Whatever happened to ______?
January 15, 2020 6:59 PM   Subscribe

"When I talk about the difficulties of being a woman writer, a wife and a mother, what I’m actually thinking of is specific. What I mean is that on the evening of the day my publisher and I announced plans for my third book, when my daughter and I were home having dinner, after I’d taken her to swim team, after school, after work, on an otherwise ordinary day — a day when I was simultaneously filling the role of stay-at-home mom and primary wage earner with a creative career on some imagined “side” — on that night my husband, her father, came home and hissed through his teeth, “Your mama…” and he balled up a fist, tightening his pecs. ... But don’t let anyone make this story into a romanticized and gentle slide into domesticity. As for so many women, the silencing was not gentle at all." [tw: domestic violence]
posted by Lycaste (38 comments total) 76 users marked this as a favorite
 
❤️
posted by limeonaire at 7:31 PM on January 15 [1 favorite]


My god.

Anon is a beautiful writer. But what happened to her leaves me speechless.

May there be justice in the future.

Also fuck the patriarchy
posted by vespertinism at 7:36 PM on January 15 [16 favorites]


Holy shit this essay
posted by emjaybee at 7:39 PM on January 15 [4 favorites]


$200000 in lawyers and all the rest of the money!
posted by clew at 7:54 PM on January 15


My ex told me to quit my job to write full time, with him supporting me, then told me I shouldn’t write because it was taking time away from the family. I gave up on writing professionally years ago.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 8:16 PM on January 15 [9 favorites]


She can’t even put the essay under he own name. I got to the end and thought damn, I want to read her books, and she can’t even link to them.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 8:17 PM on January 15 [35 favorites]


Fantastic writer; I too have lived, am living this horror of a weak man using violence against me and my children to try and stop us from out-shining him. I am thankful she somehow had the energy to write about her experience.
posted by saucysault at 8:35 PM on January 15 [14 favorites]


I knew a guy, a songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, who dated a woman who was a very talented graphic designer. At some point she began to take interest in music and started writing her own songs. One day this guy comes to my house and says that he has a Real Problem with this woman. It isn't that she's writing music, he says. It's because she's good.

Fuck. That. Noise.
posted by grumpybear69 at 8:56 PM on January 15 [15 favorites]


Well, that hit home... once you’ve been pushed down this manhole, you meet the others... Bloody hell.
posted by Coaticass at 9:35 PM on January 15 [2 favorites]


Really appreciated that. I would have been interested to hear more about her early years with her ex and any red flags that were/weren’t there. Did she forgive instances of the Four Horsemen out of a desire to keep the relationship together, or did he suddenly snap one day?
posted by mantecol at 11:06 PM on January 15 [4 favorites]


This story is heartbreaking. That the female judge who used to write gave all the joint assets to the husband... I can’t even. However can we put a stake through the heart of patriarchy? Thanks, OP.
posted by Bella Donna at 2:23 AM on January 16 [9 favorites]


Some of you who have been here a while know that I’m a domestic violence survivor. What I don’t usually talk about is that it followed this pattern. I made more money than my ex and was succeeding more than him in a “traditionally masculine” field.

Men make women small. It’s not always said, but it’s often through violence.
posted by corb at 6:23 AM on January 16 [37 favorites]


It always blows my mind when I hear fragile men like this. Anecdotally, my wife makes about 3x what I make and is 100% the breadwinner in our house. With out her income, we would not have the nice things that we have. Why would I want to destroy that? Why wouldn't I want to support the family in other ways that she cannot? Someone will have to cook, pick up the baby from daycare, clean the house, etc. I still work 40 hours a week, but our success is shared. She is supportive of my career just as much as I am of her. It just doesnt look like the Cleavers.
Unfortunately, this is a story told time and time again. Not just for writers saying "What happened to...." but also lawyers thinking "what happened to our Valedictorian who was also on Moot Court? Oh she married some shlub whose father is a local power broker and he made her stay home and sacrifice her burgeoning career to stay home with his kids".
God bless anon for bucking the trend and sticking up for herself.
posted by GreatValhalla at 7:06 AM on January 16 [7 favorites]


God bless anon for bucking the trend and sticking up for herself.
She can't buck the trend or stick up for herself, is the point of her essay, because the law that sanctions her being forced into anonymity and penury will not allow her to stick up for herself. It's easy, apparently, to read this and think, Oh that bad bad man, how unfortunate a nice lady met up with a bad apple. But the husband is not the villain in this story any more than, I don't know, Gregor's boss, say, is the villain of "Metamorphosis."
posted by Don Pepino at 7:14 AM on January 16 [21 favorites]


In the late 00s, I got into a relationship with a man I had met through professional circles. We were not in exactly the same job, but our careers were adjacent and we were great work friends before we were lovers. We had a lot of experiences and other things in common that are hard to find in the general population.

I ended it when it became clear that all of those things, and the fact that I was his intellectual and professional equal were not advantages from his point of view. Rather, they were things he had to "put up with" because he liked me so much otherwise. He was never abusive or even mean but the constant pressure to make myself smaller and devote more and more time to him and his needs just kept increasing

I had very high hopes for that relationship and was disappointed and more than a little bitter about the way things turned out. It took me a long time to realize what a bullet I'd dodged, and wow, this article reinforces that.

There are a lot of anons out there. I'm glad this one pushed back as much as she could, but I hope that one day, humans of all genders realize how much we are all losing in this system.
posted by rpfields at 7:23 AM on January 16 [25 favorites]


As a woman, and a writer, and a wife in the process of divorcing her husband, this essay is terrifying, and also just made me think over, and over, and over again that I am so goddamn lucky. Lucky that my ex was never physically violent. Lucky that he found someone else he'd rather be in a relationship with (someone who will look up to him and make him feel superior as I was no longer willing to do) at around exactly the same time I decided that I couldn't be married to him any more, so the divorce is 'amicable,' so I don't have to go into debt fighting for my freedom. Lucky that we never had kids, lucky that he didn't realize he wanted them until after we separated. Lucky that the worst he's likely to do is continue to try and patronize me and treat me like a child and tell lies that make him look good rather than get physically violent. Lucky that the worst he ever did to affect my writing was take up 9 years of my time with housework he wouldn't do, budgets that he wouldn't maintain, plans that he was always too tired or busy (spending time on reddit, playing video games) to make. And also tell me that it was cool that I wrote (he loved to brag that he was married to a writer), but it wasn't real, it couldn't make a difference, it was just entertainment.

And even still, I wonder how much writing I could have done in those nine years, how much I could have grown if I hadn't been taking care of someone who didn't take care of me back. If I hadn't been living with someone who talked down about the nature of my work just enough to make me question whether or not it was worthwhile. If the amount (and quality) that I've written in the months since we separated is any indication, it's a lot.
posted by bridgebury at 7:53 AM on January 16 [38 favorites]


wow, that was powerful
posted by mkuhnell at 8:20 AM on January 16


It always blows my mind when I hear fragile men like this.

Is your mind just constantly blown then? I think my mind is more blown by the idea that this could be so alien or unusual as to be a surprise. Like even on the less shitty end of the spectrum, I've known a few guys who started cheating when their women partners started out succeeding them. They never got physically violent, but they'd cheat, as if to get the upper hand, and then they'd get emotionally abusive -- gas lighting, etc. The worst part, for me, as a third party, who was younger and more naive at the time, was telling this to other guy friends, and having them say that actually they got it. Not that they thought it was terrible, but that they understood why those other men had to cheat. "Had to."

This dynamic -- woman outshines man, man finds some way to cut her down, even if it's just a little thing, like she gets a big laugh at brunch and then he tells a story about her being "stupid" with the crossword or some nonsense -- has been like...the rosetta stone for understanding het relationships, for me. Which I really hope is not representative, but...jesus christ it seems like it's everywhere. And a lot of women just seem to go along with it, like it's just something you accept, like it's just what is. Like they're so used to it they don't even see it.

That's what blows my mind, honestly. And it's the ubiquity that makes me feel hopeless about the laws and law enforcement practices that underwrite the worst of it.

I didn't mean this to be such a downer, and I feel weird posting about observing a kind of relationship I'll never be a part of, but it's ended a few friendships for me, and it's a frequent source of bewilderment and just...sadness, I guess. It makes some social gatherings genuinely weird. I sort of wonder if this is one of the reasons for "queer drift," where over time queer people just hang out more and more with other queers. I don't know.
posted by schadenfrau at 8:43 AM on January 16 [50 favorites]


This dynamic -- woman outshines man, man finds some way to cut her down, even if it's just a little thing, like she gets a big laugh at brunch and then he tells a story about her being "stupid" with the crossword or some nonsense -- has been like...the rosetta stone for understanding het relationships, for me. Which I really hope is not representative, but...jesus christ it seems like it's everywhere. And a lot of women just seem to go along with it, like it's just something you accept, like it's just what is. Like they're so used to it they don't even see it.

Oh, we see it! Trust me, women in het relationships see it. But it's kind of the ultimate horror story, right, where no matter what relationship you're in, no matter how sensitive or cool the guy, he exhibits some sign of it but if you mention it, if you acknowledge its existence, it will rise to life and destroy you, or he will leave and you'll have to start all over again with someone else who is less socialized. It's the equivalent of the ghost that is always lurking in the walls.

And it's in every action of every day, such that you do it as a resting default without even paying attention. It's how to survive in the world - at work, at home, everywhere. Thou Shalt Not Outshine A Man With Power Over Your Life. I have spent twenty years of my life deliberately almost winning at boardgames, with many many men because even in something so obviously trivial and pointless, in my experience cis men have reacted poorly to losing, because they're not taught emotional management and regulation. Fucking video games, like I have spent my life watching dudes play video games badly and coming up with reasons other than "actually you're not as good as me at video games" for why I'm doing better.

Many of us "go along with it" because there's no other choice, there's only degrees. Oh, this guy will let you have a career and some successes but only as long as you starry-eyed tell him that it's all due to his help and support? Well, that looks pretty good compared to the dude who doesn't even want you to work. Oh, the dude is melting down when you read a book faster than him? Well, at least he doesn't throw a fit out in public. I cannot stress enough that for heterosexual women there are no good choices, and even now I'm only able to say that publicly out loud because people in my life largely aren't reading metafilter and aren't going to go tell people I said that. Because we're never supposed to admit that, we're supposed to pretend that men are always perfectly wonderful and desirable, and we're not constantly trying to choose between having a little glass in our mouth or a little castor oil.
posted by corb at 8:59 AM on January 16 [55 favorites]


I think the men's rights lawyer might read Chuck Palahniuk, but he has not understood Chuck Palahniuk.
posted by Molesome at 9:03 AM on January 16 [6 favorites]


I'm curious -- are divorce rulings different from other legal rulings, and the judge doesn't have to explain their legal justifications? Obviously the real answer for why is patriarchy, but usually legal rulings I've read explain the justification and cite legal references for it.
posted by tavella at 9:04 AM on January 16


no matter what relationship you're in, no matter how sensitive or cool the guy, he exhibits some sign of it

I need to say that this is not my experience. I'm so sorry this is your experience, I believe you; it's true for way too many women, and it turns up in relationships people wouldn't expect. But it's not good for hetero or bi women (especially younger women) reading this to expect that literally every man, always and always, will necessarily be an abuser or a belittler and so our only choice is to put up with it. There are men who aren't like this; there are women in relationships with men who don't have to live that way. If anyone reading this is feeling like "oh, well I guess I have to just accept it": it doesn't have to be that way.

That doesn't change the horror of this story, or the fact that this stuff is far too common, or the need for people to understand what happens in too many cases.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:17 AM on January 16 [33 favorites]


Well, if that's true there's a loooohohohoooooot of dudes out there who read but don't understand Chuck Palahniuk.
posted by Don Pepino at 9:20 AM on January 16 [4 favorites]


There are men who aren't like this; there are women in relationships with men who don't have to live that way. If anyone reading this is feeling like "oh, well I guess I have to just accept it": it doesn't have to be that way.

This is true but it's nearly as utopian as its counterpart is dystopian. Most of the heterosexual men who aren't like this are in relationships. That's because they make wonderful partners because of the fact that they aren't like this. Those relationships tend to last, again because they aren't like this, so they work to stay in their relationships and their partners also work to stay in those relationships.

You absolutely don't have to accept men who are like this, but to refuse to accept them, you have to be able to spot them. So to protect yourself longterm you need to approach men not with caution so much as healthy realism. Do not get tied down until you know for sure. And ignore the cultural mandate for women to "wait for The One" and adopt the opposite one, usually sold to men, namely shop around. And hope to get lucky. It can happen, but if it doesn't, or if it doesn't for a very long time, at least you know it isn't your fault and at least you're still learning and growing and having fun. And if you get unlucky, if you did know for sure but then he changed, that isn't your fault, either.

The anonymous author keeps citing Kafka for a reason. This trap we're in is not something we can solve as individuals anymore than we can solve climate change by buying green.
posted by Don Pepino at 9:36 AM on January 16 [32 favorites]


You absolutely don't have to accept men who are like this, but to refuse to accept them, you have to be able to spot them.

Agree completely.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:37 AM on January 16 [9 favorites]


The trouble with "don't despair; not all men; just avoid bad apples" is, they are not easy or even possible to avoid, especially if you want certain things out of life, like a family. The one in the essay, for instance, did not show his full hand for years and years, and by that time, the woman was in too deep to get out without sacrificing her career, her identity, basically everything but her child. She is now out of the relationship with the man, but she still has to "live that way," and that's the main point of the essay. Not "Sisters, take warning," but "Sisters, take action." We are being victimized by the state, and we need better laws.
posted by Don Pepino at 9:51 AM on January 16 [21 favorites]


Yes, absolutely.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:00 AM on January 16 [1 favorite]


You absolutely don't have to accept men who are like this, but to refuse to accept them, you have to be able to spot them. So to protect yourself longterm you need to approach men not with caution so much as healthy realism. Do not get tied down until you know for sure.

It was my experience in my 20s that interrogating my relationships with questions like "Does he genuinely support me and root for my success?" and "Does he prioritize my need for accomplishment at the same level he prioritizes his own?" and "Will he be genuinely happy when I exceed him in success?" led to a lot of pushback. Not just from the men in question (all of whom acted as if I were the transgressor for asking them to be honest about whether they'd support me in my ambitions), but from my friends and family. I heard repeatedly that I was too picky, too unrealistic, feminism had rotted my brain, I was doomed to be alone, everyone has to settle, etc.

The shock of realizing people can profess to love you and still prize the patriarchal norm over your long-term wellbeing ... breaking up with any of those dudes was easy, but realizing I was really, profoundly on my own without emotional support or validation from my so-called loved ones was much worse.

I'm happily married now and I'm very vocal with my daughter about how the number-one reason I chose her dad over other men who asked me to marry them was because he was always as excited, proud and supportive of my goals as I was. And that he's never seen my excelling as a threat to his own excellence. I hope to God she can carry that standard with her as we launch her into the world.
posted by sobell at 10:11 AM on January 16 [45 favorites]


If what you guys are saying is true (I totally believe you but I frankly don't know enough het guys to be able to judge this well), I am just so so sad for my straight sisters. It's bad enough living in a patriarchy when one DOESN'T have to navigate male fragility in order to have a loving relationship.

What corb said about guys and games made me wince, because for decades I've beaten guys GLEEFULLY at boardgames and video games and I admit to enjoying their obvious (or slightly less obvious) annoyance/anger. (In high school, I dated the guy who approached me BECAUSE I beat everyone--including him--at chess.)
posted by mkuhnell at 11:02 AM on January 16 [14 favorites]


The trouble with "don't despair; not all men; just avoid bad apples" is, they are not easy or even possible to avoid, especially if you want certain things out of life, like a family.

Yeah, and I should emerge from my despair to clarify that when I say "yes, all men" what I mean is that all heterosexual men of my generation and older that I've seen without exception have exhibited some display -even if it's minimal- of sexism or inherent bias about what they expect for men and women in the world, and what makes them feel confident and what makes them feel attracted to women and what they expect for women once they're partnered. This isn't necessarily confined to men - we all swim in the sea that patriarchy has made - but it's different, in my eyes, when the person displaying those signs are the ones who possess the power.

One can (and should) in fact avoid men who exhibit outright belittling or the warning signs of violence - those are what I would refer to as the broken-glass men, men who will actively harm you. I thoroughly encourage the 'shopping around aspect' if you feel safe and are able to do so. One can and should do some early-testing signs. Win the boardgames! See how the men react! When I said "Castor oil", I meant what once was referred to as "trainable" - men who have internalized sexism but who don't want to be that way and are willing to confront it in themselves, albeit slowly. It's not going to damage you, but it will be weary along the path sometimes. (I refer back, for example, to the emotional labor thread). In many cases, it isn't these men's fault. They have done the best with what they were given. But what they were given was a shitty system.

But this is also important:
The trouble with "don't despair; not all men; just avoid bad apples" is, they are not easy or even possible to avoid, especially if you want certain things out of life, like a family.

The amount of men who meet the standard of of this is very low- a fraction of the population. And as Don Pepino said, they will be snapped up and stay snapped up. And it means it's harder to access these men if you exhibit characteristics that make it harder on the dating market: if you're not thin and conventionally attractive. If you are poor. If you have complicated life history. And we - by design of the patriarchy - don't make it easy to have families without men. Many fertility options are not supported by insurance or doctors unless you're married. And that's leaving aside the economic or social consequences.

I will say though that I think this is somewhat easing maybe with younger people? But it's hard, because younger people aren't really going to talk to me on as intimate a level as women of my own age will, so it's hard to really get an accurate read.

tl;dr, tear down the patriarchy.
posted by corb at 11:38 AM on January 16 [21 favorites]


I'm happily married now and I'm very vocal with my daughter about how the number-one reason I chose her dad over other men who asked me to marry them was because he was always as excited, proud and supportive of my goals as I was. And that he's never seen my excelling as a threat to his own excellence. I hope to God she can carry that standard with her as we launch her into the world.

It's possible though not easy (and obviously there's a considerable degree of luck involved). My mom found one of the good guys 40+ years ago in India (needle in a haystack does not begin to describe it - I have seen the men her friends found and every one of them has patriarchal issues). And thinking back to my childhood that was the one thing she insisted on hammering into me. My parents had equally important careers, and in fact, due to a funny rigid pay scale my mother always made very slightly more than my father. It was an in-joke in our family for decades, and I have never, not once, ever seen my dad react with anything but good humor to it. I have never seen him acting insecure and he's always been immensely proud of my mother. My mother told me long before Sheryl Sandberg ever did that the most important career choice I would ever make would be the person I decided to marry. And she also told me - don't be afraid of being demanding. Don't be afraid to ask for things. Which is not to say that it's as simple as follow this advice and you'll find someone who will be supportive - I know I've been lucky. But I thank goodness every day that my mom pushed back against the societal messages that were telling me to settle, that I shouldn't be picky, that I should be a Cool Girl etc.
posted by peacheater at 11:55 AM on January 16 [16 favorites]


Wow.

murmur of feminized domesticity

I'm just going to just edit this paragraph for my own sake and keep it clasped to my heart:

"The entire setup — all the steady parenting I was doing, the meals and housework and my career, against a backdrop of my husband’s anger and jealousy, with no room to bring in meaningful help, or support — was designed to try to push me into that narrative of minimizing my own existence in the world so that I, too, would fade into a murmur of feminized domesticity, as so many other women have."
posted by kitcat at 11:59 AM on January 16 [17 favorites]


I don't even think it's predictable, for all men who seem okay when young, to know whether they're going to become vicious this way when older. I think it's called moral luck? Whether circumstances hit you in a way that make you a bad person, or not? But because the scales are weighted enormously towards people with more power taking it out on people with less, the outcome of a personable husband having bad moral luck is his wife having terrible luck in every other way.
posted by clew at 2:20 PM on January 16 [7 favorites]


This piece is a fantasticly written. It highlights such a specific dynamic in domestic violence and in a fantastic way. It needs to be talked about.

I don't take away from this very important topic, but I was alarmed by some of the comments about non hetronormative relationships because DV absolutely happens in all relationship formations and across all genders.
posted by AlexiaSky at 4:31 PM on January 16 [5 favorites]


I think that I've told this story elsewhere on MeFi, but here it is again: I recognised that my now-husband was the one to marry when we'd been dating for a couple of years and he told me a story from his youth that still, to this day, puzzles him.

He was about 12 and he and his guy friends were talking about the sort of girl that they found most attractive. All of the other boys wanted a girl with long legs, big breasts, that sort of thing. My husband innocently volunteered that he wanted to date a really smart girl because then she could teach him things. He still doesn't understand the derisive response from all of the other boys.

Wow. That was such a sharp contrast with all of the other men / boys that I had dated!
posted by tumbling at 5:25 PM on January 16 [10 favorites]


And she also told me - don't be afraid of being demanding. Don't be afraid to ask for things.

It is risible, the pushback women get for being demanding.

I've noticed that women who are demanding of themselves -- in a way where it's clear they're intrinsically motivated and take pride in being their best possible selves -- are often the target of a lot of sniping from other women, and outright hostility from me.

Recently, I read Emily Nakosaki and Amelia Nagosaki's Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle, and this passage has really stuck with me:
In Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny, philosopher Kate Manne describes a system in which one class of people,7 the “human givers,” are expected to offer their time, attention, affection, and bodies willingly, placidly, to the other class of people, the “human beings.” The implication in these terms is that human beings have a moral obligation to be or express their humanity, while human givers have a moral obligation to give their humanity to the human beings. Guess which one women are.

In day-to-day life, the dynamic is more complicated and subtle, but let’s imagine the cartoon version: The human givers are the “attentive, loving subordinates” to the human beings. The givers’ role is to give their whole humanity to the beings, so that the beings can be their full humanity. Givers are expected to abdicate any resource or power they may happen to acquire—their jobs, their love, their bodies. Those belong to the beings.

Human givers must, at all times, be pretty, happy, calm, generous, and attentive to the needs of others, which means they must never be ugly, angry, upset, ambitious, or attentive to their own needs. Givers are not supposed to need anything. If they dare to ask for or, God forbid, demand anything, that’s a violation of their role as a giver and they may be punished.
Imagine how much different the world would be if women were thought of as people and not a natural resource to be plundered by people.
posted by sobell at 5:59 PM on January 16 [25 favorites]


My late husband had this same patriarchal worldview but it manifested in self-hatred. Whenever he ranted about me "deserving a better husband" it was always in terms of income. Especially when depressed he could not believe that I was not on the verge of walking away forever because he made less money than me.

So I just never mentioned to him when I got a raise, because he would twist it around as a weapon to hurt himself and the whole thing would be about me trying to convince him he was not worthless. He never noticed because he left all that stuff to me, you know the trivia like budgets, taxes, etc., and just let me tell him how much he could spend without causing us problems.

Honestly the times I came close to walking out were when I could no longer maintain the unacknowledged emotional labor of being the only adult in the relationship, not anything financial. I would just get so damn tired of setting an allowance for him and begging him to do chores, instead of being partners who made decisions together and worked out a balance of responsibility.

And he never ever understood that, even with counseling
posted by buildmyworld at 3:05 PM on January 17 [17 favorites]


It is so insidious, too, because my story is like DorothyIsUnderwood's.

My ex told me to ... write full time, with him supporting me, then told me I shouldn’t write because it was taking time away from the family.

And I was a SAHM at the same time, so it was "super convenient for everyone" that we were saving literally $2500 a month on childcare for small kids... whom I was breastfeeding for four almost-consecutive years. Also since I was home, obviously all of the cooking and cleaning was my domain. And logistics and administration and vacation planning and taxes and bills and birthdays and celebrations and parties thereof.

If I ever, during this time, made a commitment to write and actually took the time to do it, one of my other responsibilities invariably suffered and I got yelled at for not having dinner on the table on time or not having folded the laundry yet or whatever. If it was a weekend or holiday, of course, there was no question that I was to be in attendance for my family. No writing then. It wasn't fair to deprive them of family time!

To this day my ex husband says he was the number 1 supporter of my writing career, he paid for me stay home and write for five years but I produced nothing other than a handful of short pieces during all that time.
posted by MiraK at 5:31 AM on January 18 [12 favorites]


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