While sitting in the park, taking a break from everything, I noticed a young couple arguing outside a car. It was getting pretty dramatic. Not violent, just dramatic. I said to myself, “Ok, let’s see who wins this one.”
Arguments happen, but this one was different. I caught myself in a moment of “ugly.” Moments after asking who will win the fight, I said to myself, “Ok, what kind of car does he have?” It wasn’t because his car was cool, it was because I had determined that it would directly affect the outcome of the argument. It sounds sick, I know.
This begs the question, how many times do we compromise ourselves when we think we don’t have leverage in a relationship. It’s not just in romance. It’s in politics, on the job and even when dealing with bullies on the playground. Who was it that leveraged violence and got your milk money so-to-speak?
This thing called leverage is serious. I remember pleading with this young lady years ago not to let a certain man take advantage of her and treat her like a piece of meat. On paper my pleas made sense. The reality was, the young lady was in a leveraged negotiation. You see, she had many of the qualities that society considers unattractive. I learned later that she had taken a hard look at herself and said, “What do I look like? Do I want to be alone or put up with a little abuse? I know he’s sleeping around…do I want kids, or to be an old and alone for the rest of my life?” She was systematically weighing her options. That’s when I understood why she ignored me. The fact is, she was in a negotiation.
I remember watching one of my favorite movies called Aliens; it was the second of a series of Alien sci-fi flicks. In it there was a scene where “Ripley” played by actress Sigourney Weaver, comes face-to-face with the fifty-foot female monster alien. Ripley was struggling to save this little girl named Newt, who couldn’t have been more than four years old. The huge lady alien was just about to devour them both. That is, until Ripley pointed a huge flame-thrower at the alien’s eggs nearby. The fifty-foot mama froze! The Alien could have swallowed Ripley and the little girl whole, but in this case, the monster (i.e. the abuser) found itself in a negotiation. (See link below).
This got me thinking. Women and men, have to find creative ways to gain leverage and fight back. Maybe not with a flame-thrower, but through laws, strategy and empowerment. Nobody deserves to be mistreated.
The above was an Alien movie, but take another look at real life, i.e. the #Metoo movement. Many of the women bluntly said out loud that they had been harassed and assaulted in and out of the workplace. The knee-jerk reaction was, “Go to human resources right away! Call the police! Sue the employer!” and rightfully so. However, the question that came up for many of these women was, “What if I never get work again? What if I get sidelined or blacklisted.” All of a sudden, we got another negotiation taking place. This is very dangerous.
In the thick of the #Metoo movement, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg were warning women to be forceful, but careful in their speaking out. They were saying to be mindful of a potential backlash and setback in the workplace. They weren’t condoning the behavior, they were just saying be very careful, there may be unintended consequences. For example, now a woman’s male counterpart might not take a business meeting with them because they didn’t want to deal with any potential accusations. Now a woman’s paycheck is in jeopardy. As wrong as assault and harassment are, it sounds like another forced negotiation. As you can tell, things are never as cut and dry as people want to believe.
What if you are a stay-at-home mom or girlfriend? The relationship is abusive. Your family and girlfriends are screaming, “Leave him!” So, you shout, “You’re damn right I’m leaving!” Seems logical, right? But, what if you have no job or money? What if you have three kids by some abusive dude and no job skills? You can’t really say, “that’s just ghetto” because it’s deeper than that. There are a lot of middle class moms in the same boat. What if you have no education to fall back on to support your kids? They have to eat. They need clothes and a roof over their head. What if you end up homeless along with a crying newborn? Do you then sell your body? What if the abuser is threatening to kill you? All of a sudden, we have yet another negotiation.
Financial abuse is a big one. It rarely gets talked about because there are no bruises or broken limbs, just broke and victimized. Men have used a partner’s lack of money in a relationship to trap, cheat and mistreat women for years. Back in 2017, actress Kerry Washington joined a campaign to fight this very issue.
We have to be careful not to judge people. I say “people” because these things happen to men also, just to a lesser degree. “What would I do?” should always be asked in order to effectively help or give advice to someone. Just telling them to leave, quickly becomes, “It ain’t that simple.” This is not a sci-fi movie or any movie for that matter. People are having to compromise their dignity and safety to survive. Leverage is a very strange and dangerous thing, especially in the hands of an abuser. The way out, isn’t always so clear. The reality that these harsh negotiations are taking place, is.