Knowing You’ll Be Believed

Y’all, Slarti and I have our go-rounds, but every once in a while I think he’s teetering on the edge of feminist consciousness.

Look at his post today.

Here’s the dichotomy: most women seem to accept [Mary Winkler’s] story at face value and start the discussion from there: “He abused her, but should she have killed him?”.  Most men I know see it differently; the stories of abuse conveniently came forward after she was caught and charged with her husband’s murder.  Many men I know, when she was first arrested, started pools about when she would first claim abuse; it is, in our eyes, quite predictable.

This gives me hope.  Not what Slarti is admitting to–that makes me sigh with despair–but the fact that he is wondering: why is it that a lot of women automatically assume she’s been abused and a lot of men assume the abuse accusation is just her way of getting out of a murder?

I put a little hope in that wondering.  I’ll admit it.  It makes me feel a little hopeful.

Why?

Because the answer to Slarti’s question is out here.  Newscoma’s given it to him straight and other women have given it to him sideways.

Most of us knows a woman who’s had the shit knocked out of her by a man.  And most of us are familiar with all of the reasons why she won’t leave or report it or why she goes back.  Most of us recognize the meaning of heavy makeup or the jaunty scarf in the middle of July.  We recognize the flinch or the plays for attention from men they perceive as powerful.

In other words, we see through the ways that women are hiding what’s happening to us from you.

So, to us, abuse looks like a wide-spread problem.  Everywhere we look, we see evidence of it.  But you look around and see only rare occasions.

****

I was going to go someplace else with this post and we may yet get there, but I want to sidetrack for just a second.

If there’s one thing I think most men don’t get, one big societal difference between men and women, it’s that women are under scrutiny all the time in ways that men aren’t.

Are we pretty enough?  Are we dressed well enough?  Do we fit the mold well enough?  Are we too cold?  Did we lead you on?  Did we provoke this?  Are we lying about what happened to us?  Is our health really in danger?

We get this message, constantly, that our lives are up for examination at any time anyone should want to examine them and that the presumption is that we’re lying.

I think this is why we lie to you about what’s happening to us.  I mean, if I love you and you say you love me, and you punch me in the face, I should walk around with that shiner hanging out there like the accusation against you it is.  But I’m sure (whether or not it’s factually true) that, if I did that, other folks would want to know what I did to bring that on me.

Who can bear that?  To be hurt by someone you love and have your community act like it’s your fault?

I get why that is, though.  I really do.  I think that most men think, hell, most of you all reading this right now think, “If some fucker was beating B., I’d have my ass in this truck so fast…”  If you truly knew I was being hurt, you would feel compelled by human decency to act.

And yet, how many of us want to take that next, violent, step if we aren’t sure?  You want to question me; you want to know for sure that your anger is justified.

Fair enough.

It feels like you think I’m lying.

****

Most women try not to organize their lives around the shitty things that have happened to them.  We want to put it behind us and move on.

Still, I can’t help but wonder what it would be like if, on one day, everyone wore a t-shirt describing the violence that has been perpetrated against them or someone they love.

I think that we would see how much it sucks to be weak in this culture.  We would see women with shirts full of hurt.  We would see grown men with paeans to the terrible things that have happened to them.

What I mean, is that I suspect the default in our society is violent meanness.  We tell ourselves another kind of story, but I think that’s not true.  We only wish we were kind and good-hearted, all of us.

I don’t mean to sound like I’m down about that.  I actually think there’s something hopeful, as long as it’s not delusional, about seeing us as better than we are.

****

I was at a meeting the other day and we were talking about the Sisyphian task of bringing mental health care to rural women and one of the men in the room raised his hand and said something like, “Are we screening for domestic violence in these situations?”

And every woman in the room turned to look at him, with his smug smile like he’d just thought of the solution to all our woes, and the woman running the meeting said, “Of course.  We have to.  Domestic violence is ubiquitous in the cultures we serve.”

He didn’t even have the courtesy to be embarrassed.

Bless your hearts, I can’t tell you how often I see this–that a problem isn’t really a problem until men recognize it as a problem.

Couple that with the belief that women’s lives are open to scrutiny by whoever wants to take a look around…

****

I’m just mad at myself for the way things went on this thread over at Volunteer Voters.  I totally let myself get sidetracked by this argument that there are obviously some times when a woman just doesn’t “need” an abortion and it should be just fine for “us” to legislate that she can’t have one under those circumstances.

It’s a good argument, from the anti-abortion side, because it is easy to get distracted.  They shout out something like “What about women who just want to look good for swimsuit season?” and you shout back, “What about women who want children and need to abort this pregnancy in order to save her uterus?” and they’re all like “Oh, look, we got you to concede that it’s okay for us to sit around and pass judgment on whether a woman’s reason for wanting an abortion is good enough for us to grant her one.”

****

Which, I think, brings me back to the point I was going to head towards at the beginning of this post.  What if our default was to believe women?

Yeah, sure, some lying liars who lie would slip through and they’d violate our trust.  But, still, I can’t help but hope for a day when, when we tell you the truth about our experience, your default is to believe us.

29 thoughts on “Knowing You’ll Be Believed

  1. This is such a meaningful post to me, B, and so beautifully written; thank you for sharing it. I picture the t-shirt day, and it makes me want to cry. I just don’t know if I could fit all the violence on one t-shirt. Not violence I personally experienced — not entirely, anyway — but the violence experienced by so many people I know and love. And that just sucks, but you’re right: I think most of us, to survive, go about the work of putting it behind us.

    I also think about how I’ve spent a lot of my life super-defensive about feeling like people don’t believe me. I know a lot of women who have this experience, from violent acts like we were talking about a second ago, to health issues and sickness. Goddammit, I know when I’m sick. I hate it when people dismiss my illnesses like they don’t believe me. And yet it happens all the time.

    What work do we have to do to promote a culture of believing each other by default? ‘Cause I’ll sign up for it.

  2. Blog hijack alert:
    The picture of women wearing a t-shirt with all of the violence that has touched their lives is so incredibly powerful, that I believe it should happen. Domestic Violence Awareness month is October. Perhaps some of us who feel this fire could organize an event to bring this to pass. I know all too many of us would have to get a size XXL just to fit it all…

    Secondly, Kate, you bring up a great point. I suffered from the time I went through puberty to age 39 with the most horrendous abdominal pain to the point that finally in that last year, I missed work at least one day per month. I had 3 male OB/GYNs and 1 female. NOBODY believed me until Dr. Burch. Even he, for awhile, didn’t quite “get it” that I wasn’t just bitching. When the pathology report came back after the hysterectomy, the endometriosis was so severe, that not only had it covered all of the organs in my abdomen, it was embedded into the actual tissue of the organs, and it had pushed my bowels to the back of the abdominal cavity. Now, tell me if that wouldn’t cause excruciating pain! So thanks to all of those assholes (even the woman) not believing that I was sick, my life was never what it should have been because of the pain. Ok, let’s be transparent here: sex HURT LIKE HELL until after this surgery…that means not really having as fulfilling of a sex life until fucking this past November. (No wonder I’m a “tart” now, Mack! lololol)

    But truly…you know what message that feels like? You’re just a woman who is bitching about her periods. It doesn’t really matter that you have pain, and since you’re not really supposed to enjoy sex anyway, that isn’t really important, either.

    B., I used to think you were a feminist who would find something in everything to go all feminist about…but what I am really finding here is some much needed validation. And I thank you for that.

  3. Ginger, that’s interesting about your endo- they told Heather she had unusually painful periods because she’s a redhead. Funny what doctors will think/not believe.

  4. Ivy, I imagine you heard me laughing bitterly clear to your house. I’m sorry. That’s about the funniest god damn thing. “You have pain because you have red hair.” Are doctors aware that we take basic biology in high school? I mean, they must know we know there’s no hair in our uterus, right?

    I’m sorry, but if scientists want to know why the average person is distrustful of them, it’s because we feel like our doctors think we’re idiots they can lie to.

    I know it’s unfair to conflate all scientists with doctors, but those are the sciency types we see most regularly.

  5. So thanks to all of those assholes (even the woman) not believing that I was sick, my life was never what it should have been because of the pain.

    ugh, I re-read what I wrote this morning, and I feel like this sentence is so bitter & almost exaggerated. I don’t mean my whole life wasn’t what it should have been, but it was always clouded with pain and fatigue. Does that make sense?

  6. Ginger, it’s okay to be angry. A shitty thing happened to you for too long. We all knew you were speaking from a place of hurt. No need to apologize for that.

  7. Ginger, the thing about chronic pain is that it’s there all the time. It is part of every part of your life. It doesn’t ruin all of them, but it can’t be ignored in any of them.

    I’ve gotten good help with aches and pains in my own life. But I’ve been disbelieved about being on the receiving end of violence, and the victim of total incomprehension when I asked for help because I was afraid of a situation becoming violent. People don’t want to know things, ya know?

  8. Just to present the other side of this discussion, I have had THREE women in my past tell me that their BF hit them, etc, only to discover that it wasn’t true.

    They just wanted somebody to go beat up their ex’s.

    Maybe that’s why men want to be sure of the situation, before they go committing a felony.

  9. Something’s wrong with the timestamp on Exador’s computer. I fixed in in the comment, but Exador, you might want to check your clock.

  10. And I’ve had some personal growth, myself. Time was when I would have automatically assumed she’d been abused, and gone straight to the “should she have shot him?”

    I’ve had some new elements enter my life, and I now start with “She shot him in the back? With a shotgun? Accidentally??? Umm … what is the personal history? Any times she was seen in the too-heavy makeup, wearing the jaunty scarf in July, telling the doctor that she fell down the stairs?” And I factor in the fact that her nine-year-old daughter has apparently said no, none of that is true.

    I’m struggling, these days, to see both sides. Time was when I knew all about the guys who abused, and the women who supported them. My horizons have broadened to include the men I’ve seen abused, and the women they’ve continued to support, because they think they’re ding the right thing by staying.

    Now I try to see “Person A shot Person B in the back with a shotgun, ‘accidentally.'” Person A took the shotgun out of the closet after an argument about finances and shot him ‘accidentally.’ And I read that in the days before the shooting, Freeland said, banks called Mary Winkler to warn her that the Winkler account was $5,000 overdrawn. She handled the couple’s finances, and “they were in shambles,” the prosecutor said.

    Freeland said Mary Winkler was involved in a check-kiting scheme in which she cashed fraudulent checks mailed to her by con artists. Their scam involved having unwitting victims deposit the bad checks, then return some of the money to them.

    I struggle, these days, to not assume that one person is guilty, based on gender – especially if that person is dead, and unable to speak for himself.

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  12. And that would be “doing,” not “ding,” because when I type half the sentence moves under the section on the right of the blog and I can’t read it at all to check the spelling, which I so need to do.

  13. BellaDonna, I know that people lie. I really don’t know (not having followed the case that closely) what I think about the Winkler case. But I want to point out that the daughter’s response isn’t dispositive of the mother’s statements. I mean, I grew up with a constantly angry, occasionally violent father, and my mother and one of my sisters and I were usually terrified of him, but my youngest sister says that she never ‘noticed’ that anything was wrong until she was in high school, because she had a separate set of problems of her own to deal with. As I said above, sometimes people just don’t want to know about what’s happening. So, maybe the Winkler daughter didn’t notice anything because nothing was going on, and maybe she didn’t notice anything because it was to awful to acknowledge.

  14. Nine-year-olds are in school for 7 hours a day. Nine-year-olds sleep between 8 and 10 hours a day. Even setting aside the observation that nine-year-olds think and behave like nine-year-olds, there’s a lot of time that she would not be seeing anything amiss because she wouldn’t be there.

    It is also true that different siblings see things very differently. My brother is nearly 12 years older than me. During his time at home (the first 18 years of my parents’ marriage), my parents got along fairly well, went to church regularly, had a stable income, and so forth. After he left home, all hell broke loose — my father went through a prolonged mid-life crisis (adultery, alcoholism, domestic violence, job losses, faith crisis) which scarred both my mom and me in ways that mystify my brother. He didn’t want to see the problems (was busy raising his own family) and in retrospect, I’m not committed to filling him in on all the different ways that a man he loved and respected failed as a human being. So family life can not only be remembered differently but can in fact be experienced differently among children in the same household.

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  16. I know, nm (and I’m very sorry about your family situation). I know that children aren’t always observant – and that the observant ones aren’t always believed. I know that there is, in fact, a lot I don’t know (seems to increase every day, actually).

    It’s why, in the end, I go back to: Person A shot Person B in the back. “Accidentally.” After taking a shotgun out of a closet, after an argument about finances.

    It was easy, back in the day when a lot of men were just bastiches. I learned that women could be bastiches, too. I’m not happy about the gender parity. I think … I think I’m not happy about what I’ve learned about people. Sociopathy isn’t gender-driven; it’s just easier to beat up on someone if you’re bigger than they are, that’s all. And a shotgun is pretty big.

  17. Actually, the verdict was guilty for voluntary manslaughter, which (according to Diploma Boy, who is an attorney), means that it was deemed as not an accident. He also said that there is such a thing as “imperfect self-defense”, meaning the jury probably believed her that she “thought” she had good reason to kill him.

  18. Voluntary manslaughter indicates that the jury did not believe there was prior intent. In other words, they didn’t think that she planned out how to kill him and then cooly and deliberately did the deed. They think that she got the gun out because she intended to kill him, but that she did so out of a fear that incited a sudden passionate response — a “heat of the moment” killing.

  19. bridgett, it wasn’t a “heat of the moment” killing. He was laying in the bed asleep and she shot him in the back. I believe Diploma Boy has this right being “imperfect self-defense”.

  20. B, from time to time you like to give all us guys a pep talk and ask us why we don’t believe in ourselves more. Why we assume the default behavior for a man is bad. But then situations like this one or the Duke lacrosse team come along and every single woman automatically assumes the guy is the bad person. That’s why guys a lot of guys don’t have such a great view of themselves. That and the awareness of the t-shirts.

  21. (Raises hand) – um, W? If it’s not clear from my name, I’m a woman. And if it’s not clear from my post, that’s a big ol’ “I’m thinking maybe not” from me, on behalf of the minister (and men in general, by association).

    After I started having my consciousness raised in the other direction, I read The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout. It’s an excellent if dismaying book, and it belongs on everyone’s bookshelf next to The Gift of Fear. I’d say if you had room for only one book on that shelf, it should be Martha Stout’s.

    Condensed, it appears that sociopathy – incurable, from-birth sociopathy – is inherent in 4% of the population. Four percent of the entire population. That’s four people out of every hundred, one in every group of twenty-five, whether you’re in a kindergarten, a retirement home, a knitters’ group, a model train collectors’ get-together, or a meeting of N.O.W. The book identifies the different types – and no, they’re not all leaving bodies buried out in the woods; some of the types are very different indeed – and the behaviour by which you may recognize them and run. Or, if you can’t run, to at least be on guard to try to protect yourself.

    It’s a very sobering survival guide, and it explains a lot about why some people do the things they do.

  22. Yeah La BellaDonna, it’s clear you’re a woman. I was exagerating a bit. I apologize. But the point is… most people assume he abused her. And as B pointed out there are very good reasons to believe her claims. That’s what sometimes makes it hard to feel good about your fellow man.

  23. Well, but W … I’m married to a good man who doesn’t get angry and hit people. In fact, despite the example I got at home, I never even dated a single guy who would ever have hit me or anyone (unless attacked first). My experience is that most men, like most women, aren’t like that. If you good guys would step up and claim the mantle of manhood for yourselves (so to speak — I may have had too much gin) and not think in terms of ‘real men fight when they get mad’ it might shame some of the bad guys. Or at least it wouldn’t let them get away with pretending that what they’re doing is normal.

  24. nm, can you say more? As someone who (age 34) has never even been in a fight, I sit back in wonder at why anyone would be in a relationship with someone who would be violent. I hear you saying there is something I could do to help the situation. Can you give an example of “the stepping up and claiming the mantle” you are thinking of?

  25. You can disagree when you hear someone say that “a real man” confronts people with his fists up. You can complain (boycott, even?) when commercials indicate that “real guys” act like pigs (pigs with very small brains, in fact), or would if there weren’t women around to get offended. You can give counter-examples (by your actions or by saying “I’m not like that, and my friends aren’t, either”) when guys start talking about how cool it is to act like angry jerks; when you hear guys talking about women like objects, you can protest. And you can listen to what women consider abusive (or suggestive of abuse) and make sure that you don’t do those things accidentally. You don’t have to be a crusader about it (though I guess we can always use some of those). Every single action helps.

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