To Read In Case I Am Ever Murdered By a Man

If I am ever murdered at gunpoint by an ex-boyfriend, or by some other man who hated me, here is where you can find evidence of motive and intent so that no one tries to erase the role of misogyny in my death:

  1. I have kept detailed journals for the last 12 years about who I have dated, who I have spent time with, and how I have been treated. My journals are both physical, written journals and Word documents. The journals can all be found in my apartment on my bookshelf, and the Word docs are clearly labeled in my documents folder on my personal laptop. Do not distort or doubt my words and fears. Treat them as a first person account of a life lived in this century, where we are closer to achieving human life on Mars than we are to eradicating violence against women.
  2. There are digital folders on both my personal and work laptops containing screenshots of harassment I have received online. The screenshots include emails I have received from men angry that I called out their sexual harassment, tweets from men furious that I talked about feminism and gender issues on the Internet, Facebook messages from an ex who wanted to intimidate me into silence. Note: Disturbing behavior on social media websites should not be dismissed as “just online.”
  3. I trust my editor Gabe Rosenberg, my former college roommate Leada Fuller, my co-worker Julia Fawal and my parents to speak to who has made me feel unsafe throughout the last ten years of my life. This is me officially deputizing them as key witnesses. Please be kind to them as they grieve, but do not shrug off their calls for accountability as the ravings of mourning parents and friends.

Let me state in no uncertain terms that I do worry about encountering gun violence someday at the hands of some angry, hateful man. When that day comes, I will not be surprised. This is not paranoia talking, or even anxiety. What may sound like the catastrophizing of a young woman with frayed nerves is actually full awareness of the world I live in. My hands are not shaking. I am alert and I am unwilling to leave this world with any doubt as to what has taken me from it.

Before you ask, no, nothing specific triggered this. I am not in any jeopardy that I know of, at least none more than usual. Reading the same stories day after day about mass-shooters targeting women makes me brutally aware of how much danger we all live in as do our jobs, attend church, see movies, go to classes, shop for groceries. That danger is even higher for people who are not men. Almost every mass-shooter who has made the news lately has a history of violence against women, or committed their shooting to murder a specific woman, or women in general. This is true from yoga studios to hospitals in Chicago, from California college campuses to baseball fields.

These shootings always make me think about the men I’ve angered in some way. I worry about two men in particular, men with documented patterns of harassment and hatred of women. They hate me because I saw through them, and there is nothing a weak, angry man likes less than being truly seen. I am not a paranoid person, and I don’t think they are likely to murder me, but they could be at risk of committing a murder-suicide. They are dramatic, arrogant people with persecution complexes and easy access to firearms.

Most women have some names, I think. Names of men who come to mind as threats. Men who have lashed out before, or men who seem to store their rage in their chests as they sneer and criticize. Maybe they’re men we loved once. Maybe they’re men who always scared us. Maybe they’re men who gave us a bad vibe but never did anything obvious enough to be considered “bad,” and so we wondered if we were the rude ones.

I am considering pursing a speaking career. Recently I returned to my college campus to give a talk about social media to a small class of students, and I imagined what I would do if one of these men burst into the room with a gun. I imagined what I might say to try to reason with him. Would one of the students call the police in time? Would I keep him talking long enough to avoid carnage? Would he kill only me, or would he take down others too? Would I have the confidence to walk right up to him with the gun in his shaking hand and say, “Tell me your side of the story. Tell me what you are feeling. Tell me where it hurts.” Would he figure out that I am pretending to care in order to save lives? Perhaps that would only anger him. Or would I freeze at the sight of this man holding a weapon and looking right at me? I think I would freeze. That type of fear would probably not bring out my best self.

When I mention my fear of being murdered by these men to my friends, I’m usually told not to worry about it because it will never happen. They don’t fit the murderous type. They’re too narcissistic, or all talk, or live too far away. I know that logically these are truths, but there is a larger truth too: that we can never actually know. Plenty of angry, irrational men commit violence, and plenty of angry, irrational men don’t. I wish my friends would instead respond, “Why do you feel unsafe? Is there anything I can do to help you feel safer?”

How many lives would we save if we listened to women’s fears? How many lives would we save if we taught people how to recognize the red flags of abuse and misogyny before they can escalate to domestic violence? How many lives would we save if we treated domestic violence as a warning sign for murder and mass shootings?

By we, I mean the journalists, and policy makers, and other men. Because women and nonbinary folks know this already. We know that angry men have angry voices and angry hands and angry weapons and that we need to placate them, apologize to them, never reject them too firmly, never smile too thin. We take up less space and stay quiet because we are told that we are overacting, we could ruin his life if we speak up, it was probably our fault anyway, he would never do that, he’s a father and a son and a hard worker and a promising talent. We know that we have reason to be afraid but we need to keep our fear to ourselves because for some reason our fear is seen as dangerous too. When women admit that we are afraid of a man, we are considered more dangerous than he is to us. What is my life compared to a man’s reputation?

Did Dr. Tamara O’Neal know she was in danger before her ex-fiancé shot her at the hospital where she worked? Did anyone listen to her? Could her life have been saved if we listened to women — especially women of color — when they ask for help and protection? What about Shana Fisher, who was shot and killed along with seven other students and two teachers by a boy she’d rejected? What about Janese Talton-Jackson? What about Caroline Nosal? What about Andrea Farrington?

If I’m next, will you listen to me? Will you listen to my friends and family? Will you call my killer a misunderstood loner who had been bullied? Will journalists report that he was such a smart, charming, attractive guy? Will I be blamed?

If I’m shot and killed someday by an angry, hateful man, will you read his manifesto, or will you read mine?

Hi there. My name is Ella and I’m a sex and culture critic. If you enjoyed this essay, you’ll be right at home in my Patreon community!

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Ella Dawson is a sex and culture critic and a digital strategist. She drinks too much Diet Coke.

6 thoughts on “To Read In Case I Am Ever Murdered By a Man

  1. Thank you for writing this. Five years ago a friend was shot and killed by her estranged husband. The last time I saw her, she assured me that his threats were “all talk” and promised to be careful. We’d have a drink and a laugh when it was all over. I will never forget that conversation. I will never stop warning friends about this danger. I will never forget you, Debbie.

  2. This article hits home to more women than we even know. I am divorced 9 years & still fear my angry ex husband will kill me someday. I have told my parents & close friends that if anything happens to me to look to him. It is a horrible feeling that never goes away & I am not a paranoid person. Thank you for bringing this out in the open.

  3. This is absolutely chilling and explicably relatable. I hope your fate does not come to a violent end, as I hope no woman’s fate does. Thank you for writing such an explicit manefesto. I believe you.

  4. I am nearly paralyzed with acute depression after marrying into and living in a crazy and crippling situation. And it was them against me. Who’d believe me?? The paragraph that begins with… “And by me, I mean the journalists…”. Might this article be the catalyst that drags me from my depth of despair? Let it be.

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