I have been asked what made me start a Women’s Empowerment Group. There is no simple answer, being that I became interested in women’s strength when I was just a teenager in the 90’s, looking for some feminism. While I would love to credit that interest for the reason I became active, it simply isn’t the case.
I started the group because I was once a damsel in distress. I had nobody to help me out of the darkest, deepest hole of my life: a failed marriage with children involved. My husband had slowly controlled every small aspect of my life, while making it invisible- almost enjoyable -to me, until there was nothing left. He literally walked away from me and the kids like we were a detonation site. I had no job, no money, no phone, no computer access if I even had wifi to turn on, no car, no tv, no friends, and no family to lean on. I know my parents will read this, and they’ll feel insulted that I’ve said no family to lean on. The truth is, I’m certain I could have gone to my grandparents or my mother at any time, and they would have helped me, with no questions asked.
But I would have asked questions of myself, and I didn’t want you to see that process, so I didn’t ask. Asking you for help would entail me finding a dollar in change somehow (because apparently there is a place I haven’t checked for change before…) and piling my 100 lbs of children into a 50 lb stroller, and finding a payphone, telling you about how my husband found a younger woman without kids, and tried to stretch out two lives for as long as possible. I would also then have to tell you that when it stopped being possible to cheat on me for that long, he decided it would be better to leave the three of us behind, and not ever come back or check on us. I would probably also have included the information that he had his girlfriend come to our house to pick him up. But then, I would also have to face the questions (there they are!) about why. Why was I not enough? Why was my passion and dedication to our children not enough? Why were my domestic efforts not enough? Why was my faithfulness to our marriage not enough? There are questions of how as well. How did I become so undesirable, when he had just married me the year before? How could I not notice the signs sooner? How am I going to word this to my grandparents, or to my mom, in a way that won’t sound like I need them to save me?
I felt alone. In a way, being alone was better than being pitied. When I wasn’t alone, it meant someone was sitting around, listening to my plight, and agreeing that it sucked. Nothing changed, and nothing got better. They just agreed that my situation was fucked up, and thanked “god” that it wasn’t them. I wanted to minimize the circle of people who fit into that category of “visitors” and decided being alone was the way I needed to go. I had my kids, and immersed myself in being with them, and taking pictures of them. But I still felt an emptiness inside, where my pride used to be. I had lost what people like to call “my voice.”
So, when I noticed a sadly obvious trend among my girlfriends, I couldn’t help but feel a duty to them; a duty to help them understand that there IS someone out there who wants to listen. There ARE other women who know what she is going through. She just doesn’t know, because she has lost her voice for everything other than asking herself the same questions I suffered through.
I started the Women’s Empowerment and Education Group online, and invited all of the ladies I thought would benefit from it. I posted articles from psychology journals, educating women on things that were happening to them, that they couldn’t understand. I posted funny blogs by women who used humor to ease their pain in their own situations. I posted links to events that could be helpful to women, for whatever reason, which I didn’t need to know. It was a casual forum, where women could read about issues females face in our society, as well as other cultures. But I didn’t know how effective the group was, until our first actual meeting.
There were only a handful of ladies at the first meeting, including my teenage daughter, which upset me at first. I had put the event together, because of some very specific ladies who had been coming to me for advice. Imagine my surprise when many of them didn’t show up. My disappointment didn’t last long, and the meeting was a great success. I met a new friend, and was able to help old friends vent out frustrations they had been sitting on. There was a TON of “Yes! Exactly!” and even talk of our next meeting. My new friend messaged me the following week, and said she couldn’t wait for the next time we could meet in person, because she loved the group. My other friends said they loved the small setting, and felt like they could talk about anything, despite having just met each other that day. My daughter said she had a good time, and learned a lot about what life is like outside of the nuclear family. I found it eye opening to see how my friends easily interacted with each other, and decided this had to happen again soon.
As things have progressed, I’ve seen both the rewarding side of helping women in less than desirable situations, as well as the scary side that tests your conscience to see how much you really want to help. I’ve been in the position where I’ve had to consider that someone would come after me and possibly harm myself and my family- or worse. I’ve considered my name being dragged around the internet, I’ve considered that I may be followed, or my car may be tampered with, or my house might be broken into. I don’t know what will happen. I do know that Matt recently lost a great friend because he tried to help his sister-in-law escape a violent relationship. Her boyfriend drove 600 miles to find her, kill her, and then kill the family who had tried to help her. Three people were murdered that night, including Matt’s friend and his (friend’s) wife…in front of their 4 year-old daughter. Months after, I read about a woman who I had known to be in a very violent situation for years, getting shot by her boyfriend. This was after people repeatedly told her that “nobody risks their freedom to get back at a girlfriend.” I guess he was willing to risk it. Her mother stood fearlessly between them, and saved her daughter from being killed by her attacker, though she did end up in ICU for her injuries.
Matt has been worried that I will end up on the unfortunate side of things because I tried to help. This is a very real concern, but when I think about what would happen to these women if I abandoned them, I can’t bring myself to leave them. They have nobody else to go to. Nobody else to trust them, or let them know that their feelings are valid. Nobody who cared enough to listen, much less give advice or make moves happen. My role in these women’s lives is important. They gain strength through my love and support, and are able to look at themselves differently, and are able to fight their way to something better. Even inspiring one woman is enough for me to not turn my back. If I stopped helping because I was afraid, I would be leaving these women to fight alone, when they are much more afraid than I am.
I started a Women’s Group, because I wanted women to stop being told nobody is going to listen to them. I started it because it was necessary. I tell them to be strong and never give up. How could I not practice the same for them?