For someone having the time of her life in Year-Four of my divorce, I have been doing an awful lot of crying lately.
Last week in Istanbul, I cried when I suddenly faced Vahit Tuna’s art installation of 440 pairs of high heels across two massive, outside walls, representing the 440 women killed in that country in 2018 (the number was higher in 2019). Yesterday, I cried on page 428 of Liane Moriarty’s 2014 novel Big Little Lies— a book I picked up at the Lisbon airport thinking it would be a light read to get me to JFK. And then I cried again for 15 minutes this morning when, as one of my first acts on International Women’s Day, I pressed “play” on the link provided by a Facebook friend to a YouTube video of the Dixie Chicks new song “Gaslighting.”
I now know the tears have all been tears of relief and joy.
Relief and joy because FINALLY, PEOPLE ARE TALKING ABOUT IT.
These three cultural, public outings of domestic abuse in the past week have been evidence to me that, like with sexual assault in the #Me-Too era, we are on our way to domestic abuse no longer being a victim's shame and dirty secret. It will be out in public so we can all see it is going on all around us. And these guys who sadistically tormented us, and torment us still, and then go on to torment woman after woman after us, have got to answer, and will answer.
Vahit Tuna's high-heel art installation got a lot of press in the US, but in Istanbul there was very little practical information on how to find it, and even for how long it would be up. All I had to go on was a busy Kabatas street by the Bosphorus, with it possibly coming down March 1st, and here we were, last day of February. Finally, a concierge at a Ritz Carlton unearthed the information of it being next to the Kahve Dunyasi coffee shop just a few minutes away. At the coffee shop, a kind young woman barista slid out from behind the counter and walked me outside and pointed. And there it was.
I burst out sobbing and could not stop even as I was telling myself that this is ridiculous. I remembered being moved in a similar way at the Vietnam War memorial in Washington D.C. Taking in the sheer number of deaths was a powerful experience in both the US Capitol and Istanbul. Yet the Istanbul memorial had the added poignancy of being in such an ordinary and public setting: above parked cars, next to a bank, a few feet from the side walk.
“As long as everybody remains silent, violence against women will increase and this violence is not just about murdering women, but also suppressing and silencing them,” one passerby told a reporter.
Exploring the artsy Beyoglu neighborhood afterward, I duck into a Lokanta restaurant for a home-style buffet lunch. A young man who wants to practice his English invites me to share his table. After some small talk (he is not a college student but works for a marketing firm), I show him photos on my phone of the high-heel installation. He doesn’t show much reaction. Before changing the subject, I say “Has anything like this ever happened to any woman you know?"
He says, “My sister.”
The publicity blurbs calling it a "juicy seaside-town murder mystery" severely short-changes it, because “Big Little Lies” is one of the most incisive books on domestic violence I have ever read. In the Sydney group of kindergarten moms, most envied of all is Celeste because of her beauty, wealth, and charming husband, but her charming husband is beating her up. Some of the things Celeste tells herself were like she was narrating my own life:
“The things he said didn’t even make sense."
“Everything is more intense for us. We love each other more.”
“No effective options.”
When he strikes Celeste in public, and tells the other school parents who witness this “Our children haven’t seen this,” my sobbing commences when Bonnie screeches in response, “WE see! We fucking See!”
And my sobbing gets even wilder when another mother and witness, previously at odds with Bonnie, joins her in a sisterhood of solidarity and “... felt hot liquid anger suddenly cool and harden into something powerful and immoveable.”
The word that opens the Dixie Chicks’ new “Gaslighter” video takes up the whole screen: “Truth!” followed by the intonation: “I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” Then all hell breaks loose, as Natalie Maines puts the personal details of life with the man she just divorced right out there, in her gorgeous smokey voice and with unbelievably catchy lyrics and tune.
The three Dixie Chicks women have been through a lot together, including boycotts of their group and public burnings of their records after Natalie denounced Bush from the stage in the lead-up to the Iraq War. Here they march together in military uniforms, heads held high, like triumphant Ninja princess warriors, singing: “Gaslighter. Denier.”
“I believed in the promises you made to me, swore til death to us part, but you lied, lied, lied.”
“Tried to say I’m crazy, but you know I’m not crazy, that’s you.”
The part that is still making me sob even when I've seen the video 20 times is when Natalie goes from soft and sad about "you broke me," to punching the air and snarling “You’re still sorry, and still no apology?!”
It seems that the real-life man in the song is like so many Gaslighter/Deniers out there: financially supported by her in the marriage because he is a mooch, and then, not only does he not have to pay restitution to her for being abusive, he tries through the courts to get even more. Also typical, especially when there is both wealth and abuse, are non-disclosure agreements. If extant in Natalie's marriage, she is taking a huge personal and legal risk by going public with details about him in this song.
But she doesn’t give a damn, because at long last it is time to start talking and stop covering up for these dangerous abusers. Out of the shadows and into the light, so everyone can see our numbers, and more importantly, their numbers and their cruelty.
Out of silence and into power.
We have had enough.
There is no stopping us now.