We teach boys to abuse women. We teach girls that abuse = attraction.

When I was in elementary school, a group of boys in my class liked to pick on me. Sometimes they got really mean, and it bothered me, so I told on them. The teacher I talked to told me that they were “just being boys,” and that they were probably doing it “because they like you!”

When I was a freshman in college, I went to a church on Father’s Day that preached a message about how to raise your sons. The pastor stated that there was something wrong with any boy who plays with Barbie dolls. Not only did he demand that parents discourage their sons from playing with these “girly toys,” he told parents to encourage their sons to steal their sisters’ Barbies and light them on fire, because that’s what “real boys” do.

I’m sure these scenarios don’t shock you too much. You’ve probably heard similar things, and maybe didn’t think twice about them, because these ideas about gender are so ingrained in our culture.

But when we teach boys that being a “real boy” means destroying a girl’s property (especially when that property is the image of a woman), we are teaching them that being cruel to women is what real men do. We’re teaching them that real men hate “girly things” to the point where they destroy them. We’re teaching them that real men have the right to do whatever they want to a woman’s property. We’re teaching them that real men find pleasure in destroying an image of a female body.

And we’re teaching girls that this behavior is desirable. When we dismiss a girl’s concerns with how she is being treated by boys by saying, “oh that’s what boys do,” we’re teaching her that cruel behavior is normal and to be expected. We’re teaching her that her feelings are not as important as protecting the spirit of “boyhood.” When we tell her that “he probably just likes you,” we’re telling her that cruel behavior is not only normal, but a sign of attraction. We’re teaching her that abuse equals attraction. We’re teaching her to expect cruel treatment from any future men.

About 3 women will die from domestic abuse in the United States EVERY DAY.

Boys aren’t born knowing how to hurt and abuse women. They learn.

Girls aren’t born thinking that they deserve to be treated with cruelty by people who claim to love them. They learn. 

What are we teaching our kids?



Women matter.

I was at a rock concert last week and a stranger felt me up. I froze for several seconds–couldn’t breathe, couldn’t move as those hands moved up and down my waist. Finally, I found the courage to elbow the person in the stomach. Then, I went to the bathroom and cried and ended up missing half of The Darkness singing “Love on the Rocks with No Ice.”

But a week later, I can still feel those hands. Every time I sit down to write. Every time I look in the mirror. Every time I have a positive thought about myself.

I can feel them, and I can hear them. They whisper, “You don’t matter. You’re just an object that I wanted to touch and so I did. You exist for my pleasure. You don’t matter.”

Then, I saw the new PETA ads. You know, the “My boyfriend went vegan and couldn’t control his own strength during sex so he bruised me and put me in a neck brace” ads.

And when I feel those hands, I also see the image of that woman walking down the road in her neck brace, as she gives the excuses that sounded a lot like what I heard coming out of my own mouth many times when I was in an abusive relationship. And I hear PETA whispering, “You don’t matter. Animals are people, but women are not. You don’t matter.”

And, do I even need to bring up Issa’s committee regarding the birth control mandate, at which no women were allowed to testify? It’s not even a whisper but a yell. “You don’t matter. Not when it comes to politics. Not when it comes to religion. Not even when it comes to your own health. You don’t matter.”

The world is telling us this every day, women. In the way it represents us, in the way it treats us, and in the way it speaks to us. The world is saying, “You don’t matter.”

Are we listening?

Do we believe it?

I know sometimes it’s difficult not to internalize the messages that we receive everyday.

We’re touched inappropriately or whistled at as we walk down the street, and we push aside feelings of discomfort and tell ourselves, “I’m overreacting. I can’t get upset–I mean, I should expect this going to a rock concert/the club/this part of town. I shouldn’t have worn this outfit. I must have done something to provoke this.”

And what we’re really telling ourselves is, “I don’t matter.”

We see a battered woman on television being used to sell products or ideas and we doubt those feelings of anger that rightly well up inside of us. We try to make excuses like, “It was a joke, right? Besides, the commercial wasn’t portraying abuse. The boyfriend just didn’t know his own strength. The company/organization was just trying to make a point.”

And what these doubts amount to is really, “Do I matter?”

Then, we see political policies that directly affect us women being discussed by men, and men only. We see religious decisions that directly affect the women of the church being made by men. And often, we don’t blink an eye because we’ve been told so often that we don’t matter, that we almost accept that it’s a man’s world.

Because the world is telling us we don’t matter.

It’s telling us everywhere we turn.

It’s yelling at us from cars as we walk down the streets. It’s hitting us over the head with these messages in movies and commercials and sitcoms. It’s preaching it at us from the pulpits and political campaigns.

But we don’t have to listen.


So, what about the men?

1 in 6 boys will be sexually assaulted by age 18.*

1 in 33 men will be experience completed or attempt rape in his lifetime.*

52% of gay men will experience coercion from a partner*

22% of male prison inmates will be raped during their incarceration**

Out of all the victims of murder by an intimate partner, about 1/4 are male.***

Even as victims, men who leave abusive female partners have a high risk of losing custody of their children.****

And, even though it is estimated that men make up 10% of all rape victims, they are the least likely to report sexual assault**


These numbers don’t get mentioned very often, and this can leave male survivors feeling isolated and marginalized. Men suffer from rape and domestic abuse, just as women do.

But I rarely hear people talk about it.

This certainly isn’t to say that we should be putting less energy into ending violence toward women. But we need to remember that male survivors of abuse are also silenced by gender roles…

Roles which suggest men cannot be raped by women because men should always want sex.

Roles which suggest women cannot rape men because women don’t have their own sexuality.

Roles which expect men to be strong enough to “avoid being victimized.”

Roles which view women as weak and frail, and therefore incapable of committing domestic violence.

Roles which assume that even an abusive woman is, in nearly every circumstance, a better nurturer for children than a man

Roles which stubbornly view all men as potential abusers, and all women as potential victims.

Roles which completely ignore same-sex relationships.

When we cling tightly to these gender roles, men suffer. Legitimate problems are ignored. Roads toward improvement remain unpaved. Survivors either keep quiet in fear or they are silenced by outside ignorance.

Women, as we fight for equality, let’s not forget that our brothers are also being hurt by the strict gender roles that society has set up. And let’s do what we can to help!

–Let’s start including the above statistics in our discussions.

–Let’s be careful about making universal statements that enforce negative stereotypes (you know, “All men are jerks!” and the like).

–Let’s be careful about placing pressure on men to always be strong, to always be leaders, to always be protectors…never humans.

–In fact, let’s break the stereotype that says only men can be protectors. Let’s let the men in our lives know that we’ve got their backs!

–Let’s show the men in our lives how much we love them and value them.

And men, we hope you can find freedom. But until you do, just know that we’re here for you. We love you.

You’re not alone.





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Here’s to the men!

Picture from BGSU's Organization for Women's Issues facebook page (click for link)

Last week, I participated in my university’s “Take Back the Night” event.

We held a rally and a march in which we spoke out against rape and violence against women. Then, we held a speak out in which women shared their stories and their reasons for participating in “Take Back the Night.”

It was a poignant, sobering, empowering, comforting, enlightening, beautiful night.

Although I thoroughly enjoyed marching through fraternity row carrying signs and shouting, “Stop the silence, end the violence,” I think my favorite part of the night took place during the rally. After a few women gave a speech explaining the history and purpose of “Take Back the Night,” a group of men took the stage.

Picture from BGSU's Organization for Women's Issues facebook page (click for link)

They gave a pledge–a pledge acknowledging that they were completely against trends in society that tried to tell them that to be “masculine” is to be dominating.  To stand up for us and fight for women’s rights along side us. To treat women as human, even if the rest of the world treats them as objects.

I’ll admit it–I teared up a bit.

So, here’s to the men!

Here’s to all you men who refuse to rape or hurt or belittle, even in the face of society’s glorification of rape culture.

Here’s to all you men out there who treat us women like humans, even though some people may think less of you for that.

We women appreciate you.

This fight is NOT about men vs. women.

This fight is about humans vs. inhumanity.

So, thank you for being willing to stand along side us as equals and as fellow humans. We love you guys!


The subtle signs of relationship abuse

Image via Batteredhearts.com

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

Are you aware of domestic violence?

Of course you know it exists. Turn on Lifetime for five minutes and you’ll figure that one out. But do we really understand what domestic violence looks like?

When you think of an abusive relationship, you may think of physical violence, bruises, and yelling. But the fact is, in most cases, by the time these obvious symptoms appear, the abuse has probably been going on for while.

The roots of domestic violence are harder to notice and harder to dig out and drag into the sunlight. But they’re dangerously powerful, twisted and complicated, and constantly growing deeper. They provide the obvious fruits of abuse with a solid foundation.

These roots aren’t completely ignored, but they’re often connected to the wrong tree. Instead of recognizing subtle signs of domestic abuse for what they are, our movies, magazines, and novels tend to romanticize some of them. Instead of connecting these dangerous roots to abuse, we connect them to romance.

So let’s grab some shovels and dig up some of these roots, shall we? Let’s

expose them for what they really are.

Here are a few subtle signs of an abusive relationship:

Your significant other controls who you spend your time with: This isn’t always as obvious as it sounds. It usually starts off sounding reasonable. Protective, even– “Please don’t hang out with that ex-girlfriend. She still wants you.” or “Stay away from that creepy guy who keeps hitting on you at work.”

But it progresses.

“I know she’s your best friend, but she’s not good to you. She’s just using you. Stay away from her.”

“Your parents don’t want us to be together because they don’t trust you.”

“You really shouldn’t hang out with your male friends. All men are perverts. I’m just trying to protect you.”

Soon, the abuser has isolated his/her victim, cut him/her off from any support or help. The victim feels like the abuser is the only person he/she can rely on.

Your significant other manipulates you sexually: I’m going to talk about two scenarios here. You’re probably familiar with the first one. You’ve probably heard about it in youth group, or seen it played out on several sitcoms.

It’s the story of an innocent female virgin who doesn’t want sex, and an over-bearing man who can’t control his sexual desires. The man says things like, “If you love me, you will.” or “I’ll cheat on you if you don’t.”

This scenario is loaded with assumptions about gender, so let’s expand it. Men, you can be manipulated by women in the same way. Don’t think that just because you’re a man you should welcome this kind of sexual manipulation.

Women, you don’t have to be an innocent virgin or lack a sex drive in order to have the right to say no to sex. Even if you want sex from this man, he has no right to pressure you like that.

This first situation isn’t just men being men. It isn’t just something women should watch out for. It’s not just a clichéd sitcom plot.

It’s sexual abuse.

Now, for scenario two. What if two people are having sex, with mutual consent? There are still signs of abuse that we need to watch out for, especially if other signs of abuse are present in a relationship.

For instance, does the man refuse to wear condoms or allow the woman to use birth control? Obviously, there could be religious reasons behind this that both partners adhere to, or both partners might be trying to start a family.

But abusers will do whatever it takes to keep their victims dependent on them, therefore male abusers will often try to impregnate female victims. So watch for other signs. And women, I don’t care if you’re married to a Catholic or you’re sleeping with a random guy you met at the bar– you have the right to safe sex.

–Your significant other refuses to give you privacy: Does your significant other ask to know your Facebook and email passwords? Does he/she demand that you share an email address, in order to keep you from the temptation of cheating? Does he/she constantly text you, asking where you are, and get upset if you don’t answer right away?

Your significant other stalks you: I had a friend in high school who was dating an emotionally abusive boy. They would get into fights, and she would ask him to leave her house. He would sit on the front porch for hours and hours, crying, begging for forgiveness, until she finally let him back in.

Several of our other friends would say things like, “Aww! How sweet!  That’s true love.”

No, people. That is stalking. It’s not cute. It’s not romantic. It’s abusive.

Your significant other threatens to commit suicide if you break up with him/don’t give him what he wants: Remember that scene in The Notebook where the male lead climbs up the Ferris wheel to ask the female lead on a date and he says he’ll jump off if she refuses?


Your significant other is physically rough: Physical abuse doesn’t have to be hitting and slapping. I once thought that, which is why I didn’t realize until months after my break up with my first boyfriend that I had been in a physically abusive relationship.

He would grab my arm so tightly if I tried to walk away from him that it’d leave hand print shaped bruises. But he’d claim that he just “didn’t know his own strength” and I’d dismiss it as an accident. He’d push me into walls. He’d tickle me until I would cry, and sometimes throw up. He’d shake me, and he’d pick me up and throw me over his shoulder.

But because my physical abuse didn’t look like the physical abuse on television, I assumed I was over-reacting.

I wasn’t. Physical abuse manifests itself in different ways. Your pain is real and your problem is legitimate.

Your significant other makes you feel worthless and undeserving of his/her love: This is perhaps the strongest and most dangerous root of relationship abuse. The abuser strips away his/her victim’s self-esteem, one insult at a time. Eventually, the victim truly believes that he/she is stupid, ugly, damaged goods…

It starts with light-hearted “jokes” here and there.

“Hah, you’re so stupid.”…”You dumb blonde!”…”Oh, quit bitching.”…”You know you’re my whore.”

When the victim complains about these insults, the abuser says, “Geez, can’t you take a joke?”

By the time the insults get worse, and the jokes become less and less funny– by the time the relationship is obviously verbally abusive in nature the victim has already been conditioned not to question.

The abuser will hold past mistakes over the victim’s head.

“I shouldn’t love you after what you did. You owe me.”

Or the abuser will treat the victim as a charity case.

“No one else would want you. You’re damaged goods. You’re lucky I’m so good to you.”

At this point, escape not only feels impossible for the victim, but it feels undesirable.

Your significant other dictates your personal appearance: An abuser lives in fear that his/her victim will realize the truth– that there are other fish in the sea, so why date a shark?

So the abuser will do his/her best to keep the victim from being noticed by other fish.

For me, it started with, “Stop wearing make-up. You look better without it,” or “Why are you wearing that? You don’t have to dress up like that.

You’re beautiful in sweat pants and baggy t-shirts.”

And it became my abuser throwing my purse out of a moving vehicle because he caught me taking mascara out of it. It became my abuser not letting me shave my legs or shower for days at a time.

Women, you are pretty without make-up. You are pretty in baggy sweat-pants. But don’t trust any guy who says you’re only pretty without make-up. Don’t trust any guy who doesn’t allow you to wear what you want to wear.

Your significant other makes you doubt your dreams: When you share your goals and dreams with your significant other, how does he/she respond? If it’s with a “I don’t think you could handle that,” or “No, I think you’d be better off doing ____, instead,” be careful.

Of course, your partner might just know you very well, and might be giving you loving, honest advice. But if your partner immediately shoots down your dreams, or actively stands in the way of them (for instance, a man using religion to tell a woman that she cannot go to college or get a job because her place is  in the home), this is a problem.

Unfortunately, these aren’t the only signs of abuse. I haven’t covered even all of the tricks that my abusive boyfriend used on me. But I feel like I needed to start this conversation. I hope you’ll continue it in the comments, or submit a guest post for Join the Chorus! Let’s not let these subtle symptoms of relationship abuse stay under ground any longer. Let’s let our voices be heard!