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LindaHilton

Linda Hilton

Reader, Writer, Merciless Reviewer and Incurable Romantic

 

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Currently reading

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Dangerous Relationships: Pornography, Misogyny, and Rape

Dangerous Relationships: Pornography, Misogyny and Rape - Diana E H E H Russell

Very very very long rant.

 

I started this post a week or more ago, but never finished it.  It didn't feel relevant.  I felt guilty, as though I were trying to climb onto the #metoo bandwagon without any right to do so.  There were other posts started and not even saved, because they felt like selfish whines.  Then I read the thread on Twitter about the woman who was assaulted? Intimidated?  Threatened? in her own home by a guy over a clothes dryer.

 

It's the everyday things that maintain the system, that keep rape culture strong and thriving.  It's not just the violent rapes, the stranger rapes, the date rapes.  It's the subtle things that happen to us all the time, day after day after day, often from men we trust and depend on, that provide the foundation.

 

Disclosure:  I do not know Diane E. H. Russell personally.  I had one brief email exchange with her nearly 20 years ago.

 

I own a copy of Dr. Russell's Femicide: The Politics of Woman Killing.  I have several photocopied pages of Dangerous Relationships, but I do not own the book.

 

Full disclosure:  Not all abuse leaves bruises.

 

What follows is not a review.  I don't believe there are any triggers, but just in case: There are no descriptions of violence, because I never experienced violence.  I even feel guilty about revealing this because there was no violence involved.  I was never raped, never assaulted.  No one in my family molested me; none of my teachers ever "came on" to me.  I had a few bosses who were kind of icky in that way, and one was bad enough that I had to quit on the spot, but even then I never felt threatened or in danger.

 

I was sexually active at a relatively early age, but it was my choice.  I never felt pressured to have sex for any reason.  Not to keep a boyfriend, not to pay one back for the expense of a date, nothing. 

 

The pressure I did feel was to get married.  So I did.  We were married in 1969; he was 22, I was 20.  The marriage lasted until his death in 2005.

 

He was a hard worker and a loyal employee, but not particularly ambitious.  When I was able to find work, we did all right financially.  We owned a home, raised two children, but we did without a lot of the little extras.  More money always seemed to be going out than was coming in.  I handled the paying of the monthly bills and we jointly decided most of the major expenditures, but the money seemed to keep disappearing.  We seemed to always be inching deeper and deeper into debt, with nothing to show for it.

 

It wasn't until 2000, when I was just a couple of months away from my long-awaited graduation from Arizona State at age 51, that I discovered his addiction to pornography.

 

He didn't use the computer, so he wasn't hitting up the porn sites online.  He was buying magazines.  And videos.  There were two phone calls to sex-talk numbers.  I don't know for sure what else.  I was less upset about the porn itself than I was about the outrageous sums of money he was spending on it, and had been spending for a very long time.

 

I had taken out student loans to pay down the credit card debt that had built up steadily, never knowing that much of that debt was due to his addiction.  We had fallen behind on our mortgage.  Our vehicles often needed repairs we couldn't afford. The list went on and on.  I kept asking him over and over and over, where is all this cash going that he kept taking out of the bank with his debit card.  Not twenty bucks here and there, but two or three or four hundred dollars a month.  He offered no explanation, said he didn't know.

 

I was devastated when I found out, but I didn't know what to do.  If I didn't confront him with the knowledge, I would have no way to stop him from continuing his habit.  If I did confront him, I had no idea what would happen.

 

Ultimately, I had no choice.  Six weeks before graduation, we got the first pre-foreclosure notice on our house.  I confronted him.

 

There was a horrible scene, some screaming, a lot of crying, a lot of "I don't know" responses and a lot of "I won't do it again" responses.  What hurt me the most was the lying, though, that had accompanied literally years of my asking about where the money went and patiently explaining to him that we could lose our home.

 

None of it seemed to matter.

 

I threw away all the magazines, the videos.  I accepted the apologies and the promises.  There was nothing else I could do.

 

There had never been any violence or anything even close to it.  He was even more of an introvert than I, so we didn't have much social life.  I had my writers' groups and that was my social life.  We went to a couple of family events with the company he worked for and that was about it.  Even as a women's studies major, I hadn't completely put everything together, but after the discovery of the pornography, I began to understand how manipulative he had been.

 

Intentionally?  I honestly to this day don't think so.  But he did see me as his possession, and he used finances to make sure I couldn't leave.

 

Because we lived in a rural community outside the Phoenix metro area, I complained and complained and complained that I needed a decent, dependable vehicle to get to work if I wanted a job that paid more than minimum wage.  As a trained mechanic, he could have done that.  He didn't.  So I never had a job that paid well because I couldn't get to one.  The jobs I could get were eaten up by transportation costs.  The net effect was often negative.

 

Going back to college was supposed to help me get out of the minimum wage, entry level office jobs that I'd been relegated to.  But now the financial squeeze we were in precluded a dependable vehicle.  He had one, because he was providing the majority of our income and needed it.  But . . . . .

 

It hurts to write this.  It hurts to remember.

 

My dream goal had been to get my degree and then go to law school.  The law school at Arizona State in Tempe was reasonably affordable, but commuting would have been difficult.  Without a dependable vehicle, it was flat out impossible.  I decided to take advantage of the new master's program at ASU-West -- where I was getting my BA -- and hope that that would suffice.  I could still work full-time and maybe get out from under the crush of debt.

 

I explained all of this to him.  Over and over and over.  The pornography had to stop.  I would get a job -- I had been working part-time on campus while an undergrad -- and go to class two nights a week.  In three years I'd have my MAIS and then try again for law school.

 

The money kept disappearing.  Worse than that, other things began to happen.  I discovered that he was watching me, spying on me.  When I took a shower.  When I went to the bathroom.  He had created peepholes in the bathroom door. 

 

Now I was terrified.  (I'm shaking as I type this and it's almost 20 years ago.)  There was another confrontation, worse than the first.  More crying, more apologies.  He left, and I couldn't even follow him because I couldn't get to another vehicle -- we had four or five junkers at the time -- fast enough.

 

He was gone for a day or so, then finally came back.  We reached some kind of truce; I remember that less than I do the battle.  I told no one what had happened.  I hinted at some of it to a mutual acquaintance, but she just shrugged it off and said I must be mistaken because my husband was such a nice guy he would never do that kind of thing.

 

And he had effectively kept me from having any real friends that I could turn to.

 

Our kids were on their own by then.  Our son was going to ASU - but would eventually drop out - and had got married in 1999.  Our daughter had gone to Texas Christian for three years then transferred and graduated from ASU.  She would marry in the fall of 2001.  I was still trapped under all this debt and just hoping something would work out.

 

The job market wasn't great.  I landed some decent long-term temporary jobs, but they didn't pay a whole lot.  With careful management of the budget, I kept our heads barely above water.  We were still behind on the mortgage, but not so far that foreclosure was an immediate threat.  The credit cards that had been paid off with student loans were slowly creeping up again.  I spent a lot of nights crying myself to sleep.  I didn't know what to do.  I filed for one deferment on my student loans because I was still in grad school, but I kept thinking/hoping things would turn around and I'd be able to start paying them off in earnest.

 

It didn't happen.  I graduated with my MAIS in 2003 and there were still no jobs.  I'd been out of the market so long that I didn't have a decent resume when it came to technology.  At age 55 I was competing against younger people with more experience for the same jobs.  I still didn't have dependable transportation.

 

He continued to blow money.  I found evidence here and there that not only was he spending it on pornography but that he knew I knew.  The watching and peeking stopped because I made it stop, but I still never felt safe.  And I had nowhere to go.

 

I had begun saving a little bit of cash here and there.  Not much, because there never was much available, but I thought maybe, if there were a serious emergency, it would buy me a night or two in a motel until I could figure out what to do. 

 

Most of the time, you understand, everything was outwardly normal.  We had a tiny social life with one of the guys he worked with, though never with anyone I knew.  We did art shows with my jewelry and his woodworking.  The credit card balances didn't go down by much but eventually they stopped going steadily higher.  We were close to current on the mortgage.

 

My student loans, however, went into default.  I was in a kind of denial about them.  Oh, I knew they were there and I knew they had to be paid, but there wasn't enough money for that.  Maybe, if we got the other debts paid so we could get a decent car and I could drive to a decent job . . . .

 

He knew all this.  He did nothing.  Then in the fall of 2004, there was some extra money and we decided to put it into needed maintenance on our one decent vehicle so we could take a 5000 mile road trip from Arizona to New Jersey where our daughter had relocated to and then swing back through Indiana and Illinois to visit our parents.  I knew this was going to be a bad financial decision, but we hadn't been back to Indiana to see his parents in over ten years.  So we went.

 

And I'm glad we did, because in May 2005 he was diagnosed with stage four cancer and passed away the end of July.  Our first grandson had been born in March, and our daughter in New Jersey was pregnant.  Our second grandson was born the day before my husband died . . . on our son's birthday.

 

I was working a part-time minimum wage job as a grocery store cashier.  My wages were garnished by the student loans.  The mortgage was still behind, though we had less than two years to pay on it.  (Our one decent vehicle had been totaled in a hit-and-run accident a week or so after the cancer diagnosis, and the ensuing insurance battle ended with our having less than 24 hours to pick out a replacement vehicle and it wasn't reliable either, which is another story of misogyny, but not quite relevant.)  And insurance co-pays for doctor visits and ambulance calls and radiation treatments and everything else had piled onto the credit cards.

 

And I couldn't tell anyone.  I couldn't tell my grief-stricken kids that I was in debt to my eyebrows because their father bought dirty magazines by the dozens.  I couldn't say anything to my mother-in-law when my husband begged her to help me out after he was gone so I at least wouldn't lose the house and her response was to grumble, "It's like pouring sand down a rat-hole.  She'll just lose it anyway."  I couldn't tell her I wouldn't have been in that position if it weren't for her son's inability to stop watching porn videos.

 

I didn't lose the house; there was enough life insurance money to pay off the mortgage and even a couple of the credit cards.  I went back to work at my minimum wage part-time job, making just barely enough to cover utilities, insurance, and groceries, along with minimum payments on the remaining cards.  There was nothing for student loans.

 

When I reconnected with my old high school BF and decided to sell the house and move, I discovered more pornography stashed in the house, purchased by my husband after the cancer diagnosis.  I never told BF.  He knew about a lot of the other stuff that had gone on, but I didn't tell him about finding more of it.  He just shrugged it off anyway.

 

I moved and settled in here and began to make friends in a way I'd never been able to before.  BF had lived in this area before and had a core group of friends which grew over the next few years to about 30 couples and a few singles (mostly widows like me).  I got along fine with all of them, except for one guy who just rubbed me the wrong way.  I told BF about it and he just laughed.

 

"There's nothing wrong with Jay," he would tell me.  "He's got money because his wife inherited it but he's just an ignorant idiot."

 

Oh, Jay was ignorant, all right.  And racist.  And sexist.  And I just didn't like him.  He made my skin crawl.

 

I couldn't pick out a single instance, but he said things that were just slightly off color.  References to sex that just weren't really appropriate.  I never felt comfortable around him.

 

Then at a couple of the little house parties the group had, Jay cornered me a couple of times.  The encounters never lasted long, because there were too many people around, but I knew what he was getting at.  He thought because BF and I were living together, I must be free for the taking.  I mentioned this to BF and again he just laughed.

 

Everyone in the group knew I was into rocks and stuff, so they'd bring me oddities they'd found and ask me about them.  One woman brought me a bag of Apache tears she'd found out in the desert.  Another whispered to me that she thought she had turquoise in her backyard, but it turned out to be chrysocolla.  She gave it to me, and I made some nice jewelry out of it!

 

But Jay was the one who pestered me about the rocks, until one day he showed up at my house, unannounced and without his wife.  He knew BF was going to be gone.  He knew I was there by myself.  He wanted to show me some rocks he had bought at a yard sale, and he wanted me to show him how I could make them into jewelry.

 

I didn't know what to do.  I couldn't make an excuse that I needed to go somewhere.  I couldn't come right out and tell him he was creeping me out.  So we went into the studio and I showed him the equipment and he stood too damn close behind me, without really touching me, but I knew in that way that we all know.

 

Nothing happened.  He said he wanted to come over again and do some more with the rocks. 

 

When BF got home I told him about it.  He was still sure Jay didn't mean anything by it.  I insisted it was creepy and uncalled for; he didn't need to come here without his wife when he knew I was here alone.

 

The whole business of #metoo has prompted some conversations between us, and I've brought up the incident with Jay once or twice.  BF still shrugs it off.  Or he did until last May, on Mother's Day, when we walked into Sears to buy a new water softener.  We walked through the tools and hardware department past a couple of salesmen who seemed to have nothing to do.  One of them said "Hi" as we walked on by, and when I didn't respond, he called out some stupid thing like, "Hey, lady, you owe me a smile."

 

I don't know if I snarled something back at him or walked on or what, but BF said something to me about "You didn't have to be rude."

 

And I said, "I don't owe that asshole anything.  He has no right to demand I smile at him.  For all he knows I've just come from my best friend's funeral or something."

 

I DON'T OWE ANY OF YOU ASSHOLES ANYTHING.

 

I will be paying on my student loans through deductions from my social security benefits for the rest of my life. 

 

I am still driving the 2000 Blazer that was the best we could get after the  insurance settlement on the hit-and-run accident in 2005.  It had 115,000 miles on it then; it has 187,000 miles thirteen years later.  Because of the hit to my credit score from the student loans, my insurance premiums are horrendous.

 

There are so many things I'm afraid to do.  I find myself hesitant even to ask BF to do things, not because he won't but because . . . fear. 

 

I've had guys come into my booth at art shows and be obnoxious, and sometimes I think it's because I'm there alone.  I'm tired of this shit.

 

I'm tired of having people -- usually men but not always -- feel that they can accuse me of lying or of being uninformed because I'm female.   When I show them I'm right and they're wrong, they ignore me and continue being wrong.

 

I'm tired of being poor because a guy had to have his porn and didn't care if his own wife had a roof over her head or not.

 

 

 

I had to take a break.  I know not every guy is like that.  And as I wrote above, I've never been assaulted.  I've never felt I had to physically fight someone off.  And so I feel guilty that I still feel this resentment and anger and hurt, that I meant so little to my own husband. . . . .

 

The events of the past 23 months have been deeply disturbing to me.  The bullshit about how a particular candidate ran a bad campaign or it was her fault for not going to certain states or her fucking emails or the press or everything else is bad enough.  But when all that is shoved aside and someone says, "I just couldn't bring myself to vote for her because she just didn't seem nice enough," all I can think about is the guy in Sears.  Or my boss 40 years ago who demanded that I say "Good morning" to him because it wasn't enough just to say "Morning." 

 

(Never mind that I was the only woman in the office who could step into every other woman's job and fill in if there were an emergency and I was STILL the lowest paid person in the company.  The janitor made more than I did, and I'd been there six years.)

 

Am I whining?  I guess I am.  As Fannie Lou Hamer used to say, I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired.

 

There are people -- men as well as women -- who are a lot worse off than I am.  I still have a roof over my head and the Blazer still runs and there's food in the fridge.  I still have my rocks and my tools and if I were more of a hustler I could sell more on Etsy than I do.  My health is decent, if you ignore the extra weight, the occasional back spasms, slightly high blood pressure, and thyroid issues.  But I'm tired of pretending, for someone else's benefit, that everything is okay.  It's not.  It hasn't been for a long time.

 

The medical bills and credit cards were eventually all paid off, thanks to the horrible little work-at-home job I had for six years until it killed my hands and back.  I carry a moderate credit card balance due to vet bills and major car repairs.  My budget is strained but I think I'll make it.

 

What I won't make is any more excuses for men.  I've had it.  Rape, assault, catcalling, unfair pay, unequal health care (there are no laws controlling men's bodies), and demanding women provide emotional support so men don't feel bad about the bad things they do to women -- it's all part of the culture of misogyny that manifests itself most horribly in actual rape and murder.

 

I'm going over to the studio now to try to make some sense out of the chaos and maybe make some jewelry while I'm at it.  And maybe this afternoon I'll try some writing.