Warning for partner/domestic abuse. The following appears in “Is He Going to Get Violent?” in chapter six of Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men by Lundy Bancroft.
Before I take you through a list of points to consider in examining this issue, make a mental note of the following:
Research indicates that a woman’s intuitive sense of whether or not her partner will be violent toward her is a substantially more accurate predictor of future violence than any other warning sign.
So listen closely to your inner voice above all.
When a woman tells me of her concerns about her partner’s potential for violence, I first encourage her to pay close attention to her feelings. If he is scaring her, she should take her intuitive sense seriously, even if she doesn’t believe his frightening behavior is intentional. Next, I want to learn more about what has already happened:
Has he ever trapped you in a room and not let you out?
Has he ever raised a fist as if he were going to hit you?
Has he ever thrown an object that hit you or nearly did?
Has he ever held you down or grabbed you to restrain you?
Has he ever shoved, poked, or grabbed you?
Has he ever threatened to hurt you?
If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then we can stop wondering whether he’ll ever be violent: he already has been. In more than half of cases in which a woman tells me that her partner is verbally abusive, I discover that he is physically assaultive as well.
It is critical to use common-sense—and legal—definitions of what constitute violence, not the abuser’s definition. An abuser minimizes his behavior by comparing himself to men who are worse than he is, whom he thinks of as “real” abusers. If he never threatens his partner, then to him threats define real abuse. If he only threatens but never actually hits, then real abusers are those who hit.
A couple of years MAC did a collaboration with Rodarte, which was pretty fucking tasteless, to say the least, allegedly inspired by the ~ethereal landscape~ of the West Texas border region and included products with names like “Juarez” and “Factory”. Juarez is, of course, most famous internationally for the large number of women who have been murdered there, many of whom were employed in maquiladoras. MAC eventually withdrew the collection entirely and donated $100,000 to an organization to aid the women of Juarez; I’m not sure what Rodarte did, besides offer a lukewarm apology.
Anyway, the reason I bring this up is because when the MAC collaboration with Rihanna, someone actually said that RiRi Hearts MAC was as tasteless a move on MAC’s part as the Juarez collection. This was buried in a lot of other concern trolling about abuse victims that was and is occurring everywhere (this person was on specktra, but I don’t doubt other people have said the same thing).
What are we, tasteless, badly behaved, oversexed survivors too tacky for compassion, to make of this comparison?
1. Rihanna actually died that night and is now risen again to exploit her own death (Lipstick Lazarus effect).
2. Hundreds of dead Mexican women can be reduced to a single, poorly thought-out emotional appeal used to justify the dehumanization of another woman of color who is not behaving the way we think she should.
3. Both Rihanna and the women of Juarez are just metaphors; metaphors have no needs, emotions, or thoughts of their own, but cosmetic companies should not be so tasteless as to employ them.
4. Rihanna is a tragedy; the fact that she is still alive, still vibrant, still fighting, still being successful, is not something other victims of domestic violence can appreciate, because after all she is acting far too much like a victim of domestic violence, and that is repugnant.
5. There is no difference between dead women and live women, women who were murdered and women who are making their own choices; if you disapprove of how they live/die, they are taboo. Call it respect, but of course you mean respect for your own feelings, not respect for the women involved. (It’s about bad taste, literally no one relates to these women as if they are human beings.)
6. If you are not a Good Victim, you must be part of the problem.
7. If you are not a Good Victim, you must not be a person.
8. If you are not a person, you must eternally seek redemption and the forgiveness of anyone who demands it.
9. If you were victimized but are not a person and not seeking redemption, you must be that which victimizes you, and perhaps other people too.
10. Rihanna actually died that night, and what has risen is a monster undeserving of compassion or sympathy. Keep your wallets shut, say things that ward people like her away, make them feel less human so they will realize they are, in fact, less human, claim it is for their own good, they have no business feeling normal, they have no business living as though they have the right to emotions, mistakes, complexity, you know what’s best, and it’s not letting monsters like that into the light.
All very logical, based in love.
and the OTHER thing I had feelings about today is that today MAC announced that it is doing a makeup collection with Rihanna, and every fucking place I went to read about it was full of comments from sanctimonious wastes of carbon who announced (without a hint of irony!) that they just cared too much about victims of domestic violence to support Rihanna, who is obviously a bad role model, a bad decision maker, an ally to a bad man, a user of bad drugs, and speaker of bad words, a wearer of bad clothes, a bad, bad victim who failed to meet their strict guidelines for sympathy and who is therefore a pariah forever more
they just care about the issue of domestic violence so much, their love is too pure to be tainted by the likes of her
i just wish them all bodily harm, I do
if there was one thing I could stamp on everyone’s brains (other than “DON’T RAPE AND ABUSE PEOPLE”), it’s that just because you didn’t see the accused rapist/abuser acting like a rapist/abuser, it doesn’t mean shit
everybody can admit that there are people in the world who treat other very differently depending on criteria that range from justified to bigoted to arbitrary. most of us have, on the small scale, encountered a person who got along with everyone else but seemed to have it out for us for reasons that are unclear.
so why is that concept so fucking hard to scale up? how many serial rapists and murderers had wives and kids and active roles in the community while they went out and attacked other people (usually people like sex workers and the homeless and other populations who are extremely vulnerable and not viewed as fully human by society)? why is it so hard to accept that maybe that person who’s so nice to you could have done harm to someone else, but so easy to imagine that the other person is risking alienation and retaliation just to be mean to your buddy? you are not the center of the universe. you are not omniscient. you are not representative of every other person in the world. what happens to you is not a reflection of what always happens.
and hey, maybe the accused have behaved badly around you, but you just didn’t realize it at the time. one of the reasons such violence is so prevalent is because we have rationalizations for all kinds of fucked-up behaviors. we excuse predatory actions all the time! we guilt people for NOT rationalizing it away, for NOT finding an excuse for it! maybe it made you uncomfortable, but your desire to maintain peace in your own life led you to accept a flimsy explanation.
To be supportive, you must make an honest assessment of your own behavior, even if it incriminates you. You cannot support survivors if you are unwilling to be uncomfortable. Maybe this is as simple as refusing to entertain gossip, maybe it’s as difficult as ending relationships, but if your first instinct is to maintain your own comfort (which is very different from maintaining one’s safety, safety can be tremendously uncomfortable), then you are as good as complicit in rape and abuse, whatever credentials you might try to provide to the contrary.
the overwhelming desire to out my abusers as abusers but knowing that i will look cunty and mean because of it and people don’t like people who out their abusers because you’re supposed to just move on and accept that shitty things happen and that they’ll ‘get theirs’ eventually and it’s better to take the high road and not be cunty because then you can feel like you’re a good person even though feeling like a good person hasn’t helped in the past and it still doesn’t help because it just makes you feel even angrier and enraged at how unfair it is that they get to do whatever they want and have success and all that bullshit and don’t know what it is like to suffer at their hands and you keep having to go on with bitter resentment at your heart knowing that they’ll probably never get their comeuppance and you will always carry the scars that they gave you and i just hate them so much and they’re still fucking up so much for me and i feel like i’ll never be able to do anything because i’m always so scared and anxious and down on the shit i do and it is because of THEM. and if i tell anyone who ‘them’ is, i’ll be the shit one.
/things i could have written
My abusive ex texts or calls me every so often. The timing is inconsistent and entirely his own; I don’t block his number because if I did, he might figure it out and call or text from a number I won’t recognize, and the possibility of accidentally hearing his voice or speaking a few words to him induces far more anxiety than the current arrangement. I delete what voicemail he lives without listening to it, because is voice is upsetting to me. I do read his texts; they’re strange things, broadcast from a totally different reality than mine, and as such are almost humorous. On Christmas Eve he texted me to let me know he was wishing me an early Merry Christmas, as he’d be sleeping all Christmas Day. My phone advised that a read reply was requested. Of course it was not sent.
The arrangement also permits me to maintain a tolerable split; on one hand, there are the things he did, and the fear and anxiety and anger he caused. On the other hand, there is a rather sad, laughable old man, who sends stupid texts wondering why I don’t talk to him anymore. Combining the two is difficult, and I retain a superstitious conviction that it might restore him to his full powers. The sound of his voice is intolerable precisely because it welds the joint.
In my original post on post-susto feminism, I discussed the complementary sense of splitting myself. Dreams have been useful to me in analyzing this. I don’t believe in any kind of universal language of dreams or anything like that, but I do occasionally encounter imagery that provides me with a method of articulating the previous inexpressible. Several months prior to the dream mentioned in the susto post, I had one that was quite revelatory in its own way.
It went like this: my sister and I were walking a past a field that was full of animals, coyotes, rabbits, deer, and as they will do, they all ran into the brush as we approached, save one. It was an unidentifiable mammal, that had traits of three or four different animals, and we stood there discussing what it might be. My sister reached out to touch it, and I scolded her for trying to touch any animal, much less one that wasn’t running and might well be rabid. At that point, the dream shifted; we were being pursued by it. We eventually managed to trap it, and bury it in some mud, but I told my sister to run, as it was apparent it would not stay down long. So she ran, and I ran, and it came after us again; but I watched her speeding far ahead of me, and the animal was right on my heels, and suddenly I realized it wanted nothing to do with her in the first place, it was only after me.
Upon awakening, I put it into context. Almost immediately after things with my abuser had come to an explosive head, I ended up in an unplanned relationship with someone else. It was almost a “what else can I do?” response; I’m not entirely sure I could have turned him down if I tried. But as it turned out, he was an incredibly decent and patient person, and I have him and his unintentional intervention to thank for keeping my from rejoining my abuser when he decided it was time to speak to me again. Unfortunately, my mental health was in shambles, and I became massively codependent despite my initial ambivalence. I was terrified of not being in constant contact with him, and frequent emotional outbursts if he failed to give me timely feedback. Months later, after I had acknowledged that abuse had transpired and was writing about it, I was still failing to deal with it directly. I talked about it, gradually revealing more and more details until (almost) all the awful details had been spilled, but I was oblivious to how it was influencing my behavior and causing me to behave unfairly towards this new partner. I was not doing anything about it.
After the dream, I wrote my friend, and told him about the dream, and apologized for not having control of this animal that had been biting and snapping at him (and me), for I didn’t realize it was mine to deal with, I didn’t realize it was there. I’m someone who deals best with solid images. Being able to picture laying hands on this thing worked far better than talking in circles about ~trauma~. Not to kill it or trap it, mind you. It was mine; I was stuck with it, but it did not need to be a menace. In the context of the larger susto model, where violence caused the soul to extruded slowly but steadily via a most subtle trepanation, this was rather like finally grabbing hold of said renegade spirit. Its nature had changed, but it was neither lost nor irretrievable. It did not need to be declawed or defanged. It simply had to be managed.
I do not have full control of it and possibly never will, so I don’t listen to certain voicemails and I don’t have certain conversations and I don’t go certain places. The chickenfoot quack who caused the break in the first place must now be split himself, because that’s a form of management, and I don’t have a good model for resolving it yet. But he doesn’t belong to me and I don’t want him to, so that’s fine. That’s the thing, isn’t it? They who do the damage often become less important than the damage done. I can live with that. We are well within our rights to cut them off inside our own heads as we have done in real life, lest we be set back. In some ways I get angrier at Hugo Schwyzer than I ever have at my own abuser, because he is outside.
I saw my dear friend who unintentionally came between me and my abuser this past Saturday. We both have chronic health conditions, and one of the things we discussed was the intense paranoia that can follow a sudden relapse that you thought was being safely controlled by medication. You panic and run through everything you did just before that episode, searching fruitlessly for a trigger, and being unreasonably avoidant about anything you suspect might pose a risk. In my case, being epileptic, this can translate to things as innocuous as a particular tune in a song, or a certain image, or some piece of writing. It’s irrational, but the fear is real, instinctual. So it goes. You do what you can to work with it, because it won’t not happen.
No doubt my views on the subject will evolve as they always do, but that’s where they are for now, and for peace of mind.
Actually, I believe the oft-repeated popular knowledge about how abuse is all about manipulation and control is just as useful as that old chestnut, “rape is about power!”
They’re both true in a broad sense, but clinging to them as if they adequately described every manifestation and motive of sexual assault and abuse is unhelpful, avoids contextual analysis, and tends to make a rather large swath of survivors feel alienated and unsure of what they experienced - in other words, it’s a good way to label something Not Real Abuse/Rape without even intending to. Because sometimes rape does seem to be about sex. Sometimes abuse does seem to be unintentional. Our energy should not be expended in trying to force victims to characterize their experiences in ways that are more in line with inflexible models, especially not when the help they need is much more immediate and personal than that.
For this reason, I prefer to stick to discussing actual behaviors and their effects, as well as more useful concepts like boundaries and one’s right to feel secure in one’s body as well as one’s environment. Trying to make snappy one-liners about what things like rape and abuse are is more costly in the end than not.