing is asinine in the extreme.

MY HUSBAND IS SUPPOSED TO SERVE ME

She says “nope, you’re his helper, you help him, silly” which just … lordy does no one have a dictionary, or a concordance? Here, Nancy, you should read up on what ezer kenegdo means and how it’s used in the Bible.

Second, does no one ever bother to read Ephesians 5:21? If being a “helper” means “serve your husband” and “submission” is part of being a “helper,” then … uh, there’s a thing Nancy should probably know about:

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

IF I SUBMIT TO MY HUSBAND I’ll BE MISERABLE

I was actually a little gobsmacked that Nancy baldly makes this particular argument:

The struggle with submission is not unique to women of our day. In fact, that was the essence of the issue Eve faced back in the Garden of Eden. At the heart of the Serpent’s approach to Eve was this challenge: Does God have the right to rule your life? …

He convinced Eve that if she submitted to God’s direction, she would be miserable … From that day to this, Satan has done a masterful job convincing women that submission is a narrow, negative, and confining concept. (146)

I can’t believe I have to say this: men are not God. They are full of flaws, they are imperfect, they can be selfish and cruel and mean and angry just like everyone else. Even if I believed that Eve’s problem was not submitting to God, it is a non sequitur to argue that all women must submit to men or risk “stripping God of his authority.”

Also, she immediately compares grown women to toddlers and likens not being submissive to your husband to running out into the street and being hit by a truck. Women have access to the same amount of life experience as men, to the same wisdom and decision-making abilities, and regardless of how much Nancy tries to insist that women are “not inferior to their husbands” (147), she is arguing that here, and she’s already made that argument when she said women are more easily deceived than men and that’s why the Serpent targeted Eve.

The next bit … I threw the book down and went and cleaned something.

However, even in such a case [physical abuse], a woman can– and must–maintain an attitude of reverence for her husband’s position; her goal is not to belittle or resist him as her husband, but, ultimately, to see God restore him to obedience. If she provokes or worsens the situation [again: PHYSICAL ABUSE] through her attitudes, words, or behavior, she will interfere with what God wants to do in her husband’s life and will not be free to claim God’s protection and intervention on her behalf. (149)

[screaming]

FUCK THAT WITH A CHEESE GRATER, A CHAINSAW, AND A CACTUS.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss has clearly argued here that if a woman “does not revere her physically abusive husband’s position” she has no right to “claim God’s protection.”

And I’m crying.

Related: in the section on “sometimes divorce is a better option that staying in a bad marriage” she heavily emphasizes how marriage is a permanent covenant and makes no exceptions for abuse. The resources she offers on “Domestic Abuse” in the back of the book (270) are two books, both of which argue that there are no exceptions for divorce, not even abuse.

This is catastrophically dangerous and unimaginably evil. An abuse victim must be able to divorce their abusive partner for the simple reason that marriage gives an abuser extremely dangerous privileges and rights that must be removed from them. Period. End of story. Encouraging any other attitude is recklessly irresponsible.

I will shout this into the heavens with my dying breath: complementarianism destroys lives. Complementarianism is abusive. Complementarianism kills.

Feminism

"Real Marriage" review: 86-106, "Taking out the Trash"

I wish you all could read the entirely of this chapter because it is ironic. One of these days I’ll have to create a whole series of posts dedicated to page 89, where Mark defines repentance, comparing that to his actual real-life behavior, because it is hysterical. Not only does he fail his own list of “pastoral requirements,” he also bombs at his own definition of repentance– and you can read the whole thing here.

Interestingly enough, I actually agree with Mark on almost everything from 88-90. His definition of repentance is pretty comprehensive, and I only disagree with two of the points– that repentance is not “worldly sorrow” and not “grieving the consequences of sin but hating the evil of the sin itself,” but that’s probably because a) I don’t think Christians are better at everything than everyone else and b) I don’t have the same definition of sin.

To me, I don’t have a problem with arrogance in and of itself but because of the consequences that being arrogant can have– it can make me blind to things I’ve done wrong, it can cause me to belittle people I don’t understand . . . and I think this is where Christians can get it backwards. If we focus on an abstract list of things we consider to be “Sin,” it seems like it would be inevitable for us to forget how much damage our actions can cause. As long as we’re not “Sinning,” it’ll be easy for us to ignore how we’re hurting people. That is how Christians can claim to “love gay people” and yet hold and express beliefs that are directly responsible for emotional and physical harm in the LGBTQ+ community, including the deaths of many queer people. We haven’t “Sinned” by talking about how perverted gay people are, so we can ignore that our actions and words have consequences.

After page 90, though, Mark and I start having problems. The bulk of the chapter is dedicated to sections on “Forgiveness” and “Bitterness,” and I imagine most of you just felt your hackles go up. So did mine. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to hear the word “bitter” without being mildly triggered or angry because of how that word is thrown at me all of the time. I have never heard someone use the word “bitter” without it appearing in the middle of a demand for silence. Bitter is the evangelical version of “shut the fuck up.”

We’ll get to how Mark uses it in a bit. First, let’s cover his approach to forgiveness.

He starts off with this statement: “When we sin against our spouses, we cause them to suffer.” This is an excellent example of how backwards the whole “hating the sin itself” concept can make us. Causing our spouses to suffer is a sin against them. I cannot stress how important I think this concept is, because it revolutionized my life. When I stopped worrying about “how much sin I had in my life” and started focusing on “how do my words, actions, and inaction hurt people?” everything changed.

The next few pages I have mixed feelings about, mostly because I’m still wrestling with what forgiveness is. Personally, I think there’s a difference between personal healing and forgiveness, but those two seem conflated in Christian conversations. It’s also possible that I have forgiveness and absolution and reconciliation all mixed up inside of my head, and I’m trying to straighten that out.

The one part I do have unequivocal feelings about is this:

Forgiveness is not dying emotionally and no longer feeling the pain of the transgression.
Rather, forgiveness allows us to feel the appropriate depth of grievous pain but choose by grace not to be continually paralyzed or defined by it.

This irritated me because I do not think it is ok for someone that isn’t me to tell me that there is an “appropriate depth” that I can feel my pain at. Healing looks different for every single person, and healing from trauma and abuse isn’t ever pretty. I spent three years trying to experience pain “appropriately” because nearly everyone I encountered had some sort of yardstick for what healing should look like, and the one I heard all of the time was “you’ll know you’re over it when you’re not talking about him anymore.”

Well, I wanted to be “over it,” so I stopped talking about it. For three years. Until I realized that it wasn’t helping, and I was actually getting worse. I’d refused to actually heal from the abuse and the rapes, and my body wouldn’t let me go on that way.

And guess what– I’m still talking about it. I talk about spiritual abuse. I talk about child abuse. I talk about sexual violence and rape. I talk about sex-based oppression in Christianity. My professional life is “defined” by my status as an abuse survivor, and that is not just completely appropriate: it is a good thing. I will never stop being “defined” by this because that is how I help others.

But … moving on to the section on bitterness, and this is where I threw the book.

In order to illustrate what bitterness looks like in a marriage, Mark uses John and Molly Wesley. I’ve been doing off-and-on research on John Wesley, and I think when it comes to his wife at least he was an unmitigated ass. Mark sets this illustration up by talking about how Molly didn’t like it that John traveled so much and John’s justification that he did it because God.

But then we get this:

“I took you first by the arm, and afterward by your shoulder, and shook you twice or thrice … and might have made you black and blue. I bless God, that I did not do this fifty times and that I did nothing worse.” [edited for ease of reading]

That sentence from one of John’s letters to Molly is immediately followed by this:

Her bitterness, made worse by John’s extensive ongoing letter writing to multiple women, caused Molly to become insanely jealous … Their final years were spent apart, as she never once set foot in his personal residence.

What in the ever living fuck is this. John Wesley admits that he could have made his wife “black and blue” (“thank God I did nothing worse”) and the fact that Molly decides she’s not going to put up with his abuse any more makes her bitter?! She couldn’t even divorce him– at the time (this “time” extending to 1923 in England), women could only divorce their husbands if they could prove adultery and could also afford the £1,500 fee. She didn’t have any options, and she was married to someone who ignored her, ignored her requests, disrespected her continuously, and was willing to hurt her. A domestic violence victim is not bitter when they decide that they’re never going to step foot back in their abuser’s house.

So, once again, Mark is making it perfectly clear what he thinks about abuse, and it’s terrifying.

Feminism

#WhyBuffyStayed: Riley and the Cycle of Abuse

I told y’all that one of the reasons why I shifted my schedule down to three posts a week was to work on my non-blog writing and work on getting published. Well, I was published at The Mary Sue yesterday, and if you’ve never checked them out, you really need to if you’re at all a geek. They’re one of my favorite places on the internet, because it’s the crossroads of two of my absolute favorite things: feminism and geekery.

“It shouldn’t have to be necessary for someone to punch his girlfriend in the head with enough force to render her unconscious in order for domestic violence to be a part of the national conversation, but, unfortunately, it is. One of the more visible manifestations of the dialogue surrounding former Baltimore Ravens’ running back Ray Rice and his abuse of then-fiancée (now wife) Janay was the hashtag #WhyIStayed, in which people shared their stories of why they stayed in abusive relationships.

So… why? Obviously, each case is different, but it’s no stretch to say that women stay in abusive relationships at least partly (I believe largely) because our culture tells us to. In a thousand different ways, beginning with “he only makes fun of you because he likes you,” women are instructed to see acts of coercion, aggression, and violence as romantic. Instead of as abuse, women are taught to see these actions as simply the result of true passion and love. Because of this, it can be extremely difficult for a woman to recognize an abuser before she is trapped in the Cycle and left with little or no option for escape.

Sadly, one of my favorite shows, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, is guilty of spreading this dangerous myth. There are so many moments through the show that are worth standing up and cheering for, but in season four—acknowledged even by fans as anything from “mediocre” to the “absolute worst”—Buffy ends up in an abusive relationship that the writers consistently portray as romantic, passionate, and loving.”

You can read the rest here.

Sharing the love and spreading it around a little bit would help me a great deal, if you can and want to. 🙂

Feminism

reproductive coercion: Rhiannon's story

handcuffs

I am a feminist who supports contraception coverage for every person who needs and wants it. However, that does not mean that I will be blind to some of the ways that hormonal contraception can be used as a weapon against women; some have criticized the ever-growing expectation for women to be the one primarily responsible for contraception. Since hormonal contraception is a medication that is not right for every person, that expectation can harm women and needs to be discussed. This is Rhiannon’s story.

No one else from my high school was going to the same college as me, which was exactly what I wanted. As the youngest in a fairly large family, I always felt like I wasn’t allowed to be my own person. This would be just the fresh start that I needed. I bumped into a friend I’d lost touch with after middle school, and she invited me to an 18-and-older club. I walked into her dorm room before we left, and there he was.

Joey was a textbook bad boy – he had a mouth like a sailor, he smoked like a freight train, and he often had a flask of whiskey in his boot. He was every boy that I had never been allowed to hang out with at all, let alone date, and I was drawn to him because I was starving for adventure.

Things started out fairly innocently, I suppose. We danced at the club and ended up spending the night together a few nights later. Slowly, he started taking up more and more of my time. Things were always a little on the rough side. I cared about him and wanted to make him happy. He was afraid to commit but he would tell me that I was the first girl that ever made him feel the way he was feeling. His parents had been married for nearly thirty years and suddenly separated and got back together multiple times, and he was angry. He was always so angry. I was terrified riding in the car with him in traffic because I was afraid of his rage at simple things, like a traffic light turning red, or another driver forgetting to use a turn signal. If I got out of class and walked to meet him at the café with a male classmate he would get a sullen, resentful look on his face and ball up his fists until we sat down and our other friends arrived.

I never thought much of it because guys are jealous, right? He never got angry with me, so it was okay, wasn’t it? He’s just going through a lot right now, I told myself. He won’t always be like this.

Although he had never slept with anyone before we met, he still wanted me to perform sexual favors for him, with little to no reciprocation. We did begin a sexual relationship not long after we started dating officially. He was more paranoid about pregnancy than any person I had ever met. We always used condoms and he always pulled out as well, so I wasn’t concerned about pregnancy. He kept up with my menstrual cycle and when it was close to time for my period to start he would constantly ask me, to the point of harassment, if I had started yet. I thought maybe he would settle down after a while, but he didn’t. He just got worse. He started making threats, thinly veiled as jokes, about what would happen if I got pregnant. Most of his “jokes” involved coat hangers and flights of stairs.

I was too consumed with this relationship to see the warning signs of the depression I was falling into. I never had even a drink of alcohol before I went to college, but he and his friends all drank fairly heavily, so I started. And I liked it. I liked that it made me feel warm all over and I liked how it always felt like I was completely removed from my emotions when I was drunk.

He pressured me to get on birth control. At that point in my life, I was terrified of medication in general. I hated to even take an ibuprofen for a headache. The thought of taking artificial hormones and manipulating the natural processes of my body made me feel sick. He wouldn’t let up, though, so I made an appointment with the student health center to get a prescription. They prescribed me a $9 generic from Wal-Mart, which was more than I could afford at the time since I was in school full-time and living off of my financial aid. Joey wouldn’t help me. His reasoning was that I had better financial aid and therefore more money than he did.

That birth control made me feel awful. I was nauseous and I had heart palpitations and sudden, stabbing headaches. I stuck it out for a few months before I gave up. At that point, our relationship deteriorated pretty badly. I knew I wanted out but I didn’t know how. All of my friends were also his friends, because I had slowly cut my own friends out of my life.

One evening after a practice session where he was teaching me MMA-style fighting, we were sitting in the living room of the apartment he shared with some friends. There was a friendly but very lively debate going on about something in the Bible – I don’t remember what it was, exactly. I disagreed with something that Joey said and he got angry. Angrier than I had ever seen him. He had a mouthguard in his hand from our fighting earlier, and he threw it at my face. I was across the room and he was mad enough to mess up his aim. It didn’t hit me, but I felt the air rush past my face. Immediately, I calmly got up, walked to his bedroom, and started throwing all of my things into a bag. He ran to apologize, spewing a lot of total crap about how much he loved me and how “you just make me feel everything more strongly!”

I left.

I wish I could say that I left for good that night. In reality, it took a couple of months. But that was the start.

He never physically hit me (other than in the practice sessions), and he was very good at framing his manipulative words in a way that made me feel like I was being irrational and overreacting. Actually, his arguments followed a pattern similar to all of my parents’ tirades. My whole life, my parents told me that they loved me unconditionally, but then they turned around and screamed me into submission with implications of my sinfulness for “dishonoring my father and mother.” I didn’t have any kind of experience of a relationship without fear and emotional manipulation as the backbone, so how was I to recognize my relationship with Joey as abusive?

It was abusive. Abuse isn’t always sexual, although I do recognize some of my encounters with Joey as assault now that I know better. Abuse isn’t always physical. It’s not always bruises and black eyes and bloody noses. Abuse is often invalidation, emotional trauma, and power play. Joey figured out that I was vulnerable to being manipulated and he used that to keep me in his life when I should have been running far away from him.

Feminism

"Captivating" Review: 61-76, "Wounded"

wounded heart
[content note for victim blaming]

This chapter is a precursor to the argument Stasi is about to make in chapter five, so thankfully we won’t have to spend a lot of time on it. She’s laying groundwork, and the approach of this chapter is very different from what we’ve seen so far because it’s story-based.

The stories she includes are not happy, and focus on many ways that girls and women have been wounded by their parents. On that, she gets no argument from me. Children are frequently terrorized by abusive parents, and one in four girls are sexually abused, most often by their fathers.

Where I do disagree with Stasi is her conclusion: she argues that the damage many women suffered as children affected their femininity primarily—since Stasi and John have spent the last seventy pages arguing that femininity (represented by beauty) is the “essential” part of what it means to be a woman, this conclusion is unsurprising.

The wounds we received and the messages they brought formed a sort of unholy alliance with our fallen nature as women.

The effects of being abused, she says, results in us either becoming “dominating” or “desolate” women. We either become “strong” in order to overcome our supposedly God-given tenderness and vulnerability, or we hide our vulnerability behind something—which can include “hiding behind depression” (46). Because depression is obviously something women choose and not a form of illness.

To her, there are a range of character types and personality traits that are unnatural; in fact, she’s going to argue later on that we get these from Satan himself. However, the troubling thing is that these traits include anything that is gendered “masculine” in American culture—such as being an effective leader, or not being overly emotional. Because John and Stasi both believe in gender essentialism, however, they believe that “masculine” and “feminine” qualities are universal and timeless, even though simply reading a few books or leaving the country for a few weeks would dispatch that belief posthaste.

What angered me about this chapter, however, is this:

My friend Sandy was raised in a home with an abusive father and a weak mother. If her dad hit her mother, her mom felt she must have done something to deserve it (64).

Abusive fathers are a too common horror. Accomplices, broken mothers, are a painful reality (65).

Excuse me for a moment while I grab a whip and start flipping tables over.

This, on top of demonizing resources available to women in abusive relationships (55), makes me furious with Stasi Eldredge for writing it, Brian what’s-his-name for editing it (237), and Thomas Nelson for publishing it. This is morally and ethically wrong. This is abusive.

Women in abusive relationships are not weak, and they are not accomplices. Dear God, I’m struggling to believe I even have to say that. What Stasi has written here is dangerous and harmful, and I am left grieving because I know abused mothers have read this book. They’ve heard Stasi call them an accomplice—complicit in their own abuse, and responsible for their children’s.

The only person responsible for the abuse of a human being is the abuser.

There are many lies in our culture—lies that turn victims into participants. Lies that lead us to believe that it is our fault, our problem, and only if we were stronger, only if we weren’t so weak, we could do something. We could end it.

Stasi spends a lot of time in this chapter assuring women that they do not have to be “good enough,” that they don’t have to obsess with improving themselves, with being better, that they are valuable just the way they are. Abuse victims commonly believe that if only they could have just done what my husband/father/wife/mother wanted they wouldn’t have been hurt.

However, even though Stasi makes an attempt to comfort victims, she utterly fails, because she has swallowed wholesale the exact same belief. She believes that at least some abuse victims are responsible, that at least some abuse victims are not strong enough, not loving enough, not dedicated enough. They’re not even victims. They’re accomplices.

Feminism

things you can do for someone in an abusive relationship

comforting friend

I’m not entirely sure why I haven’t written this post yet– of all the things I should be writing about, this is probably one of the more important. Every so often I get an e-mail along the lines of “I think my son/friend/sister might be in an abusive relationship– what can I do?” and I always take the time to answer these individually, and will continue to do so. However, over time, I’ve realized that there’s a few things I say to pretty much everyone, so I figured I should collect them into a post.

~~~~~~~~~~

Before we get started, there’s a couple terms I need to clarify: abusive behavior, abusive relationships, and abusers.

Someone who is not an abuser can engage in abusive behaviors. Human beings are quite capable of hurting each other, sometimes very deeply and consistently. Our relationships can be unhealthy and co-dependent, and can have various features that are abusive. Those relationships can sometimes be healed, and sometimes they need to be ended. However, there is a difference between someone who does abusive things and an abuser.

An abuser is what American culture tends to think of as a “sociopath,” although it is extremely important to point out that not all sociopaths and psychopaths are abusers. Sociopaths and psychopaths are mentally ill people, and with good and effective treatment can live productive, rich lives, filled with healthy relationships.

An abuser, on the other hand, lacks empathy, a moral conscience, and is driven completely and totally by their own-self interests and in protecting their self-image. They will go to any length to get what they want, and they do not care who they hurt. They are primarily interested in maintaining control in their life and over the lives of their victims.

~~~~~~~~~~

One of the most important (and most complicated) questions should be talked about right up front: should you report it to the police?

The answer: “it depends.” The important thing to keep in mind, however, is that it is extremely difficult for police investigations to move forward without the cooperation of the victim– if the victim denies it, which they are quite likely to, then the investigation will probably stop there, and the victim will face punishment from their abuser for telling anyone “exaggerations” or “lies.” If the victim has confided in you about their abuse but are unwilling to report it themselves, then you need to be extremely careful about what you do with that information. Chances are you could endanger the victim even further. If you break their trust, then they are also unlikely to trust you in the future, when they might be more willing to go to the police with you.

If they confide in you that they are being abused– and they recognize it as abuse– then you should encourage them to make a report. Make sure they know that they have your support– that you will go with them, that you will be there, that you will defend them. That you will not leave them no matter what. That you have their back.

Do not say things like “if you don’t report this, then s/he could go on to do this to someone else. This is your duty.” It is not their responsibility to report their own abuse. Yes, the police can rarely ever do anything without them. However, their only “responsibility” is to themselves. They could quite literally die if they report it, and quite often they are the only defense between their abuser and other people, such as their children.

Individual circumstances might be different, however. If you believe that the victim’s life is in serious and immediate danger, then that changes things dramatically and you should probably notify the police. If the abuse has escalated to that point, then it is possible that a police investigation could be successfully conducted.

Again, all of this depends. Every situation is different.

~~~~~~~~

comforting

One of the first things I encourage people to do is “be a safe place.”

People, in general, don’t enjoy having their choices criticized, and while remaining in an abusive relationship isn’t actually a “choice” since their autonomy has been suppressed by their abuser, they tend to think of their relationship in those terms. If you criticize their choices, then they could respond defensively, and the only thing you’ve accomplished is entrenching them even further into their relationship. You will become someone who just “doesn’t see him/her the way I do” or who “doesn’t understand what is really happening.” Frequently, victims see themselves as being necessary to their abuser’s well-being. They are helping their abuser to get better. They’re not blind to the problems– they just see those problems in different terms.

Victims need to know that you love them. That you accept them. That you are trustworthy. That you take the time to understand. Sometimes, they might even approach you with “haha, my partner did this the other day, isn’t that crazy! They’re so funny!” They want someone to confide in, but they want to do it on their terms.

Listen. Be perceptive and alert. Ask leading questions, and see if they might be willing to give you details. Ask things like:

Have they done something like this before?
How does it make you feel when they do something like that?

Try to see if they can be honest about what their relationship is like and what the problems are. Establish patterns– that it’s not a one-off, that what they’re doing fits into things they’ve done before. It’s important to avoid the “every relationship has problems” pitfall, however. Yes, relationships take work, but there is a difference between two people working on figuring out their communication problems and abuse. Do they think that this would ever be “normal” in a healthy relationship? Contrast what they might be rationalizing as “problems that need work” with what are actual real-life problems that need work.

In an abusive relationship, a problem is “I must never, ever go to this person’s house ever again because they would not like it.” In a healthy relationship, a problem is “I should probably talk to my partner about why they don’t like it when I spend time with that person, and I have the ability to make up my own mind and form a compromise, if I want to. They trust me.”

~~~~~~~~~~

As a part of removing a victim’s agency and autonomy, abusers will do everything they can to remove any sense of self-worth, value, and confidence. They might make the victim feel as if they are illogical, as if their own thought processes cannot be trusted. That they are stupid. Ugly. That no one else will ever want them.

You must do the opposite. Let them know that they are a smart, funny, capable, competent, wonderful, valuable person. That you value your relationship with them, that their presence in your life means something to you. That you like them. That you believe in them. That you have hope for their future. That they are fine just they way they are, that they do not need to be “fixed” by their abuser’s “reforms.” Give them something to believe in besides what their abuser is telling them.

~~~~~~~~~~

Be watchful. Pay attention. Abusers can be extremely talented manipulators. They can be charming, friendly, and popular. They can seem extremely well put-together; fashion conscious, meticulous, educated, articulate. They can be someone you’ve known for a very long time. They can be a respected figure in your community, a self-giving public servant.

They can be anyone.

They are usually the person you would never suspect.

They don’t usually have beer-bellies and stubble. They don’t keep a baseball bat near-at-hand. They don’t have to be alcoholics. They’re rarely obviously stupid. They don’t have to be overtly aggressive and domineering, yelling and slapping people around.

It’s not at all unusual for you to second-guess your instincts about a person or a relationship. No one wants to believe that someone we know could be hurting someone else we care about, and we can go a long way in rationalizing behavior we see. Oh, they just had an off day. They’re stressed. It’ll pass.

What an abusive relationship looks like in public can be very difficult to spot, especially if you didn’t know the other person before the relationship began. There can be signs, however– things like does s/he stop a sentence in the middle after their partner/parent gives them a significant look? Does s/he acquiesce to everything the other person wants immediately, even when it’s obvious that’s not what they want, and they don’t resist? If they disagree, is one of them consistently “winning” with hardly any input from the other? Do they try to anticipate what their partner/parent wants and seem stressed if they don’t know how to figure out what that could be? Have you ever seen small aggressions– pinching, pulling, being physically insistent, grabbing tightly, leaning in to whisper angrily? Have you seen them cuss their partner/child out, using degrading and humiliating language?

Keep in mind that while we tend to think of physical abuse as horrific and physical violence as unacceptable, verbal violence is just as damaging, sometimes even more so.

All of these, on their own and in isolation, could mean absolutely nothing, which is why they’re all easily to rationalize. However, if someone is making you uncomfortable, trust that feeling. If you think that something is off, pay attention. Just because they seem to be overtly affectionate in public most of the time, one act of physical aggression completely overrules a host of “I love yous.”

Start keeping a written record of everything you’ve personally witnessed, no matter how small it might seem at the time, and make sure you have a date/time and what the general circumstances were (“at so-and-so’s birthday party”). If they confide something in you, write that down, as well– and try to put things in chronological order. Abusers tend to escalate their behavior over time. Having a written record could be extremely useful later if they decide to report the abuse to the police, for personal reference, and for helping the victim establish patterns.

Also, for victims, the abuse is easy to all blur together and they can lose track of dates and events quite easily– did this happen at this outing, or that one? Was it in summer, or winter? It’s all a monotonous wreck to victims, so having a record can be extremely useful for keeping their memories clear, especially when they go the police who can be antagonistic and disbelieving.

~~~~~~~~~~

comfort friend 2

Don’t let the abuser isolate their victim from you.

This does not necessarily look like the victim suddenly cutting off all contact with you under orders from their abuser– although it absolutely can. More often, however, the abuser is going to be paying close attention to their victim’s relationships and friendships. Any minor disagreement, any falling out, any tussle, any fight– s/he will use that against you. Things that you would ordinarily never give a second thought about will become knives that the abuser uses to cut you out.

“Wow, she was such a bitch to you. Are you going to let her get away with that?”
“You deserve a better friend than her. She doesn’t care about you.”
“She’s just out to destroy us. She never liked me. She’s jealous.”

One of the most common ways that an abuser will isolate their victim is to make their victim start behaving in a way that makes you, their friend, not want to be around them. She used to be an incredible person– but since she’s been with him, she’s such a bitch. I just can’t stand being around her anymore. She’s changed. I thought our friendship was worth something, but I guess not.

And, it is quite possible that your relationship didn’t mean that much to them, and they really are just treating you badly. But Heaven knows I treated my friends like total shit– it’s an effective tool for isolating victims, because not only does it remove you from a place where you could see their abuse, it also makes you less sympathetic.

It could also look like the abuser saying things like :

“I just want to spend time with you. Just the two of us.”
“I don’t like big crowds of people. Let’s just stay in.”

And… they slowly drift away until you don’t see much of them anymore. Some of this can be due to the first-blush infatuation; people in love do like spending all of their time together, and tend to stop hanging out with their friends as much. However, if your friend completely falls off the face of the earth, reach out to them. It could be nothing– or it could be an abuser isolating them.

~~~~~~~~~~

And, lastly, get a bunch of information ahead of time.

  • Find the rape crisis centers in your area and collect their addresses/websites.
  • Get a list of the rape advocates in your area, their phone numbers and organizations.
  • Know where you could go to get them into a domestic violence shelter.
  • Know which police service has jurisdiction in what area. Sometimes it’s the city police, sometimes it’s the county sheriff.
  • Know who has jurisdiction at the victim’s house, at the abuser’s house.
  • Have the phone numbers to call to file a police report.
  • Know how to get to the police station.
  • Keep a list of local hotlines available (suicide, rape, domestic violence).
  • Gather brochures for shelters, crisis centers, etc.
  • Have a few books about what abuse is like in relationships, like Why Does he Do That?
  • Be familiar with public services for rape and abuse victims, like the SANE at a hospital.
  • Know what procedures are like; what the victim might have to go through to have a rape kit done, for example.

~~~~~~~~~

I realize that a lot of what I said here could be simple, non-abusive things. Sometimes people have social anxiety and they really, legitimately, don’t like big groups of people– or going out at all. That’s ok, and if their partner is consenting to that and wants to support them in that, that’s fine.

However.

There’s a reason why abusive relationships happen, and it’s because all the abuse can seem so totally normal. It can all be so easily explained, justified, and rationalized away. All of it. When taken individually, what they do isn’t even really that bad. And it slowly builds, and the abuser slowly escalates, and suddenly they’re “tripping” and falling down flights of stairs.

~~~~~~~~~~

That is all I have for now. I will probably periodically write more posts as more things occur to me and I receive more questions– they will be linked to this post.Please feel free to add your thoughts in the comments, to help make this post better.

Feminism

my abusive relationship was typical

while a student at PCC
[in PCC’s Student Commons, taken during the relationship]
{content note: abuse, sexual violence}

Last week, I wrote an article for xoJane and I shared some things about my past that I haven’t shared on the internet before. I don’t enjoy talking about my abusive relationship at all, and I especially avoid thinking about my last semester at PCC, which was nightmarish with exceedingly few good memories. I was extremely vulnerable in that piece, knowing that there would be people around the internet that would shit on it.

And shit on it they did. Thankfully xoJane actually moderates their comment section and they don’t allow rape apologia, so most of the truly horrific comments have been removed. However, several people expressed confusion about the events I had related in the story, and I was slapped in the face, again, with how much people just don’t know about what abusers do and how abuse functions in relationships. Most of them thought that the events, as I related them, falsified my story in some way and opened the door to some “other side” that could offer an alternate explanation.

Before I start talking about what these people don’t understand, I’m going to share a brief timeline so that the basic facts are clear.

  • I started officially dating “John” in February 2008, although we’d been casually dating since September 2007.
  • He’d always used emotional manipulation and coercion, but he escalated this in March.
  • The physical and sexual abuse began during summer break.
  • He proposed in August 2008.
  • He raped me in January 2009.
  • He raped me again in July.
  • We had a rather significant fight during the first week in September, and then another. On September 14 I told him that he could not call me a “goddamn fucking bitch” anymore.
  • He ended our engagement on September 25.
  • He began calling my dorm room/cell phone repeatedly, even after I told him to stop.
  • He began physically stalking me.
  • I was assigned a chapel seat near John at mid-terms.
  • I went to Student Life in early November, requesting a seat change. They refused.
  • I stopped going to the cafeteria for meals, afraid that he would be there.
  • He stalked me for six straight hours on Thanksgiving. The last two hours was a constant barrage of “why won’t you just talk to me?!” that ended with me screaming at him.
  • I started spending most of my time in my friend’s apartment.
  • I graduated in December 2009.
  • He sent me a facebook message on New Year’s Eve, which I ignored, which led to him sending me another dozen messages saying “Sam. Sam. Sam. Sam. WHY ARE YOU IGNORING ME.”
  • He sent me another facebook message during the summer of 2011, saying “I was thinking about you, if you ever wanted to talk…” I told him to never contact me again, then blocked him (again, not sure how he became un-blocked), blocked his entire family, and blocked  any “mutual” friends we had.

To anyone who has escaped an abusive relationship, or to someone who knows how abusive relationships operate, this will all seem very familiar. There isn’t a single thing about this timeline that isn’t shared by thousands of other intimate partner abuse victims. However, to commenters on xoJane and reddit and other places, this timeline makes me seem like a liar.

He broke your engagement?
Why didn’t you break it off with him if he really raped you?
Why would you be engaged to someone like this?
Seems like you’re just a bitter bitch because he dumped you.
Why would he want to talk to you if he broke it off?

All of these comments revealed that an awful lot of people have absolutely no clue how abusers work. Which, in one sense, I suppose is a good thing. I learned first-hand, and I would never wish this experience on anyone. However, the one thing that these people desperately need to understand is that my story is typical. There is nothing unusual, or in the words of one commenter, “fishy” about it.

There’s plenty of amazing resources already written on things like the Cycle of Violence/Abuse (first written about by Lenore Walker in Battered Woman Syndome). We also know that it can be extremely difficult for people, especially women, to escape intimate partner violence– and that many women have attempted to leave their abusive relationship six or seven times. Complicate all of those factors with the ingrained belief that you are literally ruined for any other relationship and no one else will ever want you, and you have something close to approximating my situation.

Most of the commenter’s questions oriented around what happened after he ended our engagement, though– if he broke it off, why would he follow you all over campus begging to talk to you? Couldn’t it be possible that you were exaggerating how bad things really were and he’d had a change of heart? That he really did want to be with you? That he’d changed?

First of all: there’s a reason why the Cycle of Abuse is so damn effective, and that would be it. Women don’t start believing in the Cycle of Abuse because they’re in an abusive relationship– they already believe it before the abuse even begins. Every single time the abuser apologizes and they enter the “Honeymoon Phase,” that is exactly what the victims says to themselves. It’s not actually that bad. Look, see, he’s trying. I just have to make sure he doesn’t lose control again [hint: abusers don’t actually lose control]. And we believe those thoughts because they are given to us by our culture.

Second, abuse is about dominance and power. Abusers abuse because they want to control other people. Just because John had ended our engagement does not mean that he no longer wanted to control me– in fact, it was the exact opposite. When he broke it off, his justification was “I just can’t trust that you’re going to be a godly, submissive wife.” He ended our engagement because I was finally only beginning to realize that I could stand up for myself. I looked him in the eyes and said no and enforced that no. That was why he ended it– it was a tactic in order to re-assert control.

For a month, it even worked. For four miserable weeks I was eager to prove to him that I could be submissive. That I could obey. That I would be what he wanted. For those weeks he manipulated me– encouraging those thoughts, telling me that he didn’t really want our relationship to end, that he’d consider getting back together.

But then I got angry. Furious. It was like I woke up from a dream and I finally saw all of his fucking shit and I got mad. I was angry at him, angry at my parents, angry at my friends, angry at the world, but mostly I was enraged with myself. How could I have let him do that to me! I didn’t understand anything I know now– that I’d been groomed basically my entire life for an abusive relationship by complementarianism and biblical patriarchy. So, one night, when he called my dorm room at one o’clock in the morning asking if we could have a “do-over,” if we could just “erase everything that happened,” if we could just get back together like nothing ever happened

I told him no.

I said fucking hell no.

And that’s when he started stalking me.

Because he’d lost control.

He knew that I’d woken up– that I knew who he was, and he was desperate to make sure that everyone believed that he was the victim, that I was the stone-hearted bitch that wouldn’t take him back, that I was the crazy one, that he was doing everything he could, but, well, I was the problem because I didn’t “want to make it work.” I became the bad guy, and he made sure everyone knew it. He’d lost control of me, so he’d control what everyone else thought of me. He would not allow anyone to believe me.

That’s what abusers do.

Feminism

Pensacola Christian College & Me

August 2008-1
from August 2008, while I was still a student at PCC

If you’ve never meandered around xoJane, well, now is your golden opportunity. I’ve been a loyal reader for almost a year now, and it’s a pretty cool place. So, when an xoJane editor reached out to me and asked if I’d be willing to tell a piece of my story for them, you can imagine that my reaction looked a bit like this:

my little pony clapping seal

I’ve never really written out the entirety of what my experience was like after my rapist ended our engagement, although I’ve alluded to it a few times. I try to keep what I write about here focused on bigger-than-just-me things, although my story is a good example of what being at PCC can be like.

You can read the whole thing here.