"...it's not the training to be mean but the training to be kind that is used to keep us leashed best." ~ Black Dog Red

"In case you haven't recognized the trend: it proceeds action, dissent, speech." ~ davidly, on how wars get done

"...What sort of meager, unerotic existence must a man live to find himself moved to such ecstatic heights by the mundane sniping of a congressional budget fight. The fate of human existence does not hang in the balance. The gods are not arrayed on either side. Poseiden, earth-shaker, has regrettably set his sights on the poor fishermen of northern Japan and not on Washington, D.C. where his ire might do some good--I can think of no better spot for a little wetland reclamation project, if you know what I mean. The fight is neither revolution nor apocalypse; it is hardly even a fight. A lot of apparatchiks are moving a lot of phony numbers with more zeros than a century of soccer scores around, weaving a brittle chrysalis around a gross worm that, some time hence, will emerge, untransformed, still a worm." ~ IOZ

Nov 3, 2011

Listen

[If you don't want to read about the evil that men do to women, please stop reading.]

Close to thirteen years ago, I took a transfer from one retail location to another. The transfer was itself a promotion, and for the first time in several years, I was back to managing an operation for people who were considerably higher on the food chain than my own self.

After wearing myself ragged in a prolonged custody dispute the effects of which can still be felt today, I was in debt to the tune of two hundred dollars an hour to my esteemed attorney. Don't get me wrong, she was, using currency as a replacement value, worth every penny, nickel, dime, quarter, dollar, fin, sawbuck and franklin spent on her. She wasn't the first feminist I'd ever met, but she was the first one who was neither twenty, nor affiliated with a university. She was also the first lawyer with whom I spoke who was willing and able to conduct the case without drawing my ex's sexual character into question. Let's just say, the dudes wanted to make a mash of her sex. My attorney, who'd spent most of her life prior to getting her permission to practice law doing juvenile intervention as a JSO case officer, wanted us to stay out of court except to present the judge with a done deal. So, we went for a stipulated agreement, shared custody, with a presentation on my part to pay child support directly to my ex- for every week in which she had physical custody. I also agreed to provide insurance, and we hashed out religious, extended familial, educational and medical agreements.

It looked like we're about to put to rest a year of animosity, bad blood, flights from the area, improper custodial departure and the residue of a horrendous break up, in which no parties were without fault; a conflict which made none of us the better, nor the wiser.

Then my ex- did something very stupid in a very public way on a very busy street and found herself a guest of the authorities. And I was, by order of the judge, now a full custodial parent. My ex-, and rightfully, tried to fight the judge's order. The judge didn't budge, so we came back with another stipulated agreement which recognized the custodial order, but which still provided my ex- with a three and half consecutive days of every week visitation, and equal say in medical, moral, religious and educational decisions. It recognized the prior agreement in all but letter, but which now established me as the parent with physical custody in accord with the judge's intent.

All of which cost me the pretty pennies, nickels, dimes, et cetera, mentioned above. I needed more money, so I took the training, the promotion, and three months later, the new location.

What I inherited with the bump in pay, and (finally!) full medical, were two ladies in their seventies, a drunk, a boyfriend and a girlfriend team, and a satanist. The drunk kept it off hours, the satanist was a fantastic third shifter, and the ladies rocked; both of them stayed with me for years, one later eventually (after much overcoming of her objections) agreeing to become the AM, and eventually assume management of her own location.

The couple, though...

The couple provided me with my first abject failure as a "manager." And I blew it. I mean, it's still legendary. Years later, at a sexual harassment and conflict management seminar provided in house, I got to hear the story again, this time told as teaching example. I was being used to teach new recruits, "anonymously" of course.

When I took over the location, the couple - let's call them Ned and Karen - worked all the same hours together. They had exactly identical shifts. I thought it inconvenient, but being a stupid man, this set off none of the red flags it would have in perhaps 95% of the women who find themselves in similar positions.

Like I said, it was just inconvenient. So after a few weeks, I rewrote the schedule. They had a few shifts together, but I also gave them different hours. And Sundays off, for church.

Karen pleaded with me to put it back the way it was before. Pleaded. I, again being a truly stupid man, mistook her desperation for something else. Selfishness. Young love. Immaturity. I explained, in what I'm now sure was a condescending tone, but which at the time seemed like good paternal concern, that the schedule wasn't written just for her benefit.

Again, stupidity was strong in the younger Jack.

She broke down, physically, visibly, emotionally. I think about it now as I type, and I recall it like she folded in upon herself, making of her skin a mobius strip. Her presence seemed to shrink, to recede.

I tell you now, I had no clue what I'd done. Objectively, I'd made the schedule fairer. Realistically, I had put Karen's life in real and immediate danger.

Because Ned was, to put it bluntly, always on the verge of killing Karen. And Karen's method of staying out of the way of Ned's fists, and the other things he did with his large body when he was angry - vile, terrible things - was to always, always be with Ned. To keep him soothed, negated, placated and sexually satisfied. Karen was also pregnant, a fact she'd discovered to her horror and her bewildered joy not long before young, idiot Jack became her boss and the man who placed her closer to death than anyone but big man Ned.

Ned did not handle the scheduling change with anything approaching grace, aplomb or good will. He threatened me. He literally puffed out his chest, and tried to back me into a corner. I - altogether now, because young Jack Was A Very Stupid Man - did not make the connection between Ned's willingness to loom over and threaten me with Karen's desperation.

I thought Ned was just being a dick for not getting to work all the same shifts with his girlfriend.

I thought wrong. You see, I was the same guy who thought that he was being noble and just for not letting a lawyer say bad things about his ex's sexual peccadilloes. I thought I was a good man. I mean I had my flaws. I could yell and fume, when it suited me. I was known to stand up to the provocation of bullies with my own escalation. I'd been in my share of scraps. I'd stolen, burgled and dealt. I'd done bad things, but I'd always had a reason. That reason is important, you know. It gets you through the night. And often enough, it really is legitimate.

But I was a good guy. You know, like give me a medal, man, for never being a raping raper. Or for not caring about who gave whom else what orgasm.

Anyway, I'm sure 99% of all women could have predicted what came next. As I could barely see the problem before me, I was ill equipped to envision what was about to happen.

Ned turned Karen into his fist receptacle. Ned was sure Karen was fucking...me. Ned was sure Karen was fucking the Satanist. Ned was sure Karen was giving blow jobs to every male customer. Ned was sure about a lot of things. Ned was scary when he was certain.

But, I didn't know this yet.

Karen and Ned didn't come to work for a couple of days. Which was very inconvenient for me. Because I ended up working their shifts. On the second day, I called them more than once to remind them. On the third I threatened their jobs. On the fourth, Ned came to work. But, not Karen.

I was happy to have a day off.

I don't know if Karen was still happy to be alive. I've been on the receiving end of beatings, and I couldn't tell you with any honesty that I was happy they were finished. Or that I was relieved. Or possessed of any other emotion requiring the release of serotonin or endorphins.

I'm not going to tell you that I can imagine what Karen felt. I can't. I don't. I won't. I left home to stop the abuse. Karen had no where to go. Her parents weren't going to let "that whore" back in their home. But that comes later.

Karen did return to work. Because she needed the money. Because she could walk from her apartment to our location. Because Ned wanted it that way.

Karen did something brave. And courageous. And bold. She told me what Ned had done to her. She told me that Ned had done worse. She begged me to put the schedule back the way it was. I - do we really need another reminder of my stupidity? - asked her if she wanted to call the cops. If she wanted to go to a shelter. Remember, I was the good guy in my own head. Which made me even more stupid.

Because I didn't hear her. I didn't listen. I was already doing the dudely, and offering to rescue her. I was, because I'm an idiot, or at least was once the signature example of one, inviting her to take a way out I had no ability to actually deliver. I was saying, "hey, you've got options" in my own head. But I was telling her, "hey, you can count on me to be there when you really need it."

It was an implied promise I could not keep.

And I did not keep it, because the next time Ned and Karen were together at work, he backed her up against the wall, in a fit of complete self-absorption and rage. He did it right there, in front of a co-worker (one of the old ladies). She was actually brave enough to put her body between Ned and Karen, and talk him out of the store. Then she made the mistake of calling me. She had no choice but to tell the boss man, but it was still a mistake.

Because I fired Ned. I called him at their apartment and I told him never to come back. I told him that we (yes, the royal fucking we) would call the police if he ever showed up at work again, or if he ever touched Karen in any way in the future.

I heard myself saying, "Fucker, stop it, already."

He heard me saying, "Neener, neener, neener, I'm fucking your girlfriend."

Karen heard the coffin seal tight around her.

While I was filing the paperwork for Ned's termination, and while Karen was still trembling in the older lady's arms, Ned was destroying their apartment, and almost everything Karen owned. Ned also called her parents and told them that Karen was pregnant, he wasn't sure it was his at all, and that she planned to get an abortion. Sealing shut her only way home. Because Ned was good at being the good Christian, when Karen's parents were around. Ned never missed church. Ned, I would learn later, prayed for hours to save Karen from her sinfulness.

So now, because I didn't fucking know how to listen, or observe, or understand what it means to be an abused woman, or any of the damned signs most women can recognize as if by instinct, Karen had no place to go, almost no money with which to go, Ned's handprints on her body, and his baby in her belly. Her parents wanted her to apologize to Ned and make it up to him, to atone for her sinfulness. And to keep her whore body away from the only other place she might go.

I had committed her. I had, by being an average male fool, set her upon a course which was certain to endanger her, and which promised to expose her to the killing result of Ned's unrestrained and jealous rage.

So Karen married Ned. She married him.

And I gave her the weekend off for their "honeymoon." Then Ned filed with the company to get his job back, for wrongful termination. And Karen backed up his story. So we took him back on, and transferred him one store over. Karen put in for the transfer to go with him.

I wish I could tell you that Karen was able to "fix" what I had made so demonstrably worse. Within six months, they'd both gotten themselves fired, the baby was born shortly thereafter, and Ned figured that his girl being a "stupid whore" was reason enough to bugger off and get himself a newer model. Leaving her with a baby, no job and no where to go.

A year or so later, I ran into her cashiering at a local health food store. She looked better. We made polite conversation. She told me about Ned leaving.

I didn't know what to say. I'd been to a few really good sexual harassment seminars, as a matter of corporate penance. (Later, they'd put me charge of teaching them. No. I'm not kidding.) I was still worth the investment, and besides, I was going to be a teaching moment for years to come. Yes, the corporation rolled that episode into its sexual harassment presentations. Not workplace violence. Not sexual assault. Not hostile working environments. Sexual harassment and conflict management. It would be a few more years before they draft working papers for workplace violence education. And a few more before they settled a pattern of conduct lawsuit.

But I still didn't know what to say to Karen. I had a bit more a clue, and I tried to apologize. To her credit, she didn't accept it. I told her about a friend who was hiring, probably for more money than the health food store was paying her. She was smart enough not to make my guilt her problem.

"You didn't listen," she said. And I didn't. I didn't fucking listen. I didn't pay attention.

And I didn't the pay the piper for my failure.

She did.

And that's not the exception, is it?

It's the rule.

It's not going to get better because we men do anything about it. It's not going to get better for women just because some of us figure out how to listen.

It's not going to get better because of us, because of anything we do. We fucked it up. We're still fucking it up.

Listening is what we have to do, just because.

Because we owe.

And we don't get to set terms to how and when we do it.

We just need to listen.

16 comments:

boromir said...

Most guys aren't ladydudes like you Jacqueline. Jackie Jackie Jackie. When will you cum clean? Real couples listen out a love not it being a man vs woman drama. Ladydudes want to be women so they are listenin to the girls for tips.

Anonymous said...

I read the post while taking my company's on-line sexual harassment training. Weird.

You got a lot of debt to pay. Good luck.

-Brain

rob payne said...

Jack,

You cannot hold yourself responsible for everything that happens. I cringe at thought of my younger years, did some bad things. Nobody is really innocent.

Landru said...

Fucking Blogger ate my letters. To recreate:

I think maybe I don't understand the story. I understand your feelings and your point about not listening, all valid. In the worlds I've come from, you didn't have any choices at all here; maybe it's different in worlds with which I'm less familiar.

On the other hand, I'm not doing very well at understanding you this week. It is possible that I am choosing that path. Or not.

Abonilox said...

I'm with Landru... a bit confused. "Because we owe"???

What about this story entails obligation on your part? This is not a gender issue. You could reverse the sexes in this story and have the same outcome, no?

Soma said...

More often than not, the sexes are not reversed; this is the norm for spousal abuse. That's why lifetime gets ratings at all, right?

Anyway... having been in abusive relationships before myself, I take no pity on women who refuse to stand up for themselves. Once you know your partner sucks, you have a moral obligation to yourself to fight for your life, and too many women don't believe their partner is an abuser, despite the obvious signs. You cannot, ever, take that kind of shit from anyone; if someone injures or disrespects your person like that, you kick their bitch ass to the curb, make sure they bite it, and river dance on their head.

Metaphorically speaking of course.

The Red Queen said...

Sometimes, when it comes to privilege, we are assholes. I am a raging feminist, anti-oppression bitch. Bit there are some moments I've had to suck it up and apologize because shit I've done or said or not done or said has caused someone with less power than me actual harm. Even though I'm one of the "good people", the thoughtful people. That's the point of Jack's post. Good intentions are not enough when you just don't fucking listen to the people you are supposed to be helping.

And thank you Jack, for writing this post. It's huge (says a woman who was stalked and terrorized by her ex for years).

The Red Queen said...

I've also had a fair share of whiskey and a bit of a dust up with a loved one tonight. So forgive the typos. (Note to self - learn to read before submitting)

Justin said...

I thought the point was to get out of the narrative of your head you build for yourself, as the good guy, the savior, etc. and listen, and just as importantly, act on what you hear, rather than what you want to hear within that narrative.

Jack thought of himself as an enlightened man, a good guy, respectful of women as equals. When he brought his idea of himself to bear on this situation, he couldn't get that idea out of the way and someone ended up getting hurt indirectly by his actions.

Jack Crow said...

Pretty much what RQ and Justin wrote. I wasn't seeing her. I was seeing my actions about her.

I was listening to her. I was listening to my beliefs about her situation.

Yeah, the schedule was unfair, and her situation was horrible, but I pushed her to make decisions she knew she couldn't make, yet. And I didn't have the excuse of ignorance.

This is often how we men live - and yes, the culture and society do let us get away with it far more than women. Flip the situation around by gender, and it's not the same outcome.

michael- said...

I'm with Soma. To be sure, we men need to wake up and truly listen to the problem, as Jack argues, BUT if the women don't fight for their own lives NOTHING will ever change. Such abuse needs to be attacked from all angles and by all persons, regardless of gender.

I have worked in social services for years and I see it all the time: broken and scared males blinded but their own damage and ignorance coupled with broken and scared women willing to stand up for their fucktarded men. It’s a crazy feedback loop of damaged psyches and low self-esteem set in the context of a pathologic patriarchical culture.

On a personal level, I go right at these animals. They deserve nothing less than the transformative violence I have been trained so well to inflict. Dexter knows the score.

But until we create a society where the rule is that our daughters flourish and are taught from day 1 their rights and dignities we can consider ourselves still in the dark ages.

I have a 12 year old daughter, and you can be damn sure she knows the score. She is supported in all ways, told constantly how intrinsically amazing she is, and absolutely loves being alive. She would never let anyone her in the way Karen did. Never. It’s just not part of her constitution.

So, again, until we have a world where there is little to no possibility that Karens and Neds exist in the world we ALL have to listen better, do better and be better, regardless of gender

Jack Crow said...

Considering just the ideas, michael~, I agree. My hesitation with the aggressive confrontation with abusive men comes from the meat world in which our ideas often go to die.

I probably wouldn't have written this even a year ago, but I'm really coming to understand, fundamentally, the repeated efforts by women to create women only spaces. Until these exist to such a degree, and with a level of security, it may be asking too much of individual, isolated women to just "stand up and fight."

Without that haven space, without a buffer, that's perhaps asking abused women to bear even more burdens, for the sake of the rest of us.

George Jones said...

This is really good, Jack. If painful to read. Thanks.

Will Shetterly said...

Jack, maybe this is a generational thing, but I think you're blaming yourself too much and society too little. Yes, we should listen, but none of us are mindreaders, and if the woman didn't tell you her spouse was an abusive asshole, you shouldn't blame yourself for failing to divine something she was hiding from others and, almost certainly to some degree, from herself.

The older I get, the less I blame individuals and the more I blame systems. This failure sure sounds like an institutional one. Whenever a female boss could make the same call that a male boss made, something other than gender is at work.

Jack Crow said...

Will,

I'm not really blaming myself, in the sense of assigning responsibility to me for the whole of the set of circumstances.

I just didn't listen, and there were consequences to that.

I'm not arguing, for what it's worth, that I could have solved everything to satisfaction, if only I'd listened.

I just didn't listen. And that made her life demonstrably worse.

Cüneyt said...

I really don't know what to add. There's enough responsibility to go around. Obviously, society does play a part in the way it responds to "private matters"--counterproductively, or sometimes responding not at all--and most of all, that guy is a shit. But she does bear some responsibility, and the fact is that Jack, you're right to take some responsibility for your choices, because you didn't listen. You were, like many of us, in a little solipsistic bubble.

Maybe, had you listened, you'd have acted differently. Maybe not. You might have spared her the fist and the active stage of abuse and fear. But she would have stayed in the potential stage, the long fear. Who knows what would have happened? Alternative history can be fun for a while. It can also be a waste of time, a game that never ends.

You're a good man for being able to hear her one day. You're a good man for being able to think about things now. But don't gaze too deeply into what-ifs. How many sufferers surround us all, speaking in ways that we are often too distracted or uncaring to notice?

There is always some crime we're failing to notice.