Think of the term domestic abuse for a bit. Swirl it around in your head the way wine snobs swirl around an Italian chardonnay. What does it make you think of? Most likely, how your brain interprets that dry, rather clinical term involves a man in a beer-stained sleeveless t-shirt. The back of a hand. The word “bitch” thrown around with abandon. “Look what you made me do, bitch.” Bruises, black eyes. Perhaps you might even imagine the cops getting involved, or a DV shelter, or the brute driving around searching furiously for said DV shelter, thumbing the revolver tucked into his belt.
And, above all, a female victim. That is the universal of almost all abuse scenarios (absent the rare gay-male-DV story, which almost never broaches public imagination for some reason). Probably curled up in one corner, crying, a menacing shadow looming over her, belt in his hand.
Now, with those Godfather movie scenes still fresh in your mind, read this.
No, seriously. Go and read it. Then come back. It’ll even open up in its own tab and everything. I’ll wait.
Done? Good. We have much to discuss.
At the beginning were you like “Lol, she’s jealous of an Amazon Echo, how funny” and at the conclusion were you like “This marriage is ending with a murder-suicide, isn’t it”? Because I want to know if I am wrong for feeling like this.
We need to discuss how this domestic abuse case is ongoing. We need to discuss how the perpetrator feels absolutely no remorse. We need to discuss how the perpetrator is the author of the piece, and how the piece is hosted by one of the most prominent feminists in America, Roxane Gay.
Now we could slide with the easy “what if the genders were reversed” thing, but see, we don’t. We really don’t need to do that with paragraphs that kept landing like increasingly vicious body blows, each more damaging than the last.
“Other helpful hints include: Don’t call, text, or email my husband to make social plans, contact me. Don’t give my husband a gift, because I will construe whatever it is as too personal.”
“I love my husband so much, I tell him: ‘If you cheat on me, I am going to jail. Because I will murder you. I have no fear of prison. I can be somebody’s bitch in two seconds.'”
“He may compliment another woman’s intelligence, sense of humor, career, and accomplishments; but he may not compliment her appearance. He may hug a female friend hello (upon her initiation), but he may not otherwise touch her unless he’s administering the Heimlich maneuver, which out of respect for me, he has never bothered to learn.” (emphases added)
By the time you get to the Heimlich bit, you realize she is not joking. That this isn’t rhetorical flourish. That this piece isn’t just about some regrettable inner dialogue about jealousy that she knows is wrong and is dealing with.
You realize that this is this man’s reality. That she really forbade her husband learn the fucking Heimlich maneuver for fear he would wind up touching another female. Or rather than forbidding it, but by that point he already knew on his own not to learn it, and why, which is so much worse. That her husband performing the Heimlich on a woman (or even a man, apparently, judging by the poker paragraph) is something she literally thinks about often enough for it to land in her piece.
Both the number one method and the number one objective in abuse is control. Control. That is the main reason why the abuser batters down the victim’s self-esteem, their self-worth, even their sense of objective reality beyond what the abuser allows.
Sure, there’s probably some sadism involved; the delight in their victim’s pain.
But the primary point of the abuse, whether administered by fist or by Helen Ellis’ preferred method of psychological torture, is to wreck the person enough to make them easy to completely control and dominate. And to make it easy to punish the victim if they dare test the boundaries of said control.
Now, there may be some who still believe a man cannot be abused by a woman because he most likely could easily overcome her physically, barring some kind of physical disability.
There is a reason why season 1 of Netflix’s now-cancelled series Jessica Jones really hit home with me. The titular character, living as she does in a world of superheroes, has super strength and could have punched her abuser through a brick wall. None of that matters a hill of beans because the bad guy has mind-control powers, and at one point had her wholly dominated. Only after she convinced herself after thirteen episodes that he could no longer control her did she get her revenge (note: while killing abusers seems to be popular in fiction, this is not the recommended pathway to escape or healing).
I’m 6’4″. My abuser was 5’2″. So what? Change a few details around, and she could have written Helen Ellis’ piece. Or at least, she could have when we were still together, because that’s the key difference.
I got out. That poor bastard is still in and has been for two decades.
Ok, fine, let’s finally change the genders around. Reread that piece with pronouns swapped and an author named Carl or something. You’re now probably considering calling 911, right?
But because the victim is a man, the perp not only gets published online, but she does on a leading feminist’s page.
One of my worst fears involves not some vicious crime or horrible sickness or a thermonuclear weapon headed to my town, but my ex. At my front door. All 5’2″ of her. I mean, to me that really is scarier than a scarred, prison-tatted, hardened killer at my doorstep. I mean, as I typed the last sentence, I caught myself literally thinking about how the latter would be more reasonable.
Nobody gives two shits about guys trapped in abusive relationships and that’s the worst part. A reminder that we’re the expendable gender. I mean, one political side would just call the guy a pussy and the other political side would be happy to publish his abuser. Certainly, Roxane Gay and noted MAGA diehard and all-around dirtbag Kurt Schlichter would agree that Helen Ellis’ husband had it coming.
But the concept is brutally simple. There are people who try to help and build up their partners, and there are other people who try to tear them down. Whether out of paranoia, jealousy, to mask their own insecurity, or out of simple unalloyed rage. And it’s not broken down by gender.
At this point I’d suggest some resources for escape for guys trapped in Helen Ellis’ unnamed (now there’s yet another red flag) husband’s situation; but sadly, these do not exist. Not really, anyway. All I can say is, get out. Rely on the help of family — you know, the family she’s tried so desperately to cut you off from. I can’t guarantee you’ll heal or that things will get better.
But at least they’ll stop getting worse.