Article: Pamela Guerra
Image: Courtesy of Philly.com
In a public restroom at the New Haven train station, I once overheard a lady fixing her hair say to a friend who was washing her hands that women give too much of themselves to their husbands. As a young, recently married woman, I have too often received pieces of advice such as this. More often than not, these soapbox speeches head in the “men are from Mars, women are from Venus” direction, dispensing heteronormative, gender-binary affirming aphorisms that make my inner feminist puke a little. Even before hearing the rest of her argument, I began formulating my rebuttal. I wanted to get “I believe in the equality of the sexes, and I reject your gendered cultural stereotypes” all over her so-called advice.
As I am a rather shy and non-confrontational person, I kept my own soapbox speech to myself and continued to listen. What she said next surprised me. So much so that I awkwardly lingered in the bathroom stall to hear her entire spiel. She said, “A woman needs a place of her own. It can be her parent’s place, her sister’s, her brother’s, whatever. She needs somewhere to go if her husband decides to beat her. Somewhere safe he doesn’t know about so he can’t find her. Because if she decides to leave, he will hunt her down.”
I was immediately reminded of something my mother told me long before I was old enough to fully comprehend her words. She told me to be thankful for my father, since he was kind and provided for our family. But most importantly, she said I should be thankful because he doesn’t beat us. As I got older and began to have romantic relationships with men, I started to understand. More often than not, women are raised to fear men. I have not met a single woman who hasn’t been at least a little bit afraid of someone solely because he was a man. If such a woman exists, she must either live an extremely sheltered life or is lucky enough to be born into a society where women aren’t treated as the second sex.
When this whole business with the NFL and Ray Rice came about, my immediate thought was, “I am so lucky to have a husband who doesn’t abuse me physically, emotionally, or financially. I am so lucky he isn’t like that.” The more I considered this thought, however, the more problematic it became. I shouldn’t have to feel “lucky” that my husband treats me like a human being. This line of thinking assumes that husbands beating their wives is an unchangeable fact, and you are lucky if you don’t end up in such a situation. This doesn’t apply to just domestic abuse either. Women consider themselves “lucky” if they haven’t been sexually harassed or raped. Since violence against women is so common (approximately 1 in 6 American women have been the victims of attempted or completed rape), we as a society simply accept these things and focus our efforts on how to avoid ending up in these situations—rather than attempting to fix the root of the problem.