It really is that simple

Penelope Trunk annoys me.  I understand the appeal.  She makes it clear that she writes and advises from her perspective.  Even when she pronounces things as absolute truths with citations (often not very good ones, but there, we all cherry pick our sources to correspond to our prejudices), it is still clear that she’s writing from her lived experience.  That is the appeal: that her advice, her pronouncements, her webinars, whatever – they all come from her experience, and are expressed as close to transparently as possible.

It’s that “as possible” that I’d like to play with now.

She edits (of course).  She has an editor (of course).  So her posts aren’t really scream of consciousness.  I suspect her “classes” aren’t completely unscripted either.

That isn’t important to me, but it is important to her (or rather to the Penelope Trunk persona – what the inner woman thinks or feels is something I can’t determine, and I don’t need to determine).  She has stated that complete openness is important to her because of the secrets of her childhood.  She states that openness is her defense (that may be my inference, rather than her direct statement).

I have no reason to doubt her – except –

There’s all this niggling annoying stuff going on.  She’s anti-feminist (I suspect she’d say post).  She’s picked an apparently liberal open (that word again!) voice in which she espouses horrendous ingrained misogyny.

– Marry by twenty five
– Have kids by thirty
– Don’t rock the boat about harassment in the workplace
– Have plastic surgery
– Be empowered by ownership of your actions even if you’re accepting blame for actions against you

And the topper.
The scary one.
The sad one.

– Stay with your man if you have kids.  Even if he hits you.  Even if he hits you in front of the kids.
– Women are to blame for the abusive actions of others

Her mother was at fault when her father hit her.  Because her mother was oh so dreadful and provocative.
She is at fault when her husband beats her.  Because she is provocative.  She does things he hates.

I’ve left the room when adults threw tantrums.  I doubt if I’m the only one.

Please understand, it’s not wrong to respond to horrible behavior of other people.  You have to respond somehow.  (Even saying nothing and bowing your head is a response.  It isn’t even a submissive response if you’re bowing your head to cover up your smirk or rage or, more to the point, when your actions are driven by your own thoughts and meaning, and not by those of the louse making a song and dance.)

It’s right to call out horrible behavior (when you can do so safely).  It’s wrong to indulge in further and more horrible behavior because “she started it!” (That, effectively, is what Penelope says her father did, and her husband does.)

Grownups, at least people I think of as grownups, respond to other adults misbehaving by calling it out and not rewarding it.

For example:

If someone raises their voice, you say “Please don’t raise your voice,” and then you ignore them until they’re acting more sensibly, and with a normal tone of voice.  Or you say: “I’m not going to respond to you until you apologize for your tone, and moderate it.  I’m leaving the room now.”

Or if someone insults you, you say “Wow. That was rude.”  And you ignore them.

If someone threatens you – well.  Do you enjoy that sort of thing?  I don’t.  I don’t enjoy anger at all.  I don’t enjoy other people’s malice and rage directed at me (or at anyone really.)  Nor do I enjoy my own anger.

So anger – I walk away.
Threats, I may or may not call out, but I don’t respond to at all well.

Why do others?

Penelope Trunk (or please, please, please her husband) enjoys the intensity of anger and of a clear attentive response.  That is, I think, what’s happening.  He doesn’t attend, and she needs that, and she knows he can explode.  But she thinks she controls the explosions, and I think she does not.  Those explosions are because of internal events in Matthew.  Her actions trigger responses only because he has given himself permission to (for example) throw her against furniture sometimes.

Because all of this is really in his head, not hers, when she polices her own actions, she still can’t guarantee her safety.

That she “causes” his explosions of rage is a fiction they’ve both bought into.  It’s a fiction none the less.

And that’s what I wanted to say!

I’m glad for her that, if she needs to feel that she controls something, and believing that her actions can control the explosions and abuse gives her some control, that she thus believes herself to have control.  But it’s not real. It’s an illusion of control.

He beats her because he believes there are justifications for it.

It really is that simple.


Sad Sad Sad

Oh dear. Oh dear. Oh dear.

Reading into Penelope Trunk is like reading into Delia Day. Penelope Trunk, in case I ever reread today’s work and wonder, is a blogger and advice columnist. Her blog reads as though it’s a copy edited (and possibly, but not certainly, content edited) diary of her learning how to be in the world.

Reading bits and pieces of Penelope Trunk I want to shout “Contrarian is fine, but you are not acting in a productive way!” If the end result of a life is fabulous creation – well, she hasn’t done that. If it’s happiness, well she’s destroying her own. But that’s blaming her for her abuse.

What happens next in reading her, in noting the way she has bought into her own abuse, is that you remember Delia Day. Or I do.

Delia Day, again, in case I’ve forgotten, was the pseudonym of Susan Anton who blogged (under that name) about her life as a sex-slave. And then, one day, she shot and killed her husband and master.

The blog had been part of a pay-site where photos of her body modifications and the stuff she and her husband did sexually were available for sale. Also, if you subscribed you could read her entries about the modifications and her life.

And then she shot her husband, and, I believe (but I could be misremembering) she wasn’t even indicted. Because the happy sex-slave blog was written by him. Because her life, as she later re-constructed it was one of abuse and fear.

Penelope Trunk is the blog name of a woman whose husband periodically hits her, who home schools her children, so they’re learning that violence is acceptable, and who maybe, some day, will reclaim her birth name.

Maybe in a few years we’ll read of a second divorce, and the public bits of it will include a lot about fear or attempts to leave.

Because I want to believe that the personal aspects of her blog were written for her husband (if not by him). Because I want to believe that Adrienne wants to live a life with agency and joy. A life that doesn’t include beatings. A life that permits her children physical access to the world.

And then I remember the Keri Hulme book The Bone People, in which the boy’s father beat him horribly but really did love him. Well, in the magical thinking of the novel, really loved him. (And the narrator.)

You know novels aren’t reality, and often aren’t true. The wonderful artistic fabulous man who beats the boy might never beat the narrator, but after all, he doesn’t recognize that it just isn’t ok to hit people.

That’s what the character that Penelope Trunk writes about doesn’t know. Maybe some day Adrienne will be able to grow past cool chill girl-friend and wife Penelope. Adrienne would be happier if she weren’t trying to be Penelope.

Maybe she isn’t trying, that’s what is triggering myanxieties. Maybe she’s captive of the relationship she bought into and her sons held hostage.

Maybe it’s completely abuse and she knows it, but her “brave” public face is Penelope, who has rewritten the narrative of her life to embrace her own “responsibility” for abuse. To accept her own accountability.

Please understand: she isn’t responsible for her abuse. She’s responsible, sort of, for staying.  But maybe not for that either.

But I keep thinking: what if she’s Hedda Nussbaum, what if she’s Susan Anton. That’s frightening and upsetting. Because then we, I, anyone reading her, we’ve all allowed ourselves to be lulled into voyeurism.

Somewhere, I hope that she is really Adrienne, and Penelope is her guise until she can spread her wings and get away.

Delia Day’s diary or blog detailed her circumcision (actual circumcision – removal of her clitoral hood), her labia rings, her tattoos.

I came on the site and the pictures through BME, where the pictures were kind of happy. I found them immensely erotic. I found her words disturbing. Even if she was a volunteer they read as disturbing.

I read and saw all this after the fact. Then I found out (through a “What happened to?” search) that her life wasn’t so happy after all. That she was abused.

Or maybe not. Maybe Travis’s family were correct and she was really an evil woman plotting all along to kill him cold bloodedly.

But maybe Penelope Trunk is Delia Day.