We have it “so good.”

We have it “so good.” October 23, 2012

What if I told you a story about a Muslim girl from the Middle East?

She is dating a man. They’re probably going to get married. She doesn’t really want this to happen but she’s afraid to leave him. Besides, she’s given him her virginity (well, he took it, anyway) so she’s now damaged goods. “No other man could ever want you,” he tells her. Every day. And she believes him because her religious leaders have always taught her the same thing. 

He dictates what she wears. He tells her she must dress hyper-modestly, and she does. But sometimes she catches the eye of other men anyway. Her boyfriend blames her for this. If she gets any attention from other men, he forbids her from showering or otherwise tending to her personal hygiene.

She is smart. She goes to school. She wants to earn her doctorate some day. This makes him feel threatened, so he yells at her for doing her homework, for taking advanced classes, for applying to colleges. He tells her that her role is in the home, caring for children, cleaning the house. The public sphere is a “man’s world.” He belittles her, tells her she is weak, tells her she will never be able to handle it. That she is too stupid to finish college because she is not a man. 

Sometimes he hurts her. He tells her she deserved it. She shouldn’t have disrespected him, because he is a man and she is a woman. It is his job to keep her in her place. Sometimes he rapes her. He tells her she deserved that too.

She doesn’t complain, though, because she’s been taught by her religious leaders her whole life that she must submit to men’s leadership.

I hear stories like this all the time. On the news, on other blogs, in documentaries, and in presidential debates. There’s a woman in a different country being oppressed by the men of that country. “Look at how backward that culture is!” they say. “Women in the United States have it so good!” Often, when I talk about the oppression of women in the United States, people will respond telling me, “If you don’t like it, move to Iraq/China/India. You’ve got it so good here.” 

So good.

But what if I told you this story, the one I told above, was not the story of a Muslim girl living in the Middle East? What if I told you it was MY story?

It is my story. The story of the abusive man I dated in high school. The story of the abusive man who I met in my conservative Christian church. The story of the abusive man that I stayed with for a year because I thought I had to submit to him. Because I thought that I was damaged goods and would never find anyone else.

But I have it so good.

The abuse didn’t happen out of nowhere. It was part of the culture I was raised in. Part of the society I lived in. Supported by religious teachings and social attitudes toward women and women’s bodies.

But I have it so good.

Now, I have privilege. There are things that I do have “so good,” as a white, able-bodied, heterosexual American born into a middle-class family. I am not denying that. I am also not excusing or dismissing the abuse that goes on in other countries.

My point?

It’s happening here too. We Americans are not great saviors who have got it all together. Who have achieved a state of egalitarian nirvana and now can exercise the right to judge the temporal position of other countries (“They’re so backward OVER THERE.” “THAT country is stuck in the Middle Ages”)

We don’t have the right to talk about other countries, other religions, other cultures as if they are “backward,” and we don’t have the right to use the problems in other countries to divert attention from our own problems. From the 3 women who are murdered by an intimate partner every day in the United States. From the 600 women in the U.S. who are raped or sexually assault every day. 

And we sure as hell don’t have the right to tell these hurting, oppressed women here in America to quit complaining because they have it “so good.”

Things can be shit here for women. They were for me.

I’m tired of people trying to silence me by telling me I have it “so good.” As I pop my anti-depressant pills every day and deal with panic attacks and PTSD and other after effects from the abuse I’ve suffered, I don’t feel like I have it “so good.” I don’t feel like the liberated woman the media is telling me that I am.

I don’t feel like feminists in this country have “won.”

There are hurting women overseas. There are hurting women here. They aren’t backward, and we aren’t forward.

We’ve all got a lot of work to do.

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  • This is so brave. Thank you. Sending love, sending shalom, sending prayers for God to keep your fighting spirit strong.

  • If you don’t like it here, why don’t you move to the Middle East where every women everywhere wears a thousand pound burkas and are beheaded for showing ankles?

    Ok, sad but I’ve heard this argument and I’ve been struggling with just the right words to counter them. Thanks, friend.

  • Hi Sarah,
    Thanks for your post. I’m sorry you had to go through that experience.

    However, it is in my experience that women often stay in abusive relationships because there is something ‘wrong’ or damaged inside of them before they go into that type of a relationship.

    Further, women in Western society are a lot better off than women in other countries. We have therapist, antidepressants and support for women who have gone through abuse. Also, according to a recent study: “Domestic violence rates have been halved since 1993, while rapes and sexual assaults against women have fallen by 70 percent in that time. In recent decades, husbands have doubled their share of housework and tripled their share of child care. And this change is not confined to highly educated men.” Yet more importantly, women here in Western societies have a VOICE.

    You mention that feminism has failed you. If it has failed you, a white privileged woman, imagine how it has failed women of color.

    Too often the narrative has centered around white women and their struggles, and their pain. They get the media attention when they are raped, murdered, abused, and kidnapped. The media rarely picks up on these stories when women of color go through these experiences. Our voices are barely heard. There are women in Africa getting their vaginas butchered, and raped repeatedly, married at age twelve and they don’t have the luxury of therapy that we have here.

    I think the focus of blogs, documentaries etc. should continue to remain on these women. Not from the perspective that we as America are saviours of the world but rather to tell their story.

    • It’s heartbreaking to read that you went through. It really saddens me. And it makes me angry that if you’d been in a non-religious household, that probably wouldn’t have happened to you. I mean, not in total. Not the entire disturbing package. Sometimes I think we need Jesus to come back down, make a whip out of vines, and clean our Church out.

      We’ve gotten so off-track when our so-called piety hurts the weak or marginalized (and let’s face it, a teenage girl in a patriarchal subculture is pretty marginalized).

      I can’t help but think that the difference between the modern day “speaking out against sin” Christians and Jesus himself was that Jesus spoke out against the powerful and the respectable, but the “voices of American Christianity” today always seem to pick on the marginalized (homosexual people, “welfare queens,” illegal immigrants, and, when they have the power to do so, women).

      I try to be even handed and kind to complementarians, but then I think of the daughters who are being raised in their churches, raised in such stifling, toxic environments, and I just can’t find anything kind to say.

    • KatR

      “However, it is in my experience that women often stay in abusive relationships because there is something ‘wrong’ or damaged inside of them before they go into that type of a relationship.”

      This pretty much perfectly articulates why I’m glad Sarah wrote this post.

    • I think you make great points about the additional issues for women of colour and I completely agree that these voices are not being heard which needs to be addressed.

      However I respectfully challenge some of your views. *Anyone* can find themselves in an abusive relationship. To say that there is something ‘wrong or damaged inside of a victim of abuse before they enter into a relationship’ is generalist and victim-blaming. 16-25s are most at risk of an abusive relationship and so there are many young women we’d be labelling as ‘wrong or damaged’. Its the abuser who damages. Secondly people do not ‘go into that type of a relationship’ consciously. I’m sure if the man described in the blog had been helpful enough to wear some kind of sign that he was controlling and abusive, no woman would go near him. The reason so many women find themselves in abusive relationship is that there is no way of telling until you are in the relationship. Lastly its Sarah’s blog and she’s focusing on her experiences which is completely valid and welcome. We need to hear the voices of non-white survivors, but that’s not Sarah’s responsibility.

      • Hi Colette,
        No one is saying the abuser is not responsible for his actions or the damage that he has inflicted. However, the victim has to ask herself, why did I stay in this relationship? If someone is treating me so horribly why am I staying? By asking these questions the victim will hopefully not stay in that situation.

        Secondly, Sarah has every right to speak about her experiences. It is of course her blog. But in her blog she does not solely focus on her experiences. For example in this blog she compares her experience of abuse to the women living in the Middle East. Thus she opens herself up for discussion. Where is the voice of this Middle Eastern woman that Sarah is comparing her experience too? Would she agree with what Sarah had to say?

        What about the Middle Eastern immigrant woman who has lived in both places would she agree?

        Yes, Sarah has a story to tell! But by comparing her story to that of women living in the Middle East who have no voice or story on this blog, as a woman’s advocate, I am going to speak up.

        And if Sarah is not responsible for telling the stories of WOMEN OF COLOUR, then she should not compare her stories to other women.

  • I agree that the stories of women of color need to be discussed, and from a new perspective. It definitely shouldn’t be centered on white women. However, experiences of women in other countries also shouldn’t be used to reinforce American exceptionalism when America isn’t all that exceptional, which was my point. I think there’s room for all of our voices, and I agree that often we white women need to stop talking about ourselves rather than hogging the conversation. I hope my post didn’t come across as an attempt to do that (that was one concern I had writing it…trying to turn the conversation around and give another perspective without sounding like this should be all about me). We definitely need to start listening to the voices of non-white women and women from other countries. But we don’t need to hear their stories from white men (and women) who are just using their stories to silence the voices of women here. Everyone loses in that scenario (well, besides white men).

    • Definitely Sarah, I agree with your last point. Maybe we should be giving these women the tools to tell their story versus telling our version of their story.

  • Well as a white heterosexual man I will tell you it isn’t a bed of roses. I was raped as a child, later molested by a friend of the family, manipulated and used by my first love who betrayed me and sent me to prison for ten years. Let me tell you how much fun it is being white in prison. The point is we have to stop playing the victim card. I don’t hate all teenage boys because of what those kids did. I don’t blame the Church of Latter Day Saints because one of their elders touched me wrong. I don’t fear or resent all black men for what they tried to do for me. Nor do I hate all women because one lied and tried to destroy my life. Everyone is victimized at some point. It is a human problem, not a gender or racial one. Jesus was a Jewish man, and he was betrayed, falsely accused, wrongfully convicted, tortured, and brutaly executed. And all through it he was praying for the people who did it. He didn’t play the victim. I am not saying that what happened to you wasn’t awful. But the way to make things better is not to only speak for one group. All humans are broken. We are all damaged goods. Pointing the finger at someone else isn’t the way. The way of the cross is reconcilliation. The problem I have with feminism is that it only speaks about women, which inherently causes alienation. We need education on theses topics, your story should be told. Progress is being made, and with brave people like you we will continue to make progress. But we have to do it together.

    • Yeah, prayerpunk, Sarah should totes stop hating on all men and pointing fingers at only white men and all the other stuff that she never said or implied she was doing but that you’re reading into it…

      Except for the fact that she’s not doing it and neither is anyone else here…

      We all have problems and issues. That’s understood. But there is no Us V Them. It’s understanding privilege and what that can and does do to us. And mostly, to white males such as ourselves, it makes us blind to any sort of criticism from non-whites and non-males. And if we’re blind and non-responsive, we cannot improve, can we?

    • I really don’t know what you’re talking about. I can only fully tell my story and it’s not my job to tell the stories of others. But I’ve opened my platform for other people to tell theirs. I’ve talked about racism, in this article even I’m talking about the “white savior complex” that hurts people in other countries (men and women, because it paints all men in those countries as abusive/incapable of caring for women and all women as helpless). I’ve talked about LGBT issues. I’m engaged to a (half) Polish man even though I was raped by a half Polish man. I am still a Christian. What is your point here?

  • C

    Thank you so so much for writing this. You have no idea how just how many women’s stories you are telling with this. Thank you.

  • E

    Here, here! I’ve been in two relationships like this. The first was my first serious relationship and I was by myself in another country and it was with a man from the middle east. Fortunately I had very strong friends and neighbors who realized what was going on and supported my leaving him and they protected me. But did I learn? Not enough to protect myself from an extremely charming narcissistic criminal who nearly killed me AFTER I left him. Please don’t ask why they don’t leave, it’s to stay alive or to keep innocents alive. People like this don’t care who they hurt.

  • the patriarchy exists, in culture, in society, religion is twisted by some people who do not fear God.