As I’ve written about before, as recently as this week, I am sick and tired of political memes—those allegedly “funny” things that are little more than glamorized character assassinations. Passing them on makes us complicit in the dumbing down of the national conversation. It’s a dumbing down that is so precipitous that surely it is incumbent upon those of us who know the word “precipitous” to put our proverbial heels in the mud to stop the slide.
So you know where I stand. And now, I want to talk about Melania.
When people pass along GIFs of Melania Trump smiling at her husband’s face and then looking miserable when her husband turns his back—“Oh no, is Melania OK?” “#FreeMelania”—it is faux-concern. These remarks and GIFs, sheathed in irony and superiority, may seem funny. In fact, it’s nothing short of cruel. Let me explain.
I have no idea what Melania’s relationship with her husband is like—recent pieces by body language experts notwithstanding—but I do know this: People who would laugh at “Free Melania!” and those GIFs have never tasted the bitterness of being in an abusive relationship. It is very, very real. It is world-bending. It makes you doubt who you are as a person, and whether you are worth anything at all. You might be a confident and brilliant person, but when you find yourself on the other end of abuse, you feel like you are less than nothing.
When you are in an abusive relationship, you live on eggshells. You live day-to-day, hour to hour, only hoping to remain in the parts of the cycle in which your partner does not turn his or her anger onto you. You do everything you can to stay safe within your marriage and to not ruffle feathers—trying desperately not to piss your partner off, to make sure they are happy in every way. But these are feathers that will inevitably be ruffled again, which the abuser will deem is “your fault.” All the abuser’s problems are your fault. And he or she will make you pay.
And if you are “just” emotionally abused? You find yourself wishing your abuser would hit you—because at least then, if you got up the nerve to show your bruises? At least then, your beaten-down logic tells you, people might believe you.
What if someone who sees your “hilarious LOL!” post is actually in an abusive relationship and is trying to get out? She will see that you find her pain funny. She will read that you implicitly believe that women in certain kinds of marriages deserve what they get. She will remember. The meme that you posted as a throwaway joke will stick with her—she will remember that her pain, to you, is nothing more than a fleeting punchline.
Someone you know right now is in an abusive relationship. Abuse affects women from all educational backgrounds, from all economic groups. Someone who you know right now, who puts on a smile in the carpool line and who posts pictures of her kids on vacation? That person is struggling and pretending and dying inside with every day, and is fighting as hard as she can not to show her terror and misery. That person needs to know that you don’t find her pain funny—that instead, you truly care and you want to help.
In my area of New Jersey, The Rachel Coalition helps women in abusive relationships. Similarly, Higher Ground from the National Council of Jewish Women aims to empower women locked in these cycles of violence: http://www.ncjw.org/content_4088.cfm. To learn more about how you can help people in abusive relationships, look at Safe Horizon.
If you want to help victims of domestic violence, by all means, do so—they will need your help more than ever in the coming years, as cuts are planned to Violence Against Women programs. But don’t cry the crocodile tears. Spare them, spare us, and help instead.