The day I fought back my abusive ex-boyfriend is the day I will remember for the rest of my life.
In 2011, when I was seventeen, I got together with my first boyfriend. He was twenty-one, four years my senior. He had a car, he went to an international college, and he came from a wealthy family. I felt like I hit the jackpot.
Or so I thought.
As time went by, the romantic person I knew disappeared. He became abusive. He never laid hands on me, but whenever we argued, he would hit things and curse at me. He would get irrationally jealous over all my guy friends (even those that he knew), and he didn’t like it when I was hanging out with my girlfriends either.
I have lost count of how many times I have cried during the relationship. Many times I tried to break up with him, but I couldn’t. He would hunt me down, he wouldn’t leave me alone, and I just grew afraid of him.
Literally, everything that I did, including wanting to go out with my family, I had to ask for his permission.
At the end of 2011, I finished Malaysia’s national exam (SPM). Growing up as a Singaporean, going into college immediately after that would mean paying expensive international student fees. Hence, I waited until I received my citizenship so I could enrol as a Malaysian instead.
In the two-and-a-half years I wasn’t working or studying, I spent a lot of time reading and writing. It during this time that I discovered feminism, albeit it was Islamic feminism.
It happened after an online debate that sparked between me and a militant atheist who said Islam oppressed women.
In exploring Islamic feminism, I met many prominent women leaders in Malaysia, including Marina Mahathir, the daughter of our current Prime Minister. She asked me to come over to her place for Aidilfitri celebrations and introduced me to her peers from Sisters In Islam.
I joined them as a member, the youngest at the time at eighteen, and they involved me in many of their workshops and discussions.
From there, my worldview changed.
I became a strong advocate of women’s empowerment and women’s rights after learning about the many unjust Malaysian laws that disadvantaged women.
However, even though I personalised the “raging feminist” archetype online, in real life I was still that timid girl afraid of her boyfriend.
When I was nineteen, I gathered the courage to answer back to him. I grew older and braver, and finally, I couldn’t take his constant abuse. Instead of feeling scared, I snapped. And I was furious.
And then he said this:
“Ever since you got to know all these salty old feminists, you changed! You don’t respect me anymore, you b*tch!”
Wow, can you imagine? I answered back to him once, and it did not occur to him it was his shouting and cursing that made me explode. Instead, he blamed other people; women who were more successful and had more notable achievements than he ever did.
I will never forget his words. I will never forget how he painted women as the problem when they stand up for themselves. I will never forget how he painted himself as the victim, when I was the one who had to face all those years of abuse.
The moment he said that, whatever little respect I had left for him got thrown out of the window. And I knew right then, the image he had of me as the little girl that bowed to his every command had shattered.
Delving into the world of women’s activism, I had to hear a lot of horror stories about men abusing and subjugating women. It took me a while to realise that my abusive ex-boyfriend embodied those toxic traits.
Maybe feminism did ruin my relationship. Thank god.
What he said made me realise that there are so many men out there who expect their women to be their trophies. They don’t want a partner; they just want someone to be their arm candy. They want someone that makes them feel good about themselves.
They are so insecure about their masculinity that the only way to make themselves feel “like a man” is by having a woman to lord over.
He hated that I had a support system of strong women that inspired me not to take any bullshit. It pissed him off that he had no control over me anymore.
As time went by, I only became braver and stronger. We broke up on good terms, thankfully, but what I went through with my ex-boyfriend served as a lesson that I would carry for the rest of my life.
Thanks to him, I became an even stronger advocate of women’s empowerment. I’ve done many amazing things. I made a name for myself. I have achieved personal milestones and successes that I would not have been able to reach if he was still in my life.
I’ve been told by a lot of men that my feminism is offputting and it will make men avoid me. I’m not “wife material” for them.
Women are not commodities. We are more than just trophies and shiny things that men can show off. We have our own potential, opportunities, and dreams. A man who does not realise that is undeserving of our time.
If a man gets annoyed with or insecure about our independence and autonomy, then we don’t want them anywhere near us anyway.
We are not here to make men look good. We are here to live.
This article was originally published on Fearless She Wrote.