"Would you like to meet God," he asked me. Before I could say anything, there was a switchblade against my throat. This did not happen to me in a dark alley in some sleazy neighborhood. This was not some stranger. This man was a PhD candidate, and we were standing in the English Department Chair's backyard attending his annual pig roast. Thankfully this man's good friend, J, was standing nearby and quickly disarmed him. R. had a perverse sense of humor, and perhaps he meant this as some kind of joke. I never asked. Nor did I ever report this to anybody. For years it was a blocked memory. When I remembered the incident again, it was then that it was truly traumatic.
The woman who set me up to be driven home from her party by the Director of Graduate Studies probably only intended for me to freaked out by his drunk driving. When I told her how he had grabbed me as I tried to leave his car, I think she realized the practical joke wasn't quite so funny. She knew he was drunk. Did she also know that he was a womanizer? Was for my safety, she explained, so I wouldn't have to walk home alone in the dark. Never mind that I feared for my life as he drove us back to campus. I had him drop me off several blocks away from the over twenty-one/grad dorm I was living in.. Little did I know that this arm was going to reach for me and slam me against him. At the least he wanted to plant a sloppy kiss on my mouth. And at the worst... I escaped with only a kiss on my cheek. Some joke. Real knee slapper.
"You'll read about me in the news tomorrow," my ex-boyfriend said as he let a bullet roll out of his jacket pocket as he walked away from my study carrel, in a failed attempt to get back together with me. I was shaken to the core, but I was resolute not to re-establish a romantic relationship with him. His emotional manipulation confirmed for me that my judgment was sound. A dodged bullet, as a friend of mine later would say.
I have never ended up in a hospital having a rape kit done, or having bruises tended to or bones set. I have felt frightened and humiliated. I was hit. Once. Against the side of my face. I saw shades of blue. For a few moments. That was bad, but, overall, I've been very lucky. My experiences pale in comparison with those of women who have been far more brutalized. . I have had men who loved me say really brutal things to me. I have been screamed at. I was once shoved back into a chair as I was getting up to leave. These things have occurred at the hands of otherwise loving, caring men. And that is why this is all so difficult. There are shades of gray. Sometimes it's a one time only event.
Some times one time is all a man will get. "I told my husband that if he ever hit me, he'd better make it good one," a former co-worker once said to me. I doubt her husband ever did. Some of us are stronger than others. We have greater resolve. Others make excuses. Say they deserve it.
Sympathy often lies with the woman being abused. When a woman is the abuser instead, we are shocked to the core. When a woman mutilates a man the way this woman did recently, some cynical people will say, "he deserved it," or "he had it coming," in much the same way that our society often tries to discredit rape victims. This reaction by Sharon Osbourne of The Talk, CBS' knock off of The View, pinpoints the double standard we have towards men who are abused. We don't know the circumstances. Had this man abused her? Had he done no more than merely telling her he wanted a divorce? It really doesn't matter. I personally neither want nor need to know all the sordid details. The women on The Talk lend sufficient conjecture and imagination and imagery.
As David Letterman said on The Late Show, in reaction to hearing the statement from the hospital that the man was "OK," no, this man is really not OK. How can this man possibly OK? (Paraphrasing his remarks.) As with women who have been brutalized, this man will never be OK again. No doubt he will survive and lead some kind of life, but his life has been changed forever. And in a swift, brutal and premeditated attack.
We, as a society, can try to justify the double standards in the reaction to this brutality. Women are abused by men all the time. Some of them die at the hands of men who supposedly love them. We forget that sometimes the abusive one is the woman and that sometimes men die, too. If we discount rape victims, we doubly doubt male rape victims. If we dismiss acts of violence, we doubly dismiss acts of violence against men. in all likelihood, this is possibly a daily occurrence. In all likelihood violence against men undoubtedly go underreported. if it's difficult for a woman to issue a complaint, how much harder must it be, in this blame or shame the victim society, for a man to step forward and admit abuse.
Women have very legitimate reasons for anger, and I would be the last one to say that any emotion was invalid. There is, however, a big difference between anger, which can, in a calm, assertive way, move things in a positive direction, and blind rage, which strikes out indifferently and often for the wrong reasons.
We also need to acknowledge that emotional and psychological violence can be traumatic and leave interior scars if not exterior ones. Whether a man is a henpecked husband or physically brutalized, it doesn't matter. By the same token, it doesn't matter if a woman is raped and beaten or if she is screamed at and told how fat or inept she is. The results stay with us. And, worse, we tend to carry this forward, one way or another.
The first step we all take in stopping all violence is to first acknowledge one another's humanness. We don't have to understand each other. That is the ideal, but it's unlikely to happen. When we stop viewing others as The Other, that, says, this atheist, is when we meet God.