When I was sixteen years old, my boyfriend attempted suicide because I had just broken up with him. He cut both of his wrists, then started walking toward my house because he wanted me to watch him die. A few miles in, he knocked on someone’s front door and asked for help.
I know these details because a few days after it happened I bumped into that someone in the supermarket where I worked at the time. She saw the nametag pinned to my vest and recalled the scene: how he was covered in blood, how pale his skin had become, how he was very, very scared.
I have never written about this. Nor have I spoken about it much. That night and the weeks that followed were tremendously difficult. I felt terrified and guilty, even though I hadn’t done anything wrong.
He got to the hospital in time and survived, thankfully. I assume he also got some counseling. I probably should have gone to counseling too, because my relationships after that point were more submissive than they should have been. Instead of choosing a partner, I accepted the fate of having been chosen. If a guy liked me and wanted me as his girlfriend, I acquiesced. And I didn’t break up with anyone when I should have, for fear they would hurt themselves or might try to punish me.
His suicide attempt, and the complicated feelings associated with it, come back to me as I read news reports of the shootings in Isla Vista, Calif. – specifically how the shooter blamed his killing spree on a young lady who rejected him when they were in grade school.
I don’t want to write his name here because he doesn’t deserve the notoriety. And I don’t want to write hers because she doesn’t deserve the blame. She didn’t do anything wrong. Ten years old or 22, we’re allowed to choose who our friends and boyfriends will be. None of us belongs to anyone.
Too often we read about men using violence to punish women. In April, a 16-year-old boy fatally stabbed a girl who declined his invitation to the prom at a high school in Connecticut. In New Hampshire, a 31-year-old man is on trial for murder for allegedly choking and raping a college student who rejected his sexual advances. That kind of misogynistic thinking is present every time a woman reconciles with her abuser, every time a perpetrator uses “she was asking for it” as a defense, every time someone makes a joke about domestic violence.
Men are not entitled to take what they want. Nor are they entitled to punish women who don’t go along with their desires. I hate to think that any of this will happen to my daughter one day, but the odds are certainly against her. One in four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime. Every two minutes, a woman is sexually assaulted in this country. And there’s no telling how frequently a woman is shamed or blamed or threatened, because we don’t talk about those instances. Talking about them is scary.
Since the shootings, women all over the world have been sharing stories about the pervasiveness of sexism, misogyny, harassment and threats on social media. I’ve read many of those #YesAllWomen declarations, some of which came from my friends, with both horror and relief: horror that gender-related violence is so rampant in our society and relief that our sisterhood of support is so substantial.
I didn’t write a #YesAllWomen post, but I will now. It’s for that young lady in Isla Vista, and it goes like this:
Because it’s not your fault. #YesAllWomen