Benevolent Abuse

One of the most insidious aspects of abuse is manipulation through money and gift-giving. People often wonder how women are lured into abusive relationships and why they stay so long. Gifts and money play a huge part. Abusers often use physical things as substitutes for true emotion and genuine caring. They initially shower their partner with what seems to be generosity and adoration–buying dinner, flowers or going on trips. When the abuse starts to surface and they begin breaking their partner down, the gifts become intermittent and usually come with apologies for mistreatment.

Sometimes, an abuser will create dependency in the relationship by “helping” their partner to pay for life’s necessities. These “favors” come with no explicit price and may even be presented as gifts. “I just want to help out.” The abuser will not reveal their price until they need it. Even then, the price is often vague and only hinted at in terms of “showing gratitude.” Payment can be any amount and repayment can be drawn out for any amount of time, giving the abuser complete control.  Playing off of their victim’s sense of guilt and fairness is readily employed.

By “helping” and “gifting,” abusers gain the upper hand and keep their victims indebted to them. Victims are enslaved by guilt and fear and most of all–manipulation. In the abuser’s twisted mind, they might see themselves as benevolent benefactors, philanthropists even. And to the public, they seem generous and caring. Their partners carry the weight of their debt which only grows heavier when outsiders gush about how lucky they are to have such a generous partner. To contradict such comments is to appear ungrateful, greedy, or selfish.

A good example of this type of behavior can be seen in movies about organized crime. Mafia or gang bosses will give lavish gifts, loans, or “help” only to ask for a “favor” when the time comes. These favors usually involve some sort of moral compromise and might even cause injury or prove fatal. Whether it be organized crime, romantic relationships or family relationships–the tactics and the goals are the same.

Being subject to this type of abuse has deeply diminished my trust in others. It has also impacted my self-esteem in that it’s made me feel selfish and low–first for ever needing help, then for not showing my gratitude enough or in the right way. Most of all, it’s caused me to accept more abuse. When I’ve asked for kindness, respect or compassion, I hear, “After all I’ve done for you!..I’ve never heard a thank you…When is it ever enough for you?” Then, on top of feeling slighted, I also feel selfish and less-than.

I contemplated different ways to escape my last relationship. I attempted to run away only to be followed and brought back. I even managed to leave a couple of times, only to be lured back. One of the hardest parts about leaving is you have to have some place to go–not just physically, but in your heart. There has to be a piece of you that loves you more. Leaving almost killed me. And when I left, I thought I was done for good. I was taken in by another ex who wasn’t much better than the last. As we were packing my things, my roommate reminded me of all he’d done for me and how ungrateful I was. I wanted to hit him and spit in his face.

Tomorrow I will move to a new town an hour away. I have a new job and live ten minutes away from a good friend. My roommate previously told me I wouldn’t owe him anything once I’d left but later decided he would “appreciate it” if I’d pay him back. I thought about giving him some of my art (my most valued possessions) and telling him to sell them. I’ve also thought about just leaving him a bunch of bloody tampons or taking a crap on his doorstep.

 

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Update RE: Michigan State Correspondence

After receiving my last correspondence from Michigan State, I grappled with whether or not to pursue the issue. I gave myself a while to cool off and then sent this email:

I then received a reply that my email was forwarded to the Title IX Coordinator, Jessica Norris who subsequently emailed me an invitation to speak with her on the phone or meet in person. I’m puzzled as to why the correspondence cannot continue via email and reticent to speak with her on the phone. Any thoughts?
P.S. If you haven’t done so already, sign the petition to reopen the women’s lounge–it only needs 99 more signatures.

Reply from Michigan State RE: Closure of the Women’s Lounge

I was so incensed by the news that Michigan State’s women’s lounge was closing in favor of something more “inclusive” that I wrote the university’s president imploring her to re-open it. I kept it short and to-the-point:

This is the reply I received:
When I looked up Title IX, I was surprised (or not) to find that last year, the university was the subject of a Title IX civil lawsuit brought by four women citing the university’s mishandling of their sexual assault cases. This lawsuit followed U.S Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights findings that the university had mishandled several other sexual assault cases in previous years. Talk about adding insult to injury!
So, Michigan State was already subject to public censure for their mishandling of sexual assault cases, then decides it’s a good idea to get rid of the women’s lounge altogether??? Not only is this a slap-in-the-face to all the women who’ve been assaulted on the university’s campus, but seems to be an attempt to avoid further suit by giving the appearance of  “compliance” with Title IX.
Furthermore, the aforementioned U.S. Department of Education’s OCR findings stipulate:
Additionally, there was information in many of the other grievance files that OCR reviewed to support that the complainants were subjected to a sexually hostile environment and in some cases there was information to support that the University’s failure to respond appropriately might have led the complainant or others to continue to be subjected to a sexually hostile environment. Further, in two of the grievance files OCR reviewed, both of which involved complaints of sexual harassment filed against University employees, OCR determined that the files reflected flawed analysis. In these cases, the University’s own documentation strongly supported that a sexually hostile environment existed. In one of these cases, the University’s documentation supported that the University’s failure to respond adequately to initial complaints regarding an employee’s behavior, and the employee’s continued additional acts of harassment after the University failed to adequately address his behavior, led to a continuing hostile environment for a number of other employees. (emphasis mine)
The current call for closure of the women’s lounge was helmed by a university employee! Mark J. Perry, a self-proclaimed men’s rights activist, shirks responsibility for the closure but doesn’t exactly shy away from all the publicity it’s given him. He states numerous times on his blog that the university had already decided to abolish the women’s lounge when he cried “discrimination against men.” Please don’t visit his blog, it’s not worth it and it feeds into his narcissism.
Michigan State is only one of many universities around the country creating a safe space for rapists and abusers. If you need any convincing of the gravity of the situation, watch The Hunting Ground on Netflix. I can’t think straight enough to write anymore, I’m so angry. Use the information I’ve posted here. Write personal letters to the university. Post their responses publicly. Solidarity and strength, my sisters.

Preserve Women’s Spaces

I was just reading an article about how a self-proclaimed men’s rights activist got Michigan State to close their women-only lounge based on cries of “discrimination against men.” When you’re done hurling plates against the wall, sign this petition to reopen the lounge and provide a safe space for women.

https://www.change.org/p/president-simon-allowing-women-on-michigan-state-s-campus-to-have-a-safe-lounge-space-to-study

Please repost!

Also, feel free to write the university’s president Lou Anna K. Simon here: presmail@msu.edu

The Bazaar of Abuse

Mother Nature Network published an article addressing the most recent abuse of actor Leslie Jones on Twitter. Author Michael D’Estries outlines the ways in which the internet has turned into a place of “unruly and abusive” behavior. He points to the anonymity of internet forums as one of the reasons for this putrefaction but as we’ve all experienced, people intent on spreading their vitriol do not care if you know who they are or not. I’ve seen plenty of disgusting comments written by people using their full name and picture.

While I’m glad this tidal wave of misogyny and abuse is being publicized, it represents a mere snippet of what occurs every moment of every day online. In my comment on the article’s thread, I opined that the internet has become somewhat of a “bazaar of abuse.”

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We’ve got all different kinds! Take your pick!

People treat internet forums as their own personal diaries venting their frustrations, insecurities, and darkest wishes. While anonymity might be to blame for some of the abuse, a crowd mentality coupled with the lack of physical proximity makes a haven for the worst in all of us to be expressed. No doubt, the “progress” and convenience of technology is connected to a pervasive disconnect from each other, the environment, and ourselves. We have become islands, detached and unaccountable to anyone.

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illustration by Pawel Kuczynski

I don’t believe the human race has become more hateful, only less accountable, less connected. There is nothing to tie us to each other when we don’t even have to look one another in the eye to have a conversation. When we “communicate” solely through text that we type and don’t handwrite, we lose something of the personal. We miss our surroundings entirely because we’re glued to our phones and we take for granted the sacredness of every moment because we can simply record it and play it back later.

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None of us are immune to these influences and we all partake one way or another. When I feel brave, or exhausted, I won’t speak to someone unless they’re looking at me and not at their phone. I’m thankful for the moments I’ve been without that little ball-and-chain and I’ve experienced something that’s solely mine. I once saw an otter (an uncommon sight around here) swimming in our local canal. When I told my roommates about it later, they asked if I’d taken a picture and I told them no. The experience was mine and what I shared was my enthusiasm and wonder.

 

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artist unknown

If we want to curb the onslaught of internet abuse, we can start with ourselves. Abide by a personal code of conduct when you comment or respond to other’s comments. Limit yourself by committing to certain times of day and certain activities that are exclusive of your phone or perhaps require you to be away from it. Commit to a personal code of conduct in your personal life as well by turning off your phone when you’re with loved ones; maybe you even let the battery run down on purpose. Also, allow others to be accountable for their behavior. You do not have to carry on a conversation with someone who’s not looking at you.

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Illustration by Pawel Kuczynski

The world can feel like a dangerous place when we’re so disconnected but it certainly doesn’t have to stay that way. You don’t have to change everybody else, only yourself.

 

The Paradox of Codependency

Earlier today, I read an article entitled Overcoming Codependency:Breaking the Cycle of Unhealthy Relationships. In it, the author identifies her own codependency and outlines the defining traits for others. They are as follows:

  • Do you feel responsible for other people—their feelings, thoughts, actions, choices, wants, needs, well-being, and destiny?
  • Do you feel compelled to help people solve their problems or by trying to take care of their feelings?
  • Do you find it easier to feel and express anger about injustices done to others than about injustices done to you?
  • Do you feel safest and most comfortable when you are giving to others?
  • Do you feel insecure and guilty when someone gives to you?
  • Do you feel empty, bored, and worthless if you don’t have someone else to take care of, a problem to solve, or a crisis to deal with?
  • Are you often unable to stop talking, thinking, and worrying about other people and their problems?
  • Do you lose interest in your own life when you are in love?
  • Do you stay in relationships that don’t work and tolerate abuse in order to keep people loving you?
  • Do you leave bad relationships only to form new ones that don’t work, either?

This might as well be a checklist for the socialization of all women. We are bred to embody these behaviors and attitudes. It should come as no surprise then that many women immediately accept the codependency label and some even start attending 12-step meetings to address their “disease.” I urge anyone considering this to think again.

Codependency is just one of the myriad pathologies applied disproportionately to women in our society. Like hysteria before it, codependency has as its defining characteristics, traits socialized into women from birth. Indeed, what everyday misogynist wouldn’t want a partner who lives to cater to his every whim, who’s defined solely by her ability to make him happy? This is exactly what we teach young girls and women and what do we do when they become unhappy as a result? We tell them there’s something wrong with them. This, my friends, is utter nonsense.

Unfortunately, the same socialization that leads to “codependency” diagnoses also makes us much more likely to accept such a label. As I mentioned in my previous post, doctors are also more likely to pathologize women and prescribe them medication. Well, let me tell you something, and you may not like this: there’s nothing wrong with you.

You’ve been socialized to be this way in order to keep you a second-class citizen. Accepting pathologizing labels will not liberate you, rejection of these labels and the system that spawned them will. You might be less popular with the fellas so by all means, if that’s important to you, go to a 12-step meeting and admit you’re powerless over your “disease.” If, however, you’re ready to free yourself from the shackles of the patriarchy, you can tell the other CoDA members to shove it. Anybody who tries to convince you that there’s something wrong with you for behaving exactly as you were taught can shove it too. They’re profiting from your acceptance of pathology and they are not your friend.

 

 

Gender and Mental Health

Despite the degendering of America, biological gender continues to be an important factor in women’s psychological well-being. This data is taken from the World Health Organization’s report Gender and women’s mental health. The organization reports that:

Gender determines the differential power and control men and women have over the socioeconomic determinants of their mental health and lives, their social position, status and treatment in society and their susceptibility and exposure to specific mental health risks.

Unipolar depression, predicted to be the second leading cause of global disability burden by 2020, is twice as common in women.

Disability leads to increased absenteeism from work and loss of wages which drives many women into poverty and homelessness. This, in turn, further degrades women’s mental health and compounds the difficulties of escaping poverty.

Gender specific risk factors for common mental disorders that disproportionately affect women include gender based violence, socioeconomic disadvantage, low income and income inequality, low or subordinate social status and rank and unremitting responsibility for the care of others.

These facts are based on biological sex and do not cease to be true when gender is redefined.

The high prevalence of sexual violence to which women are exposed and the correspondingly high rate of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) following such violence, renders women the largest single group of people affected by this disorder.

This statistic is highly underpublicized. Combat veterans are framed as the primary sufferers of PTSD and they are still predominantly viewed as male.

Gender bias occurs in the treatment of psychological disorders. Doctors are more likely to diagnose depression in women compared with men, even when they have similar scores on standardized measures of depression or present with identical symptoms.

During two hospitalizations, I was unable to convince my doctors I was suffering from PTSD. I was diagnosed with depression and prescribed medication.

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Female gender is a significant predictor of being prescribed mood altering psychotropic drugs.

Gender stereotypes regarding proneness to emotional problems in women and alcohol problems in men, appear to reinforce social stigma and constrain help seeking along stereotypical lines. They are a barrier to the accurate identification and treatment of psychological disorder.

I was deemed too “emotionally fragile” to leave the hospital after my 72-hour-hold was up and was not given access to a patient advocate until shortly before my release. I was not accurately diagnosed for months to come. Needless to say, I lost much of my faith in doctors and the mental health profession.

Violence related mental health problems are also poorly identified. Women are reluctant to disclose a history of violent victimization unless physicians ask about it directly.

It’s easier and preferable for many victims of abuse to conceal what’s happening. When doctors asked me if my partner ever hurt me, I rationalized that the truth was “no” because they were asking about physical violence. No matter that he had a self-confessed history of driving his partners to suicide. If my doctors had asked, “Have you ever felt frightened of your partner?” I might have said “yes.” 

Research shows that there are 3 main factors which are highly protective against the development of mental problems especially depression. These are:

  • having sufficient autonomy to exercise some control in response to severe events.
  • access to some material resources that allow the possibility of making choices in the face of severe events.
  • psychological support from family, friends, or health providers is powerfully protective.

These protective factors are in direct opposition to the most significant challenges women face. As second-class citizens, we still encounter immense barriers to autonomy, not the least of which are birth control and the right to terminate a pregnancy. We are still paid less for the same work as our male counterparts and represent the bulk of people living in poverty. We also continue to be consistently undermined, neglected, ignored and degraded throughout our lifetimes, causing significant economic, emotional, and psychological distress.

The degendering of America will not solve these problems, only make them harder to pin down and describe. Men who identify as women are still biologically men and do not figure into statistics representing females. Sex is integral to the discussion of oppression. Female oppression does not cease to exist when we identify as gender-neutral, non-binary, or gender-queer. Despite the recent “availability” of more genders, women will continue to be oppressed for being women.

“No” as a Feminist Act

As women, we’re bred to say “yes.” We’re given the subtle message that “no” is unacceptable. We’re expected to accept the unacceptable. We’re expected to accept everyone and everything, into our hearts and our bodies. When we venture a “no” we’re met with ire, withdrawal of love and approval. We become like sponges, ever-expanding receptacles–drawers, waste baskets, toilets.

Saying “no” becomes an act of subversion, defiance, disrespect, and disobedience. It also becomes vital to our survival. Exercising disagreement and dissent are marks of our personhood. Objects are receptacles, people have wants, needs, and desires. We also have standards, things which we do not desire; our objections are heard and respected. We do not have to explain, reconsider, or “listen.”

I’m very much in favor of incorporating feminism into every aspect of our lives. Respecting ourselves enough to acknowledge our limits is one way we can do this. Exercising choice and respecting the choices of others is a powerful way to assert one’s personhood. It reminds others that we are human, we are to be taken seriously and we are deserving of respect.

Hi, Mike. I’m not a prostitute.