Anna Maria Tremonti and Eternity Martis are iconic voices in Canadian media and both of them have shared their stories of facing intimate partner violence and the shame and silencing and stigma that came with it.
I’m Andrea Gunraj. Welcome to Alright, Now What?, a podcast of the Canadian Women’s Foundation. We put an intersectional feminist lens on stories that make you wonder “Why is this still happening?” We explore systemic roots and strategies for change that will move us closer to the goal of gender justice.
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In All About Love: New Visions, bell hooks wrote: “Abuse and neglect negate love. Care and affirmation, the opposite of abuse and humiliation, are the foundation of love. No one can rightfully claim to be loving when behaving abusively.”
These words came to my mind when listening to Anna Maria Tremonti and Eternity Martis speak to their experiences of gender-based violence. They joined the CWF, Women’s Shelters Canada, and YWCA Canada in a dynamic conversation with each other last week.
Anna Maria Tremonti is a long-time journalist for the CBC. She served as senior reporter for The National and hosted The Current until 2019. In February 2022, she published “Welcome to Paradise”, a podcast memoir — and for the first time ever, she disclosed her experience in a marriage to an abusive husband.
Eternity Martis is a journalist and editor who has worked with The Huffington Post, Chatelaine, Maclean’s, CBC, The Walrus, and more. In 2021, she published “They Said This Would Be Fun: Race, Campus Life, and Growing Up”, her bestselling memoir of her experiences with racism, partner abuse, and so much more at university.
Take a listen to part of their conversation.
00:02:13 Anna Maria
Your book really meant a lot to me. It was really important reading and I salute you for it. You say at one point that you didn’t know how you were going to express what you put in the book.
It might be a blog. It might be something else. Might be a novel. And then you wrote a memoir and I’m really glad you did. And I’m really glad you didn’t wait 40 years, like I did.
And for me, your podcast coming out this year was also a way for me to see my own experience in your experience and to see us as journalists talking about this was really important, and I know we’ll get into later about bias and the challenges and the obstacles to sharing our stories.
So thank you for sharing yours. It definitely helped me.
00:02:54 Anna Maria
So it did take me 40 years. I am now in my 60s, but when I was 23 years old, I married a man who abused me. I didn’t see it coming and when it happened, I didn’t understand. But I understood immediately he was blaming me for his rage, that he took out on me and he actually said, you know, you drove me to this, see what you made me do, and I internalized that immediately and blamed myself.
And so when it happened again and again, I thought, well, I should act differently, maybe if I just was, you know, I said something, I set him off if I could just find a way not to set him off, this won’t happen.
I lived in that marriage for a year and I say just one year because I feel very lucky that I got out after a year. A lot of women when they try to leave are threatened with murder. I was actually told if I didn’t leave that he would kill me, but I left and then I came back with, you know, plans make it better and he made it pretty clear in the way that he assaulted me the next time that he meant it, and I left.
I think that the thing that beyond the physical abuse that surprised me and I didn’t really identify until I kept moving forward, was the fact that there’s a long tail to that to this kind of violence, in not only who you feel you can trust because you’ve been betrayed by someone who you trusted, but also the idea that the shame and the self-blame that you carry with you. I’ve talked to so many people even since the podcast has come out and and everybody talks about their shame, the long tail of this kind of abuse surfaces in that shame and self-blame and makes people feel and certainly made me feel unworthy on many levels, even though outwardly I kept moving forward in a career. I have a voice that makes you think I know what I’m talking about, even when I don’t. Even my closest friends, when I finally told them, couldn’t really believe this had happened to me because we have all these stereotypes around who could be a victim and a survivor of intimate partner violence.
And what I’ve discovered, and what I understood early on, was that we pass each other on the streets every day, and we don’t understand that we share this kind of trauma and we still live in a society that wants to hive it off and wall it off as individual things. And that’s finally I got to the point where I felt I could tell that story and I chose to do it in a podcast.
In your podcast, you we talk about this, kind of being relatively new to love and to dating, and I was as well. I was sixteen and so I was very much an outsider my whole life, grew up multiracial in a Pakistani household. I was very emo, and there were no emo Black kids in my high school, and so I just kind of felt very lost. Around sixteen, I had a growth spurt, changed my style and I was like, you know what? I’m going to have a boyfriend. But I don’t think I had ever thought about what that meant to be a girlfriend, what a relationship was. And like a lot of folks who are from South Asian backgrounds or other cultures, we don’t really talk about dating and relationships and our families, and so everything I learned was from The OC, from Gossip Girl. It was all these shows where men were aggressive and they showed that they loved you through hurting you.
And so I met my boyfriend at the time. He was East Asian, and that was kind of the first barrier for me, that I had not realized that race was going to play a role in our relationship, which ended up coming out later.
But it wasn’t an immediate kind of physical violence type of relationship. It started very, I think a lot of therapists call it the frog and the hot pan, where I saw things and they felt internally intuitively like red flags, but I just wasn’t sure, so I never said anything. So it would be, you know, your friends are a bad influence on you. You shouldn’t hang out with them, so isolating me. You hang out with your mother too much. Why don’t we hang out this weekend? Sometimes it was pinching my legs. He would pinched my legs if I wore something too short so I wasn’t able to wear skirts and dresses.
A lot of it was emotional, so kind of keeping tabs on where I was, saying things to make me kind of stay in line. And I think the most shocking thing for me was, again, this idea that I for some reason didn’t think it could happen to me.
And there was no good reason for thinking that. I thought, well, I came from a home a great home. I have, you know I’m in school, why would it happen to me? And at that time I was in high school so I was teaching other students how to read the red flags. That was my job. So I was showing all these other younger students this is what happens and this is when you should leave, but it was happening to me and I wasn’t doing anything.
I ended up going away to Western University and a big part of the reason that I went was because I wanted to escape him. He actually applied to Western so that we wouldn’t be separated; he didn’t get in. And I was like, yeah, that’s my key, I’m going, and it had gotten to the point where there had not been no physical violence, but he was starting to threaten it and say, well, you know, I’m very strong, I could, you know, one punch and you would be dead.
And the reason that I moved away before breaking up with him was because it didn’t want to hurt my family and he ended up having a very volatile relationship where I would go to him and and then want to break up with him and a lot of that was because I was in a new environment. I was actually experiencing a lot of racism for the first time, being in a very white conservative Christian city, and so he was kind of the only person that I had and he was like a friend – like he was really my best friend. And this continued for a while and lot of my friends when I confided in them, we were all seventeen, eighteen, nineteen years old, and they also didn’t understand what that meant.
So I would say, well, you know he did this thing to me, and they said, well, you’re a Black woman, like you’re Black, why don’t you just fight back? And I quickly realized that there was an assumption that he couldn’t be an aggressor. But I was supposed to be the aggressor.
And so I kept very quiet for a while. He was kind of stalking me, showing up at my dorm unannounced. Finally, when things ended, they had become physical, and at that point I was doing my Masters of Journalism and I graduated from Western and I was kind of wondering, like you said, this this kind of long tail. When does it end? When will I feel like myself again?
Six years have passed. I’m engaging in all these self-destructive behaviors. I don’t know when I’m going to feel good, and so I ended up writing my book and realizing that in writing the book and doing the research, so many young women of my age so many of my peers were going through the exact same thing, but none of us could really recognize it happening until we were out of it and talked to each other. Women ages fifteen to twenty-four are the most at risk of intimate partner violence, but it’s still an age group we don’t discuss, we don’t talk about.
00:09:45 Anna Maria
And the parallel to me is that coercive control, a word, like a phrase I didn’t even know for the longest time. But that pattern of behaviors on the part of the perpetrator to start to control you to tell you they don’t like what you’re wearing. To tell to isolate you from your friends, to kind of make you feel that they’re not happy with you so that you start being aware of your behavior so that you are under their control, and that can happen regardless of whether you’re living with them, and that can happen when you’re sixteen, and it flies under the radar of the adults around you too.
You know, when you talk about red flags, the thing about red flags is the only people who can see red flags are people who aren’t there, right? And there’s no such thing. I think is a red flag when you’re in the middle of it, because you blame yourself or you, again, are in that position of control, and you know, the people who study coercive control liken it to being part of a kidnapping. Like, they have that same kind of grip on you, even though it’s invisible. The walls they built around you are invisible.
Sometimes your friends haven’t even been through that, so they can’t even tell you what the red flags are, but they’re going through it too, and so especially the adults in your life, they may not even notice it, or they may brush off that behavior as, you know, boys will be boys, for example, and so it’s just an endless cycle for all ages, but I think especially for younger people.
00:11:07 Anna Maria
Like we are talking about violent young men who then go home and, you know, may often come from families or situations where they have experienced violence. They’re not on anyone’s radar either. Their behavior at a point in their life where somebody could intervene is not being noticed.
Could you tell us a bit about how you decide to share your story and what you found with the challenges and obstacles and the success of doing that?
00:11:37 Anna Maria
Well, I had wanted to do something. I thought of writing a novel, like a year in the life, you know, yeah, like early on. And I just could never and I’d started and it just wouldn’t work and I would, you know, so early on I was scribbling and and I then I would let it go and I wouldn’t think about it. And then it would come back and I think I want to do this story.
And then I was listening to someone talk about podcasting. It was actually the guy who did S-Town who talked about doing a podcast and treating it like a novel. In other words, treating it like a story where you, actually it’s not a news thing, but you really actually look at it as a story and you use your audio storytelling to do that.
And I thought, well, what have I done? For decades I’ve told audio stories. And I also wanted to work with the therapist Farzana Doctor, who I worked with just as a touchstone for me, because I thought this would raise things that would bother me and I wouldn’t know how to, you know, how to express it. I was going to use a little bit of clip, but I realized she was such an integral part to me telling the story.
So I wanted to tell this story because I thought it was time to contribute to the conversation and I really thought that I had been contributing to the conversation by interviewing other survivors of intimate partner violence and domestic violence, but somewhere along the line, I felt it’s kind of like a lie because you never talk about what you went through and I had to do that, so I ended up doing it this way.
I had a friend who said, you know, leave room for discovery, which of course you always do in telling an audio story. And I learned a lot, but what I really learned was about myself. I identified that I had even more shame than I realized, and in the process of working with Farzana, I got rid of it so it not only hopefully helped some people, and people have written to me and it has, you know, but it also helped me in ways that I didn’t expect by being finally by being public.
Tell me your process and how it affected you.
I was very scared. And I think for me actually the hardest part of the book was talking about anti-Black racism being a mixed-race person and so this story to me felt very natural to tell because I had been telling it here and there throughout university I had done open mic and all of that, but I think what I hadn’t realized until I started writing it, until it was in that final draft and I was really in the weeds, was how much that relationship affected who I became and how I navigated spaces as a Black woman at Western University.
And when I was writing in the book, I actually had this like, you know, big dream of being like Carrie Bradshaw from Sex and The City and writing a dating book, and so that’s what my book had actually been when I pitched it, it was a kind of book of essays of funny things. And my editor said to me, you know, none of this is funny, right? Like, this is very dark.
And I had never given myself permission to see anything I had gone through as a serious because every time I did confide in someone about the gender-based violence, about racism, about how they kind of intersected, because it wasn’t just my partner, it was being out in public and hearing misogynistic, racist comments from people, and I realized that nobody ever let me feel what I was feeling.
And so, the reasons that I did what I did, the reasons that I did not do well in school, the reasons that I had anxiety were all related to this relationship. So it felt really important to share it.
I think I did struggle. I actually rewrote that chapter a few days before the final deadline, ‘cause I wasn’t happy with it and it was written a lot like the rest of the book. It was written as, you know, I said this, he said that. But it didn’t quite feel right, it felt like I was painting him as a villain, and I think that even when someone does horrible things to you, there’s still parts of that person that are human.
And I tried to look for that in his story and in our story, and I’m like how am I going to write this chapter? I can’t release this book like this.
And I ended up going back home to my mom’s place and when our relationship ended and he was actually charged with assault, I would write him letters because I didn’t know how to talk to him. And so I really read those letters and I was like, well, why don’t I write this chapter as a letter to him. Not, you know, not hoping or assuming he’d read it, but as some kind of healing for myself. And I think through writing that chapter and tying it into the other stories of young women going through this, a lot of women who didn’t make it out and who were killed, I think that’s probably when I realized that I didn’t deserve what happened, but I also had been working with therapists, and every time she would ask me, she would say, “Can you just repeat after me? You didn’t deserve it.”
I couldn’t say it ’cause I really felt like I had done something and a lot of that was my own shame, but it was also the shame brought upon me by other people making comments and assumptions and innuendos that I had deserved it. So when it did come out, I felt really happy that it was there and I felt lighter.
But I also hoped that if there was somebody who was younger and going through this, if the noise around them is telling them, you know, you deserve to feel ashamed or you deserve this, that they could read this and at least see some themselves, and that the perpetrators who are doing this and reading it may actually see some of their behavior in my ex-boyfriend as well, and that’s why I didn’t give him a name in that chapter. It was more of you and I are having this conversation.
Alright, Now What?
Watch the full version of Anna Maria and Eternity’s conversation, which will be available soon on the Canadian Women’s Foundation’s YouTube Channel.
Check out Eternity Martis’ bestselling memoir, “They Said This Would Be Fun: Race, Campus Life, and Growing Up”. It’s available in book and audio format. And listen to Anna Maria Tremonti’s podcast memoir, “Welcome to Paradise” by CBC Podcasts, available where you get your podcasts.
And do know how to respond to any sign or signal of abuse? Can you support someone in your life who’s dealing with violence? If you haven’t done it already, sign up to Become a Signal for Help Responder at signalresponder.ca. Almost 25,000+ people have signed up online to get tools, training, and resources to better support survivors in their lives. I often think I’m good at helping my family and friends – but I know I need to take intentional steps to be a non-judgmental responder to abuse. Even if it’s just about reinforcing what I know, it’s worth it.
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