"Maybe you are grieving the loss of someone or something this week. In so many ways, we all carry both sorrow + joy, often at the same time. As we move into this week of Christmas, I pray we resist the temptation to dissect the mystery of our neighbor and instead practice a holy curiosity for the experience of others." -Emily Freeman
For many reasons, I find it difficult to write this. There has been so much to write about my journey, and the things I've learned, and sometimes this learning continues way too quickly. Lately, I've had another wave of feminist awakening. Not since I read "The Alphabet Versus the Goddess" have I had such a strong reaction and arousal of anger at the condition of women.
I give credit to my Gender and Communication class. The textbook is outlining how language and social constructs affect the position of women. This fits right in to what I've learned with regard to abuse and abusive attitudes towards women. I think once anyone truly learns about how women are still not equal, one cannot help but become a feminist, which, in my opinion, is really a human rights stance and means you oppose discrimination of any kind.
I am always amazed at how cruel some people can be during a divorce situation. From my first divorce, I learned that the suffering situations of other people bring out all the well-meaning, good-intentioned, but often judgmental and overly biased opinions of others. These expressions can be very hurtful, and neutrality brings more harm than good. It's human nature to take a side. As a culture, we love performances. We routinely reward, collectively, people who perform Male Whiteness. We love it when people perform Religion, and Family, and Morality, and Politics. Knowing that a person has another side doesn't quite make sense to us. It causes us to challenge our tendency to put people on pedestals or label them as "good" or "bad". When people are so inherently divided, when they perform "righteousness" on the surface but behind the scenes are acting out "lying", "immorality", and "deceit", we must make a choice about that person, for there is not one person, but two very distinctly different personalities being shown. The show, of course, depends on the audience.
Einstein and Gandhi come to mind. These were great men, who by all accounts, had beautiful, spiritual things to say, and who effected great changes in the world. There is no doubt that they had a heart and a destiny. But Einstein had no heart for his wives. He was terrible at nurturing a marriage relationship, and even gave his first wife a cruel list of requirements for being with him. By today's standards, he was emotionally abusive. How could such a great man, who seemed to have such compassion and wisdom, also be abusive? The same with Gandhi. Perhaps his alienation from his family was based in cultural and spiritual paradigms, but nevertheless, he alienated his family and his sons suffered greatly in their lives.
In this day and age, with so much of the world seemingly falling apart, and so many hateful groups and countries and people proliferating, it is important that we start, on a grassroots level, to think. When we vote, we must think. What is the character of the person who we are voting for? Do his /her actions and words match up?
When we hear a friend's divorce story, we must think. Is he really a victim? Do his words and actions match up? Is he saying he wishes no ill will while inflicting a court battle? Is he saying she is a good parent while withholding the children? Is he saying he cannot pay child support when he is hiding resources?
I have put together a list of some of the things I see bystanders say in a nasty divorce situation, with an emphasis on empowering women who have experienced any kind of abuse, and encouraging empathy.
1. She did things too.
Yes, anyone who is in an intimate relationship will "do things". An abused woman starts to become extreme in her reactions due to the abuse.But she is only responsible for the things she did, not for any established pattern of abusive attitudes and behaviors. People get the two confused. Any issues after a divorce: financial, parenting, communication, CANNOT be solved until abusive attitudes are addressed. I am quite certain she TRIED to use all the communication exercises, to cajole, to compromise, to defer, to let go, to stand up for herself...she tried using both sides of the double standards for women's behavior. It didn't work. There is nothing SHE can do by way of adjusting HER behavior to effect a change in HIM. That is just another way to help HIM avoid responsibility for his actions, and get away from his goal of power-over.
2. But he is so calm and nice, and she is so emotional. He must be right when he says she is crazy.
Congratulations! You've been duped. It's an ancient story: calm, controlled abuser looks better than freaking out, protesting woman. You are believing the side of him that is calm and controlled and cannot imagine that he can be abusive so her reaction looks out of proportion.
If she has been abused, especially emotionally, she is going to look "crazy" since a hallmark of emotional abuse is an abuser doing just what you are buying into:"looking good while doing bad. Similarly, a woman can do everything she is supposed to do but make no mistake: a person she loved has declared war on her and made her into an enemy when she did nothing to deserve that designation. She is allowed to be angry about it. It's immoral, unfair, abnormal, and supremely ridiculous for him to launch attacks then blame her.
3. She should build him up to the kids.
No, she should heal her wounds, be authentic to herself, and model for her children how a strong woman stands up for herself and does not allow abuse. Their father is not going to provide an example of how to respect a human being, ESPECIALLY if that human being is their mother, so she has to do it for herself and her kids. Dishonesty is never a good thing to teach children. HE should be addressing his issues and stop attacking the mother of his children. HE should stop modeling "looking good while doing bad". HE should figure out why he has an overblown need to make an enemy of his ex-wife. HE should stop modeling a double standard:" it's ok if I hate and bully my ex-wife, but if she says anything about it, she is being cruel to me." That makes no sense whatsoever and it is a terrible thing for a father to model to the kids. HE should step up to the plate and be the kind of father who respects the mother of his own children.
If she can't honestly say he is a good father, that is not the same as overtly telling the kids he is a bad father. She simply has to say nothing and just validate her children in ALL their experiences with their father, teach them how to stand up for themselves, appreciate the good things he does, and teach them how to set good boundaries.
4. Oh, it's both their faults. They both have their issues.
Everywhere else in the world, someone is at fault and has to be accountable. But people want to remain neutral in a divorce so they say things like this. EVERYONE on this planet has issues, but that does not excuse abusive behavior. Abuse is never the fault of its recipient. Again, no issues can be resolved until the coercive control problem is addressed, and honestly, it takes a REALLY special, courageous man to admit his issues and work on them. Most of the time, you have to give up on these men because they will not and cannot change. It's deeply disappointing.
5. The courts would protect a woman. People don't get their kids taken away if they are good mothers, and courts don't give that much custody to emotional/financial/physical abusers.
Family court is not a perfect system. It is true that sometimes justice is done, but often, it is not. In family court, lies are not cross-checked, and often the sympathies and biases of the judge directs the verdict. There are many stories in the news nationwide of children being given to abusers and pornographers and child molesters simply because the woman opened her mouth to protest. People who work in family court say how stressful it is and how hard it is to make these decisions.
Hopefully in our lifetime we will see family courts that are trauma-informed, educated about abuse and personality disorders, and intolerant of financial and emotional abuse.
As the mother of daughters, I am passionate about teaching them how to be a strong woman. But we live in a world where sometimes, it is dangerous for a woman to speak up about abuse and injustice. women are more readily accepted if they perform Male Whiteness (see Hillary).
6. But he complains of how SHE is victimizing him.
This is called "manipulation" and this is where it helps to think it through. Don't fall for bullshit. The man whose parents bail him out of every financial situation, leaving him with the knowledge that no matter what, he does not have to be accountable, who uses family resources to pay for expensive court, stops working to avoid child support, and uses the kids to manipulate perceptions of him and to get to his ex-wife is not being a good father. He will pay for court but not tuition. He will take credit for the accomplishments of his children but not contribute to their success unless it is something he agrees with. If he plays on stereotypes of women as crazy, and twists his choices to appear as if he was the victim, he is going to get your support. Make no mistake, you are then being played. Don't allow yourself to be played. Listen to her side of the story so you can make an honest decision about where you stand. But don't be blindly loyal to dysfunction and inadvertently participate in his abusive attitudes.
7. He still loves her and that is why he is so angry.
No, he is angry because he has a continuing abusive anger problem, not a continuing love problem. Normal people do not keep going with their anger and scapegoating behaviors for years. He invests in anger and subversive attacks because he chooses to, out of a deep and overblown sense of entitlement. Chances are, anger is the only emotion he knows.
8. He's wounded, that is why he is angry. Hurt people hurt people.
This may or may not be true, but it still does not excuse his behavior. It would be like cleaning up after an alcoholic so they never have to face their problem. Everyone has choices about their behavior, and abusers choose to abuse. If he is wounded, then why doesn't he get help and stop hurting others out of his wounds?
Give the gift of compassion this year. Ask yourself if you are inadvertently supporting an abuser, no matter how credible he sounds. Let a woman who has been vocal about her abuse know that you stand with her against his abuse and all acts of cruelty towards another. Ask her what she needs. Listen to her story for the hundredth time. Give the woman (or man) a huge hug for all she has been through!Blaming a victim of abuse, neutrality, and outright supporting an abuser is abuse in and of itself. Bystanders have the potential to do great harm or effect positive change.