An Open Letter to Penelope Trunk In Response To Her Post, "Zero Tolerance for Domestic Violence Is Wrong"

Today I posted the following comment on Penelope Trunk's blog, in response to her followup post to the domestic violence (warning: graphic photo) taking place in her household. (An earlier post by Penelope on this is here.) Note that this is slightly edited and updated from the comment and relevant links have been added.

Hi Penelope,

I owe you a great debt as a writer. I believe I have mentioned this before, but since stumbling upon your blog I have learned to challenge myself to be more open with my writing and to be more objective about its quality.

There is no doubt in my mind that you have the gift, it is rare, and I hope that you will continue to share it with the world for as long as you live.

So I feel that I owe you a debt. I also care. I would like to pay you back as you clearly want and need help and this is the mechanism you have chosen to receive it.

Also, I feel pretty strongly about women's empowerment and women's rights, and I think you are hurting us because you don't fully understand the potential impact of what you are doing. Maybe you think you are preaching personal responsibility, but I think your emotional blind spots make it impossible for you to be objective here.

Why does what you say really matter? Because whether you like it or not, or feel like it or not, you have become a public figure with respect to "advice for women." Both women and men listen to what you say, they consider it. And there is significant potential negative impact to some of the headlines you write:

  • When you say, "Don't report sexual harassment" and things of that nature, there is an impact that you may not have considered when you wrote the post. You meant, hey women, for the sake of your career, don't report it. But did you think that maybe male (or female) harassers would take notes and be encouraged?
  • When you say, "Zero tolerance for domestic violence is wrong," you mean that victims of violence should consider how they may be provoking it rather than helplessly throwing up their hands. But did you think to yourself that maybe popular culture would twist your words and that you would wind up doing victim-blaming?
In addition, when you exploit yourself - as in posting a revealing picture of your wounded body (I hope that you crop it) - you show disdain for yourself. As if you are only worth looking at if there is some exploitation involved - an injury is not enough.

As if a bruise in and of itself is boring. Or worse (the subtext reads) that the bruise is sexy somehow. 

I think you posted that photo because your father tookinappropriate photos of you as a young woman (you mentioned this in a previous blog post about deciding how transparent to be about your life). In some complicated psychological way you are punishing yourself by repeating the sin he committed against you, but this time with the illusion of control. Just like a prostitute who joins the profession after having been raped or otherwise sexually abused as a child.
But the outcome for other women, when you do something like that, is bad. You make violence seem somehow sexy and exciting and controlled. You hurt victims and potential victims too. So again, bad outcome.

Here is the advice part. Like I said, you are a gift to me personally. I follow your blog and see you have helped so many others. You are a worthy person and clearly a loving mother and wife who wants to do good. So here are some suggestions for you. I am going to post all this on my blog because I hope that other women will read it too:

1. Think 5 years ahead when making current decisions, especially when it comes to the safety of your boys.

Your boys are young right now. What will happen when they become pre-teens, or teens, and rebel, provoke, etc.? Will they be safe if your home is not safe for you?

Also, it would greatly benefit your kids to have a community of friends to turn to, physical or virtual or both. They need support too.

2. What feels familiar to you, and your husband as well, has a tendency to be inappropriate - and particularly when it comes to personal boundaries.

It seems like both of you came from families where the parents were way too involved with the kids, be it physically or emotionally. To you, drama and violence and craziness feel like "normal." So does over-closeness.

On the other hand, normal boundaries, stability, and a certain amount of distance feel like rejection. As you say, "you want to be missed."

Therefore, you absolutely MUST do the opposite of what feels comfortable now. Please get help to create some safe space in this relationship, for you, for your husband, for your kids. And some stability, routines. Think "No Drama Obama." That should be you.

I don't know what the status of the nanny is, but I would get someone to help you full-time to create a calming home environment for the children. You do not have to do everything yourself. And for God's sake, please either live in a separate part of the farm or get your own house. Or even your own bedroom, your own office in the same part of the house where he is. Your "cave."

Think about it: You are on a second marriage, you are bringing in two children who are not his, and he has lived by himself for many years without you. It is OK for you to live in a separate space to give both of you some peace.

Better a little distance than the constant fighting and making up.

The fact that you are counting the time between beatings suggests that it is something you wait for and that is an established part of your life, and that cannot continue.

3. Stop hating yourself.

You said that there was a lot of woman-hating in the reaction to your post. I read the reactions and didn't get that. It seemed like people were on your side. They are on your side. I am on your side. You were HORRIBLY mistreated as a child and maybe that has left you with low self-esteem. Of course! But you have to know, as Joel Osteen says, that YOU AREA CHILD OF THE MOST HIGH GOD. And that you are worthy of total and unconditional love. Believe me. If you have a predisposition to violence, if you are drawn to violent people, that is an illness that can be healed. But you, yourself, are not bad and never ever think so.

4. Use the blog and other writing projects as an outlet for your desire to provoke. And DO NOT include your husband or kids in the posts anymore.

At heart Penelope you are somewhat of an entertainer. You write the blog as "research" but also to spike our interest. In short you are a writer, you tell a great story. Please, restrict the drama to the blog. And keep your family out of it. Part of what has fueled your current problems is that you're mixing your professional life with your personal one, and they're two separate spheres.

On that subject, remember that your husband is not you. The things you love about him are the things that make him crazy about you. Stop doing those things.

If you are going to get in his face and jump up and down and break lamps over your head - what is really going to be the outcome of that? You do not have to perpetuate the violence that was perpetrated on you. Just let it go.

5. Don't confuse your intellectual ability with emotional skill.

Penelope, you are brilliant. But emotionally you have special challenges. I don't fully understand them because I don't have Asperger's. But I understand that there is a gap between your brain's knowledge of a situation and your heart's desire to do what it wants to do - whether logical or not. This is why you must get competent help in making important life decisions. And not from people who have contributed to your problems!

Overall Penelope - I wish you every good thing on your life's journey. I pray for you and your family, and hope that you all land on your feet. But please also know that your actions affect other people - your sons, your husband, and yes, the people who read your blog and are influenced by it.

Do the right thing for yourself because you are a child of the most high God. Do the right thing for the other people in this world who feel the ripple effects of your decisions. And please get competent advice from a professional as you make these decisions - and take it seriously.

Let us know how you are doing.


A tremendous fan of your work,

Dannielle Blumenthal


Image is a Joel Osteen magnet - source: (you can buy the magnet there)

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