Scold me once.


This is an image of a scold’s bridle.

Its origins are unclear, but it is thought to have emerged in Europe as a punishment for witchcraft. Women who spoke too loudly, who challenged authority, who argued with a neighbor, or who otherwise provoked anger in a man could be subjected, at the whims of the local magistrate, to be bridled and publicly paraded throughout the streets. While various designs gained popularity throughout history, the most gruesome included spikes on the bitt placed inside the mouth, designed to pierce the tongue. The metal headgear would frequently break the jaw, and the bitt would both necessitate as well as encumber the expulsion of blood, bile, vomit, or teeth.

While wearing the mask, it was impossible to speak.

A chain was attached to the side of the mask.


The chain allowed the woman to be led publicly throughout her community. Sometimes that was the job of a local official, sometimes the job of the angry husband. The public was encouraged to spit, jeer, and urinate upon the scold, as she was paraded throughout the town. In some countries, a bell was added to the top of the mask, to draw attention to the proceedings.

Used primarily in America as a method of controlling slaves, there are still documented cases of white women who were bridled scolds in colonial towns. The bridle’s last known use was in German workhouses in the early 1800’s. Several decades after we Americans had penned the phrase “All men are created equal,” several decades before we would think to extend this courtesy to those men who were not white, and nearly a century before we would begin to wonder where the women were at.

To break this down in a few short sentences: a woman who defied societal norms was considered a threat. She needed to be punished. Her punishment was equal parts pain and humiliation.

Now consider that this was used as a form of commonplace punishment for hundreds of years. Young girls in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries saw this in action. No one needed to warn them of the fearsome threat of the bridle; they saw it for themselves. Their mothers warned them. Some of those daughters grew up to be bridled anyway.

This is how a culture is created. How a culture evolves. Fish don’t know that they are swimming in water, and generations of women knew, in the same way that the sky was blue and the sun would set, that to be quiet was to survive.

And to be silent is to survive. And to be invisible is to survive. And to be shamed is to feel pain, and to feel pain is to feel shame. And in our silence we will survive, and we teach our daughters to do the same.

Ladies are quiet. Ladies survive.

They survive when they are Jill Harth, who was repeatedly groped during business meetings with Donald Trump, who “left the table to go to the bathroom” and “vomited” as a tactic. Like I have. Like many of us have. Because speaking up, simply saying “Stop putting your hand under my skirt,” just isn’t an option. Because pain and shame have been woven into our DNA for generations.

You know how when rape victims speak up, they are congratulated for “breaking the silence?” That they are often told by loving friends how “brave” they are?

That’s how deeply embedded this is. It takes an act of bravery to say “I was raped.” It takes an act of immense courage to say “I was forced.” It takes enormous strength of will to say “what happened to me wasn’t right.” And in case this point isn’t obvious to you, that is the harm that culture can do. Saying that you were raped shouldn’t be a source of humiliation or shame, any more than saying that your car was burglarized or your home was set on fire. Describing an assault shouldn’t be an act of bravery. It is, though, particularly when you consider how it is almost always met with skepticism and disbelief.

But that’s the funny thing about learned behaviors. When you live in a culture where a talkative woman can be dragged through town by the jaw from a metal harness, it stands to reason that it doesn’t seem particularly important to listen to whatever it is that she said in the first place. And if you try to make the argument that times have changed and we human have evolved, I beg you to remember that there are fifty-five women who have accused Bill Cosby of sexual assault, and people still wonder if they’re telling the truth.

Ladies are quiet. Ladies survive. They survive even when they speak up and are not believed, when they are Ivana Trump, who published in her fucking book in 1993 that she was brutally raped as Donald Trump pulled out her hair and forced his penis inside her. (His lawyers later cooly stated that this was absurd, because obviously, “you cannot rape your spouse.”)

Ladies learn to speak softly. Ladies learn to be Arianne Zucker, the woman in the now-infamous Trump Tapes, who flirted with Donald Trump and Billy Bush because she could not refuse to hug both men when asked. Who answered the question of which man she would rather sleep with by responding “both,” who laughed and charmed and stroked their egos, because that is the way that we survive. 

And I no longer have the energy to tell you that sexism is real, and not just a myth perpetuated by angry feminists. I no longer have the energy to gently persuade you that Hillary Clinton is held to a much higher standard because she is a woman. I no longer have the energy to reply to your Facebook comments that “all men speak like this sometimes,” and I no longer want to remind you that it is Hillary Clinton, and not her husband, who is running for office. I no longer want to hear you tell me that you are shocked by the recent behavior of Donald Trump, when it has been evident for years that he is horrible to immigrants and Mexicans and women and the disabled and black people and literally anyone who is not a straight, white, wealthy man. Because immigrants and Mexicans and women and disabled people and black people and all kinds of people have been telling you this, for years. You just didn’t listen.

And that’s the thing about culture. When you’re in it, you can’t see it for what it is.

In a few hours, I’m going to watch a qualified woman shake the hand of a bigoted rapist on national television, before the eyes of the world. And she will smile, because that is the way that we survive.




35 thoughts on “Scold me once.

  1. I could not contribute when on Twitter everyone was sharing “first assault” stories no matter how many times I edited and rewrote and tried again. I just couldn’t bring myself to be that brave …

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  4. This is everything I’ve been feeling. I am sharing this on Facebook because I want every woman I know to read this. And I will have my 15 year old daughter read this so she knows she has a voice and it will be heard and respected.
    Thank you on behalf of all of us!

  5. My first sexual assault occurred when I was 15. The second when I was 20. They are very clear in my head, every last detail and I am 61 years old. Tell me you forget them. You don’t.

    • I did and I have. Until they came roaring back into my head suddenly when a friend was recounting her sexual abuse when she was a child; when I was taking an ordinary bath on an ordinary day; when I was immersed for days in the news cycle of two men snickering about one being able to grab the privates of any woman he felt like grabbing. Then they hit me so hard they practically knocked to my knees. Again.

  6. Very powerful post. I never knew about the scold bridle. I’d like to think the world has advanced since then, and maybe it has – but not enough. I recently had a co-worker, a beautiful sweet woman, who came to work every day obviously overwrought and exhausted. We knew she was having some marital problems. But we didn’t know her loving spouse was raping her on a nightly basis until she whispered it to us – after the divorce. No one should have to go through that, and certainly no one should feel the need to remain silent about it.

  7. Brilliant post and well argued. I am so angry at the world right now and my stomach churns when I think of Donald dRumPf. As a Canadian observer it sickens me to to see the very dark underbelly of American society where thousands of citizens – deplorables or not – believe it is now okay to give public voice to their bigotry, hatred and misogyny. And not just “voice” but these horrific views have been expressed through physical violence. Thinking people (really?) say that they hate his bigotry but like what he will do for America. Do what? Exactly what? He has not once outlined any policy of any kind. Make America great again? All this means is returning American society and culture into one where you can hang black men for looking at your (white) wife; where men can use physical violence to ensure wives and daughters obey; where the colour of your skin or the flavour of your religion turns you into an enemy of the state. “Make America great again” is about centralizing all power into the hands of wealthy, white, straight alpha males. Nothing more. Nothing less.
    Brava for your post. Brava.

    • This: “Make America great again” is about centralizing all power into the hands of wealthy, white, straight alpha males. Nothing more. Nothing less.

      I was assaulted for the first and the fifth time when I was 23. Working in the big city for the first time. It took six times for me to finally draw the line.

      20 years later I still get angry thinking about it. Mostly because I should not have doubted myself that first time.

  8. Great post! Excellently written. I’ve been pondering the “locker room speak” all day. And I know it was a term devised by the PR princes to try and get some sort of positive spin on the latest evidence to emerge to show the world exactly what the Donald is. However, for me it sums up his whole campaign. It sums up him. That’s all he is about – locker room speak – appealing to his fellow privileged, white male buddies – who are so put out because they are not masters of the universe anymore and don’t like the that they are increasingly being held accountable for their actions.

  9. Excellent read. It makes me think that this form of ladylike behavior also trickles into how we as women respond to “normal” situations. While the following example is nowhere near as serious as a woman coming forward to speak up about assault, it does make me realize that this culture of silence remains alive and unwell, even in the arena of simply speaking one’s mind.

    My cousin’s husband commented on Facebook the other day about how Donald Trump said “something stupid 11 years ago” and how he wouldn’t change his vote for something so trivial, with the tone of his post so dismissive and almost mocking of the fact that such comments could carry so much weight as to influence and shape a person’s viewpoint. My brain immediately did a hyperspace jump, and my fingers could not type as fast as my thoughts came to me. This man clearly possesses no idea what it’s like to be a woman in today’s world, despite having a wife and mother of his own. His blatant male privilege clearly impedes that vision, and it deeply affected me that he could disregard Trump’s awful comments so easily.

    I was so ready to respond to this family member, who has also uttered disparaging comments about women in my presence and online before, but because of the family connection, I hesitated to comment on his post. I texted my sister instead and asked that she talk me off the ledge of responding to his idiocy–which I would have done with tact, grace, and a lack of antagonism–simply because I didn’t want an argument or to cause tension in my family. And now, I see the connection that perhaps such a response results, quite feasibly, from the culturally enforced ideal of ladylike behavior and tacit submission that you discuss. Simply stated, this must not be. This must no longer be allowed to be.

    Women have voices. Voices for speaking and spreading words of love and intelligence and opinions that MATTER. These voices will be heard in November.

  10. Pingback: Breaking my silence | The Multicultural Nurse

  11. How I’ve missed you; it’s been way too long since your last post. Yours is a voice that needs to be heard far and wide, especially when it’s as powerful as in this post. I know you get tired of banging your head on the wall; that’s perfectly understandable. But I believe change is coming, due in no small part to honest and, yes, brave people like you who continually shine a light on this filthy, inexcusable culture. Bless you.

  12. AHHHH I feel like I’m just screaming into the void! How can we exercise our voices when they won’t listen? I’m so fed up, so done with all these people who would make my choices for me, who refuse to see the connection between “Locker room talk” and sexual assault, who won’t accept facts because they don’t “believe” them. November 8 needs to get here and put an end to all this. Except there is no end to all this. How do we educate such a large population of people who refuse to be educated?

  13. Thank you for your words. They are powerful. There is so much power in NOT being silent, not bowing our heads and taking the abuse. Thank you for myself. Thank you for my twin 15 yr old daughters. Thank you. Michelle Webster

    —————————————–From: “I Am Begging My Mother Not To Read This Blog” To: Cc: Sent: Sun, 9 Oct 2016 22:40:57 +0000 Subject: [New post] Scold me once.

    Katherine Fritz posted: ” This is an image of a scold’s bridle. Its origins are unclear, but it is thought to have emerged in Europe as a punishment for witchcraft. Women who spoke too loudly, who challenged authority, who argued with a neighbor, or who otherwise provoked anger”

  14. I am so glad we aren’t living in those times anymore. But yes, it’s amazing that people are so fooled by Trump. Alot of men do talk like that, but we really don’t need a president like that.

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  17. This post made me sit at my desk for a minute or two trying to digest what you wrote. This is so incredibly true and I cannot even begin to say how much I agree with your ideas.

    Your ideas that sexism and racism have been prevalent for decades and the more powerful people just decide to brush it under the rug and say it doesn’t exist, that we are the USA and everyone is free. It sucks that it has taken me so long to realize that inequality is still very real. I’m 20, but there is still a lot I don’t know.

    This is a great post, and I believe it should get a lot more attention because this is SO important. I hope this wakes people up because it sure as Hell woke me.

  18. Pingback: Pretty Terrible | Links Roundup 10/14/16

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