I have a story I want to tell you today about emotional abuse, domestic violence and marriage – a story that has me questioning my thoughts on all those subjects.
I train with a woman I’ll called Anna. She is a very highly skilled martial artist, with lots of different black belts (I think she has 7!) and an energetic, fun, spirited approach to our self-defense training. I really like this woman. She has been married for many years to this prissy, European man I will call Levi, and they have a grown daughter who has a PhD in Women’s Studies (I am not kidding). Levi is one of those pretentious, irritating, arrogant Europeans whose grandmother was hauling pig slop to the barns, but who has somehow become the arbiter of everything cultured and sophisticated. Why is it always people with one foot barely out of the scullery who become experts on propriety and manners?
Needless to say, I don’t like Levi. He has absolutely no interest of any kind in Anna’s hobby and that seems to suit them both just fine. I’m in the same position with my husband, so I can totally understand. We have a kind of running joke at the club where we start each class talking about whatever insane thing Levi is making Anna do today. It’s kind of funny, because she could backhand him ass over teakettle at any point in time, but never does. She just puts up with his craziness. Here are a few examples:
- All dishes must be washed by hand and then Levi inspects the dishes in bright light to make sure Anna has washed them ‘properly’
- All pots and pans must be placed in their correct places, but Levi changes these places whenever he likes, and whatever pots Anna has been using most frequently are placed in the most inconvenient place possible
- No item can be left on any counter, or Levi declares the room ‘filthy’ and ‘uninhabitable’
- Correct coasters must be used at all times, and there are special coasters that are for hot drinks and cold drinks and you can’t mix these up
Levi is always asking Anna to pick things up from the grocery store after training (there is a grocery store right across the street), and we find this amusing, because whatever she gets, it’s not the ‘right kind’. Get apples and cheese? Oh Christ. Did you know there is a wrong way to pick apples? They must be perfect! All things must be perfect! Anna struggles with her weight, like pretty much 100% of all middle-aged women (including me), and tries to follow a low-carb, sugar-free diet. Her family has a history of diabetes, so when she was diagnosed, the low-carb diet became a matter of life and death, really.
Levi delights in fucking with her at every turn.
He’s always buying cinnamon buns or cookies or tarts or some other thing she really shouldn’t eat, and when she complains about this, he says ‘your weight problem is not my weight problem’, and then proceeds to eat said bun or tart in front of her.
My response to most of this insanity is to ask Anna ‘why don’t you just punch him?’
Inspect the dishes after I’ve washed them, and we don’t have a dishwasher? Fuck you, Levi. Eat a bag of dicks. I would heave every piece of cheesecake or challah bread right into the garbage. What an asshole! I asked her once what would happen if she broke some of Levi’s rules? I doubt he would hit her, and even if he were dumb enough to do that, Anna can fuck him up nicely. In what was probably our first real conversation as friends, she told me that nothing happens if she breaks the rules, except that Levi is a sulky, petulant little bitch who moans and complains about everything and will suck every molecule of joy out of their home until Anna agrees to follow the rules because it’s easier. Levi also loves the silent treatment. He will go days without responding to texts, and ignore Anna for lengthy periods at home. That’s classic abuser behavior.
And secondly, even though Levi has never hit her or even suggested that he might, a very close family member is currently serving time for murder. Levi remains close to this family member, who killed another family member. This is straight up domestic violence. A husband shot his wife, and Levi sympathizes with the husband. I do not know these people at all, and have no comment to make about what happened, but when the husband pled guilty to his wife’s murder, he said it was because she was evil and did nothing but torment him.
Okay, then. I can see why Anna is a little twitchy around her husband. I might be, too.
Not very many people know about the murder, but pretty much everyone knows Levi is a prissy little fuckwit who doesn’t deserve Anna. When Anna announced her marriage was over, not a whole lot of people were surprised. I commented, in my usual subtle and nuanced way, that Anna had taken all the abuse any woman could rightfully be expected to take, and she really bristled at that suggestion! She doesn’t consider herself abused. She could, at any moment in time, have told Levi to go fuck himself, and she opted not to do that. As far as Anna is concerned, ‘emotional abuse’ is bullshit and she made her choices with an open mind and full freedom to choose otherwise.
I find that rather astonishing, and provocative. Is emotional abuse ‘bullshit’? If you have the freedom to walk away from the ‘abuse’, but choose not to, is it really abuse? Isn’t there some aspect of abuse that requires an element of being inescapable? Has Anna just been so thoroughly beaten down by this conceited, pompous, insufferable man that she can’t see her reality anymore? Anna is suffering now because in what amounts to an utterly unbelievable turn of events, her daughter, Dr. Feminist Hypocrite, has chosen to side with Levi. You would think a credentialed feminist would know something about ‘believing victims’ and the various iterations of domestic violence and abuse, but apparently not. The daughter likes the murderer, too, it would seem. Her family includes the guy who shot his wife, and her father, but not her mother.
That’s a painful thing for Anna to deal with.
There are two things I would like you to consider now. One, are the victims of abuse, especially ephemeral, nebulous types of mistreatment like ‘emotional abuse’ ever culpable for their own suffering? If you can walk away, but choose not to, have you played a role in your own victimization, and how does that mitigate the guilt of your abuser? Two, how do your thoughts and opinion change when you discover that I don’t train with Anna, I train with Levi. It’s not Levi who abuses Anna, but the other way around. It’s Anna who uses the silent treatment and sulking and moodiness and deliberate joylessness to control Levi. It’s not Levi who sides with a family member who murdered his own wife, but Anna. It’s not Levi who torments his wife with foods diabetics can’t possibly eat without severely damaging their health, it’s Anna.
‘Your weight problem is not my my weight problem’. She taunts him. Undermines him. Mocks him. Diminishes him. He never measures up. Anna is pure malevolence. And honestly, it takes some nerve. Perhaps this reflects poorly on me, but I have a begrudging kind of respect for this frail, haughty woman. There are few fighters who can force Levi to take a knee in the ring, and she does it every day.
That’s kind of impressive, in a psychotic and twisted way. Domestic abuse has many faces. If it comes as a surprise to me that victims can win heavyweight tournaments handily, and then go home to meekly have their dishwashing inspected, I’m guessing it comes as a surprise to many! Turns out that knowing how to put on a perfect hammer lock or do an outside wrist throw won’t protect you from the abuse you have consented to.
Perhaps yes does mean yes, after all?
Looking forward to your thoughts.