Friday, March 06, 2009

For International Women's Day -- Empower Yourself by Choosing Your Relationships Carefully

Smart Women, Dangerous Choices

Some women are attracted to bad boys. They may be alcoholics, married men, or men with an attitude like Stanley Kowalski in Streetcar Named Desire, or James Dean in Rebel without a Cause. The worst type of bad boy is a convict or an ex-con and sad to say, there are many women who fall for these men. Why is that?

It may be that a woman likes an element of danger in her relationship. She could like the idea of taming the beast. So she chooses a man who’s rough and tough, or brags about his infidelities because she believes that she is going to be the one woman who will make a difference in his life. She will be the one who will make him faithful. She will be the one who gets him sober. She will be the one to change him.

That kind of thinking can be very dangerous. An acquaintance of mine fell in love with a prisoner. She was a member of my David Milgaard support group. While the rest of us were working to free David Milgaard, a Canadian man who had been wrongly convicted of murder and spent 23 years in prison, my friend, Louise Ellis, worked tirelessly to get a guilty man out of prison.

Louise met Brett Morgan at Milgaard's Supreme Court hearing in 1992. Morgan was a "jailhouse snitch"; he claimed that he shared a cell with a man who confessed to killing a woman that someone else was doing the time for. Louise admired Brett for coming forward. His motives seemed altruistic at the time, so she introduced herself to him after the hearing. They exchanged addresses and began a correspondence, which culminated in a passionate affair.

Brett was in jail for killing a woman in Edmonton. He had been charged with manslaughter and only served eight years out of his ten year sentence, thanks to Louise spending her hard-earned money to get him the best lawyers in town. How did he repay her? Brett went to live with Louise when he was released from prison. Nine months later, she went missing. I was part of a search team that went looking for her. Her remains were discovered in Wakefield, Qu├ębec three months following her disappearance. Morgan had strangled her after she intimated that she wanted to leave him. He was convicted of first-degree murder, but he never served out his term because he died of hepatitis C in prison.

Was Louise Ellis a fool to have taken a chance on Brett Morgan? Some people think so but I disagree. Louise was a 46-year-old freelance journalist. She was bright, pretty, spunky and spiritual. She was a dynamic person and a social activist. Louise gave Brett a second chance in life. She believed in him and he was convincing — I know because I met him. Louise wanted to save Brett. She tried to play Florence Nightingale and it cost her her life.

In the past, women were often held responsible for their own misfortunes when they met violent ends. If a woman was out alone at night, wearing a short skirt in a bad neighborhood, and she was attacked or raped, people would shrug and say, "She asked for it." We now recognize that archaic attitude blames the victim.

What can we do about this tragedy without blaming the victim or judging these women for their actions, but at the same time holding them responsible for making bad choices? We can all encourage the women that we know and love to take a hard look at the men that they’ve chosen as partners. Do these men have a temper? Have they ever struck a woman physically? Are your female friends constantly choosing men who have glaring flaws, hoping and believing that they can change them? No one changes another person. The only time that anyone changes is if he or she decides to do that for his or her own reasons.

We all have daughters, sisters or colleagues who might benefit from our advice, even if they don't want to hear it. Women who are consistently attracted to the wrong men may need counseling. Or maybe they just need to know how valuable they really are, and that it’s not worth the risk to be involved with a bad boy.

If we manage to save one life by speaking up, it's worth it. I'm sorry that I didn't voice my disapproval about Brett Morgan more emphatically to Louise Ellis. Perhaps if I did, she might be here with us today. By the time that she considered leaving him, it was already too late because that’s precisely when certain men become dangerous. Think of Nicole Brown Simpson. Neither Nicole nor Louise realized that they needed police protection after they told their spouses goodbye.

On a larger scale, women's magazines and Hollywood movies need to recast their male heroes. There's nothing sexy or romantic about an ex-con or a tough guy like Chris Brown. A goofy, kindhearted man like Ray Romano on Everyone Loves Raymond is a lot more attractive than Marlon Brando in Streetcar Named Desire. If we can get that message out globally, we could save some women and their families a lot of heartache.

Sigrid Macdonald is a longtime feminist and social activist. She is an editor, book coach and the author of two books including D'Amour Road, which is dedicated to Louise Ellis.

Visit her at www.sigridmacdonald.blogspot.com.

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