Thursday, November 2, 2017


Poison Pen is Mightier
Petty poets with poison pens
Forcing rhymes to get revenge
They better get the person
Who got them good

"Rough." A friend commented about a story he shared on Facebook. So I clicked on it. The story was a typical first person narrative about a man losing his wife to an affair and re-gaining love in a new woman. It was familiar, but the names had been changed. That didn’t change the fact that I knew-everyone knew-the published story floating around the writing community was about the ex and me. The author, my ex-husband, had used his platform, his voice, and his authority to publicly degrade me. 
You know. I can hear the chatter on the other end, all’s fair in love and art. True. This isn’t necessarily about that. Nor is it my intention to feed the offense factory. The last couple weeks have exposed some prominent mega creeps in various entertainment and art industries. It had me thinking about the main reason why women don’t speak out, it is the insignificance women may feel next to established men of power.
Hear me out. The timing was suspicious. We had already been divorced for about two years. Just a few days prior to this circulated story, I had questioned him about his treatment of a dear mutual friend. It upset him. Not only because I had the audacity to confront him, probably more likely because I maintained a friendship with a writer he respected. I knew that about him, how he expressed disdain about ex-girlfriends, ex-friends who stepped on his turf, etc. How upsetting it would be when one didn’t just disappear when he cut them out. On the flip, he was well-read, respected and published amongst the small press writing community. He wielded weapons of intimidation. Anyone who had the unfortunate encounter with engaging him in an online discourse or a falling out certainly experienced it.
You see. Real power lies in controlling the narrative. Stories are driven by emotion, not facts. It is something we’ve all come to feel ambivalent about in the age of fake news. In my ex’s story, he alleged an affair. Although he may not have grabbed my ass without permission or jizzed in a potted plant, he attacked my sexual reputation. If it were true, I really wouldn’t care about puritanical points of view or judgments on me. What I do care about is the intent. His story was a weapon to diminish and publicly shame me.
In his story “Cosmonauts”, I was characterized as Jane. Jane was a wife who had an affair with a younger classmate after going back to school. Other than that, there wasn’t really anything else to Jane. She had no brains, no heart, and zero interests. The story laughed at the idea of Jane “finding” herself for going back to school and being trite like enjoying “cat videos”. The main character finally remarked how he didn’t put up a fight after finding out about the affair because he must've not loved her. Once Jane no longer met husbandly expectations, she was a fallen woman, a whore. Where does this mentality come from? Historically, wives were property of men as William Blackstone famously put it in his Commentaries on English Law (1765–1769): By marriage, the husband and wife are one person in the law: that is, the very being or legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage. Jane had no existence. I had no existence. The name itself bears no resemblance of who I am: Jane. (Although strangely, likely not so strangely is the well-known literary name of the mutual friend I remained friends  with.) The other woman, Madonna “Dani,” juxtaposes Jane’s every action, reassures the main character, supports him every step of the way, and thinks he’s hilarious! A woman for a person who thinks like that is only good as a supportive role. I was erased like eternal sunshine of the patriarchal mind. 
I saw the reactions of the people who read the story. He managed not only to garnish personal sympathy, but received praise- the story was even nominated for the publisher’s best short story of the month or something like that. Now I don’t hold it against anyone who read the story and believed it. I never got to speak in the story or in real life. Respect and intimidation are a blurred line. Every intimidation tactic, every use of power that manifests itself sexually or in other creative manifestations is about the larger system. We exist in a society where women’s voices are minimized. The #metoo hashtag was not just about a social media phenomenon, but a display in extent. Sexual harassment or assault permeates our society. And it is not just about a smack on the ass, but the many displays of dominance that are symptomatic of the disease created by patriarchal expectations and consequences.  How do we better this? It starts with a deep personal assessment about the ways we give certain voices more significance over others. It starts by women telling our stories and regaining control of the narrative.

--Anna Badua

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