Domestic Violence

I'm catching up on my RSS feed and am rather shocked by these posts by Penelope Trunk. I have zero personal experience in this area (thank you, Lord), so I'm not quite sure what to say. Comments? 

UPDATE: 

I read PT, because there's enough interesting mixed in with the crazy. For example, I never really thought about the victim's responsibility in domestic violence. Not sure that I buy it, but it was interesting.

The problem with reading PT and other train wreck blogs is that I fear the Kitty Genovese affect. What if she's really getting pummeled and I do nothing? I don't know if she is or she isn't, because she put a picture of her goddamn ass on the Internet. Credibility issues. A few months back, she sounded very suicidal, so I e-mailed her to see if she was really going to put a gun to her head. What if she killed herself and I made no effort to stop it? Other bloggers have written that they want to kill themselves on the Internet. It puts me in a really bad spot.

33 thoughts on “Domestic Violence

  1. I have no idea what to say to this. I do see how someone who grows up with a mental or emotional condition gets the idea that on some level they deserve to be left. They are often the chaos in the family of origin, so maybe they fill that role as well in the family they create.
    Humans are just so messed up and fragile. I hope she leaves him. I hope she finds a way to feel whole without someone treating her badly.

  2. Some of this is going to sound really bad to anybody who isn’t familiar with PT’s saga, but here are a few thoughts:
    1. PT’s guy The Farmer is a middle aged bachelor farmer. That could mean a lot of things, but one thing it suggests to me is that he is a less social guy with a lot of need for solitude.
    2. PT is hyper-verbal, hyper-social. The Farmer’s (and other people’s criticism of PT) is that she talks and talks and talks and talks all the time. PT herself describes how she interrupted the farmer’s haying (a mortal sin on the farm, by the way–there’s a reason for the expression “make hay while the sun shines”) and threw herself onto the tractor to get him to stop and listen to her
    http://blog.penelopetrunk.com/2011/08/02/how-to-look-like-things-are-great/
    and PT mentions in these recent posts that she keeps him up late into the night talking at him incessantly. This guy has to get up EARLY in the morning, every morning. Depriving a person of sleep is literally torture. People do bad things (betray their friends, lie, hurt their babies) when they are sleep-deprived.
    3. PT grew up in a highly abusive home with lots of drama. She may be unconsciously (or consciously) trying to replicate that situation because that’s what feels like home.
    4. PT doesn’t differentiate between positive and negative input. She just needs lots of stimulation (something in rather short supply out on the farm). Actually, I suspect that negative input may be preferable to her, seeing as how it is more powerful and easier to come by.
    5. Knowing about the tractor episode, it’s easy to imagine scenarios where PT did something dangerous on purpose that produced the bruise in her photo. This would explain why she’s back-pedaling so hard in her follow-up post. So, I don’t know that we know that The Farmer is an abuser, but this is definitely an abusive relationship.
    This probably all sounds very blame-y, but PT is a very unusual case, and a lot of the usual rules of thumb do not apply.
    I’d suggest restraining orders all around and that PT return to the big city and that the farmer only date local girls who go to sleep by 11.

  3. It’s a shame to over-analyze someone else’s suffering. It’s feel a little bit like when we were watching Charlie Sheen self destruct — “This man needs help, but until he gets it its just so entertaining!”
    Penelope is right that staying with an abusive husband is completely in line with her mantra of personal responsibility. “If you can’t get a job, it’s your fault” worked for her because she was good at getting jobs. “If you can’t handle your boss its your fault” worked for her because she was good at handling her bosses.
    What is happening here, is that she’s running up against the limits of her privilege. People who have privileged upbringings think that its their own personal gumption and attitude that got them this far (and it did, at least compared to people with comparable levels of privilege.)
    But, at some point, you may reach a point where your privileges don’t help you anymore, and your mantra of personal responsibility begins to sound more and more like you’re just pretending to be Green Lantern — if can just focus my willpower, I can do anything!
    What Penelope is not internalizing is that belief in personal responsibility is important not because it is true all the time, but because people who believe it do better than people who don’t, on average, whether it is true or not in that particular situation.
    After the second third time banging your head against the wall, though, when the wall doesn’t collapse, you have to move out of Green Lantern mode and think, “Okay, maybe I can’t do everything by myself.”

  4. “Who puts a picture of their ass on the internet to illustrate domestic violence?”
    PT.
    One of her commenters apparently called the police and reported the situation and the police duly appeared. And then at some point PT posted her follow-up back-pedaling post (although I may have mixed up the chronology–I’m not going to go back there and check).
    Of course with PT, who knows? Maybe none of this is real.
    “Penelope is right that staying with an abusive husband is completely in line with her mantra of personal responsibility.”
    PT and The Farmer aren’t married-married. They had some sort of ceremony for the benefit of her kids, but they have not legally gotten married. Why not? Some sort of thing about PT’s IRS liens as well as The Farmer’s concerns about losing his farm in case of divorce-divorce.
    But who knows. This may all be an elaborate fiction.

  5. I’m with Amy in that I would not be surprised at all if this was an elaborate fiction. However, I remind everyone that people with Asperger’s don’t always play by the same rules. Wait, I don’t mean that to sound like they should be immune from accountability. I mean the rules in their heads aren’t the generally accepted social rules.
    I also have wondered if she’s bipolar, too. She sounds like one big long manic phase to me.

  6. Agree on the possibility of the manic phase. Or “something” that would allow someone to choose to post all this on the net for the world to see rather than getting it sorted out in real life and in private.
    It’s tempting to keep reading trainwreck blogs – some seem staged as in “can someone REALLY have that much drama in their life”. Kudos to them for the marketing chutzpah to get all the hits on their blog.
    But others that seem real are tragic…

  7. I am so incredibly turned off by PT and her behavior that I actually feel sorry for *The Farmer* right now. (Well, more sorry for her kids, but also sorry for him.) What a train wreck.

  8. Yes, like Charlie Sheen, but, unfortunately without the money, so harder for me to acknowledge that there’s really nothing at all that we can do.
    I am not at all “entertained” when the stories of unhappiness become stories of mental illness. I hope that there’s some help to be found for whatever is happening, especially since there are two children there.
    I also think that I believe in rules of engagement for domestic abuse cases — i.e. you take them seriously and separate the parties. In fact, after an accusation of abuse to a responsible authority (doctor, officer of the law, therapist), I think the legal wheels should start chugging. I do believe that there can be false accusations, but, hey, treating those seriously (as for example, with prank phone call bomb threats) might mean that fewer of those will occur, too, since there will be consequences.
    I’m glad to hear that someone called the police.

  9. I had a cousin who was a fabulist. Due to that experience, I think the general principle of “not guilty unless proven otherwise” should be followed.
    If her stories are true (BIG IF!), she should not live with her current partner. She should also sever ties with her parents. She seems to enjoy drama in her daily life, although she knows it isn’t good for children. I have no way of knowing how far she will go to create drama in her life.

  10. “How are they supposed to know what to do?”
    This is when it’s handy to just follow the rules, whatever those might happen to be.
    Ragtime talked about privilege up above. I think this may be one of those rare cases where a sort of reverse privilege means that somebody is deemed too smart, too well-off, too cute, too well-known, too white and too Jewish to really be as crazy and dangerous as her actual writing and behavior suggests she would be.
    The problem is, if even 25% of what PT writes is true, she should have had Child Protective Services on her doorstep long, long ago.

  11. (quick note. huge driving day.)
    I read PT, because there’s enough interesting mixed with the crazy. For example, I never really thought about the victim’s responsibility in domestic violence. Not sure that I buy it, but it was interesting.
    The problem with reading PT and other train wreck blogs is that I fear the Kitty Genovese affect. What if she’s really getting pummeled and I do nothing? I don’t know if she is or she isn’t, because she put a picture of her goddamn ass on the Internet. Credibility issues. A few months back, she sounded very suicidal, so I e-mailed her to see if she was really going to put a gun to her head. What if she killed herself and I made no effort to stop it? Other bloggers have written that they want to kill themselves on the Internet. It puts me in a really bad spot.

  12. I quite reading PT a while back because I felt like I was reading the blog of someone mentally ill, and it just made me feel really, really icky. (Though I, too, was very concerned for her, Laura. And I wanted to keep reading to make sure she was OK.)
    I’ve felt for a while that what she was writing was half-fiction, so I’ve no idea what to make of the domestic violence posts. (Though posting a picture of her ass just makes me more convinced she’s mentally ill.) If there’s any truth her claims, I just hope she leaves him and keeps herself and her kids safe.

  13. As Anjali did, I had to stop reading her blog. She was much too manic for me: her posts set up a flurry of panic and she seems to positively feed off of the energy that results.
    I can’t be sucked into someone else’s drama when there’s no hope of help getting through. I’ve had to learn to give my own students only so much help and then to step back. With some random person on the internet like PT, it’s a lot easier to just not watch given there’s clearly no hope of real change at the moment.

  14. Liza’s Last Psychiatrist link is interesting. Irritating, but interesting.
    Something important to bear in mind is that mental conditions aren’t necessarily one per customer. An individual can have a whole bouquet of equally valid diagnoses. (ASD/ADHD and ASD/OCD is pretty common, but more exotic combinations are also possible. I know somebody who is ADHD, PTSD, brain damaged with short term memory loss and, if that weren’t enough, quite likely also bipolar.)

  15. I have friends who live in her town.(It’s not far from where I live.) I’ll have to ask what they think. (It’s a pretty small town.) Take away the blog, and I think it’s probably not an unusual situation…or at least not as unusual as we would like to think. I’ve met PT a few times at various Madison tech events. She’s a fabulous speaker and a very engaging personality, although she managed to shock me each time, even in person.

  16. I’ve read Penelope Trunk a few times. It’s funny, that’s so much not what interests me, weird interesting people. As Oscar Wilde might have said, the interesting part of the world is normal boring people, not interesting people.

  17. I’d be curious to know what you thought of her follow-up post which I read today. I really like everything that Amy P said and in the follow up post PT suggests that she actually provoked the farmer to the point that got him to get her hurt.
    I didn’t stop reading her like my friend Anjali, but sometimes (like the post you mention) I wonder why I still do it. (sigh).
    Oh, and for her two recent posts I also scanned the comments for her scattered comments back to people, it’s interesting to see her reactions to comments. She TOTALLY needs the attention, like Amy said. I feel really sorry for her, but, frankly, not that worried. Neither for her, nor for her sons.

  18. “PT suggests that she actually provoked the farmer to the point that got him to get her hurt. ”
    I think that’s like saying that Larry King provoked Brandon McInerney into shooting him in the back of the head.
    I feel like I’ve read a riff on this idea before (is it on health insurance and the “blameless” victim?) but, the fact that the victim is not blameless does not change the legal consequences if someone hits, punches, shoots someone else.
    I don’t think we know anything like the “truth” in the incidents being described (and leave open the possibility that PT is writing fiction). I also think that there can be complicity in domestic violence, but when it does become violence, we have to treat it as such. That’s why I believe that step one, for anyone with legal authority, is to separate the parties. Separating everyone decreases (I hope) the probability that the next provocation will result in someone getting shot in the head (and, since there are children in that house, we might just end up with a blameless victim.

  19. “That’s why I believe that step one, for anyone with legal authority, is to separate the parties. Separating everyone decreases (I hope) the probability that the next provocation will result in someone getting shot in the head (and, since there are children in that house, we might just end up with a blameless victim.”
    Right. Physical separation
    1) protects the alleged victim from the possibility of physical harm
    2) protects the alleged perpetrator from the possibility of false accusations.
    The imaginary headline that keeps running through my head is “Four dead in presumed murder-suicide in remote Wisconsin farmhouse.” It’s not likely, but that sort of thing happens.

  20. Physical separation isn’t always harm-avoiding when you’ve got kids. It probably doesn’t apply to this case (does he have any legal relationship with the kids?), but if you’ve got a couple with children and want to separate the parents, you’ve got to put the kids somewhere. This means with one of the parents (i.e. either with a violent perpetrator or with someone using false accusations to take the kids) or into the social services system (the quality of which would be highly variable and even in the best case could upset the kids greatly).

  21. I think the lady may be more convincing on the internet than in person.
    If she left her current living situation, she’d have to give up the status of being a victim. As she describes the domestic incidents, it seems she needs to provoke a response from her partner. He tries to do his work, or sleep, and she tries to prevent him from doing those things, when he could be talking to her.
    You don’t jump in front of a working tractor. You don’t block someone’s car in the driveway so he can’t leave. You don’t break a lamp over your head, then refuse to sweep up the wreckage. Heaven only knows how she got the bruise. As described, she’s not allowing him to avoid her. She is trying to control his behavior. He is behaving in a rational manner in trying to avoid her. Liza’s link is eye-opening.

  22. Yeah, this is something I feel conflicted about. In general, I think DV is a serious problem that needs to be taken more seriously. At the same time, I don’t think we should minimize the serious psychological (and physical, if she’s depriving him of sleep or getting in his personal space) abuse PT describes against her husband. Getting in someone’s face and refusing to leave is an aggressive, physical act. As Amy P mentioned, talking at someone all day, refusing them privacy or and even sleep is actually torture, according to the Geneva convention. If he’s desperately trying to get space from her so he *doesn’t* hurt her, and she doesn’t allow that, then she is (as much as I hate to write this) provoking a violent response. She doesn’t deserve violence, and certainly, violence is never an acceptable response, but sometimes it’s an understandable human response in a situation of psychological and/or physical abuse.
    Secondly, a little TMI, I’ve been hit before by people who should know better (e.g. my normally very mild-mannered mother, who has hit me twice in my life). It’s not ok, ever, but, if not coupled with other abusive signs (controlling, isolating, etc.), it’s not necessarily the mark of An Abuser (i.e. the person who will end up killing you as per Lifetime movies.) As anyone with siblings knows, sometimes people who are closest to you know how to push your buttons and then some, beyond the point of rational response. As adults, we should be able to control violent lashing out (my sister and I definitely had some knock-down drag ’em out fights as kids though), but sometimes people snap.
    I want to 100% emphasize though, if a person you are intimate with is doing this on a regular basis, it’s a sign the relationship is toxic and you need to separate for both people’s sakes.

  23. “(does he have any legal relationship with the kids?)”
    Nope. The kids are PT’s and her ex-husband’s. As far as I know, PT has not legally married The Farmer (although her terminology can be misleading). This cohabitation started relatively recently and the cohabitation and the relationship were always rocky, at least according to PT’s account. So in this particular case, physical separation should not be a logistical problem, although as you point out, it still leaves the kids with their mom.
    (“PT the homeschooling mom” fills me with the same dread and discomfort that the phrase “Ron Paul the obstetrician” does.)

  24. I feel like I’ve just been maneuvered into revealing way more familiarity with the minutiae of Star Trek than is socially acceptable.

  25. Yeah. The episode where Ron Paul delivered Uhura’s baby — but tried to negotiate a higher pay rate when she was fully dilated — was my favorite.

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