This morning, I twitched with rage as I lay under my German machine. I despise nothing more than a bully. Always have, always will. And I’d just read a story that made me want to punch someone. But, see, that’s never the answer. Here’s why.
A friend of a friend of mine died in January this year. I’ll call her Michelle. She was a mother of three, living overseas with her husband. He is a corporate man, wears a good suit. Let’s call him Suit. He’s liked by his clients, has a firm handshake. He also had a firm hand when it came to hitting Michelle across the side of the head.
I will assume, from the job Suit does and the outfit for whom he works, that his clients like his persuasive manner and his charm. So, I guess, did Michelle in the early days. And his powers of persuasion would have worked a treat when it came to making her feel like a worthless speck of dust on his shoe.
Like I said, though, she’s gone now. She took her own life. She did this even though she had finally summoned the courage to leave Suit. But getting away wasn’t enough: he was still in her head, an earwig telling her she was a bad mother, a useless person, a nothing. He’s a professional persuader. And we all know the bad stuff is easier to believe than the good.
The good stuff was there too: Michelle was bolstered by an army of tiger-women working hard to offset the damage done by Suit. They tried to give her courage to leave, bravery to believe she was worth more, that her kids deserved better. But it wasn’t enough. She had asked Suit for years to take her home, back to Australia, back to her family. He’d refused.
On the day she died, his employer flew her family back to Australia. Her final act meant her children would grow up near her family, but without her.
Suit is getting on with his life. He is working in his respected job, walking about the big Australian city, shoulders back, a man people seek out for advice. A man people listen to.
What a shame Michelle listened to him. And what a shame more people don’t know what he did.
I’m mercifully lacking in first-hand experience of family violence. My father is loving and kind. My husband and brothers are marshmallows. My male friends are good men. But like the old adage that if you’re in London you’re never more than ten feet from a rat, violent men are not far away: insidious b*stards, vile cowards, exacting an unimaginable price from the women and children in their lives. Modelling behaviour young boys might adopt and young girls might come to think of as all they deserve.
For more eloquent words on family violence than mine, look here and here and here. But I will say this: we need to raise good men, brave men who define strength not as control and brawn, but as integrity and compassion. We need to surround ourselves with these men, and raise girls who do too. Girls who see the signs early and know they deserve better. And if they walk away from the Suits of this world, we must throw our arms around them and keep them safe.
Today is White Ribbon Day, and it’s also the anniversary of the day Michelle married her abuser. I hope today the caged bear of his conscience rouses itself and puts a stink of remorse on his breath, and a stone of guilt in his shoe. He’s not the only bad guy around, but he’s the bad guy I’m mad at today.
*Apologies to Triv readers who miss the days of sweating the small stuff. Swear we’ll perspire it together again soon, once we’ve nailed cancer and family violence.