The current flap about football player Ray Rice’s beating of his now-wife, Janay, may not help her but it may save other women.
In a HuffPo article, writer Rachel Leibrock has a problem with the shaming of domestic violence victims who felt compelled to tweet about their experiences with hashtags like #whyistayed. In the article, Leibrock lists her own reasons for staying in an abusive relationship, and they are the same ones that are true for nearly every woman in that situation:
I felt alone, like I had nobody else.
I worried about being able to survive, financially.
I felt shame for “allowing” myself to be treated that way in the first place, a shame that kept me captive in a vicious holding pattern.
He loved me. We were better than this.
He could change.
I should change.
It was my fault anyway.
But there is another reason why my mother stayed with my father, who routinely beat her in his drunken rages: religion.
Not hers, and not his, but the religion of his family, a particularly toxic form of fundamental Christianity that blames women for pretty much all forms of sin; if it’s not her actual sin, her original Eve-like state of natural evil made him do it.
My father got my mother pregnant at age 15, she was whisked out of school and into a home for unwed mothers, and her child was taken away and given to someone else. She married him because she was “ruined” for anyone else. Then she had me and my brother. Without a high school diploma (which she later got), she was stuck in a crappy job; one of his favorite times to beat her was on the birthday of her first child, when she would bake a cake and cry. Divorce was taboo and, if it happened, it was the woman’s fault for not being a good enough wife. And, as it often happens, he told her he’d kill her if she left.
You might say, that was a long time ago, the 1950s and 60s were different, things are better now. For many years, I worked with two domestic violence shelters and learned that one of the biggest segments of women who end up there come from Orthodox religious traditions: Jewish, Christian, or any sort of fundamentalist group that preaches the authority of men over women.
A friend of mine, in much more recent years, had a husband who would calculatedly hit her in places the bruises wouldn’t show, like the middle of her back. He would wait until the children were in bed, and she was careful not to cry out. When she went to her preacher, he told her she should just go back home and get her act together. I have heard countless stories of women who where sent back into domestic violence situations by their trusted imams, rabbis and ministers.
This is now, and this is why we need women to think about why they stay. This is why we need women to tell their stories, to put the shame where it properly belongs: on the men who beat women and on the “faith” traditions that facilitate it.
Domestic violence doesn’t affect only the woman who is enduring the abuse: it affects her children and the choices they make. I made up my mind that no man would ever, ever lay a hand on me – if you allow it once, it will happen again – and that I would never be saddled with children who made it harder to leave if it happened. My brother had a different reaction: he had kids and set out to be the best dad ever, the kind he didn’t have.
It’s not surprising that people wonder, “Girlfriend, what were you thinking?” especially when a woman marries a guy after he knocks her out cold in an elevator. If she thinks “he’ll change,” she is more than likely in for another beating, ask any domestic violence professional. That’s not shaming, that’s common sense.
I hope I’m wrong about Ray Rice, that he does change and that his wife doesn’t have children who get to watch their father abusing their mother. And I hope that every single spiritual leader of a congregation denounces, both publicly and privately, any man who hits a woman.
Kim Phillips is a Judaica artist, marketer, and certified pararabbinic in Nashville. She is also mom to Jacob, the Most Awesome Cat.