A powerful piece that includes graphic descriptions of male violence
The word “breeder” means more to me than any word should mean to a person, but I guess that’s the modus operandi of slurs. I want to start off by saying that I am not a mother. I am not a mother and I will never be a mother, by choice, in large part due to the word “breeder.” I wanted to write this post for *my* mother, and for the mother I’ll never be but could have been, had that pesky little word not informed my worldview so early.
Before I get into my personal relationship to the word, I’d like to offer up a real-time example of the damage that word has done to society, to the legal system, and to the media.
Enter, exhibit 1:
The title of this article is “WILKINSBURG MOTHER FACES NEW CHARGES.” Okay, I’ve clicked this article to read of the mother’s purported crimes, right Mr. Headline?
Now, here’s the first paragraph:
A Wilkinsburg woman accused this month of endangering the welfare of her 11-month-old son was charged Thursday with five more crimes, and hours later, the boy’s father surrendered on charges that he abused her and also put the child in danger.
Well, shucks… seems to me this story is less about the *alert!!* *alert!!!* CRIMES OF A MOTHER and more about the abuse the mother and child suffered at the hands of the father. Let’s see if I’m right.
Ms. Salter’s attorney, Blaine Jones, described her as “the victim in all of this.”
“She did everything that evening not only to protect herself from being assaulted, but also to protect her child,” he said.
Ah, so I was on to something there, huh? I had my suspicions. What is the father’s role in all this, pray tell?
In a criminal complaint charging Mr. Bryant, borough Officer Michael Bender wrote that police went to Ms. Salter’s home about 1 a.m. Sept. 13 for a report of a domestic dispute and a possible child abuse incident.
According to the complaint, Ms. Salter told police she was asleep in bed with her son, Daviere, when Mr. Bryant forced his way in, walked up to her room and pushed the TV off the dresser and onto the bed, striking the boy in the head.
Ms. Salter told police he left, and she put the boy in a car seat and placed him on the back porch while she packed some items to leave, the complaint continues. Mr. Bryant arrived minutes later saying, “Why did you hit my son?” and hit Ms. Salter, police wrote.
Sweet child, what happened to you?
Officer Bender wrote in another criminal complaint for Ms. Salter that he arrived to find “a small child lying on the bed with large bruising and bleeding wounds to his head and face.”
The child was taken to Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, where staff found “a tear inside his mouth from an object being shoved with great force into his mouth,” the officer wrote in the complaint.
Hospital staff members “also confirmed what we had originally thought, that the child had suffered from multiple injuries over a period of time, because you could see various forms of healing on the child’s face and head,” the officer wrote.
The injuries, the officer continued, “were not consistent with just falling or bumping into things, which was the story given to me by the mother.”
Ah-ha! So, the “story given…by the mother” was a LIE! Surely THIS is the part of the article where we hear about the mother’s role in all this, right? I mean, “WILKINSBURG MOTHER FACES NEW CHARGES” certainly leads us to believe that this woman must be guilty of *something.*
In May 2013, Ms. Salter filed for a protection-from-abuse order against Mr. Bryant, claiming that he’d been “harassing and stalking” and threatening her, had broken into her home and grabbed her.
In April, after Mr. Bryant did not appear at a hearing, a judge ordered that he have no contact with Ms. Salter for three years.
In addition to the warrant in this case, Mr. Bryant had an outstanding warrant from March on trespassing and disorderly conduct charges and another from April on charges including sexual assault and burglary.
Oh. I see now. In fact, I see these all the fucking time, so I will share what’s obviously actually occurred here: the father abuses both mother and child, mother files a PFA which should have lasted until 2016, but the father shows up, becomes violent, leaves for a minute, and in this time mom tries to hurriedly pack necessities after securing the child in the car. The woman has an escape plan. This has happened before. She knows what to do. And wouldn’t ya know it, when the cops arrive, dad points the finger squarely at mom. “SHE did all this. I, sexual batterer and serial abuser, absolve myself of any wrongdoing. See that she is hanged for her crimes.”
The media runs this article with the title “WILKINSBURG MOM FACES NEW CHARGES.”
The word “breeder” is silent in this woman’s story, in this article, but nevertheless inextricable from it in ways I’ll get to after offering up some background.
I am a second year law student with plans to practice in family law in Pittsburgh. (Plug: if you haven’t heard of the agency KidsVoice, please get acquainted and share.) This Wilkinsburg mom, now being maligned by our city’s biggest newspaper via a misinformed, sexist, garbage headline, is someone I will call Woman X.
Interning for a judge this summer in criminal and mental health court, I saw many Woman Xs. A pattern emerged: man is violent toward Woman X, (other women, too), Woman X is too frightened to leave and fears not only for her life, but the life of her friends and family members. Woman X then bears children with Man Y and the once private hell in which Woman X bravely suffered, alone and abandoned, has become an entirely new nightmare, but one populated with a tiny new life that shows her a love she has most likely never knew was possible. This tiny new life is the seed that grows alongside her new thoughts, thoughts like tangled branches which, before the seed, only had purpose when providing shade, blocking the sun. For the first time, with the possibility of this new life, those branches sprout flowers and bear leaves, and Woman X whispers to herself, wistfully, “She leaves.”
Most Woman Xers say the same thing when we see them in court filing PFAs: “It was one thing when he hit me, I could take it, but when I realized the children were in danger…” then quietly trail off, knowingly, humiliated. Woman X bears the sad, hardened countenance of a shell shocked soldier, but one who put make up on that morning, curled her hair, put on jewelry, shaved her legs, and tried to pick out an outfit that could communicate to the judge what she was too ashamed to have to ask for, something that says, “Please believe me, find me credible.” Does this blouse make me look like I’m telling the truth? It is almost invariably due to the birth of her children that Woman X begins to think: “Maybe I don’t have to live like this anymore… how far would he go with Baby X? I can’t afford to pay for a disabled child by myself…”
And so Woman X summons the courage to file a PFA, knowing all the while that an act so brazen, so unlike her submissive, battered nature, is sure to douse gasoline all over the fires raging around her. Man Y will see this as an attack and will want revenge. Woman X knows this. For the millionth time in her life, Woman X is between Scylla and Charybdis: don’t file, suffer the continuous abuse of you and your child with no end in sight; file, risk enraging him further — to the point of mortal danger — but at the very least maybe, just MAYBE, she can gain some type of recourse against him if he violates the order…assuming she and her child walk away with their lives after such a choice.
The sad truth is, PFAs and restraining orders do nothing to stop a man intent on harming you from doing so. As the bodies of women and children continue to pile up, this should outrage someone other than me. Even more enraging is the tale-as-old-as-time tactic abusers always use and frequently get away with: pointing the finger at a Bad Mommy. People come out with their pitchforks and torches for Bad Mommies, and Man Y uses this to his advantage with a smugness that would revolt you. I can’t tell you how many men I’ve heard justify their abuse by twisting everything around to make it seem as if his “stopping” her was really just a valiant act to protect the child from his/her bad, bad mommy. This is why so many women get arrested with their abusers. This is how so many children end up temporarily orphaned and left to agencies or to the state.
The child is in the care of the Office of Children, Youth and Families, she said. Mr. Bryant told his attorney that Ms. Salter is four months’ pregnant with his child, Ms. Williams said.
The cycle continues, and with it, a new life I wish I could rescue before it became another target for dad. I have to remind myself constantly that in two years I will be passing the bar. To calm down, I have to repeat with quiet fury, “One day, I will come for you. I’m on my way.”
The treatment of women, in particular mothers, by the media, by the “justice” system, and by society at large should be viewed through the lens of that insidious, nefarious, vile word “breeder.” When used to refer to a mother, the word does three very powerful things: 1.) it reduces a woman to little more than a means to an end, a vehicle, a mere function, but one barred from ever serving itself lest it fail to constantly serve men; 2.) because it’s pejorative in nature, it connotes not the act of giving birth, bringing new life, displaying power, but instead antonymous associations of emptiness and worthlessness; 3.), and perhaps most troubling, the sum of 1.) and 2.) creates a culture that separates a woman from her body via an erasure of the authority and symbolism of the body-specific organs that define her very existence in a patriarchal society. In effect, it is words like “breeder” that embolden headlines like “WILKINSBURG MOM FACES NEW CHARGES,” validate men’s abusive treatment, and justify the hostile actions toward female litigants whose peril and struggle is wholly ignored or misconstrued for the benefit of men everywhere.
My mother and I suffered abuse at the hands of my father, but she was able to divorce him when I was three. My childhood was messy and far too complicated to try to flesh out here, but know this: my mother never actually escaped my father. He stole me away and destroyed her entire life for years and years and years long after the divorce. It is because of him she spent years homeless, lost decent jobs, lost good men who wanted to be with her, lost me. And I am 24 years old and my father continues to berate, harass, and emotionally abuse me, though thankfully, the physical abuse hasn’t occurred in some time.
One of my father’s favorite ways of hurting me psychologically was to repeat the phrase, “YOU’RE GONNA END UP JUST LIKE YOUR MOTHER.” This cut to my core because of the disturbed things such a statement communicated. My mother is a very broken woman, struggles with PTSD and anxiety, depression, drug abuse. She’s also the smartest, kindest, most fascinating woman I’ve ever known. The irony is, my mother “ended up” that way because of the torture my father committed against her, the torture that, in the very moment he was saying it, he was committing against me. Without realizing it, he was saying, “I am hurting you right now and so you will end up just like her,” all the while believing he was saying, “You are just as worthless as your mother was.” He is, and was, too dense to see the darkness in that.
All my life, my father tried to brainwash me into making “mother” and “worthless” synonymous. Bad mommy. It had a tremendous and distressing effect on my child-mind. To my father, my mother was a means to end, and that end was me. To him, my mother was just a vessel for his rage, a vehicle upon which he could project the insecurities that consumed him. In essence, to him, my mother was a “breeder.” Nothing more and, on a particularly bad day, maybe even far less, though I don’t know what exists beneath that which has been erased.
My mother eventually came back into my life at 16 when she showed up on our doorstep, homeless, living out of her car. That day was the greatest of my life so far. I believed my mother was there to save me, take me away from my abusive father, my abusive grandmother, and the madhouse I so desperately needed respite from. After many terrible things I would rather not relay, we did manage to escape when I was 17 by moving (halfway through my senior year) to West Virginia. For the first time in my life, the two of us, mother and daughter, were truly free. We had autonomy and we had each other. Life was finally starting. We no longer had to live in fear. I basked in the newfound control I had over my body and my mind. So this is what it’s like, I’d muse. If you’ve never had control over your body and then one day, suddenly, you actually do, the most overwhelming, awe-inspiring sense of peace consumes you, and even as I write I can think of no analogue for the type of soul-restoration it facilitates.
But that all ended fairly shortly, as within my first month of moving, still 17 years old, the age at which my mother married my then-28 year old father, I discovered I was pregnant. To make matters worse, we were broke, and I was still on my father’s insurance, which meant that I would have to raise the funds for the procedure by myself so he wouldn’t find out. I had just regained control over my body, only to have that control stripped away in an instant. I was devastated, panicked, but most of all, I was furious. All that fear and indignation manifested itself in the irate mantra I screamed internally: I AM NOT A FUCKING BREEDER. I AM NOT A FUCKING BREEDER. I said this to myself. I said this to others. Though I did not know it then, I was using the abusive language of my father and flogging myself with it. (I still suffer from this. My mother does, too.)
My father has never used the word breeder, to my knowledge, but he never had to. He implanted the connections for me and forced me to listen to it over and over again as if professionally brainwashing me: your mother à worthless à breeder. Womanhood à worthless à breeder. He sealed his cruel words with strikes against my body, as if to demonstrate the physical manifestation of just what he meant… ya know… in case I didn’t get it. And now, here I was, pregnant. Shaking, terrified, saying this to myself and anyone who would help me or hear me: I am not a fucking breeder. Seven years later I can tell you what I was really saying was, I am not worthless. The conflation of “breeder” and “worthless” had become so ingrained in me.
Because I live in a country where I had access to an abortion clinic, because my mother is wonderful and took off work to drive me and sign off for me, and because I had some very generous friends to help me pay for it, I was able to have my abortion. I would not become, as I had feared, a breeder. I would not become my mother. I would not become worthless. This was my mindset at 17 years old.
But the trauma of this event, having taken place at such a precarious, crucial moment in my race for bodily autonomy, has never left me. The act of being pregnant was such a violation at that time in my life that I am incapable of desiring such a thing ever again. Because of my childhood, pregnancy, for me, is just another act of violence that I cannot control.
In summation, the word “breeder” is used by men to oil the wheels of domestic violence. It advocates for turning reality upside down and inside out so that Man Y can abuse his girlfriend and child while the headline about it will deceitfully disgrace the abused woman instead of calling foul on the real agent of chaos in that family. “Breeder” poisons the precious mind of the victim who, maybe like me as a little girl, used to keep herself sane by reassuring herself, “I’ll get out of here some day and I’ll have people who love me. I’ll be such a good mommy and everyone will be safe and happy.” If some of those victims really are like me, that dream will be violently squashed. I am not a fucking breeder. I am not a fucking breeder.
I am, however, my mother’s daughter. I turned out just like her. Radical feminism has shown me that, precisely for those reasons, I am one of the lucky ones.