“That sounds an awful lot like rape and if I ever see him in person, I’ll kill him.”
It is a question that has long haunted me, why did my member of MENSA uber feminist mom stay with a man who beat her and then a man who hurt us and was an awful drunk. The older I’ve gotten, the more forgiving I’ve become as I’ve watched my friends, former students and ultimately myself become statistics. Vulnerable, young women without education are typically the image we have of the domestic abuse victim but what happens when she is Stanford educated, a role model with training, albeit with a self esteem problem?
I felt angry with my mom, she should have known better. We were poor but she’s smart, she raised me in such a way that I was giving feminist lectures in 5th grade. She can stand up in a room and dazzle any audience. And yet, I know she’s deaf on her left side from being kicked down a flight of stairs. She left her second husband when she found out he was raping us but he was a mean drunk who didn’t work to begin with and I remember being so angry with her for failing to leave both of them. But the first one held a gun to my head and threatened to kill us all if she left and she only escaped when her male friends intervened and made it physically impossible for him to hurt us anymore. The second guy was my sibling’s father and my mom was in a haze, she protected us to the extent she knew how but she too was vulnerable. Intelligence can’t save you from abuse, but your community and the police can.
I have my mother’s sharp mind, maybe even more so. And I am far more educated. I’ve been taught to recognize abuse, I have a special knack for seeing it, and I’ve made my fair share of CPS reports. A fiery radical, I’ve given my fair share of lectures on gender at parties, and I’ve taught the stuff. But all of that hides my vulnerability; my crippling insecurity and lack of self worth, my anxiety and PTSD and my almost impulsive need to try to understand and see the good in everyone. It’s a dangerous combination and it’s resulted in a lot of intimate violence. The boy who stalked me when he drank, the other one who harrangued me to lose weight and most painful of all, the boy who pushed me during sex to do things that physically hurt me. I thought I had safe guarded myself by choosing among my long term friends, but his struggles with work and depression brought out a dark side I couldn’t see and couldn’t have predicted. In Boyhood the mother marries a mean drunk and it’s easy to judge, but how could she have known?He was an educated guy with a job, just the kind of guy that people were judging her for not being with not five minutes in the film earlier. It’s easy to pass judgment on the screen but much harder when it’s not strangers.
I was saved by the men I call my uncles as a little girl and I was saved by my friends in my adulthood. They gave me a place to stay as I fled, countless hours of coaching and just kindness and love as they reminded me who I was. Nothing else saves women but their community, that’s why abusers always try to shut them off from their community. But in a world where I felt I had to apologize and feel embarassed for my failure to predict the future, how can we possibly protect each other? Something is lost when our communities no longer feel responsible for to each other and there are probably lives being lost because of that. But it’s also the same forces that protect rapists, we blame victims for crimes committed against them, crimes they could not have predicted or controlled. No man presents himself as a dick during the courting process and often the abusive ones are also the best manipulators and actors. We could try to stay a few steps ahead, they identify as nice and nerdy and then we finally catch on, they claim to be feminists and we catch on; they will adjust to what they have to adjust to. We have to stop asking women what they failed to do to stop monsters and start asking why the monsters exist and why we aren’t helping to fight them.
My mom’s high IQ didn’t save her. My best friend’s high self esteem didn’t save her. My Stanford degrees and training didn’t save me.
My community did.