This is a letter to the editor of my local paper that wasn’t published. Slightly modified to be more global.
“Hurry up, you fat f***ing bitch,” said the young man. His companion mewed obediently and walked faster. Another woman in a trendy outfit said nothing. We were strangers walking along a sidewalk and I didn’t confront the guy then, but if I fail to say something to a wider audience now, it would border on complicity. Stop the silence to end the violence, right?
First, she wasn’t fat. But all mean kids and abusers know that the easiest way to hurt a young woman’s self-esteem is to attack her body image, especially with that cruel three-letter “f” word. It’s verbal abuse in our thin-obsessed culture. The other two words he called her are just more obviously abusive.
Verbal abuse is just as damaging as physical or sexual violence–the American Psychological Association classifies all three as wartime torture methods. In their daily wars women come to view themselves as worthless and powerless and internalize the loathing. They may develop serious medical problems like depression, anorexia/bulimia, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, substance abuse and more, all while afraid to leave the abuser. A woman is ten times more likely to be murdered by her abuser in the six months after she leaves him. Those threats are dead serious, and they’re a means of control that answer the common and naïve question, “Why doesn’t she just leave him?”
Transition shelters like the one in my community are vital. They provide physical security and protection, help to see and break cycles of abuse, referrals to counselling and services, and best of all, they offer true caring. It takes time to heal but it starts with a first step and a shelter may be the only one to take.
Female murder victims are most often killed by their male partners whether or not they try to leave, including acts of murder-suicide in which children are killed too. Even if kids aren’t killed or abused, seeing abuse in the home is deeply traumatizing.
So, Mr. Sidewalk, maybe you had an upbringing like that if the only way you know how to prop up your ego is by abusing/controlling people with less physical and societal power. I hope you’ll seek out psychotherapy to heal. I don’t hate you but I do hate your actions and they’re unacceptable in our community.
But, Ms. Abused, it’s you I’m most worried about. Please call the [local shelter’s hotline] to talk about moving forward into mental health and away from its corrosion. You DO deserve better. Each human has inherent worth and nobody is entitled to damage it. Just call; hotline staffers begin with where you’re at, and won’t judge or pressure you.
And, Ms. Silent Friend, I hope you will be there when she needs support. Just be a good friend and listen. Tell her why you think she’s great and why the abuse is not okay. Laugh, smile and have healthy fun together. Women need to help other women, for if not who else will?
Stop the silence, end the violence.
On December 6, 1989 a gunman went on a shooting spree in a university to kill female engineering students explicitly because he hated feminists. 14 women died in what’s known as the Montreal Massacre. In Canada this date is the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women, but Canada’s issues are not unique. UNIFEM.org does great work around global ills like rape, “honour” killings, forced female circumcision, human trafficking and more. If you have a little more time, watch a terrific video that debunks myths and explains what’s actually involved in the psychology of domestic violence.