Take that patronizing pat and stuff it
While I yell from the rooftops: October is Domestic Violence Awareness MonthBy Kit-Bacon Gressitt
I annoyed a man at dinner recently. It’s happened before. I’m pretty good at it. But this time I didn’t do that female thing, that doubt-y obsequious internal questioning thing—Oh gosh, was I being mean? It's that thing we do because men’s egos are purportedly more fragile than ours, and it’s woman’s job to shore up man. Just sit there and engage in some clever repartee, not too flirty. Look pretty. Be nice. And for the great-white-heterosexual-male god’s sake, don’t challenge him!
Kind of like Donald Trump’s female entourage, although I certainly hope at least one of them is giving him hell behind the debate scenes.
But, nope, at the dinner there was none of that nice placating stuff: I knew I was right. Indeed, equating domestic violence victims who resist their abusers’ arrests to relationships in the Middle East is a false equivalence—as in bogus. So, between gags, I reported that his fallacy was making me choke on my Scottish salmon. That annoyed him, and he expressed his annoyance with a little patronizing pat. Now, now, no need for hysteria, my dear.
It’s been many moons since my sense of self could be diminished by such gestures, but that pat did get me a-thinking.
Like countless women, I’ve survived violence, physical and sexual. I figure that makes me a wee bit of an expert on the topic, and I’ve shared my knowledge in various advocacy venues.
But I’ve neglected my social circle, akin, perhaps, to the shoeless cobbler’s child. And simply spending time with someone does not imbue you with her experience and resultant wisdom by osmosis. If it did, I can think of some stellar folks, dead and alive, I’d like to sit next to at dinner. Hillary Clinton would be cool. Carson McCullers. Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Maya Angelou. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Katharine Hepburn. Laura Esquival. …
Anyway, I suppose I’ve slacked off the advocate role in more intimate settings, and clearly I shouldn’t have.
So I wonder what I could tell the dinner party about violence against women—what I could tell all the uninitiated in my little universe—that might prove enlightening.
Welp, I could tell them that not all domestic violence victims resist their abusers’ arrests, that many of them beg for an arrest that’s not forthcoming, because pervasive misogyny suggests she asked for it, she’s lying, she deserves it; because being terrorized by a partner doesn’t always leave bruises or blood.
I could tell them that some victims are murdered because no arrests were made until it was too late, because restraining orders were not enforced, because the campaign to control one’s partner too often turns fatal.*
I could tell them that some victims do not want their abusers’ arrested, because they’re deathly afraid of the repercussions when the abuser is released, because they fear the economic results of lost wages, because they don’t trust the police, because they lack any social support due to abuser-enforced isolation, because they’ve succumbed to the battering belief that they’ve caused their abuse.
I could tell them that to a survivor of sexual assault, rape is almost never a sound basis for comedy, even for a feminist comic—although I’m fond of the Ten Rape Prevention Tips Sarah Silverman tweeted last year, but even she now spurns her joke about being raped by a doctor.
I could tell them that using “rape” irreverently or blithely reduces the word’s significance and hence its victims, that it is best reserved for references to Nanking or criminal charges or prevention strategies or classical art or for gifted poets.
I could tell them that grabbing a woman's genitalia or forcing your tongue in her mouth is not fodder for locker room banter or manly or funny, that it’s unlawful—which begs the question, why hasn’t Donald Trump been hauled into court?
Most important, though, I must remind myself that when friends and family speak ignorantly about violence against women, I have to speak up because violence thrives when we remain silent—and I have to duck faster when those patronizing pats come my way.
* In the United States, one woman is fatally shot by a spouse, ex-spouse or dating partner every 14 hours.
October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Learn more here.
................................................. About Kit-Bacon Gressitt
Spawned by a Southern Baptist creationist and a liberal social worker, K-B inherited the requisite sense of humor to survive family dinner-table debates and the imagination to avoid them. She has an MFA in Creative Writing, with an emphasis on narrative nonfiction, and has taught Women’s Studies in the Cal State University system. Her political fiction, creative nonfiction and poetry have been published by The Missing Slate, Trivia: Feminist Voices, Ms. Magazine blog, San Diego Poetry Annual, New Moon Girl Media, San Diego Uptown News, San Diego Gay and Lesbian News, American University’s iVory Towerz, San Diego Free Press, Chiron Review, and others, including on her website www.ExcuseMeImWriting.com.