by Donna Broom, Attorney — I understand women who are afraid to speak up for themselves. The first introduction of the negative consequences women face when they speak came from my mother. She was lying on the floor bloodied and beaten. She had said something her second husband, my stepfather, did not like. Her husband proceeded to hit her in the face, the stomach and threw her on the ground. He then jumped on top of her and hit her several more times. After the beating was over, he walked out of the house, and my mother cleaned herself up.
My mother received many beatings from her husband for several years. Back in the seventies, in East Texas, many women suffered at the hands of their husbands. So many women, like my mother, maintained their silence and hid their bruises with dark sunglasses and turtleneck sweaters. Husbands were the wardens and wives were their prisoners.
Words can be harsher and do more damage than fists. My mother finally obtained a divorce and married another man. This new stepfather did not hit my mother. He introduced something new, verbal abuse and intimidation. He was in his thirties when he married my mom. I remember family members telling my mom how honorable of him to marry her and raise her three children. When she died four years later of cancer, family admired him because he agreed to raise three children on his own. We would have been better off somewhere else.
“Husbands were the wardens and wives were their prisoners.”
Our stepfather was cruel and a bully. He never offered words of encouragement to us. Instead, he towered over us, yelled at us and told us we were stupid. His words were so cruel that by the time I was fifteen, I believed I was a worthless piece of garbage. We could not talk to him because he made us afraid. Family members, teachers and adults who witnessed his behavior made excuses for him. They excused him because he was a single father raising three kids. They told us we were ungrateful children who made it difficult for him.
By the time I was sixteen, I had no self-esteem and believed I deserved bad treatment from men. Christmas Eve after my sixteenth birthday, my stepfather had his girlfriend and her male forty something cousin over for dinner and drinks. I went to bed. I was asleep when I was startled awake because I could not breathe. The 200-pound naked cousin was lying on top of me, grabbing my breast. I tried to push him off of me, but he was too heavy. He placed his hands over my mouth so I could not scream as he tore off my nightgown and ripped my underwear. He was slobbering all over me and when he raped me all I could do was look at my ceiling. After he had finished, he left my room and passed out on the living room couch. I lay there unable to move.
My stepfather was across the hall, and I was too scared of waking him up because after all, he told me I was stupid and therefore, I must have done something, said something, that made this rape my fault. My sister woke up and found out what happened. She is the one who braved the wrath and woke my stepfather. My stepfather kicked the cousin out of our house. After the cousin left, my stepfather sent us back to bed. I changed the bloodied sheets and maintained my silence. My stepfather never asked about that night. He never noticed how I changed. How I became quieter, distant, afraid, and felt worthless. Since that day, I have never been able to sleep in the dark or without the television on at night.
At eighteen, I did learn that I control my body and while I still agree with my decision at the time, I do wish that I did not have to make the decision in the first place. I was a senior in high school, and I had unprotected sex. The year was 1986 and I had two choices, have an abortion or leave my home in Beaumont and go live in San Antonio at a home for unwed mothers. I chose to have an abortion. I wanted to finish high school and go on to college. I wanted to keep my boyfriend who was already in college and wanted to be a doctor. He made it clear that he was going to move forward with his plans. His mother too made it clear that her son was going to finish college and I was not going to ruin her son’s plans.
“To me true equality is not choosing to have an abortion; it is the ability to decide when or if I have sex and when or if I become pregnant in the first place.”
Two weeks after finding out I was pregnant, I had an abortion. I felt dirty and rushed to make a decision that I was ill prepared to make, but in the end, it was my decision and I was the one who had to live with the consequences. Afterward, I developed a horrible infection that nearly killed me. I resent those that fight for abortion and act like abortion is no big deal and an easy form of birth control, it is not. I also resent those that fight against abortion purely on religious and moral grounds without empowering women to use birth control to avoid the necessity of an abortion. Both do not advance women or promote sexual equality for women. To me true equality is not choosing to have an abortion; it is the ability to decide when or if I have sex and when or if I become pregnant in the first place. Once I was empowered, educated and encouraged that I could decide when I became pregnant, I never had another unexpected pregnancy.
I was abused, raped and had an abortion by the time I became an adult. I was in my thirties, married with three children, three degrees under my belt, and a practicing attorney before I stopped hearing an echo of my stepfather’s words haunting me, the memories of my mother’s abuse, or my own rape. It was not easy overcoming those experiences, but I refused to be a victim or think that my gender prevented me from moving forward. I was driven to prove that even though I was a woman, I could advocate and prevent anyone else, man or woman, from being treated unequally.
After graduating from high school, I applied to college and received grants so that I could get my undergraduate degree. I worked full-time while I went to graduate school and then later to law school. I had two children while in school. No one paid my way or held me back from pursuing my degrees. I did not feel anytime I was in college or graduate school that I was inferior to my male classmates. I studied and worked hard. I passed the bar exam on my first try. For sixteen years, I have practiced law. I have not felt maligned or inferior because I was a woman. I am in control of my destiny and it is up to me to be the best person I can be. If I am willing to do the work, I will succeed.
I have held elected positions and I did not win or lose because I was a woman. Those positions I held were great experiences. I was a director for a water district, president of a lacrosse league, director of a national lacrosse governance committee, coach, and countless other positions that I sought on my own. In all of those positions, I was treated with the same respect that a man would have received had he held the same position. It made me realize that my gender had nothing to do with what I could do with my life. I have the power to change my surroundings by being an active participant in that change. My gender has not impeded my ability to get involved with my community.
My childhood was not an easy journey, but I prevailed in spite of those bad experiences where men thought to make me feel less because I was a woman. I learned that many of those experiences did happen because a man thought he had power over me, and used that power to control me. However, in 2017 there has been a lot gained by women and that behavior is no longer dominated by men. I see women and men working and staying at home to raise children in equal numbers. I see as many women in the boardrooms as I do men. I charge the same fees as men and have been paid as much if not more than men in my field. My husband stayed home with our third son until our son entered kindergarten while I worked outside the home. We taught our three sons that men and women share in household chores, employment and are equally capable.
“Our equality is up to us individually to teach our boys and girls that we are equal by practicing what we preach and treating men and women well regardless of their gender.”
I have worked for both men and women and have experienced abuse, harassment and hostile working environments committed by both men and women in equal numbers. My husband works in an office that is predominantly women. He has a female co-worker who, since she was hired, has created a hostile working environment and bullied my husband. Instead of enforcing polices against such behavior, the women supervisors make excuses for her and allow the behavior continue because she is inflicting the abuse against a man.
Because most employers are sensitive to abuse by men towards women in the workplace, less attention is being given to men being treated badly in the workplace. When women are the perpetrators such as this co-worker, they are excused for the behavior because they are women. This is not equality and if we are not careful the pendulum will shift to where women are the abusers and men the victims. True equality is enforcing the same rules for both men and women and holding both accountable for their behavior regardless of who the perpetrator or who is the victim.
My childhood experiences were horrific and I could have grown up to believe I was inferior to men because of the actions of a few men. However, I took a different course and did not use my gender to hold me back or allow those men to victimize me forever. I fought back in the only way a woman can fight back, by persevering and advocating for equality for everyone regardless of gender. I do not excuse men or women who abuse or treat others inferior because they have the power to do so. Our equality is up to us individually to teach our boys and girls that we are equal by practicing what we preach and treating men and women well regardless of their gender. Only then will we have true equality. That is where I stand as a woman.
Donna Broom is a licensed attorney for the State of Texas. She is also the founder and owner of Broom Law Firm, Tyler, Texas, and assists clients with their legal issues in the following areas: divorce, custody, probate, estate planning, real estate, criminal defense. Visit her Facebook Page for more.