Kellyanne Conway surprised precisely zero people when, during an interview with Jake Tapper Sunday evening, she heavily insinuated that “strong” women don’t allow themselves to be emotionally or physically abused by their partners—a message not at all off brand for a White House that has consistently defended, and reportedly offered protections to, domestic abuser Rob Porter.
Conway’s remarks came in response to Tapper asking her whether she’s worried about Hope Hicks, the White House aide rumored to be dating Porter. “I’m very close to Hope Hicks. And I don’t worry about her in that—in that respect,” Conway said, “I have rarely met somebody so strong with such excellent—excellent instincts and loyalty and smarts.”
On Monday evening, Porter’s first ex-wife, Colbie Holderness—whose photos depicting an inches-wide bruise across her eye made the rounds online last week—published a deeply personal and eloquent essay in The Washington Post that responded to Conway’s cruel and ignorant comments.
Here it is, in part:
Recognizing and surviving in an abusive relationship take strength. The abuse can be terrifying, life-threatening and almost constant. Or it can ebb and flow, with no violence for long periods. It’s often the subtler forms of abuse that inflict serious, persistent damage while making it hard for the victim to see the situation clearly.
For me, living in constant fear of Rob’s anger and being subjected to his degrading tirades for years chipped away at my independence and sense of self-worth. I walked away from that relationship a shell of the person I was when I went into it, but it took me a long time to realize the toll that his behavior was taking on me. (Rob has denied the abuse, but Willoughby and I know what happened.)
Telling others about the abuse takes strength. [...] Being strong—with excellent instincts and loyalty and smarts—does not inoculate a person against abuse. It doesn’t prevent her from entering into a relationship with an abuser.
Tapper tried to probe Conway about her statement, noting that “strong women get abused too. It’s just not weak women.” It gestured at a very rudimentary feminism.
But let’s go further and dispense altogether with referring to women as “weak” and “strong,” shallow words that gauge nothing about spirit or tenacity, a sense of self-worth or self-possession. Instead, they allow onlookers to victimize, to assign blame, and to strip agency. Leaving a violent relationship takes incredible strength. Staying in one is not a sign of weakness.
Holderness’s essay came one day after Porter’s other ex-wife, Jennie Willoughby—who also says Porter abused her—wrote a moving piece for TIME condemning Trump’s support of his former aide.