by Melinda Pillsbury-Foster
I first encountered the reality of domestic violence after I learned to read but before I understood what it meant to be dead. Proper parents did not confront their children with the stark realities of death, violence or abuse. My parents, a college professor and a mathematician, were all that was proper in that regard. Therefore the hushed conversation I overheard when Father came home unusually early looking very upset and not at all like his usual assured self. I was shooed out of their bedroom and therefore took up my usual listening post just outside the door in the hallway. Yes, I was an insufferable brat. But I had ascertained that you learn interesting things by listening.
On this occasion I hear my father’s voice speaking low and rumbling with pain talking about a bloody event. The estranged husband of one of the office employees had shot down his wife. Their voices dropped so low I could not hear and then rose. I heard the shock in my mother’s tone. The tiny drops of red on his formerly crisp white shirt now made ugly sense.
We call it domestic violence. We urge women to ‘move on,” “be positive,” and “stop asking for it.” We talk down to the victims even while we fail to make it safe for them to leave. Then we blame them for enabling the abuse. We protect the ‘rights’ of the violent in preference to protecting the lives of the innocent.
In this way we fail as individuals and as a nation to say NO to violence. Therefore, with the inevitable logic of causality we say yes to continuing generations of fear, deceit, violent abuse and death.
There are lots of ways to spell stupid.
Two generations ago a woman named Rosa Parks took a seat on a bus denied to her by the law. Seated beside and around her were attorneys and activists who were mandated to protect her person and her rights. We celebrate Rosa Parks as a hero for freedom, and so she is.
What are we saying to women who fight back to change the system? I will tell you. We say, “You are too smart to do this.” “Get on with your life.” “You can do nothing so don’t try.”
It is not surprising that there has been no Rosa Parks for domestic violence. No one would or could endure the danger and abuse it would take to create such a case. Therefore changing our cultural practices makes it essential that women who have been abused stand up for their rights and challenge the powers that be. To do that we need to recognize the kind of courage it takes to do that and give them support.
I know. My own daughter has tried to speak out and the powers that be agree on one thing. She must be silenced. They offer her no support only sappy advice about moving on; advise they would never offer to a victim of any other kind of institutional injustice.
More women die today of domestic violence than die of prejudice. More lives ad maimed and distorted; more damage is done to each of us and to the future we are trying to build for our children. Supporting women who speak out from all walks of life is the moral duty of anyone and everyone who is committed to changing the stark reality of domestic violence. That means not treating battered women as flawed but understanding that it is our system that commits them to lives of terror and fear.
When women speak out we should see what they could accomplish for others by forcing change to take place. We should thank them, support them, and encourage them with all that it takes to say NO to violence and YES to human relationships free of violence, coercion and fraud.
I am prouder of my daughter than I can say. It has taken indomitable will to withstand both abuse and the institutions and individuals who continue to enable abuse.
When the reality of domestic abuse changes it will happen because of women like my daughter and not because of the legions of politicians and attorneys who trade on their pain.
It will happen because we are not going to just take it any more.