Four Five Seconds to Domestic Violence

Sometimes, when you spend eight ten twelve hours a day working on something, you start to see that thing everywhere, even when other people might not.

For me, that thing is domestic violence. As an attorney who works on child abuse and neglect cases, I get more than a few cases a day that involve domestic violence (because hey, if you’re going to beat up your kid, you may also be beating up your partner).

So as I was driving into work the other day, I heard Rihanna and Kanye West’s new single, Four Five Seconds. For the unfamiliar, here are the lyrics:

Four Five Seconds (Lyrics from metrolyrics.com)

I think I’ve had enough
I might get a little drunk
I say what’s on my mind
I might do a little time
‘Cause all of my kindness
Is taken for weakness

Now I’m FourFiveSeconds from wildin’
And we got three more days ’til Friday
I’m just tryna make it back home by Monday mornin’
I swear I wish somebody would tell me
Ooh, that’s all I want

Woke up an optimist
Sun was shinin’, I’m positive
Then I heard you was talkin’ trash
Hold me back, I’m ’bout to spaz

I’m FourFiveSeconds from wildin’
And we got three more days ’til Friday
I’m tryna make it back home by Monday mornin’
I swear I wish somebody would tell me
Ooh, that’s all I want

And I know that you’re up tonight
Thinkin’, “How could I be so selfish?”
But you called ’bout a thousand times
Wondering where I’ve been
Now I know that you’re up tonight
Thinkin’ “How could I be so reckless?”
But I just can’t apologize
I hope you can understand

If I go to jail tonight
Promise you’ll pay my bail
See they want to buy my pride
But that just ain’t up for sale
See all of my kindness
Is taken for weakness

Now I’m FourFiveSeconds from wildin’
And we got three more days ’til Friday
I’m tryna make it back home by Monday mornin’
I swear I wish somebody would tell me
Ooh, that’s all I want

FourFiveSeconds from wildin’
And we got three more days ’til Friday
I’m just tryna make it back home by Monday mornin’
I swear I wish somebody would tell me
That’s all I want

Songwriters
Mccartney, Paul / Fenty, Robyn Rihanna / Omari, Kanye West

Published by
Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

The radio show hosts couldn’t figure out what it meant. They spent a long time discussing what “Four Five Seconds” means–is it forty five seconds? Four, five? Four “five seconds”?

They did not talk about the heart of the song, which is, to me, obviously about domestic violence. At least, I thought it was obvious. Apparently the internet doesn’t think so. I googled “Four Five Seconds meaning”, and didn’t find anything about domestic violence, other than one article that simply hints at “ins and outs” that Rihanna and Chris Brown have gone through. Wikipedia had this to say about the meaning of the song:

Lyrically, it “express emotions ranging from the flip to the resigned”.[9] Sharan Shetty of Slate stated that the song is about “heartbreak and redemption”,[17] while a Yahoo! Newsreviewer noted that it is about “personal travails and confusion”.[18] Nora Crotty of Elle magazine described the single as an “ode to repenting in the morning for the foolish mistakes you made the night before”.[4] -Wikipedia “FourFiveSeconds”

Baffled that that nothing explicitly mentioned the clear domestic violence message of the song, I tried googling “Four Five Seconds domestic violence”. Nothing. There were some sites about the song and some sites about domestic violence, but really nothing that linked the two. So, dear internet, let me tell you. “FourFive Seconds is a song about domestic violence, told both from the perspective of the abuser and the victim. It attempts to go beyond the surface level discussions that so often surround these debates, and get into the heart and souls of people in such relationships.

All of My Kindness is Taken for Weakness

Rihanna doesn’t waste any time getting into the heart of domestic violence. Survivors might feel like they’ve had enough, but they’re willing to give their abusers one more chance, out of the kindness of their hearts. Over and over again survivors talk about not wanting to give up on their abusers. They love their abusers, and so, even while recognizing that they’re not being treated as they should be they bestow “kindness” on the abuser, giving the abuser a chance to redeem themselves.

From an outsider’s perspective, this “kindness” is so many times called “weakness”. We often hear things like “Why can’t she just leave that guy–he’s always beating her and slapping her, she’s just too weak to leave”. Rihanna herself suffered such victimization. After Chris Brown famously assaulted her in 2009, Rihanna left him. After many rumors that they were back together, she announced in 2013 that they had reunited. Commenters on a Rolling Stone article about the reconciliation had this to say about that decision:

“I love seeing someone like her run back to her abuser-she looks like the idiot she is by her actions.” Hook UK

“Rihanna is a role model for young women. By staying with her abuser, she is encouraging other women to stay in abusive, dangerous relationships. It’s only a matter of time before one of those women ends up battered, maimed, or dead. As far as I’m concerned, Rihanna has or will have blood on her hands. Shame on her.” Robotclam

So many times victims say that they want to give their abusers “one more chance”. It is an important step. While so many people view it as weakness or idiocy, it is not meaningless. It is an important step that a victim takes towards recognizing that there is a problem in the first place.

Four Five Seconds from Wildin’

I absolutely love the chorus of the song. It evokes so much emotion. The pouty, slow breaths of the lines bring up feelings of struggle. The references to Friday and Monday make one remember that personal struggles are not just about these lofty ideals of “what type of person is right for me” and “what do I want out of life”, but rather are often much more finite–“how will I pay the rent this week” or “my child is sick but I can’t take any more time off of work” or “we don’t have any more chicken in the freezer but I don’t get paid until Thursday”.

I remember one night in college, I was all stressed out because I had a big paper due that I wasn’t nearly ready to turn in, along with some other finals and shifts at my part time job. I called a friend, who told me that she was also feeling stressed. We decided to meet up and talk about our issues. I remember feeling almost angry with her when she told me that the problems that were keeping her up at night were “what type of person do I want to be” and “where do I see myself in 10 years?”. Of course those are important questions to answer, but you can’t really deal with them until you turn in that final paper, which is due no matter what type of person you are.

While a relationship can give people joy and love and safety, there are also practical benefits. There’s housing, there’s shared finances, there’s co-parenting. I know someone who has been separated from his wife for years, but still hasn’t signed the final divorce papers because he and his daughter are benefitting from being under his wife’s insurance. This arrangement works for him, but if his wife was abusive, it may not be practical. There’s a lot of extortion that happens: Sleep with me and be my partner, or you can’t stay in my house anymore. If you leave, you’ll have no where to go. Your job (if you even have one) won’t be enough to pay for an apartment and living expenses all on your own. Stay with me, where it’s safe.

If I Go To Jail Tonight, Promise You’ll Pay My Bail

If my husband needed to be bailed out of jail, I would march over there and bring every single penny in my account to help him out. Because I love him and he’s good to me and he deserves my help. Even if he did something foolish and stupid–he might have to deal with the consequences later, but I’d help him out in the moment because, love.

For so many victims, the sentiment is the same despite years of being treated badly. There is still love. There is still affection. There is still a very real feeling that the abuser deserves to be loved, despite whatever may have happened in the past, because, love.

This can’t be dismissed very easily.

There are no easy answers. We can educate boys and girls how to behave in relationships and what is healthy and what is unhealthy, but at the end of the day, every individual has to make the choice that is right for him or her. There are so many nuances involved in the decision that an outsider can’t see. All that an outsider can do is offer assistance and support, and most importantly, to be there, no matter what.

“He put me in the hospital when I was pregnant with her. The next day he started crying, begging for forgiveness. He said: ‘I’m so sorry, I was drunk, I need you so much.’ So I took him back. The next time it happened, he managed to convince me that it was my fault. He said that he wouldn’t have gotten so angry if I had paid more attention to him. So I started thinking that I could be better. Then it happened again. Honestly, I stayed with him so much longer than I should have because I was afraid of becoming the stereotype of a single black mother.” HumansOfNewYork.com
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On Daughters

One of my strongly held opinions is that everyone has a story. I love following Humans of New York for that reason. It makes me think about who could be sitting right next to me, what they might have gone through, what they might have seen, what they think.

I don’t generally talk to the strangers around me, however. I often prefer to commute in silence, and I know others do, too. There’s nothing worse than waking up too early, planning to sleep during your hour-long bus commute, and finding yourself sitting next to someone who just wants to tell you about themselves.

BUT. Yesterday, the man I sat next to on the bus had so much to say that I couldn’t help but be interested. It started when I asked him about the bus schedule, he answered me, and then proceeded to tell me all about his job, his family, and his religion. It was fascinating.

Early on in the conversation, he told me that he had older daughters, but younger sons. He said he wished it were the other way around, because he would have liked his children to help him shovel the 10 inches of snow that recently fell, but that his sons were too young and “I can’t make my daughters do that”.

I said, half jokingly but actually very seriously, “If your daughters are big enough to hold a shovel, they can help shovel the driveway”. He said, “Nah, I couldn’t make them do that”. I let it go, and he went on to tell me about his life in the military, being shot in Saudi Arabia when he was 18, his view that Jewish women were much more liberated than Muslim women, and many other things.

Then he told me that his oldest daughter is a sophomore in college and she wants to join the Navy when she graduates. He doesn’t think it’s a terrible idea, after all, she’ll go in as an officer and her education will be paid for and she’ll have a great career ahead of her. His wife, on the other hand, is terribly opposed to the idea, fearing for her daughter’s safety.

I just listened as he told me all about his family’s drama, but as I thought about it, I remembered his earlier statement about the snow. This woman is not some feeble lady. She wants to join the Navy. Even if she has a desk job, she’ll have to go through basic training, which is much more physically demanding than shoveling snow. And he doesn’t mind that–he’s even in support of the idea! If his daughter can spend 10 hours a day climbing through ropes courses and learning to shoot, she can pick up a shovel and help her family clear the snow from their driveway. Fathers shouldn’t be afraid to give these chores to their daughters.

My Problem With “Mommy”

I don’t think it’s anti-feminist of me to sit and think about what life will be like in the eventual future when I have kids, because I have already made a choice–an active choice–that I want to have children someday. I don’t know when that day will be, but I know that it will come eventually.

I think a lot about how I want to raise my children, what I want to teach them, how involved I want to be, etc. I also have decided that I want my children to call me “Mom”. This, like all my thoughts, is subject to change when the time comes, but as of now, I just don’t think “Mommy” is right.

My problem with Mommy is that while it’s cute and endearing for a 5-year-old to call her mother “Mommy”, it’s not quite as endearing for a 15-year-old or a 25-year-old. I should know–I was raised by a Mommy and a Daddy, and to this day, I still feel like those are the natural names to refer to them. When I was in high school, I realized it was kind of weird and tried to make an active effort to switch to “Mom” and “Dad”, but it never felt as right or as natural as “mommy” and “daddy”.  Just yesterday I got a message from my father in which he said, “It’s Daddy, call me back when you get off of work”. It’s just so ironic for a Daddy to be requesting that his adult daughter call him back after she gets off of work.

I know kids that call their parents mom and dad, and it does seem a little off. At first, it almost feels like there is some sort of lack of intimacy between the child and the parent, that the kids can’t fully express their love to their parents, because they don’t have cute pet names. But then I realize that sort of thinking is just incredibly archaic. It’s not about the title, it’s about the relationship–and these kids actually do have wonderful, loving, caring parents that would do just about anything in the world for their children, and the children know it.

Maybe it’s a personal thing I have against pet names. I’ve told my husband that I don’t want him to give me any pet names, either. (Hello, I’m not his pet!). I know a lot of women like this sort of thing, but I just feel that names like Baby, Honey, and Sweetie are incredibly condescending. I’m not his baby, I don’t need him to care for me. It works for us-when he wants to be endearing to me, he just tells me what it is that he loves about me–using my name and everything–and I love him for that. Now, I know that sort of reasoning doesn’t work with the Mommy issue, but maybe it’s deeper than that. Maybe I just say that I don’t want pet names because it’s anti-feminist, when in reality, I’m just too rational to enjoy pet names.

My mother is a preschool teacher with a Master’s degree in Early Childhood Education. She advocates against parents using any sort of baby talk with their kids. She thinks that you’re just teaching children improper language skills, and that by using incorrect words and grammar with your kids, you’re impeding language development. I’ve been taught that philosophy my whole life. So maybe that’s where the mommy thing comes into play: Why reinforce something that you’re just going to want to undo later?

I should note that my issues against “mommy” are my own, and I haven’t yet discussed them with my husband. However, it won’t bother me at all if he chooses to be Daddy, Abba, Tattie, Papa, or anything else–he can be whatever he wants to be, just like I can.

Simchat Bat Ceremonies: Feminist Ritual or Jewish Ritual?

I recently attended both the shalom zachor and brit mila of the son of good friends of mine. As all shalom zachors do, this made me think about how there’s no real female equivalent of a shalom zachor, and how this practice seems like a throwback to the days when families favored boys over girls.

When I was growing up, in a small, out-of-town community with one orthodox shul, one conservative shul, and one reform shul, the process was pretty standard across the board: No one had a shalom zachor. If you had a baby boy, you had a brit, and if you had a baby girl, you had a baby naming ceremony. The ceremonies were fairly similar, both involved the whole community sharing bagels and lox, both involved the parents (or just the father, if the mother was too weak from just having passed a human being out of her body) talking publicly about their child and his/her name and where it comes from and who the baby is named after and their hopes and dreams for their child. There were only two differences: 1. The brit involved a snip-snip and 2. The brit was held 8 days after the baby was born (unless there were medical concerns) and the baby naming was held whenever was convenient for the parents, usually the first or second sunday after the baby was born.

It was pretty fair, if you asked me. I never thought of judaism favoring baby boys over baby girls because we celebrated both babies publicly, and even I, as a kid, understood that the ceremonies couldn’t be 100% equal because, well, girls and boys are not biologically 100% equal.

It wasn’t until I moved to New York that I heard people talk about simchat bat ceremonies. I assumed that those were just the hebrew version of a baby naming ceremony. Then I started to read about how people have designed special prayers, songs, and passages for simchat bats. What finally made me realize that these ceremonies were viewed a little differently here than where I came from, however, was a comment made by a caterer friend of mine. He does events all over the tri-state area, and was once talking about a simchat bat he was planning. Someone asked him where the event was going to be. He replied, “Riverdale, duh. If it’s a simchat bat, it’s either Riverdale or the Upper West Side.” So, apparently, the only people that celebrate a daughter are feminists. Hm.

This conversation led to more discussions about baby girls and baby boys. Apparently, “most people” up here name their baby girls in shul the first time that the husband goes to shul after the baby is born. There’s usually no coffee and bagels, and no guests are invited. The only parties are for boys.

This is wrong. It is weird that my small town is more “progressive” than the big city, but apparently, that’s how it is. But the thing is, we didn’t think of ourselves as progressive at all. Most of the people would shun the title feminist. I once got ridiculed for studying gemara in shul on simchat torah while all the other women were contentedly watching the men dance around the torah. This is NOT a progressive community. We simply like babies, male or female, and we celebrate whenever ANY new member joins our tribe.

This is the final step for feminism. Feminism has taken great strides lately, has implemented wonderful additions and rituals and services that make judaism welcoming for all genders, and thats great. But the final step is to get these things normalized, to not be seen as a “feminist” practice, but instead, to be seen as simply a Jewish practice.

Splitting the Chores

My mother is an amazing woman. She works a full time job and takes care of her house and cooks fabulous shabbat meals and still maintains her sanity.

Yesterday, I was speaking to her on the phone, when my husband came home from work. He looked around and noticed that I was in the middle of doing laundry. He asked me, “Should I switch the laundry now?”. I asked my mom to hold on a moment while I explained to him that yes, the laundry was ready to be switched, except for one load which was already in the dryer and that he should just bring that one upstairs so we can fold it.

When I got back to my mom, she said “Your husband does laundry with you? WOW.”

My father is one of the “manly men” from the previous generation that works all day, comes home and sits on the couch and relaxes after work, eats the dinner my mother prepared for him, and then goes upstairs to watch a game while he gets ready for bed. Meanwhile, when my mom gets off of work, she does the grocery shopping, cooks dinner, cleans the house, and makes all the social arrangements.

My parents like to say that when they got married, they made an arrangement: My mother would be in charge of all the minor, day to day decisions, and my father would be in charge of the major decisions. But, they realized, throughout the course of their marriage, there has never been one major decision!

You see, they came to the realization that all of life is simply a series of small decisions. A couple doesn’t just decide to buy a house, they decide to go to a few open houses, decide to talk with a real estate agent, decide to make some offers, and finally, decide to transfer a whole lotta money to a bank that’s going to own them for a very long time.

And while, this “big decision/small decision” method may work for my parents, it’s not the marriage that I want. Sometimes to a fault, I want every decision to be made mutually between myself and my husband. This is just as true for decisions like “should I take this job?” as it is for “what’s for dinner?”. He knows that one of the most frustrating things he can say is, “Honey, I don’t care, you do what you want.”

In general, I think it’s healthy that we do things together. I like that he chips in with laundry. I like that I can bounce all sorts of ideas off of him. Still, sometimes, if it’s my turn to make dinner, I should just choose something and be okay with it. And, well, that’s hard for me. I know that even if I think chicken is a good choice for dinner, he may not be very hungry and might only want soup. Or, he might have had pasta for lunch and not want it again for dinner, but I won’t know until he tells me.

In some ways, I’m happy that we have a 50/50 marriage. But sometimes, I think that the problem is that we don’t do things 50/50, we do things 100/100. There’s absolutely no reason why we both have to go to the grocery store together (other than, of course, we like each other and want to spend as much time together as possible) or both decide together what to have for dinner. Instead, we need to get better at splitting the chores evenly, instead of us both doing everything, so that we can have more time to spend with each other doing the things we really want to be doing.

My Secret Life

This blog is the one and only secret I keep from my husband, and it tears me up inside. I pride us on having amazingly honest and frank communication. He knows all my dirty secrets, and I, his.

I find myself posting less frequently now than when we were engaged, because now I live with him and in a one bedroom apartment, it’s fairly difficult to work on the computer without him at least asking what I’m doing. We have plenty of moments where I’m just nonchalantly surfing the internet and he’s playing video games, sure, but if he hears me furiously typing away, he’ll probably notice something’s up.

So, I find myself having to write posts before he comes home for work, or while I’m on my lunch break. When I write on my lunch break, I’ll write the posts in an email and discreetly post later, because I don’t want my coworkers to see my blog either.

My life would certainly be easier if he knew about the blog. He’d probably even encourage me to write MORE, which I’m sure you dear readers would appreciate. But, I don’t want to share this with him. I want to feel that this is my space where I can be open and honest. I don’t write too many negative things about him, because there just aren’t that many negative parts of him. But, on the off chance that something does come up, I want to be able to write about it. I want to not feel that I have to censor myself on this blog for fear that he might be reading. So, I stay private.

My husband used to be a writer, and has a bunch of published materials floating around the internet. Every now and then he’ll mention these articles, and I’ll want to compare it to my experience blogging. But then I realize I can’t, because he can’t know about my blog. He’s now a computer programmer, and I could certainly use his help in figuring out how to work certain features into the blog. But again, I can’t.

I imagine at some point I’ll tell him. I’ll open up all the old archives for him, and let him read it. It will be like showing him my diary. Which I did. The diary that I kept in middle school had all sorts of angsty pre-teen entries in it (“I hate X, because she pretended to be my friend but was really just using me!” and “I have such a huge crush on Y, but he’ll never like me because I have too many pimples. Sigh.” ). I recently found that diary and showed it to him. I would have died if anyone read that diary within a year or two of me writing it, but now that so many years have passed and I can look back at middle school and laugh, I was fine with it. In fact, I was glad that he read it, so that he can understand a little bit more about my childhood and how I developed into who I am today.

But that takes time. At some point, I’ll be ready to look back at this blog and laugh, at which point, I’ll want to share it with him. But for now, this is my secret place, and I’m alright with that.

Working Moms and Busy “Others”

I’d like to be frank about something here. I know what I’m about to say is not popular, but I’m going to say it anyway. I really don’t have that much sympathy for working moms.

I really don’t mean to downplay how hard it is to be a mom and also work full time, but in my world, that’s normal. When I was growing up, my mom worked full time. Both of my grandmothers also worked full time while raising children. Almost all of my friends’ moms worked.

I am not a mom, but I still have a busy schedule. I go to law school full time, and work part time, plus I have an hour long commute each day, meaning that I don’t get home before 9pm most nights. And once I get home, I have papers to write and cases to read and client files to go over.  I often do the grocery shopping while falling asleep, and my laundry hasn’t been done in two weeks because I just don’t have time for that. Forget about ever making the bed. And yet, there are not blogs and magazines and books dedicated solely to coping with my schedule. How come having a busy schedule is only sympathy worthy if part of the schedule includes children?

Still, despite my non-sympathy, being a working mom scares me. When my sister-in-law was recently complaining about a hectic day she had at work, it started with her pre-school age daughter being sick and having to arrange last-minute childcare before she left in the morning. Then, in the afternoon, she had an off-site meeting that went longer than it was supposed to. Since my sister-in-law is nursing her baby son, she pumps milk during the day. The late meeting meant that she had to find a place in the unfamiliar office building to pump, keeping her co-worker (and ride) waiting. Another time, she told me that her office building was closed for repairs, but all employees were expected to report in to a temporary site. She went to the temporary site, and found that she, and the rest of the employees, weren’t able to do a lot of work from there, since they didn’t have their files and other necessary things with them. While her co-workers had to stay and find busy work to fill their time, her boss gave her permission to leave early in order to nurse (there was no place to pump in the temporary location).

I know that my sister-in-law is an incredibly hard worker and very dedicated to her job. She’s also quite smart and good at what she does. Still, often when she talks about work, it’s often about how her children interfere with her ability to do her job well. It scares me that my ability to do my job well will be impacted by my children.

Perhaps, just maybe, this is the real reason why it irks me so much when moms complain about how hard it is to balance their work and home life. Perhaps, every time I hear that discussion, it reminds me that soon enough, that will be my fate as well.