“What do you mean she is being abused?” she asked her friend with an unbelieving look on her face.
“Because she told me so”, the friend replied. “Do you really believe that only poor, uneducated women suffer as victims of emotional abuse?” she continued in frustration.
“You must understand that emotional abuse is a world-wide problem, experienced by rich educated women from all cultures, religions, and ethnic backgrounds”.
Hard to believe; but it’s true.
I was not surprised by this exchange because very rarely do middle-class women or their more affluent sisters report or discuss the emotional abuse which they suffer at home or in the workplace. For many it is down-played because it is not physical, and for others the degrading behavior perpetuated by males in family or by their bosses is not recognized as assault.
Another factor to be considered is that not all women want to go through the process of debasing their reputation as they battle the legal system which always seemed very hesitant to believe the woman’s description of the incident while making it seem as if “she asked for it.”
On the other hand, when a brave upper-class woman does report it is treated as an anomaly.
In 1991 Anita Hill, an unknown lawyer in the United States became a household name throughout the world when she awakened everyone’s consciousness to abuse that was not physical. She reported being harassed by a Supreme Court nominee, Clarence Thomas, who had repeatedly made lewd statements to her in the workplace.
Although there was definitely disgust about Thomas’ behavior it was Anita Hill , the victim , who was treated like a pariah. She was criticized relentlessly for making the allegations while Clarence Thomas was given life tenure in the senate because there are still those who believe that abuse must be physical and that the shaming of women is the norm.
The point must be emphasized that abuse and harassment has nothing to do with intent. The effect on others is what matters.
Moving forward to the realities of today’s world we Bill Cosby, Donald Trump and Roger Ailes, three powerful men who have recently been charged with unbelievable victimization of women.
Despite the backlash against women who do report abuse more women, though not enough, are more likely to report and discuss abuse as they become more educated, empowered and supported.
Sheryl Sandberg in her book Lean In makes the point that women might now be more likely to report abuse because there is now a more assertive form of activism due to women’s advanced education, contact through social media, and an increase in women’s economic power.
My hope is that as powerful women work at improving women’s voices and treatment there will be a trickle down to those less affluent and less educated.