“I’m sorry I make you feel like shit.”
“It’s just your privilege as a man.”
It’s 2:30am on a Sunday night, and while more words were spoken prior to those and after those, it’s those that tore me open. It was that brief exchange that broke through my walls of fake emotion and defense and allowed everything else to pour into me.
When my significant other and I read an article about a man in Africa being raped, it sparked a huge argument. It grew in intensity and volume until I pulled out the lowest blows I could muster in an effort to shut her up. I used our fledgling business and her own history of domestic abuse as weapons.
She turned out to be absolutely right. I have no empathy for women. But I sure could empathize with that man.
It wasn’t until those words that I realized just how much like hell her life had been. Without putting a martyr’s lament of “It’s all my fault” in front of it. To take the focus off of her pain onto mine. As a male, it’s my privilege to have all the attention on my pain.
This confrontation, this explosion of her pain and anguish had been brewing for more than a year, but most intensely over the last three weeks. Two weekends before this one, she had almost kicked me out over my lack of respect for her. Over the fact that, had a man sold the old beat-up truck in our driveway for the same price she did, I would never dream of having been so nasty and condescending.
In the end, that night just like this night, I took all her power away. She could not kick me out. It would take power I refused to give her.
No man ever has to worry about his financial situation if he leaves his wife. No man, even while paying child support (if he decides to), is worse off than the woman and kids he leaves behind.
“I know now that you never wanted me to be equal. I made the choice. I am a paid whore. You give me security for myself and my kids, and I give you sex whenever you want it... and I don’t complain too much.”
“I feel very stupid for ever thinking I could be equal.”
Her words made me want to run away. I crawled into my martyr suit and thought about enlisting in the Army so I could go away to Iraq and never hurt her again while still supporting my family. I hid there for a moment, content I’d found the answer.
Then, I looked up, and caught her eyes.
“When you go fishing and tear a nightcrawler in half, and watch it writhe in pain, do you empathize with it? I know you do. I know you even feel a little guilty putting it on your hook. Why do you feel the pain of an earthworm but not the pain of a woman? Where do we rate, Brian? What did we do, that we’re filthier, dirtier, and less worthy of consideration and sympathy than an earthworm?”
I had no answer.
“Why do the screams of a female cat being gang raped at night chill your blood, when the silent screams and dead eyes of a female in pornography being gang raped or raped by a dog are turn-ons? Why, Brian? Why?”
I stayed silent, hoping the question was rhetorical. “Why?” She repeated, desperation in her eyes. She was praying I had an answer. She needed an answer that could put everything into perspective, that would tell her what she needed to do to fix it, to fix herself so I could stop seeing her and all women as filthy animals deserving of my contempt. I could only stammer out a shameful “I don’t know”. He desperate eyes bored into me for several more moments.
“My screams are silent.”
I had thought I was changing. A little more than a year ago, I came into this relationship a complete masculine fuckhead.
I raped this woman. The very first night we were together, I nagged and harassed and cajoled her for three hours until I exhausted her into spreading her legs for me and giving up her sex.
A few months later, I did it again. I orchestrated her intoxication and rape by another woman, while I watched, masturbated, and whispered “You’re safe” in her ear over and over again. She still feels those fingers inside her at odd moments, in flashbacks.
I brought disgusting pornography into her house. Lesbians and gang-bangs. Bestiality and incest. Her children found some of it, and she found the rest. She saw just how dangerous I was to her family, and just how little I thought of women - that they were all toys, to be posed in various degrading, painful, horrid positions for my pleasure. She knew I saw her that way too. It enraged her and scared her and depressed her.
But her pain still never registered in me.
I fantasized about other women. About every woman in the world other than her. Even my own mother. I showed her that she was the last woman on the planet I wanted to make love to. I didn’t even know how to make love, only how to fuck. And I was showing her she wasn’t even good enough to fuck.
But I was still perplexed by her emotions. Somehow, some of it managed to leak underneath the door, and I resolved to change. Maybe I felt some fledgling sympathy, or maybe I just saw I’d lose my conquest if I didn’t do something. Whatever the reason, I set about weeding my garden. I tossed the pornography and the pornographic stories. I stopped fantasizing about other women. I began reading feminist weblogs. But I still refused to read the accounts of rape and domestic violence survivors. I still fought degrading and disgusting images that popped into my head, and wondered if they were really as bad as I had decided they were. And I still fought her for every ounce of control and power that I had convinced her to try and own. The more empowered she became, the more I acted like I hated her. I fought dirtier, more frequently, and over smaller things. I used low blows and pushed her buttons and aimed at her most sensitive spots.
Then I would turn around and apologize and say that I loved her... but only after she gave up the power I had encouraged her to try and take.
So I crowed around, saying “Haven’t I come so far?” and she looked at her feet to conceal the loathing in her eyes and said “Yes, dear, you really have.” If she said otherwise, if she showed me the loathing in her eyes and spat on me and screamed like she felt like doing, there would be an argument, and I would have struck with my pointed words her most tender and vulnerable spots, and forced her to submit to me. It was easier to just submit from the beginning.
I only pulled off the tops of the weeds, and ignored the roots. I buried my crimes and assumed they would vanish. But they never vanished for her. They never vanish for any woman. That’s a privilege men alone get to enjoy.
Now, looking at the pain, resignation, and seething anger in her eyes, I realize my crimes will never be buried.
They haven’t gone away. They will never go away.
Until that very moment, between last night and this morning, I felt more empathy for a earthworm. I respected her less than a cat. I made her hate and loathe herself as a hideous, disgusting creature, and then trapped her financially and emotionally. She’s only with me now, after everything I’ve put her through, “for the sake of the children.”
I made her choose between her dreams and her children’s dreams, and her sense of power and self-respect. As any mother knows, that’s not really a choice at all.
She’s in the shower now, washing off the last of her argumentativeness and hope. Because it’s too painful to try and keep it. It’s not worth what she’d have to go through at my hands. Not anymore.
I see the resignation in her newly-makeuped eyes beneath her curled, done-up hair, and for the first time ever, I feel her pain. And later I will sob. Not for how bad I feel, or how much of a monster I am. I’ve sobbed those crocodile tears many times before. For the first time ever in my entire life, I feel the pain of a woman. I feel her pain.
I love her desperately.
I don’t want to make her life even more of a living hell.
I can’t run from this. Not to a hotel, or to Iraq, or even to the grave.
If I am to give her the life she, just as all women, truly deserve...
as opposed to the one they are led to believe they deserve...
then I must hear their silent screams.