Baring the Female Breasts: Beyond Objectification

There is so much more to a woman’s relationship to her breasts than meets the naked eye. In this post, I am thrilled to have two of my favorite bloggers, KS of Kosher Adobo and Jennifer Berney of Goodnight Already, joining me as we pay homage to this most famous of feminine body parts.

http://tinyurl.com/ocvkvkc Two Tahitian Women by Paul Gauguin

http://tinyurl.com/ocvkvkc
Two Tahitian Women by Paul Gauguin

CHERRY

I am a junior in boarding school. Behind me is a “Save Sex” poster and a perfume ad: “Femme Fatale: When the female of the species is more dangerous than the male.” It’s the night before the first day of school. I am tugging on the neck of my shirt, admiring my bra strap. Every bra I owned just a year before was white or beige, looking more like bandages for my then AA breasts. But this 36B brassiere, red and lined with lace, which I bought with my mom, was bold, and I want to show it off. In a girls’ dorm after lights out was the safest place to share my joy. Check out my new bra, I say, lifting my shirt for N., who took me to Victoria’s Secret for the first time.  N. owns silky negligees and has more experience than I, but she delights with me, anyway. Having grown up with sisters, these female friendships are as natural as breathing. Beautiful, she says.

I loved the curves of my changing body.  It was expanding, taking up room, and it was exciting. I wanted to make out with the world – but I didn’t want anyone to put his hand up my flannel shirt. (Or maybe I did but I hadn’t fallen in love, yet, much less kissed a boy.)

Though I couldn’t express it, then, that first red brassiere became one of my earliest lessons in femininity and self-acceptance. When I think about who I was at sixteen, I imagine a woman, who would be ready for love and men someday, but, until then, she could keep whatever it was – her breasts, her secrets – her own. She would find beauty in her own reflection and in other women’s eyes.

KS is a textbook TCK who was born in the Philippines, raised in Saudi Arabia, and has lived in New England, USA, for the last twenty years. She writes about her intercultural marriage, diversity, and reproductive health on her blog Kosher Adobo.

 

THE USEFUL BREAST  

Once, at a crowded farmers market, an acquaintance of mine broke from our conversation to pull one of her breasts out of the top of her sundress and nurse her infant daughter. Though I tried not to react, I could not hide my alarm. I approved of public breastfeeding, but did she have to make it a spectacle?

As I prepared to welcome a baby, my own approach to public breastfeeding was to conceal as much as possible. I ordered nursing tank tops, nursing shirts, and a hand-made nursing cover—a small curtain that ties around a mother’s neck, designed to hide both her breasts and her baby. Why wouldn’t everyone use these? I wondered.

My son arrived, and our early days together included meandering walks where he would nap against me and wake up, hungry, the moment I settled down at a café. As it turned out, the nursing cover wasn’t so helpful; I actually needed to see my nipple to align it with my newborn’s mouth. And once he had latched I did not want to cover him with fabric. I wanted to see his eyes and his soft whorl of hair. The café was a friendly place, but still, I overheard strangers refer to me as “that woman over there who is breastfeeding.” It didn’t matter that my breast was hidden by my shirt—I was still a spectacle.

I wish that we could learn to recognize the utility of a breast in the same way we recognize the utility of a hand.  Bared in the bedroom, or half hidden beneath lace, of course breasts hold erotic allure. But just as I must sometimes remove my gloves to find my keys or write a check, I must sometimes lift my shirt and unhook my bra to perform the serious task of feeding my child.

Jennifer Berney lives in Olympia, Washington with her partner and two sons. She blogs at Goodnight Already

 

LOVING MY BREASTS

If my breasts could talk, they would tell me that they like it when I show a little cleavage. Give us a bit of sunlight, let that heat tickle our skin! I’m tenderer with my breasts than I used to be—unwilling to use them to be objectified; more eager to self-savor the sight of them, ripened and full as they peek over t-shirts or hang naked before the mirror. And underwire… my breasts love underwire!

At my last medical appointment, the doctor asked if I knew whether the breast cancer gene runs in the family—we do have a history. No, I replied. Well, maybe you should find out, she said.

My first thought was Angelina Jolie and her mastectomy, reconstruction—two procedures that, even with insurance, I cannot afford. But would I want to if I knew the odds were stacked against me? To lose my breasts, whether by choice or because I must, would be devastating. I’ll take my chances, I tell the doctor. Then again, maybe if I had children, like Angelina, I too would choose differently.

My breasts aren’t that sensitive when it comes to physical sensation—at least not like what you read in romance novels where a suck, a flick, a lick can elicit moans of ecstasy. When I was younger I would pretend all that, worried about what it might say about me if I didn’t make some noise.

These days, my breasts will settle for nothing less than real pleasure even if it means sometimes feeling nothing. Because my breasts, like the rest of me, are no longer afraid to demand tenderness… a little roughness…whatever they need. My breasts know that their worth doesn’t depend on looking good or putting on a show.

My breasts, with their ability to feed a life, are their own kind of superpower.

Diahann Reyes is a freelance writer and performer. She lives in Los Angeles and blogs at Stories from the Belly: A Blog About the Female Body and Its Appetites.

 


Turning My Sensuality On

Lately, I’ve been feeling disconnected from my own sensuality and needing a way to plug back into that part of myself. I figured what better way to re-spark that inner connection than to take a sensual movement class.

I didn’t tell my boyfriend that I was going because I needed this experience to be just for me. We’ve been living together for a few months now, and while I love him truly, madly, and deeply, I suspect that being with him is the reason that I’ve shut down my connection to my sensuality.

Growing up, I’d internalized the idea that it’s okay to feel sensual and sexual in my body whenever I feel like as long as I’m not in an exclusive relationship. But now that I am in one, those aspects of myself are only “supposed” to be expressed and enjoyed when I’m with my significant other.

I believe that Catholicism, which (at least when I was growing up and filtered through my Filipina upbringing) advocates for a woman to save herself exclusively for one man, has been an influence. Mainstream culture’s limited view of what sensuality is, tying it primarily to the obviously sexual, is another.

To me, my sensuality is so much more. It’s also about feeling ignited, alive, and juiced up to be in my body, which is the opposite of how I’ve been feeling lately. Instead, inhabiting my own skin has felt blechy and uninspired. Then again, is it no wonder that I feel this way since I purposely—albeit unconsciously—shut off from my own sensuality?

Disconnecting from my sensuality when I’m in a relationship isn’t new for me. I’ve certainly done this before. All those other times it was easier to put at least half if not more of the blame on the other person—wrong guy, bad relationship. It’s only when ending those relationships that I would plug back into my sensual nature. I suspect though, that even when I was single, my activated sensuality  was more for attracting men than about me.

This time around, I can see that the disengagement is my doing. I want to be able to keep both my sensual spark and my guy without having to let go of one to have the other.

I know that reactivating my connection to my sensuality is an inside job and I’m the only one who can do this for me. And it’s likely a process—more time for self-care, paying more attention to how I look and feel, slowing down, getting re-grounded in my body, staying present to the moment, etc. Still, what better way to jumpstart my sensual spark than by going to a class that is all about feminine sensual movement?

Danaë by Gustav Klimt http://tinyurl.com/6gj2bst Transcendence and Ecstasy Come Together in The Female Body

Danaë by Gustav Klimt
http://tinyurl.com/6gj2bst
Transcendence and Ecstasy Come Together in The Female Body

The class I attend is taught by Rie Katagiri, a movement coach, choreographer, and dancer. Rie and I have belonged to the same women’s circle for years.

There are several of us in the room—all women, most of us in yoga clothes. After a short body warm up that includes stretching and yoga to open and prepare our bodies for movement, I find myself standing alone with a pole—the kind of pole used for pole dancing.

This is a pole that I grow to quickly dislike when, after Rie demonstrates how to stroll around it—she is graceful as a gazelle—I find myself awkwardly circling said pole like I’ve forgotten how to walk straight.

By the time Rie has me and the other women attempt a simple spin around our respective poles, I’ve emotionally regressed. I feel like I’m in the third grade again and it’s the first day of gymnastics class. I’m standing in front of the uneven parallel bars and I don’t know what to do with my body.

Strutting with one hand holding onto the pole feels like an exercise in ungainliness. Even my default hip-wiggling walk, the one that I developed when peddling my sensual wiles back in the day has left me.

The tail end of class is the “play” period, when we get to move with the pole however we want. And it’s only then, as I let go of any expectations and lean into the pole, my back against it, that I relax.

I let out a loud exhale and close my eyes. My shoulders go from scrunched up to more laid back. Nectary, sexy sounding music starts to blasts through the room. I sway slowly to the rhythm, feeling…. Feeling…. Feee-ling what it is like to move my pelvis in small circular motions, sway my hips from side to side, arch my back, undulate my spine…

I run my fingers through  my hair… so soft… across my cheek… I turn to face the pole, pressing my chest and pelvis against it and—and, then I remember I’m not the only one in the room and I stop. I open my eyes, let go of the pole, and stand upright.

Waves of shame and self-consciousness wash through me.

I look around. The other women aren’t paying attention to me. They’re too absorbed in their own experiences, their own bodies.

I’m surprised at my reaction. Goddess forbid that someone witness me in an act of sensual surrender.

Now there are tears. Because if I’d immediately reigned myself in after barely touching the tip of my own experience, what else must there be for me to revel in, to feel, were I to drop in and let go?

I need to have me some more.


Age: What’s In A Number?

I have a good friend who doesn’t think about her age. Every year, when I call to greet her happy birthday, she asks me, half-joking, “How old am I, again?” I know her age because she is ten years older than me. She prefers to mark her years not by time but according to how old or young she feels.

In some of the reviews I’ve read of the movie Nightcrawler, actress Renee Russo is described as an aging actress. The “aging” reference really bothers me. Sure, Russo is aging. She’s sixty right now, next month she’ll turn sixty-one. Then again, aren’t we all, every one of us, aging? From the moment we are conceived we age by the second. Yet it is usually women upon whom aging gets pinned and not in a positive way.

Age is a funny number. As a young girl, I couldn’t wait to be older—old enough to drive, to date, to drink, to be considered “credible” as a news anchor, which is what I thought I wanted to be. When I moved to Hollywood after my thirtieth birthday, one director told me that he couldn’t cast me in a role I really wanted because I didn’t look old enough to play a woman my age. “If only you looked as old as you really are, you’d be perfect for the job,” he said, ushering me out the door.

This is my “magical 33” year! Thirty-three is when everything that I want will happen for me! At least, that’s what I told anyone who would listen after I celebrated that birthday. My rationale? “3” is considered by many to be a magic number, so why not hope for eleven times that at 33? Instead, that was the year my life started imploding.

After I turned forty, the amount of interest I got on Match.com waned. I considered lying about my age. I so wanted to be younger again—young enough to feel like a contender in the dating game, young enough to get pregnant without worrying about high risks and low odds, young enough that the Whole Foods checkout guy would stop calling me “Ma’am.” It wasn’t until I started embracing my real age that life began to fill up with new possibilities and opportunities.

Savoring the Now Makes Any Age Yummier  http://tinyurl.com/nefqul5

Savoring the Now Makes Any Age Yummier
http://tinyurl.com/nefqul5

“Line up according to age, please!” That’s the instruction given at certain all-women gatherings that I’ve attended. The eldest is always the first to go in, the youngest the last. In these circles, a woman owns her years like a number of honor. There is no shame in admitting your age. The older a woman grows, the more wisdom, experience, and power she can hold in her body. In time, each one will get her turn at the head of the procession.

A few months ago, writer Timi Yeseibo invited me and a few other women to talk about age on her blog, Lively Twist. Turns out that for each of us, whether younger or older, age is more than just a number. You can read our stories here.

What about you, what meaning have you endowed upon certain years of your life?


Mirror, Mirror on The Wall

There was a time when I wanted to be famous. I felt that if I could just see myself under bright lights, on the big screen, or the front page, I would finally feel like I mattered. In the last several years, I’ve stopped craving stardom. Maybe it’s in part because fame seems to be an easier feat to accomplish these days. Do or say something super provocative or heartwarming, post it online, watch it go viral, and—Voila! —for at least fifteen minutes everyone knows your name. But does fame even mean anything anymore now that it is so much more achievable? Then again, did it ever?

I’d like to think that the reason for the change in me goes deeper—that it is because I no longer need other people to look at me first before I am able to see myself or know that I have value. I’ve begun owning that I matter, cultivating this understanding from the inside out, rather than looking for that validation from the outside in.

For the longest time, none of this was the case at all. I let culture and the male gaze, especially, tell me who I was and how much I was worth. Often, that worthiness was tied to whether or not men found me desirable.

Every time I would look in the mirror, I would see what other people told me they saw. My perception of self—especially my female body—was always a secondhand experience, filtered first through the eyes of others.

When You Look In the Mirror, Who Do You See, Really? http://tinyurl.com/qbyymy8

When You Look In the Mirror, Who Do You See, Really? http://tinyurl.com/qbyymy8

In the U.S. during the early eighties, at age 13,  I was ugly and too brown—at least, that’s what I overheard Will K. tell Misha R. in class one day when he thought I wasn’t listening. For a while after that, whenever I’d look in the mirror, ugly and too brown is what I saw, too.

Three years later, when my family moved to the Philippines, all of a sudden people were telling me that with my big eyes and sharp nose I was sooo pretty. My dark skin went from “the color of mud” to “this beautiful Moorish-looking complexion, like that of our nation’s Spanish ancestors.”

But—ugly or soooo pretty— was I ever really one or the other? I now understand that what these people saw when they looked at me was dependent upon who was doing the gazing and whatever cultural perception of beauty that they were seeing me through.

It wasn’t until I turned 40, when society’s negative ideas about female aging began to eat at me that I realized: I’d spent most of my life only seeing myself as whatever people were reflecting back to me, for how long was I going to let that go on? Not a second longer, I hoped. I decided to take back my body, my beauty, and my womanhood, to free myself from the measuring and judging that comes from anyone else’s gaze but my own.

What does living that way even look like? How does it feel? I am in the process of figuring all of this out in big and small ways. Gazing at my breasts, my face, my belly, and every other part of me without the filter of someone else’s perception is one example. So was learning to shed my shame around  sexual pleasure. And then there have been those moments of re-connecting to my womb, owning my voice, claiming my desires, and coming to understand that just like the masculine, the feminine is sacred, too. And the discoveries continue…

This blog has been an important part of these explorations. It is a way to process and share what I’ve discovered.  And what a joyful surprise it has been to find out that so many of you want what I want: to free ourselves from the different cultural and societal lenses that keep us smaller and more one-dimensional than who we really are.

To all of you that have shown up here at Stories from the Belly to read, share your own experiences, discuss (sometimes even disagree),  express support, or make your presence known in other ways, thank you. I look forward to seeing you all in 2015.

Happy New Year!

 


A Finger Without A Ring On It

An ad for the upcoming Bravo series Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce was recently banned from subways and city buses in Los Angeles and New York because the content was deemed “inappropriate.” In the poster, star Lisa Edelstein is shown smiling while giving the camera her ring finger (as opposed to her middle finger).

There is a faded tan line on that finger, right where her character’s wedding ring used to be. The tag line accompanying the photo is “Go Find Yourself.”

I like the ad, which caused me to do a double take the first time I saw it. Is that an F-off gesture? I wondered, before realizing that it was the ring finger and not the middle one that Edelstein was raising.

The comedy is based on the popular Girlfriends’ Guide series by Vicki Lovine. Considering that it chronicles the life of a fortysomething woman who finds herself single again—probably at a time in her life when she least expected it—the ad makes perfect, tongue-in-cheek sense to me. Sometimes in life, you really do have to just say, Go F-(ind) yourself.

But the Metropolitan Transit Authority in New York City and Metro Los Angeles, as well as certain mall owners in L.A., think the ad is too offensive to display. Yet this ad, unlike others, doesn’t contain the kinds of gratuitous nudity or violence that get past the censors all the time. In an interview with Fox411, Katie Yoder of the politically conservative Media Research Center (MRC) Culture said that the show’s promo “trivializes marriage while serving as an ad for divorce.”

What, exactly, is so offensive about an ad that depicts a woman choosing to approach life in an empowered way, even when faced with an event as devastating as the end of her marriage? That is not the same as minimizing the institution or encouraging women to get a divorce. Considering that quite a number of marriages end in divorce or separation, why not allude to the possibility of a hopeful, happy future instead of a bleak one? Fortunately, not everyone agrees with the ban. The ad has found placements on other sites in both cities, including this one:

GirlfriendGuide

Click on the image for a closer look

I ended a long-term relationship nearly six years ago at age 38, walking out of our home together and starting all over. Even though everyone tells you that living together is not the same as being married to someone, there was still a lot of loss and grief (along with relief) that came with the separation. I loved him. And if I honestly thought that with hard work we could have found a way to resolve our problems and make each other happy, I would have stayed forever.

With my renewed single status I could tell that certain people felt anxious for me, especially at “my age.” Hurry up and find someone new before it’s too late! You’re getting older. That biological clock of yours will only tick for so long. 

I also discovered that because I had never been married, there were people I met who considered this a liability. I was asked the question “why have you never been married” more than once in a tone that seemed to imply, what’s wrong with you that you never took the plunge? Or, was it just that no one was willing to scoop you up? There was also another kind of reaction, with some men I met expressing worry that by now I must be desperate to marry.

This may be the 21st Century, but it seems to me that the idea of a woman who is going it alone without a man, especially as she gets older—whether by choice or because that’s how her life has worked out—still makes some people nervous. I’m not talking about economically. I mean that socially and culturally.

And then there are the derogatory words used for an older woman who has never married: spinster, old maid. The word divorcée, which references a woman, used to have a negative connotation to it, too.

The reality is that despite our best intentions and efforts—a marriage, cohabitation, boyfriend-girlfriend, girlfriend-girlfriend, sex buddies—not every relationship can or should last forever. Some women may prefer to go relationship-less.

And sometimes, in life, whether by choice or circumstance, a woman may just have to stick her I’m single finger up again. And really, what is bad or shameful or inappropriate about that?

For me, at that time in my life, it was the best choice. Who am I? What do I really want? I’d been so busy playing the role of someone else’s other half for so long that I’d forgotten. I took the next four years to find out.

Yet that decision did not preclude me from eventually finding committed love with a partner. If anything, the kind of relationship I have with this man—made up of two healthy whole people instead of two halves trying to make a whole—is only possible because I took the time I needed to find myself again. This time around, I am determined to hold onto both of us for good.


Saturating in Feminine Beauty


When women come together
Their bodies can reverberate
Creating a rich stew
Of yummy nourishment
And sisterhood

La Dance by Matisse http://tinyurl.com/o754yzv

La Dance by Matisse
http://tinyurl.com/o754yzv

I’m floating in a warm pool surrounded by women. Eyes are closed. Hands gently lap the water. Movements are languid, barely making ripples. One woman sits underwater, as if suspended. Above the surface, her breath rises, forming bubbles.

We look like we are hibernating, which in a way we are. This is, after all, a retreat.

It’s just us ladies, so no pressure to pull in one’s tummy to create the illusion of flatness. No need to wear oversize t-shirts to hide soft upper arms or round thighs or skinny hips. No need to walk sexy or look hot. Each of us is resting, saturating in what it feels like to fully inhabit our own skin. We are hiding nothing.

All these women, relaxed in their bodies, have their guard down. They are granting me the privilege of seeing them in all their beauty—flaws, which aren’t even flaws, really—and all.

Out in the world, the definition of a beautiful woman is restricted to such limited ideals. Anyone that doesn’t fit the bill because of tiny breasts, overflowing curves, or fill in the _____  (blank) might make the mistake of thinking she is subpar looking, ugly even.

When I go out in public my first response is to want to scrunch inward—my attempt to squeeze into the narrow images of what beauty is supposed to look like. Stomach compressed in! Skinny jeans on! Show some, but not too much, cleavage.

I try to convince myself that it’s just me I’m reducing down to size. When really, whenever I purposely conform my body into society-approved shape, I’m keeping the objectification of women going.

Here, with this group of women, made up standards of beauty don’t carry any weight. We come together to nourish and support. We gather to shed our shame and self-hatred. We are reclaiming our power, learning to love our bodies.

Even my skin feels like it can breathe more when we’re together. My body relaxes, and I open.

Growing up, looking at other women’s bodies was about comparing. Each glance was another opportunity to rate myself as more than or less than. Always, I was never enough. No one else was ever just right, either.

I didn’t know back then that gazing at a woman’s body could be an act of reverence.

One of the women floats by me on her back. Her soft belly, with its rows of stretch marks, is bare for everyone to see. Another woman stands, the tips of her graying hair create a trail behind her in the water as she heads for the ladder. Her hips, which have curves like a pear, mesmerize with their I’m-taking-my-time sway. She reminds me of Eve in the Garden. All that is missing is a snake to drape around her neck.


#WhyIStayed

Several months ago I wrote, “Stopping the Violence,” a blog post about a verbally abusive relationship I was in. He and I were together for nine months—longer, if you count the times we got back together. While nine months might not sound like a long period, the emotional injuries I sustained from those months with him were significant. It took me years to recover.

Yes, I stayed. Even after he punched a wooden fence one night in a jealous fit because I’d said hello to an ex-boyfriend. Yes, I stayed. Even after he swung his fist at me, stopping just before making contact with my face.

I definitely have had my issues, some of which I was working out with him. For a long time, I used to think that it was all my fault. If only I had been stronger or tougher, or perhaps less broken. Maybe I wouldn’t have gotten involved with him at all.

Then again, some of the strongest and smartest women I know have been in relationships where domestic violence was involved. These are women that if you looked at them you’d think twice before messing with them. These are women that on the outside appear nothing like what you would expect a victim of domestic violence to look.

And like me, it took them a while to realize what was going on. Most of these women didn’t leave right away. One of them is in her abusive relationship still.

At first, I stayed because I didn’t realize that his behavior was abusive. I mistook his jealousy and temper for passion. At that time in my life, nearly twenty years ago, I was numb and out of touch with emotions. The yelling, the torrid makeup sessions would get my adrenaline rushing. The highs and lows created by our dynamic together allowed me to really feel.

I also was under the false impression, thanks to the patriarchal and misogynistic society that I grew up in, that “real” men should want to dominate their woman, “wear the pants.” I found that behavior sexy back then, not offensive and harmful like I do now.  Not to mention that the stereotype disparages and is harmful to men.

When the angry outbursts turned into verbal fists and put-downs, I stayed because by then I was emotionally invested in the relationship. I loved him. And it’s not like I sometimes didn’t give as good as I got.

Maybe he was right. Maybe I really was too sensitive. Maybe I needed to toughen up or get a better sense of humor. And like he said, did I really need to talk to my guy friends anymore now that I had him?

Looking back, I realize that, all my rationalizations, this was the abuse talking through me. Blame the victim until she starts to blame herself.

But I was so deeply involved with him, I couldn’t think or see clearly. I no longer had a handle on the relationship. The abuse was handling me.

In her book The Verbally Abusive Relationship, author Patricia Evans lists the numerous effects of verbal abuse on women, including:

  • A distrust of her spontaneity
  • A growing self-doubt
  • An anxiety or fear of being crazy
  • A desire not to be the way she is, “too sensitive,” etc.
  • A reluctance to come to conclusions
  • A hesitancy to accept her perception
  • A concern that something is wrong with her

I hadn’t understood how abusive his behavior was until I read her book. She described our dynamic, and all my feelings, perfectly.

If I can just make him understand what he is doing, he will want to stop, I thought. But all attempts to explain ended in fights.

I started thinking up reasons I could give him for why we needed to break up. “I want out because you’re abusing me” didn’t feel like it was going to cut it.

I worried about hurting his feelings or making him mad. I felt obligated to give him a reason he would find acceptable. I tried to get him to break up with me instead.

During one of our horrible fights, I gave him an ultimatum that I knew he wouldn’t agree to. I wanted him to think that ending us was his doing.

You’d think I would have been relieved to be done with him. But when he reached out a few months after our break up, I decided to try again. And again. Maybe we just needed time off from one another. Maybe this time will be different. It never was.

After him, I became wary about men who liked to fight. I became wary of most men, really.

Years later, I dated a man who appeared to hate conflict. He would shut down at the hint of an argument. He would spoil me, taking me on trips abroad and showering me with expensive presents.

But over time he’d start to tell these jokes. There was the one about how I needed stop wearing my red high heels because they made me look like a slut. Just kidding, sweetie! Or how when people saw us together they looked at me and immediately thought “mail order bride.” It’s just a joke, honey!

Sometimes, he would imitate me when I smiled. Only, he would scrunch up his eyes and twist his mouth sideways into these grotesque expressions. This is what you look like, sweetie! Then he would lean over and kiss me.

His remarks, cushioned in teasing, affectionate tones would catch me off guard. The “jokes” would usually happen at the most unexpected moments—a romantic dinner at an expensive restaurant, while laughing with friends at a wedding. I’d be feeling happy and relaxed or confident and that was when he’d strike.

Until this man, I had no idea that domestic violence can happen even when there is no yelling or fighting involved. I had no idea that it could be doled out so tenderly or take place in such public, even fancy, settings.

The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence says that approximately 42.4 million women in the U.S. have experienced intimate partner violence. Domestic violence impacts individuals of all ages and from every level of education, economic background, gender, race, and nationality. Often, intimate partner violence happens behind closed doors.

I doubt that NFL player Ray Rice ever thought that anyone would be watching him punch out Janay, his then-fiancé, inside an elevator. She later married him.

Many women are too ashamed or terrified to admit to anyone, including themselves, that their boyfriend/fiancé/husband/wife/the father of their children is abusive. It is not uncommon for a victim of domestic violence to refuse to press charges against her partner.

When a woman is deep in an abusive relationship—which is often when the violence starts—the abuse happens enough times that her tolerance level goes up. Someone going into a rage in the middle of the night for the smallest reason starts to feel like normal, instead of unacceptable, behavior. Leaving him, which would seem like the obvious, logical choice, gradually turns into the last resort.

Maybe a woman has come to depend on her partner financially. Or maybe he is the father of her children. Maybe she is afraid he’ll kill her if she tries to leave. Or maybe she can’t imagine living without him.

I am in no means advocating for anyone to stay in an abusive relationship. Leave immediately, if you can, is my advice. But I do want to honor the many reasons why women stay with their abusers, as evidenced by everyone who tweeted their own reasons under #WhyIStayed.

Their reasons may not make sense to anyone else. Some of their reasons may not even make sense to these women. Then again, nothing about domestic violence makes sense.

Domestic Violence Ribbon

Domestic Violence Ribbon

 


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