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In Celebration of Women Everywhere, #ChooseToChallenge

Lauren Penfound
By Lauren Penfound
March 8th, 2021

The following story contains depictions of family violence. International Women’s Day is a time to celebrate and honor women the world over. Celebrate our everyday hero women who are brave trailblazers in the most everyday situations.

This year marks the 110th annual International Women’s Day celebrated across the world. The hashtag you’ll see splashed across your social media is #ChooseToChallenge. Challenge gender bias, challenge inequality and challenge yourself to change. Speaking out when you see injustice isn’t always easy; it requires bravery. But every day, the women in our lives we see as ordinary are being brave, in so many ways.

More and more, there is growing support for women to be brave. Just one week ago, the Divorce Act of Canada was beefed up in many ways; most notably the issue of family violence – which disproportionately affects women – was finally addressed.

Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) accounts for almost one third of all police reported violent crime and women are overrepresented in that category with nearly 80% of those victims identifying as female.

Roughly every six days a woman is killed by her partner. Statistics Canada reports these numbers annually but bear in mind these are only the victims that report to police. Many women suffer in silence — not only at the hands of their partner, but also at the mercy of their words. The legislation added to the Divorce Act lends judges the ability to weigh psychological, emotional and financial abuse as heavily as physical violence.

In November 2019, I hosted an event, W.I.L.D, put on by my long-time friend, Richele McEwan. The event was centred around an amazing, powerful dance piece she choreographed to the stories of women who had survived abuse at the hands of their partners. It was moving, garnered a standing ovation, and brought to light that abuse isn’t always a backhand and a black eye. The women who shared their stories were brave and admirable.

With the spirit of that event still coursing through me, I #ChooseToChallenge society’s narrow view on what constitutes abuse.

Lauren Penfound, walking with her two girls, is so grateful for the community support. 

In my twenties, I fell in love. For five years, I had the kind of love story you’d see played out on movie screens: chance encounter, instant attraction, quick courtship. Everything was great.

Until it wasn’t.

Slowly, almost imperceptibly – the way that we don’t notice day to day how much our kids are growing – our relationship changed. Resentment crept in and kindness excused itself from our home. The silent treatment began. Days would pass with barely a word spoken between us. He began to wake between 3-4 a.m. and head to bed before I could get supper on the table.

My weight became the target of his displeasure. I was reminded regularly how my fitness level – or lack thereof – combined with my body shape was reflecting negatively on him in the community; it was affecting his ability to grow his business. When I pointed out that I was actually the same size and weight that I had been when we met he told me that he had chosen me because he thought he could fix me. He thought he could fix my ‘weight issue’. He told me he saw the potential for me to be what he wanted and thought he could change me to fit that image.

Then the arguing began.

It often centred around my job and how I wasn’t working enough. When I was offered a fourth shift at work, I accepted, in part to secure benefits for us. He told me it was a ridiculous choice to work four days and I should just work five days if I wasn’t going to work three.

Nothing was good enough.

One day, I wrote him a letter. I detailed how his behavior was making me feel, how silent treatment and pretending I didn’t exist felt like abuse and this behavior needed to stop. I remember sitting on the bed, him holding the letter, me in tears and he agreed. Yes, this was not fair and it was like abuse.

I was elated. Finally, I thought, we were going to move past this. Finally, we were going to rebuild our relationship. I convinced myself that he just didn’t know how his actions were impacting me. And now that he knew, he would stop.

But he didn’t stop. And it was then that I realized that I could no longer make excuses. I could no longer tell myself that he just didn’t understand the impact of his actions.

Slowly, I realized that he was the only person in my life that treated me like I wasn’t worth his time. At my job, with my friends, I was getting the positive feedback that I was smart and funny and worthy of more than silent treatment, snide remarks about my appearance and constant criticism.

We tried seeing a counselor, but it didn’t help. I could no longer subject myself to the life I was living and I chose to leave.

It was scary. I wasn’t sure where I was going to go; I was living in his house, rent free. I had no family in the area and I didn’t want to burden any of my friends. I also wasn’t ready to tell my story, partly because I felt shame that my relationship had failed and partly because I didn’t yet realize that what had happened to me wasn’t just like abuse, it was abuse.

After three years, I still struggle with labelling what I went through because for such a prolonged period in our lives, psychological and emotional abuse hasn’t been addressed as seriously as physical abuse. Making changes in places like the Divorce Act strengthens the support for persons who have been victims of emotional, psychological and financial abuse.

My name is Lauren Penfound and I am the new face behind The Nelson Daily Daily Dose. I am a 37-year-old single parent to two wonderful girls. When I moved to Nelson, I planned on completing my four-year degree in order to attend the West Kootenay Teacher Education program. Like thousands of best laid plans before this one, things went awry when I found out I was pregnant in late 2012. I finished the first 60 credits of my degree at Selkirk, often with my new baby in tow.

I worked for the Nelson Leafs for three years and welcomed my second child in that time. One short year after she was born, I re-entered the workforce, where I see so many of Nelson’s finest when they need building supplies.

Writing has always been my passion. I love to tell stories and especially enjoy helping other people to tell their stories. In addition to writing and helping people get what they need to build and renovate their homes, I adore baking and have been known to craft some truly beautiful cakes for birthdays, anniversaries or Tuesdays, because there’s no wrong time for cake.

My goals for the next year include launching my own podcast (in addition to the pod I currently produce alongside my partner) and I hope to one day publish a book.

I am bravely challenging the stigma this International Women’s Day knowing that many people will read this and think it doesn’t sound that bad, doesn’t sound like abuse. Others will wonder what I did to garner this treatment or downplay what I endured under the guise of it being one side of a story.

Now, under the toothier federal laws in the Divorce Act of Canada, this is that bad, it is legally considered abuse and it will have consequences.

I am so grateful to this community for supporting me when I needed it most and thrilled to have the opportunity to help the people of Nelson discover the amazing people that make up our community – our friends, neighbors and local legends.

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