Just Women: Three Directions of Violence That Show The Beauty of Being a Woman
We are all beautiful, strong women regardless of what we did, what was done to us or to those who love us the most.
Today I was torn, torn in three different directions. As I’m cleaning my apartment I make it slightly more bearable by watching something and, given the mess, its often more than just one thing. My first choice this morning was one of my favorite TV shows – Beyond Scared Straight - a look inside an intervention program for kids at risk where they are exposed to a day in a jail. My second and third choices were two videos from TED talks, Leslie Morgan Steiner, a victim of domestic abuse, and Angela Patton, a woman who created a father-daughter dance in Jail.
All three videos moved me to tears. All three videos pulled me in different directions.
‘Paula’ is prisoner. She is awaiting trial for murder and she is one of about 10 inmates who participate in Mecklenberg County’s “Reality Program”. All of these women are scary but, as one of the girls in the program opens up about the domestic abuse she witnessed, Paula is the one to step up and speak.
“You have to find a way to channel your anger, because your anger will lead you here”
Paula opens up about her past, losing her virginity at 14, stripping for drugs and the two children she has on the outside.
The first time I watched the show I never expected to see the inmates advocate, mentor and proactively participate in this way. I expected them to be just scary faces from the other side of the bars but women, scary, dangerous women, like Paula beg these girls to do the right thing. Beyond the jumpsuit, the tattoos and the long sentences facing them, these are beautiful, strong women.
Leslie story is hard and shocking to hear – a Harvard grad who was beaten repeatedly by her husband of two years. She is smart, funny and, by her own admission, not what you would expect from a victim of domestic abuse. Her book ‘Crazy Love‘ documents her story from the times her ex-husband, her ‘soulmate’, held a gun to her head, to when he almost strangled her to death just 5 days before their wedding.
She works to answer the question of why victims of domestic abuse don’t just leave and you should watch the video for I surely would not be able to do justice to her answer here but I will share the one sentence struck me the most:
“We tend to stereotype victims as grisly headlines, self-destructive women, damaged goods.”
How true. In stereotyping victims of violence we often deny them the very help that they need and, even worse, the bright futures that they could achieve. Leslie remarried, has a beautiful family and a very successful career. She, and victims like her, are beautiful, strong women.
Lastly, Angela’s story takes us back to jail where eighteen young girls were brought together with their incarcerated fathers for a father-daughter dance. These girls are navigating a hard world. Its a world without a daddy and the protection, guidance and opportunity that that could offer. Its a world where the odds are stacked against them through no fault of their own. Children of incarcerated parents require a special kind of strength to survive the shame and isolation that many feel. Angela’s program is a catalyst for producing beautiful strong women, regardless of the circumstances.
These three directions of violence from the perpetrators, the inmates like Paula, to survivors like Leslie right through to the daughters feeling the collateral damage of violence, Angela sums it up so powerfully by saying:
[O]ne thing that I have learned from over a decade of working with girls is that they already know what they need. The wisdom lives inside of them. As long as they have infrastructure, mentorship and resources, they can build what they need, not only to survive, but to thrive.
We are all beautiful, strong women regardless of what we did, what was done to us or what we saw done to others.