You don’t own me.

How our culture continues to punish women who expect control over their own lives.

In San Bernardino yesterday, a woman was shot dead in her elementary classroom by her estranged husband. They had been separated for a couple of months, after being married for just a couple of months. Her mother commented after the fact that the man had changed so dramatically in his demeanor after their wedding that her daughter had no choice but to walk away.

He didn’t accept that choice, and ultimately ended her life and the life of one of her students before taking his own.

The statistics around intimate partner violence are staggering. This is just a sampling:

1 in 3 women have been victims of [some form of] physical violence by an intimate partner within their lifetime, and 1 in 4 women have been victims of severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime.
1 in 7 women have been stalked by an intimate partner during their lifetime to the point in which they felt very fearful or believed that they or someone close to them would be harmed or killed.
Between 21–60% of victims of intimate partner violence lose their jobs due to reasons stemming from the abuse.
72% of all murder-suicides involve an intimate partner; 94% of the victims of these murder suicides are female.
The presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation increases the risk of homicide by 500%.

Men who abuse their partners would tell you they do so for a variety of reasons: they “lost their temper” because of something their partner did or said during a fight; they disagree with how their partner is managing some aspect of their lives, be it their money, their family, or their home; they’re jealous of their partner’s relationship with someone else, be it a friend, a co-worker, or even a sibling or child; they want to teach their partner a “lesson” about talking to them or treating them in a particular way; they’re frustrated with some aspect of their lives and need an “outlet”; or they feel abandoned or left behind because their partner wants to leave them.

There’s really only one reason, though: they believe they own their partner.

What they say.

What they do.

Who they talk to.

Where they go.

How they act.

And if or when their partner chooses to take control of their own body, space, location, relationships, or finances, they believe they are justified in taking that control back… by whatever means necessary.

Many of these men would tell you they do what they do out of love: they want to “protect” their partner; they want to “protect” their family; they don’t want to be “alone”; they know “what’s best” for the people they care about; they just want to be “happy”.

The rest would tell you “the bitch had it coming”.

Our culture reinforces that thinking, too.

Song lyrics about evil women who cheat and deserve to suffer. Female characters in movies who reject the nice guy, just for kicks. Whining in men’s forums about how women are materialistic and shallow and don’t appreciate what a guy (them) has to offfer. Men who complain that modern women rob them of their “rightful” role in their homes, workplaces… or anywhere else. Celebrity and sports figures who beat women, and then decry them as “gold diggers”. Social media posts and pranks that spread revenge porn and slut-shaming. Men lambasting women who refuse to “smile” when they’re walking down the street.

How dare any woman reject a man, or change her mind, or speak her mind, or even choose her own facial expression without getting her comeuppance?

Bitch. Bitch. Bitch. Bitch. Bitch. Bitch.

It’s such a part of our narrative around relationships in pop culture now that many young women just expect it to happen to them. They expect to be spoken of that way. They might even cast the same kind of aspersions, use the same kind of language, and enact the same kinds of punishments and pranks on other young women, because they should expect it.

We should expect to suffer if someone blames us for their unhappiness.

We should expect to be hurt physically when we hurt someone emotionally.

We should expect that jealousy is a byproduct of love.

The reality is, even if we shouldn’t have to expect these things, too many women do because they’ve been taught to — by their partners, by their families, by their neighbors, by what they’ve seen in the world around them.

But it’s wrong. And men who know better need to step up and help women put a stop to it.

Don’t nod and smile when your buddy vents for the umpteenth time about his “whore” of an ex. Don’t look the other way when you see a man harassing a woman on the street. Don’t pass around hacked phone photos and social media posts that depict women in compromising ways to shame or embarrass them. Don’t ignore angry, potentially violent posts that your friends make about women who’ve rejected them or that they resent for being “out of their league”. Don’t shrug off misogynist language as “blowing off steam”.

If you know a woman in a perilous situation, or someone acting unstable enough to create one, do make the call to the police so she’s not the only voice speaking up for herself… until she can’t anymore.

You might get pushback for speaking up, sure. You might even lose a friend or two in the process.

You might also save a woman’s life.

And beyond supporting women in your own world, call your government representatives to ask for more significant penalties for domestic violence, and limits on gun ownership for people with a history of domestic violence. Donate to organizations that support and shelter victims of domestic violence.

It seems crazy that we should have to ask men to help us not be subject to other men, but this isn’t really about gender, anyway.

It’s about being a good human when others choose not to be.

And good humans don’t own other humans.

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