Trigger warning: rape, sexual assault, domestic abuse, graphic sexual content
In Part 1 of this story, I introduced a discussion of Johan Galtung’s theory of cultural violence as it relates to my experience as a young woman in an abusive relationship. To recap:
Cultural violence is: “…any aspect of a culture that can be used to legitimize violence in its direct or structural form. Symbolic violence built into a culture does not kill or maim like direct violence or the violence built into the structure. However, it is used to legitimize either or both.”
Cultural violence against women is: Normalization and promotion of pornography, prostitution, degradation, and sexual objectification of females in media, predominantly male language in civic, business, and religious institutions, gender roles and stereotypes, misogynist humor, gaslighting, minimizing or denying any of these forms of violence.
Part 1 ended right before my ex convinced me to leave MIT and move with him to Minnesota. I had been trying my best to please him by sculpting my appearance to match his preferences, believing that it was my job as a female partner to try to satisfy my male partner sexually.
One summer day, we packed up the car and drove west to our new home. I could tell right away that he had changed. In the hotel the first night of our trip, the sex lost any former vestiges of tenderness or romance. He was rough, sleazy, and cold. I went into the bathroom afterwards and cried, wondering was wrong. Romance was never again a part of sex. Outside the bedroom, he was hyper romantic in the way of abusers, talking about how I was everything to him, I was the most pure, loving, kind person he had ever known, I was the only person he had ever felt this way for, the only one who could help him be a better man.
But the sex grew increasingly violent. It happened about 4 times per day, of which one or two were always me performing oral sex on him. His demands about my appearance grew ever more stringent, such that I was now causing myself daily physical pain to conform to his “beauty” standards. I put my health at risk, going to multiple tanning salons in one day. His treatment of my body grew rougher and more intentionally damaging. He admitted that he enjoyed causing me pain. He woke me up in the middle of the night by penetrating me in various ways. He called me “whore” during sex, and said other degrading things. I developed wounds in my mouth, vagina, and anus that would not heal because they were never given a rest. I had such bad bruises that I had to wear concealing clothing in hot weather.
I became actively suicidal. I was so young and inexperienced, and in so far over my head, that I could not even begin to understand what was happening to me, or what to do about it. My family was furious with me for leaving MIT, and some parts of my family had cut me off completely – I did not see them as an option for help. I knew no one at all, the midwest culture felt totally foreign and unwelcoming, and I had nowhere to turn. After one day when I came very close to attempting suicide, I realized I had only one job: to survive. Survival became my only goal. I believed that if I could just survive long enough, at some point I would be able to escape him and be free. We had been together less than one year.
If you are familiar with malignant narcissist abusers, you will understand the psychological hold he had over me. All abusers find ways to trap their victims into staying with them, psychological strategies that keep an abused partner feeling unable to escape. He remains to this day one of the smartest people I have ever known. He never studied or went to class while at MIT; he showed up for tests and figured out the answers there during the exam. He was the top student in the nation in high school in certain subjects. Please don’t ask why I did not leave him. You would not have been able to leave him, either. He was a master manipulator unlike anything I have ever known.
Most of the physical abuse was sexual, but of course some of it was not. There were times when in anger, he kicked me, punched me, choked me, threw me into walls, etc. However, most of the physical abuse was done in the context of sex, and he framed it as my fault. You see, I did not look exactly like he wanted me to, and thus I was depriving him of the sexual satisfaction he deserved. So he had to make up for my lack by finding other, creative ways of feeling satisfied sexually, by punishing and degrading me. The first few months of our relationship, most of the sex was consensual. But after we moved, 100% of the sex was rape. I was usually compliant, but he knew I hated every second of it. Of course, he would punish me if I did not pretend to enjoy it. Sometimes, in desperation, I would sob and beg literally on my knees for a break, just a day or two off. He would furiously agree, and then spend the next day seething with rage and resentment, punishing me in countless other ways, until I surrendered and got back down on my knees, as his subhuman sexual slave. And the entire premise of our relationship was that he, as a man, deserved to be completely gratified sexually by having unlimited access to using and abusing a female body, without any regard whatsoever to her preferences, choice, health, safety, dignity, or humanity. You see, females, in this world, are not human.
…To be continued.
Trelawney Grenfell-Muir teaches courses about Sex, Dating, Marriage, and Work in the Religion and Theological Studies Department at Merrimack College and about Cross Cultural Conflict in the Department of Conflict Resolution, Human Security, and Global Governance at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. A Senior Discussant at the Religion and the Practices of Peace Initiative at Harvard University, she holds an M.Div. from the Boston University School of Theology with a concentration in Religion and Conflict, and a Ph.D. in Conflict Studies and Religion with the University Professors Program at Boston University. Previously a fellow at the Institute of Culture, Religion, and World Affairs and at the Earhart Foundation, Grenfell-Muir has conducted field research in situations of ongoing conflict in Syria, Lebanon, and Northern Ireland. Her dissertation explores the methodology, constraints, and effectiveness of clergy peacebuilders in Northern Ireland. She has been an invited speaker in community settings and at MIT, Boston University, Tufts, and Boston College on topics of gender violence, economic injustice, and religious or ethnic conflicts and has also moderated panels on genetic engineering, cloning, and other bioethics issues. She currently writes articles, book chapters, and liturgical resources about feminist, nature-based Christianity.
 Galtung, Johan. Cultural Violence. Journal of Peace Research, 27(3) 1990, p291.
This paragraph is taken from my previous work https://gcsrw.wordpress.com/2017/09/28/expansive-language-for-the-divine-come-holy-power-within-help-us-thy-names-to-sing/#_ftn3
Categories: abuse, Body, Consent, Domestic Violence, Feminism, Feminism and Religion, Gender, Gender and Power, Gender and Sexuality, General, power, Rape, Relationships, Sexual Violence, trauma, Violence