It’s been quite a week for those of us who live in the United States and who watched the second Presidential debate on Sunday night.
Like many of my friends, male and female, gay and straight, I slept very badly that night and have been exhausted ever since.
The thought of Donald Trump with access to nuclear codes?
One of the elements of the debate that horrified so many women I know was Trump’s persistent moving around the small stage throughout, his scowling and his bizarre need to stay physically very close to Hillary Clinton throughout 90 minutes.
Defenders said he simply wanted to make sure he was always in the line of the camera’s gaze, even when she was speaking.
Asked about it later, she gamely laughed and admitted she felt his presence.
If you’ve ever been physically and/or emotionally bullied by a man who is relentless in his determination to scare the shit out of you, it leaves scars.
Most of us are physically smaller and less muscular than men, so they know they can “get away with it.”
Most of us are heavily socialized to make nice and stay calm, to laugh off, dismiss or ignore the appalling things some men say and do to us, at school, at work, on public transportation, in a bar or restaurant.
Very few of us have the appetite to lash back, fearful of physical harm, even death, if we retaliate with the full strength of the rage and disgust we really feel.
From The New York Times:
to many victims of sexual assault, Mr. Trump’s words struck a particular nerve. It was not simply that he is the Republican presidential nominee, and that a hot microphone had captured him speaking unguardedly. It was his casual tone, the manner in which he and the television personality Billy Bush appeared to be speaking a common language, many women said, that gave Mr. Trump’s boasts a special resonance.
What he said and how he said it seemed to say as much about the broader environment toward women — an environment that had kept many of these women silent for so long — as they did about the candidate. And Mr. Trump’s dismissal of his actions as “locker room talk” only underscored the point.
It creates a kind of PTSD that is very real — like many women, I was shaking with rage throughout his attacks.
A new international study released today has come up with a global
number, and it’s a big one: around the world, 30 per cent of women are
victims of physical and sexual abuse by their partners. The paper,
published in the major scientific journal Science, is based on a
meta-analysis of 141 studies from 81 countries conducted by a team of
European and North American researchers – the lead author is Canadian
Karen Devries, a social epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene
and Tropical Medicine.
The research, done in collaboration with
the World Health Organization, found wide variations between regions of
the world, with the highest rates in Central sub-Saharan Africa, where
the rate of sexual and physical violence from a partner is 66 per cent.
In South Asia, the rate was 41 per cent. But, even in Western Europe and
North America, countries that celebrate the advancement of women in
society, the rate was disturbingly high. About one in five women in
those regions experience physical and sexual abuse from a husband or
For those of you who missed the story, which was recent front page news in Britain, cookbook author and television star Nigella Lawson was photographed in a restaurant — with her husband’s hand on her throat.
To which I say, with the greatest respect, fuck off.
Here’s a description of the event, from the Daily Mail:
The couple, who are thought to be
worth £128million, had just finished eating outdoors at their favourite
seafood restaurant Scott’s last Sunday when Mr Saatchi is reported to
have started a heated and angry exchange with his wife.
Miss Lawson, 53, looked tearful as he
grabbed her neck four times, first with his left hand and then both. As
he held her neck, they clutched hands across the table before Mr Saatchi
tweaked her nose and used both wrists to push her face.
Afterwards, Miss Lawson dabbed her tearful eyes in a napkin as he tapped his cigarettes impatiently upon the table.
She then gulped a whole glass of wine
before appearing to attempt to pacify him with a trembling voice. During
the attempted reconciliation, she leaned over the table and kissed his
Kissing your abuser?
Sounds about right, sadly.
And when a woman with the insane, gob-smacking wealth and social capital of a Nigella Lawson puts up with this bullshit, imagine all the women — broke, pregnant, breastfeeding, financially dependent on their husbands or partners — who can’t just move into Claridge’s while they find a terrific divorce attorney.
When I interviewed 104 men, women and teens for my 2004 book about American women and gun use, several told me how they had been beaten, threatened and stalked by their husbands or boyfriends, their children and pets threatened with harm. One woman told how her husband kept a loaded shotgun beneath his side of the bed, nor would her father allow her to return to her family home to recover and figure out what to do next.
One woman, so terrified of her husband she moved into a friend’s home and hid her car in her garage, was so fed up she went with her father to confront the SOB who was terrorizing her. Her father brought a handgun, which slipped from his pocket. She stepped on it as her husband lunged for her.
She shot and killed him, point-blank.
Domestic violence is no joke. It is common, widespread, destroying thousands of lives.
Three women die every day at the hands of someone who coos “I love you” when they aren’t beating the shit out of them.
Here’s a lousy idea — decriminalizing domestic violence, as Topeka, Kansas authorities are considering.
For the past few weeks, New York has been watching the trial of a Barbara Sheehan, a policeman’s wife, who shot her husband after years of abuse.
I wish we’d re-name domestic violence for what it really is — intimate terrorism. The victims who survive it suffer hidden, constant, terrifying abuse few of us could possibly imagine, let alone overcome.
Her lawyer is Michael Dowd, known nationally in the U.S. as the go-to guy for these horrific cases. From a recent profile of him in The New York Times:
For the last 30 years, Mr. Dowd has defended battered women who have killed their husbands, sometimes with a carving knife, a semi-automatic handgun or a machete. He has done so many of these cases that he has been called the “black widow lawyer” by some of his peers.
“It is very emotionally difficult to take such cases; they really get to me,” said Mr. Dowd, 69, who addresses the court in an avuncular, booming voice that seems calculated to disarm jurors. “This may be my last one.”
For Mr. Dowd, his seminal battered-woman case occurred in 1987, when he marshaled a self-defense argument to secure an acquittal for Karen Straw, a Queens woman who stabbed her husband to death after he had raped her at knife point in front of her two children. Ms. Straw had sought a protection order, and the case drew national attention to the moral conundrum of abused women who kill their aggressors.
Mr. Dowd, the father of three daughters, has since defended nearly two dozen women who have killed their husbands; only one served prison time, and the rest were either exonerated or received lesser sentences. His main legal weapon has been the so-called battered-woman defense, in which the abused woman who has killed her spouse recounts the horrors of her abuse in graphic detail to prove to the jury that she reasonably feared for her life.
I interviewed Dowd for my book about women and guns, “Blown Away”, which included the toxic effects of gun violence on women’s lives (in addition to the legal pleasures of gun use for women.) These women, he told me in 2003, are more like soldiers in combat — facing constant threats to their life — than wives.
I came away better understanding when and why some women finally choose to kill their abusers, usually someone who has been tormenting them, physically and psychologically — and threatening her family, friends, children and pets with violence or annihilation — for years, if not decades. This was the case for Sheehan, as well.
I spoke to several of these women for my book. While in a bathroom in a Texas library, one woman told me her tale, of the husband who kept a loaded shotgun beneath his side of the bed and of her own father who refused to give her shelter or financial help to allow her to flee.
Or the woman who, trying to flee her abusive Midwestern husband, parked her car in a friend’s garage to hide her location, but he hunted her and found her. She shot him at point-blank range. She did not go to prison.
Why don’t these women “just leave”?
Because when they do, their enraged male partners hunt them down and kill them.
Huma Abedin, aide to Hillary Clinton, featured in Vogue: gorgeous, married less than two years to Weiner. (I do wonder what Hillary is saying to her about surviving such marital insanities.)
Maria Shriver, ex-broadcaster, ex First Lady, member of the Kennedy clan.
Their alpha men can’t keep their trousers zipped, nor be truthful or faithful.
My ex-husband wailed to me, on June 15, 1994, after barely two years of marriage, “I’m leaving” and ran off with someone he worked with; I at least had the financial dignity and means to survive without his lies and deception. Thanks to a pre-nup I made him sign.
I’d left Canada, and friends, family and career, to follow him to his native U.S. to start his medical career. (Journalism is not a business you leave untended for any length of time.)
Six weeks after I threw his stuff into garbage bags — after seven years of trying to make the thing work — I had a funny, fun, kind new boyfriend. And a marriage proposal from someone else in another country who had loved me from afar for decades.
These men are morons — and their women? I can’t fathom the rage and embarrassment they must feel at having chosen them or stayed with them.
Women like these have choices, plenty of them, and better ones than these wretches.
I’d change the locks and start proceedings on every one of these losers.
It’s no longer enough to hit a woman, but threatening her with violence is now a crime in France. From The New York Times:
The French Parliament gave final and unanimous approval on Tuesday to a law that makes “psychological violence” a criminal offense as part of a law intended to help victims of physical violence and abuse, especially in the home.
The law is thought to be too vague by some judges and the police, and whether they choose to investigate and prosecute such offenses will define the success of the new legislation.
Nadine Morano, the secretary of state for the family, told the National Assembly that “we have introduced an important measure here, which recognizes psychological violence, because it isn’t just blows, but also words.”
Ms. Morano said the primary abuse help line for French women got 90,000 calls a year, with 84 percent concerning psychological violence.
The legislation, introduced by Danielle Bousquet, a Socialist, and Guy Geoffroy, a member of the ruling center-right Union for a Popular Movement, quickly found bipartisan support and backing from the government. In November, Prime Minister François Fillon called the draft law “a national cause” and said it would allow the authorities to deal with “the most insidious situations, which don’t leave a mark to the naked eye but can mutilate the victim’s inner self.”
Those found guilty face up to three years in jail and a fine of 75,000 euros, or about $90,000.
This is an important step — 2.2 French women are killed in domestic violence every day, slightly lower than the three a day in the U.S.
Women who live with threatening and abusive partners live in a kind of hell few of us can imagine. A man’s verbal abuse can do just as much damage to a woman’s psyche and confidence — her ability to work or have friends or see her family or care for her kids — as a punch to the face. You can call the cops if he hits you; physical assault is a crime and provable while threatening words become a game of he-said, she-said, the damage deep but invisible.
I spent a lot of time around women who had been abused, beaten and repeatedly threatened, sometimes for years or decades, for my 2004 book, “Blown Away: American Women and Guns”. Just listening to their stories left my own soul bruised and darkened, like the elegant blond who spoke to me in a Texas library bathroom and told me her husband kept a shotgun under his side of the bed and threatened regularly to aim it at her. Her own family of origin said — suck it up.
I’ve also spent time around men who were extremely verbally abusive, when they weren’t utterly charming.
Untangling one’s psyche from these men isn’t nearly as simple as it can appear.
But the landscape of unprovoked but premeditated female violence remains strangely unexplored. Women who kill are “relegated to an ‘exceptional case’ status that rests upon some exceptional, or untoward killing circumstance: the battered wife who kills her abusive husband; the postpartum psychotic mother who kills her newborn infant,” Candice Skrapec, a professor of criminology, noted in “The Female Serial Killer,” an essay included in the anthology “Moving Targets: Women, Murder and Representation” (1994).
Ms. Skrapec was writing at a time when Hollywood seemed preoccupied with women who commit crimes — in productions like “The Burning Bed,” the 1984 television film in which a battered wife finally sets her sleeping husband aflame, and “Thelma & Louise” (1991), in which a pair of women go on a outlaw spree after one of them is threatened with rape.
Both are essentially exculpatory parables of empowerment, anchored in feminist ideology. Their heroines originate as victims, pushed to criminal excesses by injustices done to them. The true aggressors are the men who mistreat and objectify them. So too with “Monster” (2003), in which Charlize Theron, in a virtuosic instance of empathy (and cosmetic makeover) re-enacted the story of Aileen Wuornos, a real-life prostitute who, after years of sexual abuse, began murdering her clients.
A decade or two ago this all made sense. The underworld of domestic abuse and sexual violence was coming freshly to light. And social arrangements were undergoing abrupt revision. The woman who achieved hard-won success in the workplace might well find herself, like the lonely stalker played by Glenn Close in “Fatal Attraction” (1987), tormented by the perfect-seeming family of the married man with whom she enjoys a weekend fling.
Much has changed since then, but the topic of women and violence — especially as represented by women — remains more or less in a time warp, bound by the themes of sexual and domestic trauma, just as male depictions of female violence are locked in the noir demimonde of fantasy, the slinky femmes fatales once played by Barbara Stanwyck and Lana Turner more or less duplicated by Kathleen Turner and Sharon Stone.
Why? Because the narratives remain consistently framed by men.
This review of my book, written by a female professor of sociology, writing in “Violence Against Women,” an academic journal, gets it.
“Kelly provides a forum for diverse women’s experiences, analyses, and convictions. Her wide-ranging interviews, of course, bring women’s voices into the debate. At a deeper level, this book provides a kind of dialogue-on-paper that is almost impossible to create in real life, where listening carefully to proponents of profoundly different positions can seem impossible. Kelly does not merely bring women’s voices into the record; she puts women’s often conflicting ideas and perspectives into conversation with each other in a way that makes this book the foundation for future dialogues.”
I spent several years researching and thinking about my book, “Blown Away: American Women and Guns”. I traveled across the country, spoke to 104 men, women and teens from 29 states, of all races and income levels, including legislators, those working in law enforcement and the judiciary.
I also bring a personal empathy to the desperation that can lead to female violence. In 1998, I became a victim of psychological violence at the hands of a convicted felon, a man whose predatory behavior directed at me — involving at least six potential felonies — was deemed insufficiently interesting for local police or the district’s attorney’s office to investigate.
It is hard to overstate the rage, fury and impotence their contempt had upon me, as this indifference has had upon other women, here and elsewhere. A terrified, angry woman is not someone many people are eager to listen to.
Were I a different woman, my choice may well have echoed Bishop’s.
As a woman, a crime victim, and an author, then, I wanted to bear witness to some of this. I wanted to listen to women and tell their stories, unmediated by dogma, fantasy and myth.
I learned a great deal about when, where, how and why a woman decides to aim and fire a gun at someone she believes lethal to her. There is, still, for many of us, a longstanding and deeply comforting attachment to a Victorian ideal of women —“the angel in the house” — the civilizing, organizing, calming, soothing principle of every fine family.
How often flings for nought, and yokes
Her heart to an icicle or whim,
Whose each impatient word provokes
Another, not from her, but him;
While she, too gentle even to force
His penitence by kind replies,
Waits by, expecting his remorse,
With pardon in her pitying eyes;
And if he once, by shame oppress’d,
A comfortable word confers,
She leans and weeps against his breast,
And seems to think the sin was hers;
Women are as angry and fed up and worn out as men — by economic inequality, by sexism, by lack of access to decent health care, maternity policies, childcare, equitable divorce or property settlements. We are verbally, physically and emotionally attacked in the home and in the workplace, whether by “microinsults” (the “little” daily snipes we’re meant to laugh off) or by terrifying specifics, like a husband or live-in partner’s constant threat of removing or even killing of a child or pet.
Every single day in the U.S., three American women will die at the hands of an intimate, usually a husband, partner or ex. Some women will kill first to defend their own lives. France is now considering a new law to address the more subtle, and much more difficult issue, of verbal threat — which, as anyone expert in the sad field of domestic violence will tell you — is every bit as toxic as physical abuse, as it is impossible to prove and shows no bruises to police.
From The New York Times:
PARIS — France’s National Assembly approved Thursday night a proposal to add “psychological violence” to a law intended to help victims of physical violence and abuse, despite doubts that the law is specific enough to have much impact.
The proposed law says that to “act or repeatedly say things that could damage the victim’s life conditions, affect his/her rights and his/her dignity or damage his/her physical or mental health” is punishable by a jail term of up to three years and a fine of up to 75,000 euros, or about $103,000. Carefully covering both genders, the law applies to behavior toward a wife, husband, partner or concubine.
Danielle Bousquet, a Socialist, and Guy Geoffroy, a member of the ruling center-right Union for a Popular Movement, wrote the draft law, supported by 30 other legislators. It received backing last November from the government and Prime Minister François Fillon, who called it “very significant progress.”
The new law, Mr. Fillon said, “will allow people to take into account the most insidious situations, which don’t leave a mark to the naked eye but can mutilate the victim’s inner self.” He called the issue “a great national cause,” and the government has started a series of commercials on television to sensitize viewers to conjugal violence, especially against women.
Ms. Bousquet, 64, said that psychological violence could be gradual. “In the beginning, there are only slight offenses, a husband who is a little too insistent and domineering with his wife, but then the husband’s ascendancy becomes more prominent and each time the victim strikes back, the tone changes and physical violence can set in,” she said in an interview together with Mr. Geoffroy.
That Amy Bishop could kill — a woman who clearly had a long violent history that went un-punished — should be surprising to anyone is in itself deeply naive.
However much it shocks or horrifies male observers (as it seems to), there are women as loaded and primed with latent violence as men, as fully ready to kill. And women know it.
My father was, in many ways, a man of discipline, organisation and charisma – a regimental sergeant major no less. One of the very last men to be evacuated from Dunkirk, his third stripe was chalked on to his uniform by an officer when no more senior NCOs were left alive. Parachuted into Crete and Italy, both times under fire, he fought at Monte Casino and was twice mentioned in dispatches. A fellow soldier once told me, “When your father marches on to the parade ground, the birds in the trees stop singing.”
In civilian life it was a different story. He was an angry, unhappy and frustrated man who was not able to control his emotions or his hands. As a child I witnessed his repeated violence against my mother, and the terror and misery he caused was such that, if I felt I could have succeeded, I would have killed him. If my mother had attempted it, I would have held him down. For those who struggle to comprehend these feelings in a child, imagine living in an environment of emotional unpredictability, danger and humiliation week after week, year after year, from the age of seven. My childish instinct was to protect my mother, but the man hurting her was my father, whom I respected, admired and feared.
From Monday morning to Friday tea time he worked as a semi-skilled labourer, and was diligent and sober. Often funny and charming, he was always rich in the personal stories of warfare and adventure that thrilled me. But come Friday night, after the pubs closed, we awaited his return with trepidation. I would be in bed but not asleep. I could never sleep until he did; while he was awake we were all at risk. Instead, I would listen for his voice, singing, as he walked home. Certain songs were reassuring: I’ll Take You Home Again, Kathleen; I’ll Walk Beside You . . . But army songs were not a good sign. And worst of all was silence. When I could only hear footsteps it was the signal to be super-alert.
Our house was small, and when you grow up with domestic violence in a confined space you learn to gauge, very precisely, the temperature of situations. I knew exactly when the shouting was done and a hand was about to be raised – I also knew exactly when to insert a small body between the fist and her face, a skill no child should ever have to learn. Curiously, I never felt fear for myself and he never struck me, an odd moral imposition that would not allow him to strike a child. The situation was barely tolerable: I witnessed terrible things, which I knew were wrong, but there was nowhere to go for help. Worse, there were those who condoned the abuse. I heard police or ambulancemen, standing in our house, say, “She must have provoked him,” or, “Mrs Stewart, it takes two to make a fight.” They had no idea. The truth is my mother did nothing to deserve the violence she endured. She did not provoke my father, and even if she had, violence is an unacceptable way of dealing with conflict. Violence is a choice a man makes and he alone is responsible for it.
No one came to help. No adult stepped in and took charge. I needed someone else to take over and tell me everything was going to be all right and that it wasn’t my fault. I wanted the anger to go away and, while it stayed, I felt responsible. The sense of guilt and loneliness provoked by domestic violence is tainting – and lasting. No one came, but everyone knew. Our small houses were close together. Every Monday morning I walked to school with my head down, praying that I would not encounter a neighbour or school friend who had heard the weekend’s rows. I felt ashamed.
Very occasionally one person would come to our aid – Mrs Dixon, our next-door neighbour, the only person who would stand up to my father. She would throw open the door and stand before him, bosom bursting and her mighty weaver’s forearm raised in his face. “Come on, Alf Stewart,” she would say, “have a go at me.” He never did. He calmed down and went to bed. Now I wish I could take Lizzie Dixon’s big hand in mine and thank her.
Such experiences are destructive. In my adult life I have struggled to overcome the bad lessons of my father’s behaviour, this corrosive example of male irresponsibility. But the most oppressive aspect of these experiences was the loneliness. Very recently, during a falling-out with my girlfriend, I felt again as though I were shut out and alone, not heard or understood. I was neither, but it was such a familiar isolation that it was almost a comfort and consolation.
I managed to find my own refuge in acting. The stage was a far safer place for me than anything I had to live through at home – it offered escape. I could be someone else, in another place, in another time. However, whenever the role called for anger, fury, or the expression of murderous impulses, I was always afraid of what I might unleash if I surrendered myself to those feelings.
Women have far different interactions with the health-care system than men. Profit-driven insurance companies are allowed to charge women higher premiums than men because women’s reproductive health-care needs are more costly. Even women who never experience pregnancy or childbirth may pay higher premiums.
In a half-dozen or so states, insurance companies are allowed to call domestic violence a pre-existing condition and refuse to provide any health coverage to women who are or have been abused.
According to a recent story in the Paris daily Liberation, 1.3 million French women are the victims of domestic violence. In the U.S. three women a day are killed by their intimates, usually their current or ex-husband or boyfriend; in France, reports Delphine Legoute, the rate is a little lower, while nonetheless horrifying — every 2.5 days a woman is killed, also typically at the hands of her male (ex) intimate.
Over the past six months, a series of 30 hearings in France have gathered testimony from 100 doctors, judges, legislators and prosecutors, with the goal of finding new solutions to this age-old problem. Thirty-six deputies, of all political parties, worked together on the issue and presented their findings to the head of the National Assembly, Bernard Accoy, who says they will be studied and addressed in early fall.
Two of their twelve propositions: make the right to “human dignity” as much a part of the Constitution as the right to economic, civil and social rights, and train schoolteachers to address the issue of preventing violence against women, in its many forms, in the classroom.
The story in Libe, a leftist daily, prompted 82 comments, much of it heated debate.
Will the French take the lead on this crucial issue? Someone has to!
We’re in a time of financial disaster. The states are running out of money. The feds are trying to fix a dozen expensive problems at once. Highly educated professionals, along with everyone else, are losing their jobs, their homes and their dreams. It’s a time when, if you’re lucky enough to have a seat in the lifeboat, it’s tempting (if not fiscally wise) to not only pull in the oars but pound on the fists of those clinging to the sides. We just can’t afford it, whatever it is.
In times like these, should we care about immigrants — legal and illegal — who don’t speak English, or speak it sufficiently enough to comprehend legal proceedings, who can’t get court interpreters to help them through the judicial process?