How Can We Help Women Recognize Abuse In Real Time?

Jennifer Barnett
5 min readJul 21, 2021

As opposed to waking up 20 years later and being like, yeah, that was really messed up.

If I had a superpower it would be to grant myself the ability to go back in time and punch someone who wronged me in the face. The thing is I can’t go back and punch everyone in the face as for the most part I believe in living in a civilized society free of violence so in order to live within my values I’d have to limit the punching to one carefully selected candidate.

It’s difficult to choose — the sexist boss who ran me out of my career? The 7th grade male history teacher who pulled me aside to say men preferred women with soft hair and bodies so I should stop wearing so much hair spray despite it being the 80s and my love for Madonna? The adult friend of the family who saw me smiling at a boy my age and said if I flirted with boys that way I’d get myself raped? All of these people are fine candidates for a swift punch in the face for sure, but I’m going to have to go with the male doctor on call the day I went into labor who shouted “no noise!” during my first push, admonishing me for having the temerity to make noise while in labor so I proceeded to push, silently, for 2.5 hours until my nine pound baby was ripped from my body with forceps. Yes, he is the candidate for the face punch. Fuck you, Dr. Cherry, POW!

Forming new alliances when traditional methods fail us

As satisfying as the fantasy of hindsight retribution may be, it brings me to the reality of today, when I realize I’ve spent a lifetime of dealing with fucked up, sexist and misogynist aggressions and micro aggressions that were rarely if ever dealt with in real time. At 49 years of age, I possess clarity of thought I previously lacked.

When I think back to all the instances above I remember feeling really bad. I felt like I was the one in the wrong in every single one of these cases and took the admonishments to heart, believing I needed to change and conform. All of these people had some measure of authority over me, and I was raised to respect authority. What’s unclear to me is when my perspective changed. When exactly did the veil came off allowing me to see with crystal clarity that I was…

Jennifer Barnett

Former managing editor of The Atlantic, Teen Vogue, Redbook, and Elle. Now I’m writing. Expat in Amsterdam.