When I saw the poster declaring that Kaisia Williams was missing, the first thing I thought was that there must be a man who knows where she is.
I didn’t know anything about her, the particulars of her disappearance, or even how long she’d been missing. And while making assumptions is a surefire way to be humbled, unfortunately, assumptions about the connection between a woman’s disappearance and male violence prove to be correct far too often.
That was the case with Jessica Edwards, the 30-year-old mother who was found dead in East Hartford, not far from where I live. I didn’t know her or her circumstances either, but my friend did. She was in constant contact with her family and other friends, sharing information and helping to coordinate search efforts before she was ultimately found.
The pandemic exacerbated the problem of violence against women. Domestic violence advocacy groups reported a 71% increase in calls for help last year. In response, the Connecticut state legislature passed laws to extend further protections to women, including Jennifer’s Law which passed in May. Yet if passing laws was the key to solving this problem, it would already be dealt with.
Every woman I’ve ever spoken to long enough has a story about the violence they’ve experienced at the hands of a man close to them. Not most of them, not almost all of them- every single one. Male violence is such a constant expectation that a friend of mine once referred to the tradition of men paying for dinner as a sort of recompense for the possibility that her date might someday kill her. It was gallows humor in the realest sense.
A woman told me that she felt threatened by me. I was taken aback. How could she feel like I would hurt her? I’d never hit a woman in my life, barring the childhood playground fights I usually lost. But the threat of violence is endemic to the way we as men practice masculinity. Standing over someone. Raising your voice. Making aggressive gestures. Yes, I’ve done all of those things. And all of those things send a very clear message: I have the capacity to hurt you.
It’s not a good feeling to look at yourself and accept that you behave in the same way as abusers and murderers, but it’s reality. Violence moves down a continuum, from the insinuation to the act, far faster than we think. The details of the Jessica Edwards case shows as much. Her husband didn’t set out to murder her. Yet he moved down the continuum until that was the result. A lack of intent and premeditation doesn’t change how a violence-infused approach led to Jessica Edward’s murder.
More and more I’ve started to think that our commitments to democracy and the rule of law are pretentions designed to mask the brutal reality of a might-makes-right world. Despite being a majority in the country, women are systematically excluded from leadership, decision-making and other levers of power. What method could deprive the literal majority of these positions other than the implicit and explicit practices of violence? There seems to be an agreement that stronger men will not abuse weaker men, but these rules are thrown out the window when it comes to women. The practice of intimidation against women at the personal level spirals upward into a society where, again, the majority population has never had majority control.
Confronting the scourge of male violence doesn’t require soul-searching or counseling, can-kicking exercises in vanity that leave women at risk in the meantime. It requires backing down and walking away. I keep my hands in my pockets. I try not to raise my voice. I leave when things start to get heated. I lose the argument. I slink away and nurse my wounded pride. I complain to my friends after the fact. These are the steps I take to avoid falling back on my masculinity and physicality. They don’t feel good either, but they have the major benefit of not scaring the women who I claim to care about.
We can still hope that Kaisia William’s story will end differently, that she simply got lost because she’s from out of state. But as more time passes, the likelihood increases that the terrifyingly predictable possibility of a violent end was her fate.
Jamil Ragland writes and lives in East Hartford. You can read more of his writing at www.nutmeggerdaily.com.
The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of CTNewsJunkie.com.