The Ray Rice “story” and (thanks in part to the NFL’s clumsy, clueless handling of its role) the media’scontinued coverage of it is strange in a “wow” kind of way: people are talking about a sometimes taboo subject that I raise whenever I can.
Sometimes talk is only gossip, or herd mentality, or meaningless Facebook likes and shares and Twitter hashtag frenzy.
But talk where there used to be silence can lead to real change: according to Mary Riedel, President and CEO of Women in Distress, “In the week following the release of the video showing Ray Rice striking his then-fiancee Janay Palmer, calls to the Women in Distress 24-hour crisis line increased by 60%.” 60%!
Maybe some of the #whyIstayed reasons are shifted by the national conversation. Maybe women are calling crisis lines because they are reassured that the abuse they’re experiencing is not okay. Or that they will be believed. Maybe their friends and family are more supportive after seeing the video.
Let’s keep talking about this long after the gossip machine moves on. October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. We have a perfect opportunity for more awareness, more help, and less abuse.
I’m not an NFL wife, but from 1999-2007, I was abused by my husband, a charismatic man with a lot of friends who bordered on fans. Today is the seventh anniversary of my divorce.
I totally understand that the last thing you want right now is to be the centerpiece of a national conversation about domestic violence. The first thing you want, if you’re like me, and maybe you still believe that you can have it, is a happy marriage that matches the image you’ve worked so hard to portray, the image in your most deeply heartfelt hopes and dreams for yourself, your husband, your child, and your life.
I don’t know all the reasons you’ve stayed, but I stayed because I wanted that happy marriage, too. Here are some of the other reasons #why I stayed:
I believed him when he told me I was responsible for the way he treated me. If only I would be quiet ….
I believed him when he told me I wasn’t sexy, had no real friends, and was at my core a worthless person.
I kept what was happening so secret, so well, that I couldn’t imagine telling the truth.
I didn’t think anyone would believe that my funny, generous, church-going husband was abusive.
I loved him.
I thought I could help him be a better man.
I was too proud to admit that I couldn’t stop him from abusing me.
I didn’t want to get divorced.
I was listening to my biological clock and wanted to have a baby.
I didn’t want to leave my dogs with him.
I really, truly believed, right up until I didn’t believe anymore, that he was telling me the truth when he promised to change.
I’m sorry, Janay Palmer Rice, that the elevator tape wound up on TMZ. I’m sorry that you’re going through this. I hope you’re safe. I hope that when you’re ready, and only you can say when, you’ll write a list of #why I left.
When I read Dylan Farrow’s letter, I was sure that she was telling the truth. I’ve heard enough victims of child sexual abuse write about the pain of their experience and the aftermath on IRL that I am familiar with survivors’ shame, reticence, and knowledge that a shitstorm of judgment is likely coming their way from both people in their inner circles and people they’ve never met.
I am strongly biased in favor of anyone brave enough to come forward with her or his story.
And then a friend told me that her husband has been accused of abuse by a young child. I know enough about the logistics of their situation (who is alone with the child and when, how visits are conducted, that sort of thing), that I don’t believe that he could have abused the child.
Maybe someone actually abused her; maybe someone abused her by coaching her into a story that’s not true. I don’t know. I know that she was never alone with him, especially in the ways that she suggests in her story.
In this situation, I am not relying on what I believe about the man’s character or the child’s likely truthtelling. I know that people are not always what they seem.
Now the investigation continues, and I hope that the truth will come out and the child will move on in safety.
But my automatic bias in favor of the accuser is shaken. I can see at least the possibility of another side. That’s probably a good thing.
I repeat the mantra “lifeisshort lifeisshort lifeisshort.” Sometimes I add “getbusy hurryup domore lifeisshort ticktock.” I check an online calculator again—254 days until my 50th birthday.
Lifeisshort, I chant as I rush from my office to the Women of Tomorrow event before heading back to the office again. I talk with a group of high school girls about dating violence. I want to make a difference in their lives. Lifeisshort lifeisshort.
I tell my story of being in an abusive relationship, and the girls share theirs. One girl feels pressure to continue her relationship with her controlling boyfriend, and one of the other women in the room says, “Girls, you can take your time to find the right relationship, the right career, the right life. It may not seem like it now, but life is long.”
“Life is long”? Hmmm. Maybe for 16-year-olds. I am nearly 50.
Two days later, I sit at my dining room table, coffee within easy reach, Sunday’s New York Times spread out in front of me. Frank Bruni’s op-ed about maturity and Peyton Manning, the Denver Broncos’ 37-year-old quarterback, is a celebration of experience: “With a bit of age has come a better grip on the fact that a game, like a life, is long. Stay calm. Hang in. Wait for the inevitable break. Trust your training.”
Now we know that the inevitable break never came for Manning on Sunday night, but I remember Bruni’s column. “A game, like a life, is long.”
I google “Frank Bruni age” and smile. Of course. He’s 49 and he’ll turn 50 fourteen days after I do. 268 to go, Frank. Do you really think lifeislong?
The next day I read, as I do most days, Andrew Sullivan’s Dish blog, which linked to a story about Janet Yellen, who, at 67, has just become the Chairwoman? Chairman? Chair? of the Federal Reserve. “Life is long,” says the article, which continues, “It’s a liberating notion, really, to think that you don’t have to accomplish everything in your life – or ‘have it all’ – simultaneously; that leaning back during one life stage doesn’t preclude leaning in later.”
I haven’t had it all, at least not in any conventional sense or in any conventional order, but I notice that phrase again. Lifeislong. And Janet Yellen, at the top of her game, the beginning of the peak of her professional life, at 67, inspires.
Okay, if Anyone is coordinating this onslaught of “lifeislong,” I’m listening. I’m thinking.
But maybe this is mere coincidence; maybe everyone is saying “lifeislong” now and I’m just noticing. Is this the new YouOnlyLiveOnce?
I google again. The search leads me not to urbandictionary.com but to this quote from a Chris Rock movie, I Think I Love My Wife: “You know, some people say life is short and that you could get hit by a bus at any moment and that you have to live each day like it’s your last. Bullshit. Life is long. You’re probably not gonna get hit by a bus. And you’re gonna have to live with the choices you make for the next fifty years.”
And then I click on stanza V of T. S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men”:
Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow
Life is very long
Between the desire
And the spasm
Between the potency
And the existence
Between the essence
And the descent
Falls the Shadow
So. A woman advises girls. A man praises Manning’s long game. Janet Yellen has it all, in her own time. Chris Rock calls “bullshit.” I shake my head at the beauty of Eliot’s words. I pay attention.
Lifeislong invites exploration, slowing down, mixing in at least a little rest and reflection with the urgent drumbeat of “getbusy hurryup domore lifeisshort ticktock.”
Over the next 254 days, I’ll write a series of 50 posts. 50 posts before 50. They’ll be less “lifeisshort” bucket list and more “lifeislong” what’s next?
I hope to have some guest posts, too, maybe even 50 of them, from women who have already looked 50 in the eye, as well as women who still look forward to it 500, 1000, 2000 or more days from now.
Is life short or long? I don’t know yet. I hope to have a better idea by my birthday.
Things get weird pretty quickly when your search term on a stock photo site is “feminist.” Women with ropes, women with boxing gloves, women with their stiletto’d feet on the throats of men. Try it and see. Here’s a strange one. What does it mean?
To me the word has meant something simple and basic: pro woman. Women can or cannot be feminists. Men have the same options.
I am a feminist; I happily take the label.
When the pop singer Katy Perry said last year that she wasn’t a feminist, she elicited reactions ranging from “Katy Perry is an idiot” to “maybe if feminists didn’t think Katy Perry was an idiot she would be more likely to identify as one.”
I rely on the recommendations of Mr. Z (who calls himself a feminist, by the way) to read a tiny fraction of the articles in the issues of The New Yorker that pile up on the coffee table. A couple of days ago, he suggested that I read an article by Susan Faludi about Shulamith Firestone. I recommend that you read it, too.
Firestone’s name is familiar to me, but by the time I was reading feminist theory in the 1990s, she and other “second-wave” feminists (Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, Kate Millett, for example), no matter how influential, were already sort of “vintage.” I didn’t know her ideas and I didn’t know her story.
Firestone’s ideas are still radical and fresh and needed forty years after she first wrote them.
Firestone’s story is tragic and compelling and all too familiar.
If more women and men knew about the feminists on whose shoulders we climb, would more people be honored and humbled to share their label, identify as members of their tribe?
This morning I happened to be reading Deborah Tannen’s Talking from 9 to 5, the chapter on women bosses.
Tannen critiques a Newsweek review of Margaret Thatcher’s memoir for its handbag image: “The image of Thatcher ‘clobbering them with her metaphorical handbag’ undercuts the force of her actions, even as it gives her credit for attacking her opponents. A woman clobbering men with her handbag is an object of laughter, not fear or admiration.”
Thatcher died today, and this afternoon’s New York Times article about her life references the handbag metaphor, too: “Brisk and argumentative, she was rarely willing to concede a point and loath to compromise. Colleagues who disagreed with her were often deluged in a sea of facts, or what many referred to as being ‘handbagged.'”
Regardless of any reservations I might have about Thatcher’s policies, and these are subject to revision based on this piece by Andrew Sullivan, I have to admit that I admire her force, her commitment, her political will. I think for a moment that I wouldn’t mind having it said about me that I “handbagged” someone. I like a good handbag as much as anyone, and I have been known to resist conceding when my convictions are at stake.
But I’m thinking again. In between this morning’s coincidental reading of Tannen on handbagging and this afternoon’s reading of the Times on Thatcher, I had an intense conversation with a man about another man’s use of the word “rape” to suggest “plunder” in casual conversation. I believe with Tannen that words matter, and that “rape” is a very specific kind of sexualized violence and a word that should not be used lightly. The man I was talking with invoked dictionary definitions and said that I have a chip on my shoulder.
He’s right: I do have a chip on my shoulder about rape.
The law was first passed in 1994, and reauthorized without incident in 2000 and 2005. It worked. More women had access to more protection from violence and abuse.
When it was time to reauthorize VAWA in 2011, additional provisions were added to offer protection to groups who need it–LGBT people, Native Americans, and immigrants. All of these groups experience intimate traumas at equal or greater rates than the rest of the population. That’s when the trouble began. The law has become stuck in the mire of partisanship.
Even as I cheered the bill’s passage in the Senate on Tuesday, I fumed.
Do the 22 male senators who voted against it have no sisters, daughters, or mothers? Is protecting states’ rights to allocate funding and the rights of American-citizen men who commit rape or battering or sexual abuse on tribal lands more important than protecting the women who are or would be the victims of violent intimate crimes?
And I was frustrated with myself for my own supposed politeness and my unwillingness to write here about politics.
I went to the gym, and read the quote at the bottom of the white board:
I am angry enough to leave my polite no-overt-political-talk comfort zone.
Angry at the 22 Republican men of the Senate, including Florida’s Marco Rubio, who voted no. Angry at the news media that was too obsessed with a manhunt in California to give this issue any real coverage. Angry at the House which hasn’t even scheduled a vote.
Angry that one in three women on the planet will experience violence–sexual abuse, rape, domestic violence–in her lifetime.
This morning when I heard the news of the Aurora shooting. I immediately thought of Jeanne, whose son lives in Denver, and who wrote a beautiful post today that weaves a whirlwind of reactions into a reminder to love each other.
I keep thinking about the story of one of the people who was killed. Jessica Ghawi was in Toronto just last month at the Eaton Center, where another shooting took place. She blogged about her experience here.
I say all the time that every moment we have to live our life is a blessing. So often I have found myself taking it for granted. Every hug from a family member. Every laugh we share with friends. Even the times of solitude are all blessings. Every second of every day is a gift. After Saturday evening, I know I truly understand how blessed I am for each second I am given.
I hope she lived the past 45 days with those words in mind. I hope all of us can live with those words in mind.
In Walden, Thoreau wrote, “All poets and heroes, like Memnon, are the children of Aurora, and emit their music at sunrise. To him whose elastic and vigorous thought keeps pace with the sun, the day is a perpetual morning.”