UPDATE 19 February 2018 at the end of the review
Link to my original online review here. It's also included at the end if you want to keep reading and not get off on tangents and too many windows.
I'm also including some contemporary (late 1980s) accounts of what happened to Charlotte Fedders in the immediate aftermath of her divorce and the publication of Shattered Dreams. The first may enrage you; just keep reading. Take a blood pressure pill if you have to.
Charlotte Fedders (née O'Donnell) had everything a nice Catholic girl could dream of: a magnificent home, a wealthy husband, five sons. She also had every woman's nightmare: a violently abusive husband. Reading the book she wrote (with Laura Elliott, a Wall Street Journal reporter), I had limited sympathy for Charlotte's plight for two specific reasons.
The first was that she had the means to leave him. She had an education and could work as a nurse, making at least a reasonable income to support herself and her children. Many women in abusive relationships do not have the financial means to leave their abusers.
The second, and somewhat related, was that she admitted in the book that she liked the luxurious life John's income gave her. The private Catholic school for the boys. The country club. The big house. The status.
It's been 30 years now since she left him and filed for divorce and the whole tale of his violence was made public. John was forced to resign from his high level government job and eventually went to jail for his abuse. Charlotte was reduced to bankruptcy and working in a flower shop. I still have difficulty getting past her admission that she stayed because the material benefits made at least some of the abuse bearable.
But that first reason came back to mind in recent days with the revelations about White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter and the abuse he (allegedly) inflicted upon his now-ex wives and perhaps other women. As Lawrence O'Donnell has recounted with the news, there are so many women who have endured physical abuse and who have been told year after year after year after year that it is their fault, that they need to go back to their husbands and make the marriage work, that it's a sin to leave a marriage, and on and on and on. Catholic, Mormon, it doesn't matter.
Rob Porter's wives did leave him, at least eventually. One of his romantic partners reported his abuse. But we still have people -- and I use the term rather loosely -- like John Kelly, the president's Chief of Staff, who support the abusers, who blame the women, who either lie about the facts in order to preserve their own position or who are so deluded by out-of-date religiosity (Kelly's claims that he was raised to believe women are "sacred") that they perpetuate the abuse and deny any protection to the victims.
Charlotte Fedders was one of those women raised in the church to believe in women's innate inferiority. To believe marriage to a man was a woman's sacred duty, her vows unbreakable regardless what he did to her. We ignore the power of upbringing, of religious and/or social indoctrination far too often, and we allow our own indoctrination to perpetuate the system.
It was that kind of indoctrination that brought Charlotte Fedders to the point of placing material comforts over her own or her children's safety. Her devout Catholic upbringing led her to put such a value on a Catholic private school education for her children that she could not walk away from abuse because it would mean giving up that benefit.
We look at the unshakable beliefs of the christian fundamentalists who know nothing else and we wonder how they can deny the contra-indicating evidence in front of them. It's easy to forget that many of us have similar beliefs that, though they do not shape all of our thinking and all of our actions, still have an incredibly strong influence on certain aspects of our lives. If nothing happens to shake them, we go on believing.
Charlotte O'Donnell grew up in a staunch Irish Catholic family. That's all she knew. Catholic teaching and Catholic beliefs infused virtually every aspect of her life. And thus those beliefs formed a strong part of the overall structure that put that overwhelming value on a Catholic education for her boys, so overwhelming that she used it to rationalize staying in that viciously abusive marriage to John Fedders.
If John Kelly had one tenth the shame that John Fedders had, he would resign immediately. (We won't even talk about Kelly's boss.) But John Kelly, who is no doubt as Irish Catholic as Charlotte Fedders's family -- or Lawrence O'Donnell's -- has no shame, no morals, no integrity.
A TV movie was made of Shattered Dreams in 1990 or so, starring Lindsay Wagner. I don't recall if I ever saw it or not. Charlotte's comments, after she had started to put her life back together -- she returned to nursing -- are enlightening.
This week, Charlotte Fedders is scheduled to testify on the Hill, explaining the effect such violence has on children.
"My theory is that if by some wild chance they never hear it, which is impossible, or never see it, which is a little easier, but still pretty much impossible, or never have it directed towards them -- most of the time if he's abusive toward the wife, he'll be abusive toward the children, which was my case -- even if they never see any of this, my theory is the woman is not in condition to parent as well as she should. So that is a subtle form of child abuse. And it affects them at school, it affects them in maturity."
Now she concentrates on helping her sons become "better men and good friends. I want them to grow up to be good men to my daughters-in-law. I'm already protecting daughters-in-law that I do not have. I have said to Luke many times,
'You are not going to treat your wife, my daughter-in-law, and my grandchildren like your father treated us.'
"I don't feel I'm a rampant feminist. I'm a human rights person. I believe that we really are all equal."
Link to original review:
UPDATE 19 February 2018
Charlotte Fedders, now 74, was back in the news today.
She was also the subject of the opening segment of The Rachel Maddow Show tonight.