This is not a joke: there are some clear signs of emotional abuse that we need to address.
Melania, if you’ve been permitted to look at social media over the past weekend, you might have noticed we’re concerned about you.
First there was the Michelle Obama moment. Can we talk about that?
At first glance, it appeared to be an awkward gift exchange, where Michelle looked less than pleased that you shoved a Tiffany box at her. But we know our former first lady to be more gracious than that, especially since she herself caught Laura Bush off-guard with a gift at the 2008 inauguration.
No, if we take a look at the moment before you walked up the stairs to present Michelle with the gift, we notice a more telling exchange (or lack of one): you’ve been left unescorted. Not that you need him to help you, but it would have been a meaningful gesture of your partnership to have your husband wait to ascend the steps of the White House together.
No, he basically pretends you don’t exist until it’s convenient for him that you exist.
Michelle’s less-than-pleased look and stiffness wasn’t because of an errant Tiffany box, it was that of a woman seeing another woman treated like something lesser-than.
He poses you for the photo op, and you casually drape your arm around Michelle’s waist, leaning away from him.
Is there something you can tell us?
When I was a kid, I prayed that my parents would divorce because they made each other miserable. My father acted as though my mother was an embarrassment. They rarely even sat on the same couch together. It was obvious to me he was repulsed by her.
She always said that I looked just like her, except I was pretty.
It wasn’t until I was older that I realized that she wasn’t the one saying that. It was him.
Melania, there’s another worrisome moment we caught this weekend. Something the press has laughed off as a typical awkward family moment, but I saw it as a typical abusive family moment.
You were walking with them in the parade: him and Barron.
He was holding your hand.
At one point, it appears he’s gripping your hand and tugging you to move faster.
Barron is walking ahead of you, and he looks back, notices the hand-holding and slows down to walk beside you. You reach for your son’s hand and he snatches it away.
The headlines chortle “Hilarious!” They see a schoolboy embarrassed by his mom.
I see a boy who wants to protect his mom, but is angry at her for holding her abuser’s hand. I see a child who is starting to blame his mother for her abuse.
I see this because I did the same when I was a child.
“How can you let him treat you this way? Why don’t you leave him?” I would rage at my mother through lowered lashes and silent treatments and snatched-away hands.
Melania, can you talk about this with someone you can trust?
You didn’t ask to be first lady.
Perhaps you were praying he would lose the election so you could finally walk away.
And now you’re trapped in a prison of publicity and public servitude.
And now you’re trapped under the glare of the camera that scrutinizes and criticizes every expression on your face, just like he does when he’s not ignoring you.
Just like this moment here: a smile that melts into an expression of despair.
Is that what you look like when you lower your mask, Melania?
Is that what you look like when you finally get a moment to yourself to stare in the mirror, looking for a sign that the woman you were before him is still there?
Look: I may be projecting all of this. I may be filtering what I’m seeing through the layer of a childhood spent watching my father relentlessly grind my mother down.
But I want you to know, if this is happening, we see you. You’ll get through this. If you need to get out, there are people who can help, even in high-profile situations like your own.
And if you’re reading this expecting there to be a punchline, there is none.
There’s nothing funny about seeing a woman imprisoned in her own abusive marriage. No one, no matter who she marries, deserves to be treated with cruelty.
The only punchline here is a bitterly ironic one: Melania’s husband is planning to make dramatic cuts to federal programs dedicated to ending violence against women.
Let’s do what we can to help ensure the safety of all women—even first ladies. Educate your daughters on the signs of abuse.
If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, please contact the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. They have a confidential hotline: 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE)