Monday, October 17, 2016

Michelle Obama made me cry

Sticks and stones, and words, hurt.

This is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever written. I knew I would write on this subject one day, but I kept putting it off. I dealt with the issue a long time ago but I’ve never addressed it in words like this. What pushed me to write today was watching Michelle Obama give her speech in New Hampshire. In tackling Donald Trump’s abuse of women, her speech resonated with millions of women, not just in the United States. And it struck a chord with me, in a very personal, visceral way. You see, I was once abused myself, physically and emotionally, and kept quiet about it for a long time.

As scores of women come forward to accuse Trump of abuse and assault, some as far back as 30 or 40 years, people are wondering, why only now? The same question was asked of the women who made accusations against Bill Cosby. The answer is simple. These women (and I) all probably thought the same thing, “This can’t be happening to me. It’s probably my fault. He's too powerful.” They all probably thought that theirs was the one, isolated  incident, but when they saw how Trump admitted to, and indeed, boasted about his sexual advances they were spurred to speak up.

You can read the entire text of Mrs. Obama’s speech, or watch it. Sure, she’s an accomplished speaker and has talented speechwriters who shrewdly tapped into the outrage that women were feeling that this man is actually seeking the highest office in the land. Sure, she was reading off a teleprompter and stumping for her own choice of presidential candidate. But her emotions were real, and her words were authentic. As a woman, I felt it on a very personal level as she went on, “The shameful comments about our bodies. The disrespect of our ambitions and intellect … it is cruel.”

I grew up in an environment that nurtured strong women. My parents were supportive of anything I chose to do. I went to an all-girls’ school and then an all-women’s college. Both instilled in me a confidence that I was equal to if not better than the men around me. I got off to a flying start in a career where my gender didn’t hold me back from advancement.

Then I married a man who turned out to be an abuser. Michelle Obama said, “ Strong men don’t need to put down women to make themselves feel powerful.” But that’s exactly what my husband did. He actually told that I should be grateful he didn't hurt me like Indian husbands, saying "They break bones, you know." Looking back, I can laugh off the physical abuse (when he gave me a black eye, I actually saw stars, like in the cartoons!), but the hurtful words have stayed with me, even to this day. Snide comments about my body. Ridicule of my family. Probably what hurt the most was calling me a “mediocre” writer. It affected my self esteem tremendously, and even now, I have doubts about my writing ability.

I didn’t tell anyone for the longest time. My overriding emotion was probably shame. Mixed with wounded pride, that I had allowed this to happen to me. Friends told me later that I was a different person when I was married. From someone who was spunky, confident and outspoken, I became a quiet shell, afraid that anything I said or did might trigger another tirade of abuse. When I sought counseling, I was told by another person in authority over me (my church pastor) that it was okay if I submitted to my husband, because then I was “covered”.

When I finally managed to put an end to it, what I felt was overwhelming relief. Despite all the heartache and uncertainty of raising my son on my own, I knew that never again would I let someone else demean and disrespect me.

Just like Trump, it turned out that my husband didn’t only abuse me. The woman he married after me (another, strong, capable woman) told me that he had also done the same, if not worse, things to her. I’m sure the women that came after her (she also divorced him) suffered at his hands.

Sticks and stones, and fists, hurt. I am dismayed that so many women suffer broken bones and even lose their lives at the hands of their abusers. Words, too, can cause immense hurt. I am hoping that Michelle Obama’s speech will encourage women in the United States to say enough is enough, because that's not how decent human beings behave. And maybe, just maybe, a woman somewhere who is suffering, to stand up to her abuser and walk out.

You can read the entire text of Mrs. Obama's speech at
or view it on

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