I talked about abuse and made you uncomfortable? Good.

I talked about abuse and made you uncomfortable? Good.

“People mistake vulnerability for intimacy. It’s not just annoying, it’s damaging.” — these words from my friend and Anti-Nihilist Institute co-founder Anna Lind-Guzik have been knocking around in my head lately for a reason.

Vulnerability is a useful tool of connecting to one’s audience. This isn’t just true of confessional writing. When I began to open up about leaving Russia/an abusive relationship, I did so with an explicit goal in mind: Draw attention to the problem, and show people how abuse *really* works.

It was also obviously important for me to emotionally connect with my audience and friends in general. Pain becomes more manageable when you feel less alone. All of this is normal — mundane, even.

I wasn’t surprised by the amount of odd, insensitive, prying and condescending messages I received. A lot of them came from men who have trouble processing vulnerability — in all of its forms — and prefer to think of it as mildly distasteful/not respectable.

When a certain type of man thinks of you as not worthy of respect, he may write you off, or he may also attempt to hit on you/crowd you in a demeaning way. Because a man like this reads “vulnerability” as “she has no boundaries.”

Certain women also mistake vulnerability for a lack of boundaries, but they more frequently attempt to aggressively mentor the person they deem as having a lack of boundaries. Heaps of unsolicited advice, carefully worded to remind the individual of their lower/more ignorant status in relation to the self-appointed mentor, are the norm in this situation.

While it’s not surprising, this process has nevertheless been fascinating for me to observe, due to the fact that the Anti-Nihilist Institute is an organization that promotes emotional intelligence, not only because feelings get hurt and relationships are damaged when people refuse to be smart about emotion, but because real life issues get obscured in the process.

People who misread my tweets and posts about abuse missed important points, such as: Abuse is literally everywhere. It frequently doesn’t look like abuse from the outside. A victim can and will take cute Instagram photos with her abuser, for example (in fact, the abuser will insist on them —making sure that things look “normal” is important). Cues can be subtle. Trauma bonding is real. Bonding is real in general — nobody is abusive 100% of the time. Abusers can be charming, caring, and supportive when they’re not busy abusing someone. Making excuses for what’s happening is common. Bluntly telling someone, “Just leave him, girl,” will often have the opposite effect. Leaving can be so very dangerous. Patience and understanding are key to helping someone leave.

When we talk about abuse, we don’t just risk public ridicule. We risk breaking down the wall we have built between ourselves and the people who abused us. We risk revenge. We don’t want medals, but we do want the risks we take to be worth it.

I am better, much better now, than I used to be. These last few months didn’t just teach about survival, they taught me about what great friends I have. How lucky I am to have my country to go back to — the States is still beautiful, even under a cloud of Trumpism, even with all of the crap we have to deal with back here, and we have much left to lose. And I know know much more about my own resilience and, above all else, capacity to love. No matter what.

That’s the other part about vulnerability that people frequently fail to understand. Being vulnerable is not just about opening up to other people — it’s about opening up to yourself. Knowing yourself. Knowing what you are actually capable of.

So now that abuse is on the agenda again thanks to the likes of Rob Porter, please consider it not just as a subject you cluck your tongue at before turning away. Consider it as part of a narrative that many, many people — including your friends and neighbors — are living through. Consider the reality of it and the horror of it and how that horror can, with lots of patience and hard work, be slowly overcome.

Reality is, in many ways, a story we tell ourselves. True stories go beyond respectability politics, and keeping up appearances, and even beyond bravery. True stories take their roots in the fabric of life, in the universal latticework. They reach deep inside you and yes, they can cause discomfort and hurt, especially when they are about a topic such as abuse. But there is more than wisdom on the other side of the discomfort — there is also greater peace and understanding. If you let yourself be led there, if you trust the narrative. It can be daunting — but please do try it sometime.

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No guilt-trip, just good times

What Luma witnessed: the sacred status of male abusers in Jordan (and how it hurts both men and women)

When something like this happens in public in Amman, I think it highlights one of the main reasons why the so-called honour killing law has still not been changed. Family is turned on its head, and the reverence for family becomes a reverence for psychological and physical abuse.

Of course, the situation described is also very much gender-specific. I seriously doubt that a sister would get away with treating a younger, smaller brother like this. The violence of male relatives, however, is not an aberration, it’s viewed as something natural and right and, most importantly, it is supreme. “She’s my sister,” he says as he’s grabbing her, and we automatically think, “well, she must’ve done something to piss you off then, eh? None of my business anyway. Who knows what might happen to me if I get involved? Let sleeping dogs lie.”

The bystander effect only reinforces the given situation.

I wish I could tell you that the incident Luma has described is shocking to me, but it isn’t. After being in Jordan for more than a year, it feels oddly natural, the way a broken bone feels natural after a while, inasmuch as it’s still a part of your body. This is what happens in a society where women’s worth is tied to a completely arbitrary and convoluted idea of sexual purity, and men are meanwhile charged with upholding this idea of sexual purity at all costs. And don’t you dare interfere with their duties! These are all private matters! Look away, unless you want to get into trouble yourself. Don’t you dare question it! You just want to destroy the moral fabric of our society and turn all of our women into whores!

“She’s my sister” really means that “she is a thing.” The words are like a magic curse, turning a flesh-and-blood human being into a kind of rag doll you can publicly rip apart.

I don’t blame the male witnesses for upholding the brother’s “right” to publicly abuse his sister. It’s a survival tactic as much as anything. It feels better to look away and pretend as though the woman has earned such treatment. If you don’t look away, you might very well get into trouble. The brother’s right to harm his sister is practically sacred. After all, brothers are cast into the impossible and equally dehumanizing role of shepherding their sisters as if the latter are livestock.

I think that all of this warrants a closer look at to what being a part of a family actually means. Is in abusive family still a family? At what point do we say – “these are not the actions of a brother”?

Also a closer look at womanhood is needed. What defines a “good” woman? Is it her mind and her integrity, or is it her hymen? You can’t have it both ways.

Family? What Family?

“Lecture on domestic violence cancelled over protests it could break up families.”

A family where violence is rampant is not a family to begin with. Families are based on mutual trust.

I’m not saying that people’s private lives should be all sunshine, all the time. Can a “good” family harbour darkness? Yes, to a degree. It was true a hundred years ago and will be true a hundred years from now. Even if the ultra-radical progressive folks one day come up with a perfect substitute for family, the darkness will still be there, it will just shape-shift to accommodate whatever new pattern of bonding we come up with.

However, this doesn’t mean that domestic violence should be acceptable in any society.

People aren’t perfect, we get that. Shit happens. To top it all off, divorce and separation aren’t joyful events (well, for some people they sure can be, especially if said people have been deeply unhappy and/or abused). But hey, funerals aren’t exactly joyful either, and we don’t outlaw them or stigmatize those that participate in them. And a person who willfully terrorizes and destroys another human being over time has crossed a very clear line.

What these people are really protesting is the notion of uppity wives suddenly getting it into their heads to leave the jerk that’s been smacking them around (or worse). The news article is gender-ambiguous, but we all know who suffers the most from domestic violence cases, especially in patriarchal societies.

It’s true of Japan, and it’s true of Ukraine, where I’m from. Women cake make-up on their bruises and insist they’re doing it “for the kids,” the kids who will go on to replicate (or subjugate themselves to) this very behaviour.

But the sacred cow of “family” cannot be invoked if it isn’t really there.