This is an original post from a guest author. I haven’t done this before, but there’s a first time for everything, right? To be clear, I am not the author of this post, but I fully endorse her message. After reading it, I’ve gotta say that I was floored. The issue of domestic abuse still doesn’t get enough exposure, so it’s really nice to hear a genuinely original thought on this topic. Read on:
Women and Abuse
Lucy V. Churchill
Almost six years ago, a good friend of mine left an abusive marriage that was full to the brim with one-sided emotional, sexual and financial abuse, as well as (also one-sided) manipulation, coercion, and adultery. My friend’s two sons from that marriage are also emotionally abusive to her, mirroring the patterns of their father. One of the children (her step-son, in fact, but who called her “Mom” for a decade) hasn’t talked to my friend in almost 3 years, which, admittedly, has brought some peace (or at least relief from continued manipulation and abuse), although said peace is painfully mixed with unwarranted doubts and guilt on my friend’s part.
And the other son? He has recently decided to live with his dad full-time, as soon as is feasible (my friend’s ex-husband does not particularly want the teen there full-time, so won’t take him immediately, but welcomes the child support cash). Again, the child-to-parent abuse will be minimized as a result of this, but my friend is already wracked with guilt about the decision, which isn’t even hers, as the entire arrangement is really beyond her control. She has no ability to continue having custody of her son, despite the other parent being blasé about the kid. She has no voice in the matter, despite the desire to continue to parent the child who treats her horribly (a child over the age of 12 who wants to live with a parent that is non-abusive to them generally has every right to do so, and attempting to interfere with the arrangement that her son and his father have contrived would simply foster resentment of her in the son’s eyes, and the treatment of her would certainly worsen).
It isn’t all terrible, however. My friend has a new, healthy, loving marriage of 3 years, a toddler that adores her (with a husband that doesn’t undermine her relationship with the wee one), and they have another baby on the way, who will also be able to form an honest, healthy relationship with her, supported by her husband. She’s (mostly) safe from her ex-husband now (when continuing to attempt to co-parent, one remains open to some of the manipulation and emotional crap, because communication is necessary, and a divorce hasn’t changed her ex-husband into a respectful guy who clearly communicates with her). Furthermore, although she’s been left open to residual abuse at the hands of her children, one thankfully decided to simply discontinue his relationship with her, and the unhealthy patterns with the youngest are something that she’s been trying to work through with him, alongside her new husband. They even remain hopeful that being parents who see him a couple of times a month (and thus not having to remind him about chores or homework) will create the opportunity for a more positive relationship with the young man.
Despite the tragedy of the past marriage, and the continuing trials with one of her sons, there is still much to celebrate here. As is said so often of women in her situation, this is the story of a survivor. This is a story of triumph and redemption and hope. This is a woman now empowered, who has taken control of her life, who is working through her insecurities and anxieties, and who is realizing that she is lovable, and that dishonesty and coercion aren’t acceptable from anyone, including her sons. This is a woman who has begun to find the vastness of her worth.
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The feel-good-it’s-a-shame-but-good-for-her story of my friend has one hiccup though, and I must admit I’ve been lying to you (apologies). You see, my friend is actually a man, and the abusive parties are all females.
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Has your narrative changed? Is my friend now weak, instead of strong? Rather than a victim of generational abuse, surely he did something to deserve it? He must have not been attentive enough as a husband; he must have not been a good/strong/compassionate enough father? (By the way, if there is an abuse more taboo to admit and attempt to find support for than a man at the hands of his wife, it’s a parent at the hands of a child).
Perhaps now the abuse is explained away, and blamed on his ex-wife’s childhood, mental health, previous relationships? Are his daughters now victims of his previous marriage or his poor parenting? Certainly he shouldn’t have let them get away with that sort of behaviour, from toddlerhood on, should he have? He created this dynamic and should be ashamed at how he’s let those poor girls down! Yes, indeed, now the daughters are the victims of all of this, and they’re certainly not the brutes that you had previously imagined (the ones you wouldn’t want dating your own daughters), right?
Women are easily thought of as pure victims. Men can only be victims with full addendums of ‘buts,’ ‘maybes,’ and suspicion of half-stories. The responsibility of women to be decent human beings, on the other hand, seems to come with an attached list of excuses and outs for atrocious behaviour. Men, are, apparently, easily vilified. Even from the moment you read the title of this piece, you assumed this standard story, didn’t you?
It’s okay to admit that this is our societal narrative for abuse. It was mine when this man first came into my life; I assumed I was only hearing his side of a skewed story. Or rather, I assumed that until I spent enough time witnessing all of the involved persons (even building relationships with his daughters). Why was I so unwilling to accept that he was simply a victim and survivor? That his ex-wife was so incredibly abusive?
Modern feminism proclaims that a woman can be anything that a man can be. Perhaps that should also include the ability to be ruthlessly abusive, without societal pardon or man-blaming. If a man is abusive, he needs to take responsibility for his actions. The most excuse he’ll get will be that it was allowed by a patriarchal society. But if a woman is abusive, suddenly it’s turned on it’s ear and it’s because of the patriarchal society? Abuse is an incredibly complex issue (with mental health, addictions and systemic contribution, to be sure), but it certainly seems that those complexities are highlighted more often when it is a man who is being beaten down. (By the way, I hope it’s also not lost on any of you that feminism’s strong woman can still be a victim, but certainly never strong enough to harm someone else).
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Regardless of my testimony to his innocence and victimhood, and even if you’d still prefer to view him with suspicion, you’re still welcome to join in the celebration of his escape, survival and new life. He deserves all of the praise for his heroism that he can get. Like for all survivors, the party, the celebration, it’s ongoing. And it will become more and more triumphant as time goes by. You can come and play with his son; if you wait a few months, you can meet his daughter. And you can witness the strength, joy, and hope of a man who was brave enough to say “enough.”
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*** Further Food for Thought: As a strong woman, who used to call herself a feminist, and then called herself anything but a feminist (I’ve personally never made less money than a man with equal education and experience), and now isn’t sure what to call herself, but thinks she’d likely be better off just refraining from labels until the feminists decide what their working definition is… I’m still quite attached to the concept of “woman.” I even have the word tattooed on my skin. I love all that it comprises, including the seeming contradictions within. To me, a woman is strong, but she is soft. A women is fierce, but gentle. She is protective, and she is nurturing. And I suppose that’s my excuse, as it were, as to why I didn’t believe my friend when I first met him, that his ex-wife had truly been abusive without cause. Perhaps her behaviour was so… unwomanly… that my mind couldn’t believe it? But, like all mothers are not mothering, perhaps all women are not womanly. We would balk at a men’s right’s group stating that all men should be for all men, given that not all men are defensible… Why on earth should all women be for all women, then, if some are, like some men, incapable of decency?) ***