When I started to write this, in slightly less than six days, two women beloved across a wide network of Cleveland communities had their lives snuffed out by male relatives. Two days later, in my native Chicago, a man slaughtered his former fiancée, an ER doctor, along with a police officer and another woman, before killing himself.
Less than 24 hours later, a University Hospitals nurse in Mayfield Heights was found dead in her home after firemen were called there. It turned out she had been strangled and beaten to death before the fire was set; her 8-year-old daughter also died in the fire. Today as I write this, a suspect has just been arrested, a former neighbor “linked to unwanted advances towards [Rebecca] Pletnewski over the 7-month period where the two lived next door to each other.”
Two weeks ago, the Ohio legislature rushed to introduce the so-called “Heartbeat” bill in the lame duck session. It would essentially ban abortion in Ohio, at least for the non-affluent working women who couldn’t afford the time and money to go to another state.
Some people will scream and holler and object to the juxtaposition of these things, but they are intimately related. Because, even as we are celebrating the historic numbers of women who will be taking seats in Congress in January, we are also seeing a message coming down from (mostly) male politicians that women don’t own their own bodies — that their bodies belong to men, and that their lives can be taken over — or taken — by men who object to what they say, do or are.
The so-called “Heartbeat” bill, which would outlaw abortions after a fetal heartbeat could be detected — about 6 weeks — was passed with 52 men and 8 women voting in favor. Another bill is in the works which would charge a woman AND her doctor with a crime if she had an abortion. None of these bills provide for pregnancy prevention or care of born children. They’re all about control.
The idea that women don’t own their bodies, even in matters of life and death, leads to the dismissal of threats against them. We’ve heard often about young women accusing a campus athlete of rape, assault or harassment: he’s on the field Saturday while she’s pressured to remain silent, ostracized or paid to transfer quietly to another school. We’ve seen a star swimmer at Stanford who was caught in the act of raping an unconscious girl being given a slap on the wrist because “Think of his future” — not hers.
More than a decade ago, a story emerged about former Cleveland Orchestra concertmaster William Preucil sexually harassing a student at the Cleveland Institute of Music. CIM offered to cover her expenses to transfer to another school if she remained silent; Preucil continued to be a respected concertmaster and teacher until this summer when the weight of more accusations brought him down. What does that say about the relative value of bodies — and lives?
We will probably never know why Cleveland.com arts & culture writer Nikki Delamotte’s uncle felt he had the right to take her life when she came to him with open arms, seeking to embrace him as family, followed by killing himself. We do know that Shaker Heights sixth grade teacher Aisha Fraser filed for divorce from her husband, former Cuyahoga County judge/state legislator Lance Mason, after he beat her badly in 2014 and moved on to another relationship; this week he killed her. Dr. Tamara O’Neal in Chicago was killed by a man angry that he has lost his claim to her. And now we learn — as I suspected from the start — that Rebecca Pletnewski was killed by yet another man who believed that if he couldn’t have a woman she didn’t deserve to live.
In response to the death of Fraser — “my sweet, sweet soror whose life was taken this weekend” — Cuyahoga County Domestic Relations Judge Tonya Johnson Jones laid out some facts:
“As a judge on the Cuyahoga County Domestic Relations Court, the reality of domestic violence is something that I deal with daily. A woman is beaten every 9 seconds in the United States. In 2017, Ohio had 76,416 dispute calls placed to law enforcement which lead to 37,725 domestic violence charges. In 2009 there were a total of 415 filings within the Cuyahoga County Domestic Relations Court related to Domestic Violence. In 2017 that number was 1,083. This is a 260% increase. Sadly, we are on track to surpass this number in 2018. We can no longer ignore how we are socializing our young boys to treat women and how we are failing to address trauma and mental health within our society. We will forever repeat what we don’t repair.”
The #1 thing in need of “repair” is our attitude toward women’s bodily integrity. Until it becomes unacceptable in every aspect of our society to treat women’s bodies as objects for male control — whether by politicians or angry ex-husbands — nothing is going to change.