Our collective house is part of a larger local community of people dedicated to living intentionally and intelligently. Jodi has become the first person people call when there are difficult interpersonal issues to address; watching her go out the kitchen door and off to another meeting, or off to take another walk with a scared, unhappy person in the middle of a messy break-up, always makes me think of an old fashioned country midwife with her black bag headed out in all weathers to deliver another baby. Jodi has opened a lot of people’s eyes to the many destructive ways the issues of power and control get played out: she reminds us that we can’t alter global power relationships if our personal relationships—even our relationship to ourselves–remain microcosms of the bad old world. All politics, I realize now, is as local as one’s own heart.
A couple of years ago Jodi put out a zine called Athena about domestic violence. In the introduction she writes: “Domestic violence is a form of oppression based on artificial dynamics of power and control. The oppression goes far beyond abuser/victim relationship, and even further beyond learned behavior by witnessing or experiencing abuse as children. It affects us all as a society, even individuals who have not experienced violent relationships. It is hierarchy. This refers to a system of authority controlling basic resources such as food, property, shelter, medicine, transportation, education, money, and jobs. Hierarchy, combines with patriarchy (a system of authority that inserts gender into the dynamic), exists in just about every situation and interaction we have with others. It’s part of our workforce. It’s part of our organized religions. It’s part of our perceptions in our households and within the dynamics of ‘family.’ It becomes part of our friendships in some ways, as our personalities and conditioning allow us to fall into gender roles and power dynamics.”
A friend gave Jodi permission to include a personal account of her childhood in Athena and Jodi has allowed me to reprint it here.
She told her mother she was getting married. Her mother said she was too young. She said she was in love, and he was a good man. Her mother said, “Marriage is a union in the eyes of God. If you get married now, and are unhappy later…you will not be allowed back in this family should you leave.” My mother carried those words with her through the next 20 years.
It was almost midnight, but I was wide awake. And excited. We were free. I got to watch TV. Our TV at home only had a couple of channels, and they weren’t very clear. This place had two big beds in the same room, and I got to share a room with my Mommy. There was even a swimming pool. We were special, fancy.
“How would you feel if we didn’t go back to Daddy this time?”
“I don’t want to go back.”
“But you wouldn’t see him very much anymore. You should have a father.”
“I don’t want to go back.”
“Don’t you want a family?”
“I want to stay here.”
“Go to sleep. We’ll talk in the morning.”
She’s on the phone and crying again. I hear something about not being able to do this anymore. It’s fading in and out. I’m so tired now. I hear her say, “You always say it will never happen again… Yes I do love you…. Okay, we’ll be home tomorrow.”
My stomach hurts.
I’ve been playing outside all day. I’m hungry. As I walk up to our door, I can hear them. He’s punching her again. She’s crying again. I don’t want to go in there. I walk to my grandmother’s house. As always, she’s baking pie. Her pies always keep me busy when I’m too scared to go home.
“Why does he always hit her?”
“What do you mean?”
“He hits her, Grandma. Why does he do that? I’m scared he’s going to really hurt her. Why?”
“Well, it’s just the way menfolk are. It’s our place to keep quiet and keep ‘em happy.”
They’re fighting again. Now he’s screaming in her face, spitting on her and saying he’s going to get the gun. I think he means it this time. He heads for the bedroom, looking for the shells to the rifle. My mom’s on the phone, screaming, “Please! Help us. He says he’s going to kill us. He’s your son! If you come talk to him, he’ll listen. Please, you have to help us!” Nobody ever showed up to help us. But for some reason, we didn’t die.
Twenty years later I’m able to ask her about the rest of that story, what she heard on the phone I couldn’t.
“I’m sorry. We just can’t get involved. But we’ll pray for you.”
She was backed into the furthest wall of the bathroom. Her mouth was opened in a silent scream, but only small whimpers escaped her. Snot and tears trailed down her face. He held a blade to her neck, one of the longest knives from our kitchen. His body shoved against hers, slamming into her over and over. He was screaming at her. “I’ll fucking kill you, bitch! I’m sick and tired of your shit, all of your shit! Do you hear me, you fucking bitch! I will kill us all!” The veins in his neck popped as he screamed in her face. Strands of spit trailed between his lips and down the side of his mouth.
Me. I’m standing there, watching. My arms are wrapped around my body, hugging myself tightly. I can’t stop crying. I’m screaming too, “Please, Daddy, let her go! Stop it! You’re hurting her!” For an instant, her eyes lock with mine. It’s like I can hear her inside my head.
“Run. Get help.”
I run to my brother’s room; he’s home from college. He’s wearing headphones, drowning out the rage. I bang on his back. He takes the headphones off, and I scream, “Stop him! Stop him! He’s going to kill her!” We run from his room in time to see my father pulling her by her hair across the floor. He lunges over her and straddles her body, arm and knife raised high above his head. As thee knife starts falling downward, my brother tackles him from behind, sending them both to the floor. We all run.
That was the last time. I think I was twelve.
What changed this time? Why was it the last time? I found out later that it was my brother. He took us to her mother’s house that night. He told my grandmother what was happening, and demanded that my mother and I be able to stay there. Then he sat my mother down and said, “You will not go back. This affects me and your daughter. This is not normal. This is not healthy. You will not go back.”
She tells me that it wasn’t his being so demanding about her not returning. It was that someone was finally saying she wasn’t crazy, that she didn’t deserve it, that she didn’t have to live up to family structure, religious ideals, or society’s standards. But that she was only required to take care of herself and her children. The spell was broken.
If you suspect someone is in an abusive relationship, let her know you are concerned about her safety. She may not be ready to talk. If that is the case, let her know that you are available for her should she choose to come to you in the future. If she does come to you for help:
DO: Let her talk, and let her know that you believe her. Offer her eye contact.
DO NOT: Wince or gasp when she’s telling you her story. It may be very graphic and difficult to hear. (Survivors are often scared of tainting your perception or not being believed.)
DO: Thank her for sharing her story. (This is n honor for you that she would trust you this much.)
DO NOT: Tell her she is crazy for staying with him or crazy for loving him.
DO: Let her know she is not responsible for and cannot control it or keep it form happening again. Let her know his feelings are about him, his fears and frustrations with himself, and not about her. Make sure she knows she does not deserve abuse.
DO NOT: Approach the abuser. Most abusers are paranoid and will assume she has told someone. They are likely to retaliate against her, and this will also cause her to lose trust in you.
DO: Let her know there are places that provide help. EMPOWER her by providing her with solid information and moral support.
DO NOT: Try to intervene and accidentally dominate her by telling her what to do. Give her back some control over her own life.
DO: Let her make her own choices. (Forcing her to make a decision only relates her to the force her abuser uses.)
DO NOT: Blame her or berate her if she chooses to return to the abuser. Again, this only reinforces the control and intimidation she is already experiencing.
DO: Remind her you are available for support should she change her mind.
A survivor may attempt to leave her abuser, on average, 7 to 14 times before she is able to leave for good.
Jodi also introduced me to the Duluth Power Wheel, a model developed by a group of activists in Duluth, Minnesota. It’s obvious to me now, but the wheel helped me to understand that violence is the endpoint of a continuum that can begin with small coercions and power plays, and that it’s better to recognize and address things when they are at the stage of belittling remarks and petty manipulations than waiting until they have escalated to guns and knives—or for that matter, to teargas, rubbers bullets, and plastic wrist restraints.