Why doesn’t she leave? Only she knows

I love my feminist sisters and brothers, but they aren’t perfect.  Feminists can be power trippers, backstabbers, and my-shit-don’t-stinkers as much as any other segment of the human population.

That said, there are certain ground rules that are accepted when one claims membership in The Feminist Club.  They are so mind-numbingly obvious that I feel idiotic even replicating them, but here they are:

Feminists who’ve had abortions are not called “baby-killers.”

Feminists of color are not called racist slurs.

Feminists who are rape survivors are not called “sluts.”

Feminists who are LGBTQ are not called any homophobic insults.

We gird ourselves daily against this disapprobation from the general population, so we should understand that when we are in a feminist space, we will be safe from this kind of garbage.

It follows, then, that this is also a Feminist Club Ground Rule:

Feminists in abusive relationships are not called “weak,” and/or dissed publicly for what they are going through.

Yet it happens, and much more often than you’d think.  WHY?  Marie De Santos, director of the Women’s Justice Center, an advocacy group in Sonoma County California wrote this in a piece called “Why Doesn’t She Leave?”

why the glaring blind spot in regard to domestic violence victims? Why are women denied even the validation of the dangerous dynamics of her dilemma? Why do so many people still hold a view, as cloaked as it may be in paternal tones, that is more in sync with the perpetrator’s stance than with the victim’s? 

Why, indeed.

There was a time, I admit, when I did think that the first thing an abused woman should do was leave.  She should walk out, call the cops, get one of those restraining order thingies that I thought solved everything…  but there was also a time when I didn’t think that women could be raped by their boyfriends.   I also spent a portion of my life believing in Santa Claus.  What happened?

I listened, I learned, I grew the fuck up.

Despite our gut feeling that a woman in an abusive relationship “needs” to leave, she might have good reasons for not going anywhere.  Statistics tell us that the victim is actually in the MOST danger when she is in the process of leaving–and 76% of women killed by their abusers had been stalked prior to their murders.

On December 28, 2011, the author, entrepreneur & blogger Penelope Trunk posted a photo of the bruise her husband gave her.  Naturally, it went viral.  Four days later, she responded: “I’m absolutely shocked by the collective hatred and disdain for women who are in violent relationships….for some reason, people feel it is honorable to rip a woman to shreds if she is living with domestic violence.”  She also declared, in no uncertain terms, that she is staying with her husband.

I wouldn’t.  But I’m not Penelope Trunk.  If I were her friend, though, I’d let her know that she had my support whenever and wherever she needed it.  If she showed interest, I’d help her create a detailed and thorough safety plan.  Penelope isn’t keeping her abuse a secret, obviously, but other women might want to, so I would be absolutely certain that I didn’t expose my friend’s situation without her permission.  After all, the consequences of breaking the silence would be borne by my friend, not me. Reality check: 30% of women homicide victims were killed by their intimate partners.  

If you aren’t sure about how to react to a person’s story of domestic violence,  don’t judge.  Listen.  Answers will reveal themselves, one story at a time.



National Coalition Against Domestic Violence

Domestic Violence Resource Center


The National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)


11 thoughts on “Why doesn’t she leave? Only she knows

  1. Maehemsez

    I missed the Penelope Trunk thing. Wow.

    I remember thinking “why doesn’t she leave” back in my naive days. Now…I know its so complicated. And physical abuse is only the visible component of abuse. There’s so much more to it than that. But you know that.

    Also, I’d like to say that I think the ground rules for the Feminist Club should include, Feminists do not call other women names.

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  3. Laurie

    financial abuse, threat to children or family abuse, verbal abuse, dietary abuse, medical access abuse, and that is just a few…. unless you know the story, unless you have been in her shoes, unless you have helped a woman escape…..

    Only I know the reasons I didn’t leave, that i finally left, how many times i almost went back, and what it took for me to stay free….

    Assuming only makes an …. so the saying goes….

  4. Caitlin

    Great post. As someone who stayed in such a relationship for nearly a decade, can I also point out that all of the hatred thrown at the survivors/victims of domestic violence contributes to the reluctance of those people to leave their relationships? If you hear about how stupid and weak you are from your partner, and then you hear those same ideas repeated by family members, friends, supposed feminist allies, coworkers, etc., it just re-affirms what you already suspect, which is that you are stupid and weak and incompetent and pretty much not capable of surviving on your own, let alone leaving in the first place.

    So not only are such statements incorrect and hurtful, but they also DON’T HELP.

    1. Shannon Post author

      Thank you for sharing your story, Caitlin. What you’re talking about is exactly what I’ve seen my friends go through. Abuse can happen, and DOES happen, to anyone–feminist or not.

  5. Renee

    My issue with women in abusive relationships is that often they will take tons of shit from their spouse/partner and stay, but when the abuser begins the cycle of violence on the children, THEN she’ll leave. Please, honor yourself ladies.

    And for the feminist staying with her husband? Pure ego. Yeah, she can fix him. She’s strong enough for the both of them. Seen it happen over and over again.

    Maybe it’s harder when you’re married to the bastard, but I once was pinched, grabbed and yelled at by a boyfriend and didn’t think twice about ending the relationship. I could think of no reason to stay, love just ain’t enough to cure that crap.

    And another rule for the feminist club: we should all put on our big girl panties and be able to talk about anyone and everything, even calling out our kin.

    1. Shannon Post author

      Renee, I’m glad that you were able to leave your abuser safely. Many women can’t. I’d love it if we all had a pair of Big Girl Panties given to us at birth, but a lot of us don’t, for reasons we can’t begin to fathom.

  6. levana

    Women stay because of financial reasons that are real and scary and often insurmountable. They stay because they have no where to go. Because they may have medical issues our their children do making shelters unsafe options. Because we don’t sport women, and instead mock them about not wearing their big girl panties. Leaving, especially worth children and/our pets, can be very, very dangerous. It isn’t about ego. It is about choosing the best of shitty choices in a patriarchy that doesn’t support women and children. Homelessness. Unaffordable child care. Health care. Unemployment. These are all the reasons I, a feminist, am still in am emotionally assistive relationship.

    Instead of thinking that I have ego problems, out I’m weak, maybe, for a change, assume instead that I am trying to do what is best in a crappy situation. You don’t live my life. You don’t know.

  7. Nicole

    Do you not realize that you’re coming pretty close to skirting the line of breaking your own Feminist Club Ground Rule.

    When you say things like “I wouldn’t” in the tidbit below you are putting down and demeaning those who have been and are still in abusive relationships and struggle to get out.

    “She also declared, in no uncertain terms, that she is staying with her husband.

    I wouldn’t. But I’m not Penelope Trunk.”

    While I understand that you arrogantly think you know what you would do you really have no idea WTF you’ll do until you’re there and it can be surprising. I used to say the same things you said in your post about how I would never stay in an abusive relationship, but would give friends whatever support they needed. But guess what, when you’re in it, it’s not that easy and you just don’t know what you’ll do. I was the last person anyone including myself thought would stay in an abusive relationship, but I did and never again will I turn my nose up and say “I would never (fill in the blank).”


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