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And you don't have to, either.
Mother teaching daughter how to sit in yoga butterfly pose — depositphotos.com
"Did you ever notice it’s the short guys who hit?”
Michelle’s question came out of left field. My first thought was, What on earth makes you think I’d know?
“No, I’ve never been hit by a man,” I replied in a steady voice, otherwise hornswoggled. “I’ve dated plenty of short men, but none of them had Short Guy Disease.”
You know That Guy. The little man who struts around overcompensating for his perceived lack of manhood because he’s not towering over you like a cactus in the Arizona desert. Who’s more hypermasculine than Stallone and hits women because he thinks they’re secretly laughing at him. And because they’re weaker than he, and if he can’t get respect for his height, dammit, people and especially those bitches will respect his superior strength.
Not the kind of man I ever went out with.
Michelle believed this was normal, and part of every woman’s existence.
She didn’t know I’d made conscious choices my entire life, thanks to the greatest gift from my mother.
“Never put up with a man who hits you,” my mother instructed as soon as my hormones bubbled like shaken ginger ale. “If he hits you once, that’s it, he’s over. Don’t let him apologize and swear it’ll never happen again. He’ll give you gifts or take you out to dinner and tell you how much he loves you. He’ll shower you with crap and treat you great for a while, until you’re over it, and then it happens again. It ALWAYS happens again. ALWAYS.”
Mom was never abused.
Not by my grandfather, her first husband, or my father. Nor by any boyfriends. She never mentioned anyone she knew who was battered. Probably she didn’t know.
Good wives knew how to whip up a great cake for a neighborly kaffeeklatsch. The best ones knew precisely how much vodka to mix into the pitcher of screwdrivers. Image by Oberholster Venita from Pixabay
Mom taught me how boys and men manipulated women to get sex.
“He’ll say whatever he thinks will get you into bed,” she said. “He guilt-trips you. He’ll say if you really loved him you’d do this for him. If he really loves you he won’t push you to do anything you’re not ready for.
“Or he’ll claim he’s got ‘blue balls’ from sexual arousal. It’s a made-up condition. He’ll claim it hurts. He’ll say it’s your fault so you need to relieve it. I don’t know if it hurts if they get worked up but they can masturbate if it’s that bad. They don’t require you.
“He’ll tell you all the other girls are doing it. Don’t believe them! He’ll threaten to find a girl who will if you won’t. Let him go if he does. If all he cares about is himself he’s not good enough for you!”
Mom made it crystal-clear I had the power to say no to abuse, never to tolerate it.
In the 1970s ‘those damn women’s libbers’ as my feminist-in-denial mother always called them, had begun to focus attention on the problems of rape, sexual assault, and battering.
Mom was furious one night at dinner over a woman she’d seen on an afternoon talk show. “This dimbulb was married to this man who constantly beat her, and she put up with this for years, and you know what she did? She burnt him alive in his bed! She poured gasoline on him while he was sleeping and she set fire to him! How the hell can you do that to another human being, even if he was a monster? WHY THE HELL DIDN’T SHE LEAVE HIM?
“And you know what the audience did after she told this story? They APPLAUDED HER!” Mom finished, livid with rage.
The Burning Bed was published in 1980, the infancy of understanding the complex dynamics of abusive relationships. Fortunately, a seminal and better book was released the same year, The Battered Woman.
Mom’s frustration with women who stayed with abusers was rooted in a common ignorance of how different life was for women who often came from violent, dysfunctional homes as The Burning Bed’s Francine Hughes had. But her underlying belief in women’s personal power, at least early on, is a vision we need to embrace today.
Mom may have lacked compassion in an era with little common example or discussion about male abuse, but she recognized the personal power women possessed but didn’t use.
She challenged the prevailing wisdom and imparted it to her daughter, who never allowed a man to treat her badly either.
I got lucky in the birth lottery. Born middle-class with parents who cared deeply for my brother and I, we had our dysfunctions like every family, but we grew up without physical, sexual, or psychological abuse. Our parents made mistakes, some of which eat at me a bit even today, but I also keep it in perspective.
My cobwebbed complaints are definitely small potatoes compared to the stories I heard from other girls in high school and came to believe I was the only girl in town who wasn’t being visited at night by her father or some male relative.
I’ve spent a lifetime not being abused by men. I’ve been harassed, and subjected to misogyny and double standards and all the other female crap, but I’ve never been whacked around by a partner, never been seriously sexually assaulted, never dealt with any remarkable psychological or emotional abuse.
I’ve been manipulated, sure. I’ve given up my power many times and I’ve been pretty damn lucky when I’ve pulled some seriously dumb shit which could have ended badly and for which I’d have been partly responsible, for putting myself in danger.
I excuse no man for what he does to others, but I own my responsibility to myself.
Mom taught me never to tolerate misogyny. I identified on my own some of the toxic male subcultures where one must tread with great caution and to recognize key elements — degrading comments about women, severe homophobia, hypermasculinity — as red flags.
Mom, and the take-charge protect-yourself feminism of the times taught me how not to act like an easy target. I believe abusive men can detect a woman with a victim mentality, or who is compliant enough to put up with misogyny. I know women who are sexually assaulted have an increased likelihood of it happening again. I’m not sure why; no one else does either. It’s like predators can smell it on them.
I’m doing something right. And I’m not doing other things right. I’ve never been attracted to abusive men, nor do I fancy Danger Boys. I act like I don’t take any shit.
It’s like they can smell it on me.
I want to help other women see they don’t have to tolerate abuse. And men too; I have an ex-partner whose ex-wife used to hit him, and he didn’t hit back because ‘You don’t hit girls.’
It’s controversial to say women have a certain level of choice but I recognize many are blind to it, and it’s not their fault.
I want to open their eyes to their power, and break the toxic traumatic bonds with abuse.
I want every baby girl to grow up with my mother.
I want everyone to just say no to control, manipulation and abuse.
This first appeared on Medium in September 2020.