To the Women Who Are Afraid

by Alison Stine | November 4, 2016 12:17 pm

Photo credits to Nshepard via Flickr Creative Commons.

Originally published on MomsRising

There’s a nagging suspicion inside you that something is wrong.

He calls you names. He denies your feelings. He talks over you; yells at you; humiliates you; and re-writes reality, including the reality of what happened to you.
Maybe you wouldn’t call it abuse, or can’t. Maybe he’s never lifted a hand against you, but his words weigh you down like lead. It’s confusing, isolating, and shameful, or feels like it is. How do you explain this to other people? If you protest, he denies it—or it gets worse. You’re stuck in circles of blame and panic.

And on TV, you see a man a lot like him.

It’s no secret that this presidential election season has been incredibly difficult, the violence, hatred, and accusations impossible to escape, but if you’re one of the women currently married to, living with, or under the control of an abuser, or if this describes your history, it’s even harder. It’s hard to sit through the news, and it’s hard to think about your country’s future when you’re struggling to stay safe through your own day-to-day.

I write this to you.

I am one of the women who survived this kind of treatment, and I want you to know that you’re not alone. Not alone in the head pounding, heart racing panic you may have felt watching or listening to the presidential debates, your lungs tightening, throat constricting. You’re not alone in feeling flashbacks. You’re not alone in fighting tears.

And you’re not alone in what we can do about it.

Women who have been shoved; women whose keys have been taken from them and whose friends and family have been denied to them; women whose use of the phone is restricted; women who have been forbidden to work or forced to quit jobs; women who have been called crazy, stupid, worthless, bitch; women who have been locked in the car so he can continue yelling at you as he drives miles past your place; women who have locked themselves in the bedroom so that he can pound on the door instead of on their bodies; women who are reading this quickly before he comes back; women who are afraid:

You are safe in the voting booth.

When you vote, no man can come with you. No man can stand beside you except your minor children if you chose or have to bring them with you. No man will be looking over your shoulder. No man will know what box you check, or oval you shade, or button you press. No man can discredit you. No man can disbelieve you.

To vote is to stand up for yourself and others. To vote is to exercise a right and protection that you have under law. To vote is to take control.

Advocates and experts say, in situations of violence, it’s okay to lie to keep yourself safe, to lie about things like your whereabouts. This includes how you vote. Your husband or boyfriend or whoever is hurting you doesn’t have the right to know who you really chose. Nobody does. No person can deny you your right to vote—and no person can tell you how to vote. No one will actually know.

This is your choice, this time. This moment: you are alone. He won’t be with you. He can’t legally be there.

Maybe you remember what it’s like to be shouted down, shut down, or knocked down. Maybe you’re there now. Maybe it’s your nightmare or maybe it’s your reality. But your vote is safe—and you can vote differently than him. Differently than your husband or boyfriend, girlfriend or wife; differently than your brother or father, mother or sister; differently than your church or religion; differently than your teachers; differently than your town; differently than your history, differently than anyone tells you to or insists you must vote.

People say a lot of things that you must do, including that you must leave an abuser right away. The reasons why women can’t always just leave abusive situations are complex, personal, and extremely hard. The only thing you must do, whenever possible, however possible, however you can, is to keep yourself safe.

In this presidential election, which has been called triggering, traumatic, and abusive, it often feels like there are no safe spaces. But there is one. Cast a vote in it.

Alison Stine

Alison Stine

Alison Stine is a writer & visual artist. She is the author of three books of poems along with a novel Supervision (2015). Her awards include a Wallace Stegner Fellowship and a fellowship from the Sustainable Arts Foundation. Her poems have been published in Poetry, The Paris Review , and Tin House , and her essays have appeared in The Atlantic, The Kenyon Review, The Nation , and Jezebel . She lives with her young son in the foothills of Appalachia.

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