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If I Were To Cite One Reason...

Every time I bite down to chew I have a chance to remember the day a man who loved me dislocated my jaw with his closed fist.  It was the day before the day I wiped away the streaks of blood and arranged my hair to hide the bruises so I could attend school.  The scar tissue is there, making one side of my face tighter than the other.  But it is only when I sink my teeth into something deeply that my jaw locks and forces me, painfully, to remember.  I don’t live in the past.  I am not a victim or a survivor – those terms limit my potential to be more -- so, when the news reported the elevator incident between Ray Rice and his “then girlfriend, now wife”, I was as shocked and confused as if I had been socked in the jaw for the first time.  “She married him!?!?”  Like most people who live with violence, I was struck dumb. 

But I have to have an opinion about this.  I run a dance studio and holistic health center in which we foster a safe haven for the divine feminine.  The majority of my clients are women.  I hear about these stories all the time.  I can't keep silent. 

Intellectually, I know that Janay Rice is, like millions of others, trapped.  Emotionally, I can’t help but want to shake her and say, “What are you doing?  Get out!” as if that were so easy.  But it took Lynne Procope’s article about the beloved abuser to make me finally bite down deep enough into this issue to feel the pain and remember what it’s really like.  “Women who have been hit, even once or twice by a loved one…have already begun developing a pathological response to violence”, she writes. a loved one.  Those were the words that got me.  Sick people are capable of love and a compassionate heart is meant to forgive.  To love hurts, but to not love hurts more.  So the question of why a woman stays is much more complicated than one of financial dependence or lack of self esteem. 

But these are key considerations for a woman wanting to leave, and, let's face it, we are not doing enough to give women financial independence or self esteem. Violence against women is a product of our society, and it is everywhere!  All you have to do is open a fashion magazine to see its insidious means.  Turn on the TV and what you see is its contemptible result.  It’s no wonder so many women judge, they are constantly judged themselves.  Women are encouraged daily to hate themselves as they are attacked in the media, in conference rooms, advertisements, on the street, at home.  They are still, after all this time and effort, very much not their own people, but – the other.  And as a black woman, Janay Rice is twice the other.  As a black man, Ray Rice is, like women, also an other*.

Every time I am confronted with this issue, when I hear another story from a woman about how her husband held a gun to her head, when I try to comfort another woman struggling to intervene on behalf of the battered children, when I hear how a woman had to take matters into her own hands because the police wouldn’t help, how….  these stories don’t end, people!  I am constantly shocked.  And I always ask, why?  How is it possible that this is still happening in this day and age? Why can’t they get out, the way I got out all those years ago?  

It’s hard to say what one thing made the difference in my life.  I was young, and very much in a pattern of choosing men with violent tempers whose modus operandi was to control and belittle me.  And I struggled to stand up for myself because independence doesn't come easy - we are still paid less than a man for the same work. Women are still the primary child caretakers, limiting their options for work.  And everywhere we turn the pressure is on us to please others only to be criticized and judged again.  I knew that I had no tolerance for a man who hit me.  It seemed so simple.  Each time a man raised his hand to me, I knew it was wrong.  Each time, I left as soon as possible.  How was my experience different? ...or the same?  Where was my intolerance for the men and women who criticized everything feminine?  "You run like a girl",  "you're a girly girl", etc.  What's wrong with being a girly girl?  What's wrong with being feminine?

If pressed to find a reason for my awareness, I would have to cite the media coverage of the 1988 trial of Hedda Nussbaum, accused of standing by as her boyfriend killed their illegally adopted six-year-old daughter, Lisa.  I wasn’t paying much attention to the trial, and, like the rest of the world, was ready to judge the pathetic creature that testified on the stand like a robot, void of emotion.  But a photo of the same "pathetic creature" before she met her boyfriend appeared in the New York Times and bolted me into attention.  There I saw that she was once vibrant, pretty, and full of promise – she was just like me.  How could she have ended up like the robot I saw on TV?  It was then that I learned about the process of abuse, how she had been deeply in the relationship a full two years before he ever hit her.  By then, she’d given up her career, friends, family, and any sense of self to be able to see things clearly. That was an eye opener.  I had just barely escaped the very same relationship.  I passionately defended my self-esteem and independence from that point on.  I was well into my forties before I married, and I was divorced only two short years later.  You see, it's hard to be both married and independent.  And, from what I've observed, it's even harder if you have children.  

I could also credit Ms. Magazine, to which I had subscribed by mistake when I was thirteen.  Browsing it I became fascinated by its No Comment section where they posted offensive ads with no comment.  Trying to find the offense made me begin to examine advertising with a more critical eye, one that notices just how subtle violence against women is and just how prevalent in the attitudes of people around me -- including the feminists who would hate me today for loving and teaching pole dance. 

But, as Procope’s article finally helped me realize, after almost thirty years, if I were to relay the ONE thing that made me believe I could ‘get out’ it was the knowledge that I had options.  Procope implores people to “show [Janay] horizons, and be patient with her”.  She could not be more right in saying so.

I was able to get away from the last sociopath because I had already been accepted to college in another state.  Though he tried, he couldn’t access me there.  How did I know that I could leave that man who dislocated my jaw?  Because when my mother heard about what he did, she drove to where I lived, picked me up, and gave me a place to stay, no questions asked.  She didn’t lecture or scold me, she didn’t blame me, she didn’t lay a lot of angry feminist theory on me, she didn’t judge me, she simply gave me an option, and let me know that I am loved. 

As I write this I find myself struggling with the words that condemn the man who dislocated my jaw.  The truth is that he was, like me, also an other. He was struggling with a world that had no use for his caring nature, one that demanded he be "a man". He was also sick, damaged, far removed from his true inherent goodness.  And he was desperate. I was asserting my independence and he was losing control.  It makes for a very dangerous scenario. Without excusing his behavior, I can say that he loved me then and he loves me now.  I left, and I have grown strong, so he cannot hurt me anymore. But he is healed today because once he came face to face with his own mortality and began the road to recovery there was a woman there with the courage and strength (and maybe her own sickness) to love him.  

I am blessed to live in a world that is so far removed from the one I am forced to remember.  In my studio and in the pole world I have discovered women who support each other.  Here, friendships begin, and we encourage each other to get out of our comfort zone and try.  Here we are empowered first by ignoring those who would judge us for doing something we love, then by the strength we gain each time we get up and try to master something so difficult.  Here we gladly put ourselves beneath each other to cushion the fall and we are glad for the extra meat on our bones to keep us on the pole.  In my world we learn the difference between pain that helps us grow and pain that does us harm.  We learn to endure what we cannot change and change what we cannot endure.  And this is the world I created around me with the options that I was given.  This is the world I created by extending, without judgment, a supportive hand to other women.  Love yourself, ladies and gentlemen, and extend a loving hand to the man or woman next to you.  Do it, and you will change the world you live in too. 

*"other" as described by Simone De Beauvoir in The Second Sex

To read Lynne Procope’s article go to: Janay Rice Beloved Abuser

To learn more about the Hedda Nussbaum story, go to: hedda nussbaum.html

To get help for domestic violence go to: protectyourself - Get Help

In the Framingham/Metrowest area, go to: Voices Against Violence Handbook

o view an archive of Ms Magazine No Comment section, go to: msmagazine nocomment archive

o help me raise money in support of shelters for victims of domestic violence, go to: Diosa Dance Fitness Fundraising Page