I cringe whenever I see another news article about a woman killed by her (insert one) husband, ex-husband, lover, ex-lover, boyfriend, ex-boyfriend, relative, co-worker, ex-coworker, date, or casual acquaintance. Maybe it’s me, but it seems to be happening a hell of a lot more frequently than it used to.
More importantly, it’s happening after women have taken action in court to keep these jerks away from them. The latest one–in which a 50-year-old Harborview nurse, Gertrudes Lamson, was killed by her estranged husband after he had been arrested for violating a court order to stay away from her, then released without bail–is particularly disturbing. This guy was a nut. A King County courts commissioner had ordered him to stay away from his 17-year-old son and surrender all of his guns to his eldest son (obviously that didn’t work). Violence within a family can seldom be mediated and addressed only by the family members; it needs outside intervention of some kind. Yet no one seems to think that there’s anything wrong with the way our system handles these things. Only when someone dies do we begin to wonder about it.
Surely no one has a right to terrorize another person the way that many men harass women. We are not objects, not Barbie dolls, not automobiles, nor TV sets. You can’t take a baseball bat to us if we don’t “work properly.” Yet consider this bit of hate speech: “We are both going to be dead. Do you really want this to (happen)? I’m going to get the gun and let’s just finish this.” It’s every woman’s nightmare to hear words like that. And believe me, a lot of us live that nightmare.
After Gertrudes Lamson was shot by her husband, he asked her: “Why couldn’t you love me?”–as if the fact that he beat her, threatened to kill her, threatened violence against their children, and made threats against her friends were “loving” acts of kindness. Male batterers are control freaks who get a lot of support from a society that praises and rewards those who practice similar acts of violence as a way of life. As a nation, we routinely dismiss larger acts of violence with justifications that ignore both the brutality of those acts and their deeper meaning–the sanctions against Iraq, and now the bombing of Iraqi civilians is only one example. When our national leaders send the message that another nation can’t continue to exist in peace without doing exactly what we say, it’s the same message Victor Lamson gave his wife.
Aside from that, there’s an ancient assumption that’s survived across many different cultures: the idea that women are simply worth less than men. If a woman isn’t happy in a relationship, it doesn’t matter, because it’s her duty to take care of her man–indeed any man in her life, from her husband to her boss to the man sitting next to her on the bus. It’s reflected in statistics that show that one in three women will be raped or sexually abused over the course of her lifetime (that’s a conservative estimate–some claim it’s 50% or more). Women are in danger constantly, and we know it.
Women continually worry about whether they’re safe doing things that men take for granted: driving with their car doors unlocked, using a cash machine, walking alone (even in the broad daylight), entering a parking garage, working in an office alone without another co-worker around, talking to strangers, going for an early morning run, etc. It’s a relentless, demoralizing drain on women’s energy and time. But it’s a fear based in reality, particularly for women escaping from a bad relationship.
Tragically, Gertrudes Lamson was just beginning to do that when she filed for divorce in September. No one can know why she stayed with her husband for so long (they had been married for over 20 years), but maybe she felt she had to raise her children first, before she could leave him. We all know how much society still penalizes single mothers if they leave abusive relationships; just ask a few women on welfare or in the WorkFirst program if trying to get enough money just to pay food, rent, and childcare (not to mention the electric bill) is fun. That so many women still have to choose between their personal safety or the economic well-being of their children is simply barbaric.
I wish I knew of a place where Gertrudes could have gone–a place for all the women like her who are fleeing danger: someplace without ex-husbands, without guns, without the face of an uncaring landlord that wants to kick you out on the street, without civil servants in suits deciding your future, without shelters that have no empty beds available, without self-righteous people (men and women) judging you for not finding the “right” kind of man in the first place or for giving him a second and third chance, without courts that value his individual rights over yours, without newspapers that scream your death in headlines that scare every woman in the city who’s thinking of leaving a bad situation, and without the crappy, unspoken assumption that you’re no good if you don’t stick with him until the bitter end.
That place doesn’t exist. But at least it’s here in my imagination … and now in yours, too. Can we make it happen?