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Lady Justice, Mommy, and Me

The following article, by CWBA member Krystyn Hartman, contains depictions of abuse, which may be difficult for some readers, as Krystyn shares her connection to and understanding of "Lady Justice" in this deeply personal piece.

My love-hate relationship with Lady Justice began in 1973. I was 13. I wanted to liberate her, to remove her blindfold the same way I wanted to break through my Mother’s blind acceptance of the abuse put upon her — and by extension, us girls.


I wanted Lady Justice to raise her sword and defend herself, to defend our rights, the same way I wanted my mother to stand up and protect herself, to protect us.


But they both just accepted their blindfolds, their burdens, their abusers — and by their examples, they were telling us to do the same.


The Mommy Goddess


1973: Her eyes were shut tight as usual, hands shielding her face from his fist, the shards of broken glass from her framed Master’s Degree diploma sparkled, oddly beautiful, in her coal-black hair.


“You think you’re so smart!” He screamed, hurling what was left of the frame and torn diploma at my Mother’s head as she cowered in the corner next to the piano, her nightgown clinging to her, damp from sweat and spittle, the way Lady Justice’s nightgown clung to her shapely stone form.

“Why won’t you stand up and fight back?” I would plead, angrily, with my Mother, but she would only shrug in resignation, stone cold, like Lady Justice.


Her acceptance of her husband’s abuse horrified me. Just as Lady Justice’s, a goddess, acceptance of her own constraints, horrified me.


When I asked too many questions about the Lady Justice statues in my social studies classes, I was told to stop being argumentative, that they don’t have time to “get into it” with me today. (But then, I got that response a lot.)


“Why does a goddess, a woman, represent justice when women couldn’t vote in ancient Rome and Greece or in 1776, for that matter? What’s the point of the sword if she’s blindfolded? And why is she cold and wet?“


The boys in class giggled. Maybe the ancient Roman equivalent of middle-school boys chose the scantily-clad “goddess” as a justice mascot. That would explain the clinging wet dress over, what looked to me at the time like huge nipples, as in she must be really cold.


“Why would a goddess with the gift of knowing justice need to be blindfolded? Why would we cripple her natural abilities? And why would a goddess let mortal men burden her like that? I don’t get it.” I’d already read about Ulysses so had a general understanding of the mythology.

They were so much alike, Lady Justice and my Mother, both of them goddesses to me. But, then, aren’t most mothers goddesses to their little girls? To me, they were both lovely young women with extraordinary gifts — bound and burdened by the fears of men.


“What kind of woman allows herself to be beaten and abused over and over again? What is wrong with me?” I remember hearing my Mother’s voice pleading with the preacher through his closed office door, while we girls waited impatiently outside. Why wasn’t she asking what was wrong with her husband for beating her? No, she wanted to know what was wrong with her, herself.


I wondered the same about Lady Justice: What’s wrong with you?



Women As Mythological Life-Bearing Creatures


But then came Roe v. Wade that same year, a national celebration of a “woman’s right to choose” whether to have children.


Wait, what? We had to get permission from a group of old men when it comes to our own bodies? Ew! What they giveth, they can take away!


Are they going to beat us up if we get too smart, like my Mother? Burden us like Lady Justice? What is this world and why is this my future just because I’m a girl?


Maybe that’s the problem, I wondered, but dared not ask: The symbolism of women as mythological life-bearing creatures whose gifts, talents and powers are so vast and beyond the grasp of men that we are to be feared — and then crushed, constrained, kept cold and destitute, barefoot so we can’t run too far away. Dependent on mortal men for our food and shelter as long as we’re “nice girls” and “obey” them.


Lady Justice, like my Mother, had no answers for me.


Both of them were reminders of our nation’s dependency on the blind acceptance, harnessing and objectification of women’s bodies and natural gifts so that men can dominate, own, exploit, and play with us like dolls, lest we be free to evolve, to blossom, to call out injustice when and where we see it — and I was only 13 years old!


I didn’t want to grow up to be an abused and hobbled woman like my mother and Lady Justice. But what were my alternatives?


After only a few more years of abuse and molestation, at 16, I withdrew from school, packed a suitcase and left, leaving my mother and sister to fend for themselves. I saw no other viable way out if I was to survive, even if for a little while, as a free girl, free of men’s craven need to touch, to violate, to control, to brutalize. I was free. I was homeless and destitute, like Lady Justice, but I was not blindfolded and I’d learned how to fight back — and how to escape.


I used what I had. I learned quickly that if I could sing and write, I could eat. And if I could eat, I could survive. And if I could increase my chances of escape when cornered, I might just make it to adulthood.


We had horses growing up, so I knew how to ride. From there, I learned to drive anything I could, from tractors to motorcycles (still licensed) to airplanes (still have my tail feathers from my first solo flight signed by my flight instructor).


And survived, I did. Traveled the world, put myself through college, raised an amazing daughter, and built a successful career. Later in life met and married the love of my life who showed me that there are good men in the world, men who respect women, who encourage our gifts.


My mother, now in her 80s, free of her blindfolds and abusers, travels and speaks at church conferences, making sure that everyone knows that her title is Dr., proud of her PhD, as she should be, as am I.



Confederate Statues, A Reckoning


But, childhood trauma tends to pin our emotional maturity to an early age, so in 2020 and 2021 when the hundreds of Confederate statues and monuments were removed or renamed as a sort of “reckoning” of our history, I thought of my mother, of Lady Justice, as I eagerly awaited the statues’ removal from our halls of Justice — Releasing her, freeing her from the dependency and objectification of the mortal men who seemed to relish in her naked presence — and the women who blindly accept it.


But no one said a peep about her: A blindfolded cold wet hobbled goddess of a young woman was so baked into our national culture that no one even noticed — despite the 1400+ “women’s shelters” across the nation.


During that same time, I also watched in horror at the home security footage of my service-related disabled veteran daughter’s Denver house being SWAT raided by eight heavily armed men while on wait lists for treatments.


“The reason you don’t see women on SWAT teams,” the SWAT leader told me after I’d asked him why there was no woman on the team when raiding a disabled woman’s home, “is because they can’t pass the physicality tests.”


Thinking also of Lady Justice and my mother, I took a deep breath. “Then why does it take eight armed men to question one woman?”


He laughed. I thought it was a fair question.



Baked In, Like Hot Apple Pie


Maybe the word “men” in the Constitution was meant to be exactly that: men, not “mankind” as we keep being told and are expected to blindly accept. Another baked in acceptance of mortal “men” as the prime nexus for the rest of us.


A few months later, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died. A real Lady of Justice, a real woman who fought for us, clothed and without a blindfold.


My husband, aware of my growing sense of defeat, drove us cross country to upstate New York where I stood on the home porches of other real life Ladies of Justice: Susan B. Anthony, Harriet Tubman, Elizabeth Cady Stanton.


I knocked on their doors, pleading with their long-dead spirits to guide me, to tell me what to do, as I felt so helpless for my daughter. But, there was no one around, just us, the wind, chestnuts falling from the trees with a soft thud.


Perhaps its time to end this fairytale idea of women as fearsome mythological creatures to be conquered and subdued, terrorized, tamed, blinded, traumatized by legions of armed mortal men.


Maybe it’s time that Lady Justice remove her own blindfold, wear whatever she wants to wear and reclaim her gift of justice, justice with grace and intelligence, that she be allowed to look into the eyes, the souls, of her molesters, violators, abusers, that she finally takes her place — our place — at the table, in a soft dry cloak to keep her warm.


The USA is not a sports team in need of a mascot. We’re a nation capable of equality under the law in a modern world. We are capable of justice. And we are capable of recognizing and promoting our humanity.


If Justice is dependent on the blind acceptance, hobbling, and burdening of talented, gifted young women — or any group of people — then perhaps we need to rethink our idea of justice.


Mother, Mother, Lady Justice

By Krys, 1973


Mother, Mother, can’t you see?

He’s made of us his property.

Lady Justice, won’t you see?

They’ve made of you a mockery.

He spits in your face then expects you to screw

After beating you bloody, black and blue

They blind your sight and tickle your nips

and roam their hands on your marble hips.

Oh Mother, wise up! Fight for our life!

Stand up as a woman, to exist is our right!

Take off the blindfold and raise your sword,

Reclaim your peace, let’s end this war!

 

Krystyn Hartman is a happily married granny, mother, retired career journalist and big band singer with a BA degree in Russian Area Studies from the University of Texas at Arlington, who makes her home in Western Colorado. Over the course of her life, travels and education, she learned directly that war — hot and cold — is just a harmonic of the domestic violence we know is happening in too many homes everywhere. As Russia’s war on Ukraine continues, to Krystyn, it is like knowing there is domestic violence in Ukraine’s house and instead of addressing the abuser, Putin, we keep sending more cast iron skillets through Ukraine’s back door for the little missuz to defend herself against the primitive beast inside, determined to conquer and dominate her. She believes that the real Ladies of Justice in America, you, hold the key to our freedom across the world, the key to a civilized future of grace and beauty — and Justice.

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