A few nights ago, there was a fatal shooting at my local hospital. A couple in their 70s who had been spending the summer, as usual, in Northumberland County were patients in the hospital for undisclosed reasons when the husband, Tom Ryan, shot his wife, Helen Ryan, before being shot and killed by police. Immediately, there were vague reports released on social media by local media, and immediately, people began speculating.
The overwhelming response I observed was that it was a mercy killing where Helen must have been terminally ill and her husband, graciously, had agreed to end her suffering. Within the next day, the story was uncovered that Tom had been a “violent, horrible man” who Helen’s cousin, Connie Woodcock, had expected would potentially kill her eventually.
“I did expect him to kill her sometime. We are all shocked it happened, but not terribly surprised,” Connie told Northumberland Today’s Pete Fisher.
I’d like to believe that the reason so many people immediately assumed this to be a mercy killing is due to people wanting to believe the best about one another. However, I think that this reaction is also, at least partially, due to our culture’s tendency towards sticking our heads into the sand when it comes to intimate partner violence and unhealthy dynamics in relationships. Maybe it even has something to do with the dynamics associated with ageism, where few people realize that domestic violence is an issue for seniors who have been married for a long time.
Even with the #MeToo campaign going viral, and the more local expression of solidarity with survivors of gender-based violence, Take Back the Night Port Hope in the very recent past, there were only a few women I knew who were whispering amongst each other, do you think this may have been intimate partner violence?
The standard gendered expectations are often our default: he was protecting her. As it turns out, Tom Ryan had been controlling for a long time in ways that many intimate partner violence survivors can relate to. Helen’s cousin Connie told Pete Fisher,
“He had threatened Helen many times. She had no money of her own,” she said. “I thought at times that she was right over the edge too, except when I spent time with her she started to be more normal and like the person I knew as a kid. He completely had her under his thumb.”
This kind of behaviour is common in many relationships. Sometimes it is obvious to friends and family members, but often, it’s far more subtle. In fact, there are similar toxic relationship habits that are relatable for far too many people. Some of these habits may include:
- Feeling as though your partner is your “everything”
- Constant communication (phoning your partner multiple times throughout the day, getting angry when they don’t respond instantly to texts)
- Expecting your partner to solve your problems
- Expecting your partner to change for you
- Spending little to no time with your friends, only spending time with your partner
- “Keeping score”
- Being dishonest to “keep the peace”/Being afraid that if you don’t be dishonest to “keep the peace”, that your partner may be so upset that they may harm you or themself
- Threatening suicide or self-harm if your partner does something you don’t want them to/tries to leave
- You guilt your partner into doing what you want them to do/not doing what they want to do
Sometimes, it can be really dangerous for women to leave abusive or unhealthy relationships. Sometimes, it can also be really dangerous for men to leave abusive or unhealthy relationships too, but the reality of the situation is that women are disproportionately affected by intimate partner violence. And even more disproportionately affected by intimate partner violence is women of colour, indigenous women, immigrant women, queer women, women with disabilities, transgender women, and women living in poverty.
Regardless of identity, one way to work towards less intimate partner violence is to talk about healthy relationships. Some qualities of healthy relationships include:
- Regular check-ins/Setting aside time to communicate (being honest about what’s going on for you and asking how things are going regarding the relationship for your partner goes a REALLY long way)
- Respecting each other’s privacy
- Knowing and being able to list positive qualities of your partner’s close friends
- Thinking your partner has good ideas
- You trust your partner
- You appreciate and value your partners growth
- You support your partner in their goals and accomplishments that they’re proud of
- You can name things your partner enjoys
- Even when you argue, you are able to acknowledge that your partner’s feelings are valid and that they have some good points that you may just disagree with
- You compliment your partner
- You enjoy spending time with your partner
- You say positive things about your partner to other people
- You and your partner each have your own friends, hobbies, and interests, as well as shared friends, hobbies, and interests
It’s important to talk about these things. It’s also important to talk about the role toxic masculinity played in this murder, as well as in intimate partner violence in general. While women are expected in our culture to be polite, caring, and submissive (an expectation that is changing, but still systemically ingrained in Canadian society), men are expected to be the opposite. Strong, emotionless but for anger, controlling, in charge. Basically, constructs of masculinity encourage a kind of spiritual death that isolates and dehumanizes men, and feeds violent behaviour, especially in relation to women, who are constructed as opposite these highly-prized masculine traits.
While constructs of femininity have been and are continuously going through a radical reconstruction, constructs of masculinity, by their nature, have not evolved in the same way. Further, the radical reconstruction of feminine gender appears, in 2017 Small Town Ontario, to be causing a reaction in the form of hypermasculinity. It makes sense- an action results in an equal or greater reaction.
So let this be a call of anyone who bothers reading this to work harder on doing that work that healthy relationships require and to magnify is voices of survivors of intimate partner and gender-based violence.
And let this be a call to the men reading this to do that work required to redefine masculinity- because the current construct isn’t working for anyone, when you really think about it.
Resources (to be added to):
Healthy Relationships- LoveisRespect.org
50 Characteristic of Healthy Relationships- Psychology Today
Healthy Relationships vs. Unhealthy Relationships- Kids Help Phone
10 Habits of Couples in Strong and Healthy Relationships- Bustle
Worried Your Partner is Emotionally Abusive?- Everyday Feminism
10 Toxic Relationship Habits- Everyday Feminism
How to Recognize and Respond to Intimate Partner Violence- Everyday Feminism