Decorum is Complicity
In this week of #metoo I have watched countless women share their stories of casual sexual harassment that is so normal as to almost (almost) be invisible. We put up with a number of small degradations every day without registering them because it would simply cost too much energy to remember every. single. time. Because it’s every. single. day.
I don’t know if it was the Weinstein thing that brought this WOC-started hashtag back to the surface or the anniversary of #pussygate, or some combination of women just being fed up with rape culture, but here we are.
And yet, we did this a year ago. A. Year. Ago.
In response, literally millions of women tweeted about the first time they were sexually assaulted. THE FIRST TIME. Because most of use have experienced sexual assault — ranging from “casual” groping to rape — more than once. Thinking about this, I wrote a speculative fiction on “What if we all knew what we all know?” What if all of our assault was somehow visible? In some way? What if we could make ourselves legible and be counted?
Is that not what the #metoo hashtag is asking? Stand up! Be counted! Be visible!
Are the men who participate in this ever going to listen to women’s voices?
As many brilliant women in my social media sphere commented, why should the onus be on women to make themselves vulnerable, to disclose, just to attempt — YET again — to make men believe that the reality we all know we are living in is, in fact, real?
I will grant, I saw some beautiful, self-examining posts by men who admitted that they are complicit in this #rapeculture, even just by simply benefitting from it.
But, to be honest, I found the whole campaign frustrating. Like screaming into the wind frustrating. Like pissing into the wind frustrating. Like someone else pissing into the wind and it hitting me and then being told to smile frustrating.
And then, yesterday, I encountered my ex-husband-still-husband again. And he tried to intimidate me with threats. Again. And I was angry. Again. And I realized how I was complicit in rape culture: BY COVERING UP HIS MULTITUDE OF GROTESQUE MISOGYNIST SINS FOR A DECADE OF MY LIFE.
I allowed him to save face. I didn’t want to tell even my friends how awful he was behind closed doors because I was hoping we’d work things out, and I didn’t want to poison any of “our” friends against him. I was literally worried that if my friends knew how he treated me they wouldn’t respect him. Because it was that gross. And that if he pulled it together and we worked it out, they wouldn’t be able to be friends with him.
I didn’t share the worst of what was going on with anyone, not even my best friend, because I was helping him to save face. But I was also ashamed. Deeply ashamed of how degrading, dehumanizing, and cruel he was behind closed doors. I thought it might wreck my feminist cred if people knew what was going on when no one else could see him.
And literally every time I introduced him to someone or took him out in public, he’d be so charming, and funny, and the life of the party. And then we’d get home and fight. Or we’d get into a fight on the way home. Or we’d fuck and get into a fight afterward because he wasn’t allowed to have his favorite kind of orgasm (in my body) — because hormonal birth control is bad for my body and he didn’t like condoms, and spermicide made him go numb — and so I’d have to make sure he finished after I did (an event that I ensured happened…not him), and then when he was too limp to finish because he was shitfaced he would yell and scream at me for not caring, for being selfish, for the orgasm inequity.
Yes. That was literally a fight we had: I got to have all the good orgasms. And it was unfair. Until I realized that even when we had intercourse, he did literally nothing to ensure I had an orgasm. I usually initiated sex when we would have it (like two to four times a year, honestly). I worked myself up. I added manual stimulation so that I could climax. And then I finished him. I literally gave all the orgasms in that relationship. All. of. them. Sure, when we were dating he used to go down on me and give me what he called “freebies.” Until he realized he wasn’t getting freebies in return. (I find obligatory, coercive blow jobs offputting somehow.) So they weren’t really freebies. They were I-O-Us that were racking up against me. So he stopped being even remotely generous. At all.
Oh and don’t even get me started on the super healthy cycles of only having sex after we had a huge knock-down-drag-out fight. Like he could only be emotionally available to me after he had torn me all the way down to raw rubble. Or when he was drunk — and that never ended well. Neither did the Zoloft sex, where he couldn’t orgasm because of the medication, but I had to still work for it anyway. For hours. And when I realized I could say no to all this sex I didn’t want to have because I knew it was going to be painful and emotionally damaging and degrading, well, saying “No” at all was “rejection.” I had “emasculated” him. Because I didn’t want to have coercive, degrading sex with someone I didn’t trust.
And once I said no, he cut me off from all affection. He NEVER, not once, ever initiated sex with me again (for the next four years). IF we had sex it was because I got to a place where I felt I could initiate on rare occasions. But also, he never touched me. Like at all. No hugs. No kisses. No touches on the arm. No hands on the waist. No casual, friendly conversation touches. Nothing. We bought a bigger bed so I didn’t have to sleep on a tiny sliver of it as I tried not to touch him at night.
I’m sorry is this TMI? That is my point.
No one knew this. Every time I introduced him to a colleague — which I couldn’t avoid doing once I got a tenure-track job and everyone’s personal and professional boundaries blurred, because all your friends are now colleagues — it was like chewing on rusty nails when they would come up to me later and say “he seems like a great guy!”
And if I dared give an honest response, “yeah…he seems that way,” or “yeah, it hasn’t been easy, but we made it,” he would inevitably accuse me of humiliating him.
But this DECADE of covering up his bad behavior — what was it for? What did it do? Did he ever improve? Did it save our marriage? No. It just enabled him to continue to be increasingly awful in private and then to look normal, reasonable, even feminist to the world.
DECORUM — or our sense of “not airing our dirty laundry” enabled this gross, entitled, misogynist prick to continue being awful, because he was literally never accountable for his actions. He wasn’t accountable to me, because I learned to take it. And he wasn’t accountable to anyone else because he “seem[ed] great!”
Now, I’m not victim blaming. I’m not saying that women who “allow” men to treat them this way are at fault. They are not. It is never their/our fault. BUT I am saying that our entire culture of what we are willing to listen to, what is “polite,” what is acceptable to say in public has the effect of silencing women and allowing abusers and misogynists to keep doing what they are doing.
Even when we were divorcing, I didn’t tell our mutual friends about his behavior. Because I didn’t want to be that person who drove a wedge and offered ultimatums. I didn’t want to force people to pick sides. And so I literally didn’t tell friends the truth about what was happening.
I didn’t tell them that he had made up an affair in his head that he was using to slander me with. I will admit, there had been a flirtation, one that I had hoped would turn into something sexual. With a man. Which was all allowed under the terms of the open relationship we had agreed to four years earlier. (I’ve written elsewhere about the girlfriend I’d openly had during our marriage.) But it turned out that me and this man were really just friends. Dirty friends. But friends. We are still friends. Just friends.
But that didn’t stop him from insisting that I was cheating. I was neither having sex with this person, nor was sex with other people not allowed. And if you want to call it an emotional affair because I was closer to this person than my partner, I’ll just say I was literally closer with everyone than I was with my partner. I called my best friend my soulmate. I cultivated intimate relationships and friendships with many people, partly because that is who I am, and partly because if I didn’t, I wouldn’t have had any kind of intimacy in my life.
And even knowing that he was openly lying about the reasons our marriage ended — because I finally ran out of fucks to give and told him I was done — and what my role in that ending was, I STILL didn’t tell people how badly he behaved about it.
I am D.O.N.E. covering up his shit just to seem “fair” and to “be the bigger person.” How many women are taught to take men’s shit under these terms? How many of the friends we share would be shocked to find out how he behaves when he thinks no one is looking? So here is the fun stuff. For the record. Judge for yourself.
Between when I told him I wanted out and when I actually moved out of our apartment (a little over a month — a schedule you’ll see was accelerated) he threatened me no less than three times. And for half of that month I was traveling.
While I was in Las Vegas he went through my private messages with my man friend and my best friend, accessing them on my iPad, which had copies of messages I’d sent over internet clients on my phone.
When I got home from Harvard and was packing up to go to Switzerland 48 hours later, he first tried to initiate some kind of relationship-saving intimacy, asking me “what [I] believe in” (like spiritually) because he was “finally in a place where [he] felt like [he] could listen.” Yeah. Literally. My partner of 10 years didn’t know how I felt about God and stuff. Because he was such a militant atheist he couldn’t have a conversation about anyone believing in anything that didn’t involve belittling idiots who believed in things. And when I responded with incredulity and told him I didn’t have time to have this conversation (and it was too little too late), he then careened into, “FINE. Have you been to a lawyer?”! I was stunned. We hadn’t even decided what we wanted to do, so, no I hadn’t been to a lawyer to try to ambush him. I assumed we would come to a mutual decision — it’s not like he hasn’t known we’ve been miserable for years — and go from there.
And then he told me that he had thought about going to a lawyer. And that his mom (now married to a millionaire) would pay for it.
Fuck. Fuck you. Fine Kris. Fucking sue me. You can fucking ruin me financially for all I care, since you damn well know I can’t afford a lawyer. Fine. Fucking take it all. You can have everything you want.
He literally responded, “I can’t have everything I want. What I want is to stop hurting you.”
Fuck you. You could have done that any time in the last ten years and maybe we wouldn’t be careening towards a hideous divorce right now.
We agreed no lawyers. That whatever we were going to do, we would work it out amicably. I left for Switzerland.
I got back from Switzerland, and the next morning he was in my office screaming at me. AT MY JOB.
First, he threatened to try to ruin my career. He threatened to report me for a Title IX violation, claiming I was sleeping with a student. (I wasn’t and even if I had been, though the person was technically an undergraduate at the university, he wasn’t under my authority. He was a grown ass human, older than my husband, who was also an undergraduate at the university.)
After I made it clear that his threat didn’t hold any water, because it’s both untrue and technically impossible to be a violation, he made a second threat against my career.
He then threatened to slander me. To spread rumors that I was sleeping with students (plural!), saying that he was sure that would hurt my job, especially since I’d already been in trouble once. (I offered unsolicited feminist advice to a young woman interested in academia on being a woman in academia and was strongly censured.)
When I replied that it is an open secret that someone in the department regularly sleeps with students and everyone looks the other way, and that this kind of thing happens all the time in academia, that spreading false rumors about me of this variety were unlikely to make waves, he tried another tack.
He then told me he had been to a lawyer. And that he was going to file a divorce for the cause of adultery (which is literally impossible in Nevada, a no-fault state) and that he was going to sue me for alimony. And that a judge would find in his favor because he had proof of my affair, based on screen shots he had taken of my conversations with my best friend. And my adultery was going to be a matter of public record. [Actually, this didn’t sound all that different from religious sociopath husband #1 writing to the court to tell them our divorce wasn’t legit in god’s eyes and I’d be an adulteress the rest of my life unless I returned to him, because I was his forever property.]
At this point I was furious. He had followed me to Reno just because he knew he could get cheap tuition through faculty benefits while he went back to school to finish his undergraduate degree. The day I told him I was done, on the phone, I’d said, “I’m done. I can’t do this anymore. Don’t worry, I’m not going to pull the rug out from underneath you with school. I just can’t keep doing this anymore.” And while I was in Switzerland, I’d worked out a plan, where we could legally separate and he could keep tuition benefits, but we would be done. This would require me to stay married to him while he finished school. To continue to be attached. To trust him. I even thought I could probably help him pay his rent.
I told him he needed to shut his mouth immediately and get out of my office, or I was going to be so pissed off by him threatening me that I wouldn’t make him the generous offer I’d come up with in Switzerland. I told him to get out, go home, and we’d talk about it when I got home from teaching classes that evening.
And that’s what I did. I said, fine. We’re done. But I was willing to help him in these ways. To stay married so he could have tuition benefits. And that if we could both find apartments for about $600/mo, it would only cost $200 more a month than I was spending now (as the only one with a full time job) and I could probably absorb that cost. He agreed. We agreed that to make this financially feasible, though, we were going to have to live out the remaining 6 weeks of the semester in the apartment we were currently in. So I agreed to move into the second bedroom, at his request.
After this arrangement, he would come into my bedroom to “hangout” over the next few days. I felt unable to refuse him because I had learned over the years to walk on eggshells so as not to provoke Kris into a fight. He knew how to demand my time and attention, and if I didn’t give it to him would explode into a rage. And here he was, continuing to do it, after we agreed on the terms of our split.
Terms included no drinking. He’s an alcoholic. He is a mean drunk. This agreement was on Monday. By Thursday he was drunk. I had to drive him to get more alcohol because he was threatening to drink and drive. We are still married and I am liable for his stupidity. We agreed no alcohol in the apartment. Friday there was alcohol in the apartment. We agreed if he was going to drink, I would have to be allowed to lock myself in my room and he would not interact with me. On Saturday he was drunk off his face, screaming at me outside my bedroom door telling me what a horrible person I am. He says “Do you want to know what my friends think of you?” “No. I don’t really care. I’m sure you’ve told them all kinds of bullshit.” “Not even your friends like you. None of them would come to your PhD surprise party!” (Which was stupidly in Vegas…instead of in New York, where my friends would have been able to make it on the short notice he gave the few people he was aware of as my friends — I’d kept him out of my social life for so long I’m not even sure he knew who my friends were.)
This goes on for hours. He alternates between screaming through the doors at me (which I have just discovered don’t lock!) and going out on the balcony to smoke because he knows it bothers me, because he knows that the smoke and the threads of his conversation waft into the guest bedroom window.
At some point this escalated into telling me that I was abusive. And that the things I’d been saying since we split were inappropriate and infuriating. (Things like, I hope you get help, I hope you work on your mental health, etc.) That it made me a terrible person.
That it makes him so angry he just… [makes a strangling motion with his hands] That “the next time you say something like that I just might stab someone.”
Thinking he will back that down I say, “That sounds like a threat, Kris.”
He nods like “you bet your ass it is.”
My dad drives up the next day to help me move out. Because he has literally become so unhinged and detached from reality, I am not at all sure that he doesn’t really mean that. He is furious that I told my parents he threatened to stab me. That “they could have called the cops on me!” I should have called the cops. Instead, I blocked the doors off with the bikes, hoping if he tried to get in the noise and blockade would give me time to call 911. I emailed a stranger begging for a place to stay with my cat.
I move out. Before I go, I make sure the meal I was prepping the day before, before he got drunk, is in the slow cooker cooking for him to eat all week. When we make the final trip with the UHaul I stay and help him move a table up to the apartment.
I am homeless for about 4 weeks. Living out of a suitcase in a stranger’s guest bedroom. I am still paying for rent at the apartment he now lives in alone.
I see a lawyer. She says he could technically sue me for up to $500/month alimony — which is way more than I can actually afford. She recommends I use the tuition benefits to keep him from taking me to court. A trial means divorce and no tuition. So, he stands to benefit from cooperating. So do I. It means I don’t have to figure out how to pay for a lawyer.
He is shocked and angry that I no longer feel generous about offering to pay his rent and give him tuition benefits. In the end I manage to leverage the tuition benefits to negotiate alimony low enough that I at least will end up paying him less over time than it would cost me to get a lawyer. So he gets to go to school for dirt cheap, I stay married to him, and I pay him $175/month.
Which I can’t actually afford. Because in the process of splitting he discloses that he has racked up $13k in secret credit card debt. After I’d paid us down to ZERO from a $25k debt we got into when we were first married. I worked sometimes THREE JOBS while getting my PhD to pay us down to zero. We closed all cards but my CapitalOne Travel card, so we could control it. Between moving to Kansas for his schooling and moving again to Reno the next year, we had racked up another $8k on it, because we thought we could handle it. I thought we’d be splitting that $8k. But now I’m 50% responsible for his secret $13k too.
So, I have a car I bought when I thought we were going to be double income. I have student loans coming due. I am now paying all $8k instead of $4k. (I got out of splitting that last $5k difference because we also owed my parents for bailing us out a few times.) I have to get a second job, driving for Uber on weekend nights just to stay afloat. I dread the weekend I pick up one of my students to drop them off at a party.
He’s living for free at his mom’s house. And I’m paying for his new coke habit.
And now that he’s finally fucking finishing school — after 19 years of trying — I’m finally getting a divorce. But he seems too cooperative. He has agreed to divorce me just after the semester begins because he won’t need the tuition aid anymore. I agree to pay alimony through the end of the semester. I tell him we have to do September because my October is swamped. He insists I get it done by September 22.
I assume this deadline means he is remarrying. And trying to remarry and get paid alimony. Which is fraud.
We submit paperwork in September. The judge sends it back. It was improperly filed.
We then discover we cannot file in Washoe at all, because neither of us live in that county anymore. So he is going to file in Clark. But that means I have to print out all the paperwork, fill it in, and sign it in front of a notary. And I simply don’t have the time right now.
And he simply can’t wait.
Friday September 29 he sends new paperwork.
Friday October 6 he asks “Did you have a chance to submit those papers? I sent a second set up there just in case there was another need to resubmit.” I haven’t seen the papers, so I check my work mailbox, and they have just arrived. I don’t get back to him over the weekend.
Tuesday October 10 he asks “just checking to see if you have any updates regarding the divorce paperwork?” I respond that I only received them Friday and no, I haven’t had time to do anything and also bring up the new problem that we can’t file in Washoe. He says he needs the date we file for divorce for some “paperwork” that he has previously said (in September) is “none of [my] business.” He says it needs done “ASAP, seriously. It has to do with medical/legal stuff.” We agree to file through his county, I say I’ll print the paperwork and try to get it notarized this week and send it down. He offers to fill out the paperwork and asks “Are you legally Angela Rae Bennet or Angela Rae Segler?” LITERALLY NEITHER OF THOSE ARE OR EVER HAVE BEEN MY NAME.
I don’t make it. I am too busy planning a conference, teaching my classes, and applying for fellowship deadlines and writing recommendation letters for Nov 1.
Monday October 16 “Have you sent out those documents yet?” I have bad reception at my home and am sick all day. I don’t respond.
Tuesday October 17 “I know you have bad reception. Just double checking, when did you send out the docs for our divorce?”
“I haven’t been to a notary. I’ve been sick and trying to get this conference off the ground. I literally don’t have time.”
I think, ‘If he wants this goddam divorce so bad, maybe he will agree to let me out of paying the last two months’ alimony…incentivize me making it a priority.’
Wednesday October 18, 7:54 am (getting ready to leave for work, 75 minute drive) “I can pay for a mobile notary to come to you. Where, what day, and what time works best for you and I’ll make the appointment today.”
I have a 10:15 meeting. I go straight to a lunch with the provost. I go straight back to my office, send a necessary and urgent email. I meet with my grad student. I teach a 2:30–3:45 class. I teach a 4:00–5:15 class.
If you don’t do what I want right now, our only option is for me to file a complaint for divorce…[with a lawyer]…that I am going to make you pay for. Decide now or I sue you in the morning.
Me, reading this at 5:30, after I’m done with students. Yay. Kris attempts to intimidate yet again. 1. he thinks I will do anything to avoid the cost of a lawyer. 2. he thinks that the mere fear of the fact that he has access to a lawyer his mom will pay for will get me to give him what he wants, because, let’s face it, that’s what I did in the separation. I caved to avoid lawyer fees. 3. He thinks he can intimidate me with legal bluster, all of which is literal bullshit. 4. He thinks he can file a complaint and get a divorce faster than if I cooperate???? 5. He thinks that him filing and blaming me for the suit because I wouldn’t divorce him fast enough means a judge is likely to grant him reimbursement for lawyer and filing fees? 6. DOES HE LITERALLY THINK HE CAN JUST INTIMIDATE ME INTO GIVING HIM WHAT HE WANTS?!?!?!?
Me, 5:38 pm over several messages: “Wow leave it to you to opt for the stick rather than the carrot. 1. I *am* that busy partly because I don’t live in Reno any more and am simply not available to a Washoe based notary who will literally cahrge you $150 to come to my home (which is 75 minute commute into nowhere). 2. If it’s that urgent, an effort to incentivize this to that I had a reason to prioritize it above my LITERAL JOB would have maybe been smart. 3. A contested divorce after a joint separation is dumb as shit and I doubt any judge would stick me with lawyer fees because I didn’t agree to divorce you “on time.” And be assured I also have access to a lawyer should you choose to go this route. 4. Giving me less than 24 hours to respond to any message is just straight up shitty and narcissistic. People have other shit to do besides respond to your needs on your schedule. I am sick and have been in back to back meetings and classes since 10:15 this morning and have a 75 minute drive home. 5. I have proven cooperative and even helpful thus far, even when you refuse to tell me *why* I should prioritize your life and your needs above my own. Demanding that I jump every fucking time you ask is unreasonable. And good luck getting that contested divorce in a timely fashion. That takes a minimum of 6 weeks to even enter into judgement. Add lawyers and this shit could go on for months. So if you want a timely divorce I recommend you not threaten me again.
Make me a better offer and I’ll see your notary in my office ( — — ) on Friday at noon and I’ll even have a prepaid priority mail envelope to drop the papers into before the end of the day.”
At this point, I’m actually just proud of myself for having stuck up for myself and for having called his bluff.
As soon as I dared him to go ahead and get a lawyer, and take 6 weeks or more to get his divorce he changed his tack.
He “accepted my offer,” but only the half that benefitted him.
I tried to make it clear that I was not going to prioritize him over me in this matter. And if he didn’t want to make it worth my time to do what he wants on his schedule, then it would have to wait TWO WEEKS.
TWO FUCKING WEEKS. Until after this conference is over at the end of the month. That is all.
It literally took all I had not to say “I spent 10 years putting what you wanted, your schedule, and your priorities ahead of my own. I AM NOT DOING IT ANYMORE. I am not in any way, even in some twisted, fucked up view of marriage, obligated to care more about you and your life than about me, my time, and what I need.”
I may have slightly exaggerated the importance and size of that conference…but that doesn’t make the work involved in pulling it off in the next 10 days any less.
I notice he doesn’t bother to refute the remarriage claim.
I also notice he doesn’t bother giving me anything that I asked for in exchange for what he wants.
He just keeps insisting that a fucking notary will be by on Friday. My offer to meet the notary was conditional. Make it worth my time and I’ll give you what you want. Otherwise I’ll get to it in my own damn time.
He bullies me into accepting the fucking notary. Which I do just because it’s one less thing on my plate and he’ll have to spend at least $50 for it.
But I don’t intend to give him any of the other things he asked for. Because he didn’t give me anything I asked for.
I am D.O.N.E. accepting shitty deals from shitty men. Accepting shitty deals from this man who has always made a habit of pressuring me into prioritizing him and his life and his wants above me, my needs, and even my career. He routinely sabotaged any important thing I had going on, ever. You could count on Kris having a crisis if my MA thesis was due, if I had a big conference to go to, if I had doctoral exams, if I was working on dissertation deadline, etc. Like clockwork, right when it was most important for me to be focused and on my game he would have an (ostensibly unrelated) melt down.
So here we are again. Kris taking up my time before yet another big professional endeavor. As if I owe him my time. I am not even in a relationship with this man anymore.
As if I owe him my silence so that people we both know don’t have to know how absolutely fucking shitty he is. STILL IS.
Because it’s the polite thing to do.
Don’t make drama.
Which just translates to “keep your fucking female-ass-talks-too-much-if-it-talks-at-all-hysterical mouth shut. No one wants to hear about your problems, because it makes us uncomfortable to admit that men do this shit to women we know EVERY GOD DAMNED FUCKING DAY.”
Well fuck that. I’m a dramatic, hysterical, unreasonable, womb-man* that can’t possibly keep her talks-too-much-doesn’t-suck-enough-dick mouth shut for the sake of allowing you to look like a poor, wronged, woe-is-Kristofer, nothing-is-ever-my-fault, reasonable, rational good guy.
I am fucking done with my role in being complicit with this rape culture that sees women’s speech as excessive no matter what, demands their silence in the face of the constant assault on their dignity, integrity, and humanity.
I share these salacious details of my marriage as my #metoo contribution. I will not cover up any man’s bad behavior any more. Ever.
Lady rage out.
*credit due to student who dreamt about women being called womb-men after we read Freud, Lacan, and Irigaray.