Truth in jest

Column by Hallie Beard, Junior from Louisville, Ky.

I like to think of myself as a pretty active person – I danced for 15 years, try to work out, and periodically convince myself I’m into yoga in order to attempt weird balances and twists a beginner should never do.

On top of my at-times foolish fitness trials, I’m fairly clumsy; this means that, at any given time, I’m sporting 3-8 unsightly bruises on my ultra pale skin.

Recently, I tripped over my own feet and fell into my dresser and onto the floor, leaving a couple of large, nasty bruises on my arm.

I wore long sleeves to conceal them for a few days, but the weather didn’t permit that for long and the bruises had to see the light of day.

As expected, friends noticed them and gasped at their ugliness.

What I didn’t expect was that several people over a span of about two weeks (lucky for me, my hideous bruises have impressive lifespans) asked me if they were the result of an angry boyfriend.

The first time it happened, I was more concentrated on the fact that someone thought I was in a relationship when I’m single as a Pringle. But, after a couple more comments, I realized just how grim the situation was.

Most people initially made a joke of it – “No one’s battering you, right?” or “Is someone being mean to you?” with a chuckle and a shake of the head, as if the battered housewife/girlfriend cliché is too dated to be anything but hilarious.

After the joke, though, most people uncomfortably followed up with a quieted, wary check-up. “But … seriously,” they’d say, “no one did that, right? Do you promise? Would you tell me if that was the case?”

The amount of concern I witnessed was truly heartwarming; if my bruises were caused by relationship violence – which, to be clear, they were definitely not – it’s comforting knowing I’d have the support of friends and colleagues.

But these exchanges have also troubled me.

What does it say about our so-called progressive, modern society that someone’s first reaction to seeing a woman with a bruise on her arm is that an abusive boyfriend caused it? Why did each person who confronted me feel so compelled to investigate my explanation as if it were a lie?

Some men (and women) ask why we need feminism, why it’s still relevant or how people, now, could possibly still have concerns about the well-being and equality of women. This is why.

Not everyone who commented on my bruises was a woman, but every woman brought up abuse. Though masked in hesitant attempts at humor, fear was at the root of those comments and questions – fear that I had been hurt, fear that I wouldn’t tell the truth if I had been, fear that abuse was happening close to them. It was as if my bruises were a dark reminder to all of these women that the scenario, no matter how we joke about it, is not unheard of today.

It saddens me that mentioning abuse is a knee-jerk reaction to visible injuries on women. This is not to say that abuse doesn’t also happen to people of another gender or in non-heterosexual relationships; it can happen to anyone in any kind of interaction. But, we cannot sit and say that feminism has no purpose anymore or that women’s voices aren’t reactive.

Until I can show off my casualties of a good day at the gym or a laughable trip without being interrogated, we’re not done here.

Let’s keep working.