Dear Melania

once upon a time photoDear Melania,

Do you mind if I call you M?
I don’t want to waste too many keystrokes. Never fear. I’m not going to be mean, or unfair. I’m just going to tell a story.

Someday, some far-off wonderful day, you will be remembered like a princess in a fairy tale. (Yes, I think you will be famous, even in the future, though I imagine your name may be lost, M.)

You will be be the hapless one who drank a potion that blinded her to truth and made her say crazy things, like “every assault should be taken care of in a court of law,” with a dismissive flick of your wrist, as if a woman who alleges assault is like a mosquito buzzing too close.

Every nine seconds, a woman is assaulted in our country.* Try telling all of them they will find justice. Try telling that to the woman Brock Turner sexually assaulted, who had eye witnesses, physical evidence, a jury conviction and a prosecutor seeking a nine-year sentence, a woman who penned perhaps the most moving victim statement ever written and bravely read it out in court, then heard the rapist’s father dismiss what happened as “twenty minutes of action” and watched as the judge said a long prison sentence would ruin Mr. Turner’s promising young life. As you undoubtedly know, M, Mr. Turner served three months, and his victim got a life sentence in which she will I hope heal and grow even stronger than before, but will always have to endure those who still say things like, “well, she did get drunk, after all.” And she has to endure people like you who would pretend there is justice for women who are assaulted, in brutal, demeaning ways, even by someone far less powerful than the prince you married.

Try telling it to the women who, even right now, are held as sex slaves at truck stops in middle America. Or to the women, like me, who were as teenagers raped by much-older men who seemed kind and interested in us as humans, men who took what they wanted and then threatened unspeakable things if we spoke up. Tell that to the sisters and mothers and friends of women who have been preyed upon by men.  To the 400,000 women whose rape-kit evidence languishes for years, untouched by police.**

And try telling it to the the many men—the kind of men I love—who are strong enough not to need to oppress women to feel powerful. And the men who have said things they regret, and woken up to how damaging that is to them and to us women. (C’mon guys. Join me here in saying this is not okay.)

None of us are buying it anymore, though societal change is painfully slow.

Your saying “every assault should be taken care of in a court of law,”reminds me of another “M” from history. The one who said, “No bread? Well, then let them eat cake.” Remember how that turned out?

It’s “boy talk” you say. Your then 59-year-old, rich businessman husband was “egged on,” you insist, as if he was and still is a powerless, poor little boy. It’s bad enough when men dismiss reality, but it’s so hard to watch those women who tear out their own hearts to follow them into the jungle of misogyny. I almost begin to lose hope. I worry women won’t keep speaking up, out of the fear that has kept us silent so long.

I think of words attributed to Margaret Atwood:

“Men are afraid that women will laugh at them.
Women are afraid that men will kill them.”

These words ring true.

Still, it’s hard to know, in the middle of a tale, what might happen next. All I know is that for centuries, millennia— the unlistened-to voices of women have gathered in the ether. The voices of those who have been raped, abused, groped, bought, sold, used and discarded, grabbed and then shamed and shunned and silenced—their voices float around still, like tumbleweeds of truth. The  winds of our time  and the hot air of your man and those who hold him up as a paragon are blowing those unheard voices together.

Yes. The true tale: it’s being told. The truth is now, I think, I hope—unstoppable. That’s why everyone is so unsettled right now. That truth is heading toward the flaming egos of men invested in guarding their powers, and toward the women who cling to them, out of fear or denial or both. Men in boardrooms and bedrooms. If you look you can see those egos, burning like gas flares on a dark oil field, as the truth swirls closer. Something’s going to blow up.

I do not imagine you will read my letter, but I had to write, anyway. I wonder.
Maybe underneath all the denial, you knew that your words would be a call to action for women to speak. Maybe underneath it all, you are just scared, too, and dream of a better world, where the assaulted do indeed see justice.

I like to imagine that is who you are, at heart.

* iBachman, R. & Saltzman, E. (1995). Violence against women: Estimates from the redesigned survey. Retrieved from http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/FEMVIED.PDF

**http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/09/23/how-the-u-s-ended-up-with-400-000-untested-rape-kits.html

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  1. #1 by Dawn D on October 18, 2016 - 4:01 pm

    I think she, like most women of her sort, is also victim of sexual abuse, even though she keeps disguising it as marriage so as to make it more bearable.
    I don’t know her story, Who really knows her story?
    So I won’t cast the first stone. But I agree that defending her narcissistic, mysogynist husband is a hard thing to hear for women who were sexually assaulted themselves and whose abuser was never brought to justice. However, I then remember that I too always found good reasons for my ex to behave in ways that would have felt unacceptable to mos, simply because I wasn’t ready to leave him then, and couldn’t live with the truth either.
    But this is a powerful piece. Thank you for having written it.

    • #2 by Elaine Olund on October 18, 2016 - 9:11 pm

      Dawn, I agree.
      I don’t know her story, either, but I owe her a debt for helping me understand my own story better. Helps me see why I didn’t speak out, back when it happened to me, helps me see why so many don’t today, helps me see that there are some attitudes that silence women and others who are not in positions of power.

      As for other stories, the ones I hear and the ones I do not–my heart is with anyone who is with someone they fear, willingly or not, someone who has emotionally and/or physically hurt them, someone who has squashed will and voice. I’d never judge someone in that position for any acts of self-care. Job one is healing. I applaud all who find a way to exit and heal. I cannot even imagine the courage involved in that journey.

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Dawn.
      E

      • #3 by Dawn D on October 19, 2016 - 3:26 am

        In her case, there is a matter of financial abuse too, most probably. How do you leave a man like that? You can’t for fear of repercussions, so you wait to be dismissed. A little like women of the court would, back in the days when monarchs could pick and choose who they wanted and families prostituted their daughters to gain political power.
        Of course there are attitudes that silence women. In my case, the shame and need to keep going through an exam did. And then the fact my then boyfriend dismissed it, saying I should just put it behind me, it was nothing or something along those lines (I don’t remember his exact words, just that I never felt like talking about it was welcome)… that was the first silencer.
        Of course we don’t talk about these things. People (men mostly) would rather not hear that their behaviour is crass and makes us feel ill-at-ease!
        Sorry, I’m a bit angry this morning 🙂
        I’m sorry you had to live through much worse than I did.
        Let’s keep healing!
        XO

  2. #4 by Ellen Austin-Li on October 21, 2016 - 11:43 pm

    I am broken-hearted to read of your own experience with sexual violence. Your strength and clarity show through your words. Keep singing it, girl!
    I get angry when I hear women like Melanie defend or explain-away the behavior of a “loved” one ( cringe – can’t imagine anyone loving DJT), but then I have to stop myself – because I am being judgemental and harsh towards someone who is perhaps also a victim. Still, it does a lot of damage to hear the wife come out to minimize the horrible misogyny of her spouse. To some people, she legitimizes this kind of behavior. (I can just imagine some abusive guy thinking, “See? This woman thinks it’s cool to talk like that.”)

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