My name is . . . impersonalizing women


I am well into British Literature I this semester. We have explored Beowulf, “Caedmon’s Hymn,” and “Lanval,” and are finishing up the week with the Arthurian Legend. One of the themes that has emerged is the failure of authors, and the storytellers before them, to give many of the female characters names.

Female characters, in contrast to important male characters, remain nameless.

I remember one day, about 7 or 8 years ago, realizing that my husband rarely, if ever, used my name. He would use supposed terms of endearment, but not my name. He refused to use my name when he attempted to get my attention — “Hey” or “Hon” but no name. It began to concern me.

He had stopped “seeing” me years before that. I was just his wife, or the kids’ mother. But I wasn’t the person he married, the individual with a name, a face and feelings anymore. This is a huge red flag.

Along with not asking me how my day was after being with the kids 24/7 for weeks on end, he did not address me by name. This indicates a huge emotional disconnect.

The article, “Emotional Abuse of Women by their Intimate Partners: A Literature Review,” prepared by Valerie J. Packota describes this emotional disconnect:

Lack of Emotional Connection: Shared emotional fields are lacking due to behaviour of abuser. This lack of intersubjectivity demonstrates to the woman that she is not heard, has no value and is not supported. This lack of connection is strongest when the abused woman is pregnant, ill or in a grief state. (Chang, 1996; Yoshihama and Sorenson, 1994)

And when I became ill from Lyme disease in 2006 and did not recover, the disconnect became abandonment, not just of me but the children as well. He didn’t leave home, but he didn’t come home until very late at night most nights. It was as though I was no use to him anymore because I couldn’t care for the home, couldn’t give him the attention he deserved, and instead regularly requested help caring for the children.

I found it very interesting that Pakota mentions the lack of connection being strongest when the abused woman is ill because that is exactly what I experienced.

But it all seemed to start with failing to see me as who I was, and his refusal to call me by my name. Even now, if he calls, he will rarely address me by name. He will make a strong point of identifying himself, “This is _____.” But he will rarely use my name (this is a cell phone where his identity pops up before I answer).

Impersonalizing a marriage partner is a big part of dehumanization. And apparently, girls and women are not valuable enough for identification to some men.

When we lived in St. Petersburg, Florida, an acquaintance from our church confessed to me that her father called her No. 3. He never, ever used her name. She was always No. 3. This is most certainly emotional abuse. Withholding affection, refusing to acknowledge the identity of a daughter, denigrating her by referring to her as her birth order number are all forms of emotional abuse. Another church member confessed to me that her husband physically beat her, and that she had gone to the church elders (her husband was one of the elders), but that no one believed her. I was shocked, and am haunted by the fact that I did nothing to help her. I often wonder if her husband used her name, or just called her names before choking her.

Women, seen as property for thousands of years, have not been deemed valuable enough to be named in literature. Modern men who refuse to call their wives, girlfriends, and partners by their given names have become emotionally disconnected. Emotional disconnection is a documented feature of domestic abuse.

My name is Michele, and I am valuable.

Sources:
“Emotional Abuse of Women by their Intimate Partners: A Literature Review,” prepared by Valerie J. Packota

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4 comments

  1. Yes, Michele, you are valuable.

    I experienced a similar withdrawal of attention and affection. He always called me hon, too. I told my therapist at the time that I felt like a piece of the furniture…in frustration I also later told him. I really began to feel invisible and unimportant, which was doubly devastating because I was isolated in a foriegn country where I was invisible by default. I felt like something was wrong with me.

    It wasn’t until he abandoned me in a horrible situation (where I was again isolated) that I realized what I had experienced was abuse. This invisible/silent abuse is so dangerous. I had already survived verbal, physical, and sexual abuse, yet I could not recognize the soul-sucking torture my husband inflicted on me as abuse.

    Thank you for sharing!

    1. I am so sorry that you have experienced abuse of any kind. The insidious nature of this kind of emotional abuse is especially dangerous because it isn’t easily identified. I agree that emotional abuse is soul-sucking.

  2. Hello: I am Valerie Packota and I am very happy that so many women have recognized this form of abuse. My your personal knowledge make you stronger. Val

    1. Valerie, thank YOU for writing about emotional abuse and taking the time to comment on my post. Bringing ugly truths into the light is vital to changing culture for future generations.

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