This morning I have no voice. I lost it over night to a cold that has grabbed my throat and will not let me speak. I put it down at a physical level to ill health but at an emotional level to a talk I gave on Thursday afternoon to a small group of academics.
My talk went down like a sack of potatoes, at least it did as far as I could see and I’ve been feeling sick, bad and voiceless ever since.
What did I do wrong I keep asking myself? I don’t think it was the delivery. I usually speak well enough. I have a clear voice. Was it the content, one of those situations where people do not know how to respond because I somehow wrapped it all up and left no room for further discussion?
The topic was not the easiest: sexual domestic violence and feminism. Perhaps I should not have expected more from an unsuspecting audience.
I threw a little theory at them and one woman described it as a summary. Another said she agreed with all I had said and there was nothing more to say.
I find I am re-thinking the whole domestic violence thing. The reign of terror under which I lived as a child and for which I then held my father responsible – his alcoholism and abused childhood – is shifting.
I listened to another of those TedX talks in which Lesley Morgan Steiner tells the story of how she met and married a man when she was 22 and of how this man was kindness personified when they first dated. Right up until a few days before they married he did not threaten or abuse her.
She married him and stayed with him in part because she believed that underneath it all he was a good and troubled man and that it was her job to help him. She stayed with him because over time he had made decisions to move away from family and friends into a more isolated part of the world and she had gone along because she thought it would be good for him.
You do these things, she thought then. You make sacrifices for your loved one even if it goes against your own wishes and needs. Crazy love.
My mother agreed to come to Australia on my father’s urging and my mother has described a similar pattern, only now do I recognise more clearly the degree to which she became trapped in an impossible marriage and could not get out.
I recognise that statistics are unreliable but it surprises me to read that people who get out of abusive relationships such as Morgan Steiner describes – a man who pulled her by the hair across a room, bashed her against the wall, and repeatedly threatened her with a gun – are in serious danger.
Seventy percent of such people, mainly women, will die at the hands of the partner they are trying to escape. It is the most critical phase of such a relationship because the one deserted will feel he/she has nothing to lose.
I’m troubled by the degree to which Steiner describes her ex husband’s behaviour as pre-meditated. He had sought to isolate her, Steiner says, almost as if he were grooming her for abuse, but I expect the pattern might seem like that in retrospect.
Here again is another person who himself had been abused. And although not all people who have been abused go on to become abusers, some do, and I suspect much of what they have learned at the hands of their abusive parents, or step parents, or whoever it was who treated them so cruelly, they might well inflict the same on their own loved ones.
My mother’s mantra, ‘ he loves most those he hurts the most’, never made sense to me when I was young. It does now. Not that I condone it but I recognise that when someone has been damaged they have almost no other way of dealing with their internal trauma than to project it out and inflict it on those most vulnerable and closest to them, their spouses, their children.
Mostly this sort of violence occurs by men towards women, but there are also men who get into abusive relationships with women who have themselves been abused. It’s not exclusively a woman’s club but it is a club of those abused and abusers and the only way to help, as Steiner says, is to talk about it.
Steiner escaped her relationship after she told others about it, her family, her neighbours, her friends. Anyone who would listen.
Funny that I should feel so locked inside the bubble of my own childhood memories today, unable to get out of it after I gave my talk last week, because I fear I may have unwittingly inflicted something on my audience for which they were unprepared and rather than abuse me back – they were not cruel – they froze me out with silence, not entirely perhaps but polite and distant enough for me to feel like an outsider who has since lost her voice.