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January More Voices: Me, Too

Dear Pulse readers,

She came to me many months after the birth of a healthy child. I’d looked after her during the pregnancy, and her husband had accompanied her on many of those visits. He was a nice man–pleasant and attentive. I did my best to include him in our conversations about the pregnancy and upcoming birth.

Now she was pregnant again, and she’d come to see me alone. Her husband wanted her to continue the pregnancy, she said, but she wasn’t so sure.

Uncertainty hung in the air.

The pregnancy was just a few weeks along. She had time to make a decision. We’d schedule a follow-up appointment soon.

I thought the visit was over–but she didn’t move. I squirmed in my chair, but something kept me from standing up.

That’s when she told me: Her husband had physically abused her during the last pregnancy. At one point he’d punched her in the abdomen.

Her confession was a like a punch to my abdomen. I’d thought I was a good judge of character. How could I have been so clueless? It had never crossed my mind that anything could be amiss.

In addition to figuring out how to counsel my patient, I also had to re-examine my own assumptions–about “nice” men, about attentive husbands, about abuse.

Fast forward twenty years. My daughter hears crying in the adjoining room. Going to investigate, she finds her college-age sister weeping uncontrollably as her boyfriend yells at her over the phone.

Luckily, my wife and I find out about this. We sit down with our daughter and get more details about her relationship with this young man. This “nice” young man. A boyfriend we’ve met.

Who, it turns out, belittles her and has an explosive temper.

“Sweetheart,” we say gently, “this is abuse. You’re being abused.”

Another memory, from my freshman year at an all-male college: During orientation I participate in a hiking trip. At the end of the trip, all freshman hikers gather in a lodge for entertainment by upperclassman, with the college president in attendance.

The songs the upperclassmen sing are bawdy–each one bawdier than the last. I remember one–about a sexually voracious young woman who “could never be satisfied.” She meets her end having sex with a machine, which does, ultimately, satisfy her–and also kills her.

The crowd whoops and applauds. The college president smiles gamely.

I wish I could say that I felt horrified and offended–and spoke out. I did not.

So much of life is like an iceberg–with ninety percent of reality lurking below the surface that we see. How a man acts when he’s on his best behavior may be very different than the way he acts when he feels that it’s his right to do as he pleases, with little risk of consequences.

These experiences have made me slower to trust a man our daughters bring home–or a boyfriend who attends an office visit with one of my patients.

I’ve also become easily offended by the messages that music videos, magazines and films send to both women and men–messages that reduce relationships to sexual pleasure, with the man being the one who calls the shots and keeps his clothes on in front of the camera.

January’s More Voices theme is Me, Too. What encounters have you had, first- or second-hand, with Me, Too moments? Send us your lived experience.

For more details, visit More Voices FAQs. And have a look at last month’s theme, Connections.

Remember, your health-related story should be 40-400 words. And no poetry, please.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Best wishes for a safe, healthy and loving New Year,

Paul Gross


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