By B.J. Fleming
1848: Elizabeth Cady Stanton stands before a small congregation at the Wesleyan Methodist Church in Seneca Falls, N.Y to deliver “The Declaration of Sentiments.” In it, Stanton outlined eighteen “injuries and usurpations” (The same number as the Declaration of Independence) done unto women by men. She also added the reminder that, “all men and women had been created equal.”
Now, in 2005, what is a truism to most, remains an issue of tension for some. At Pepperdine there is another woman speaking out for her sisters like Elizabeth Cady Stanton did so many years ago. Junior Brittnee A Stanton (no relation), has overcome a crucible of sadness, and is echoing those first brave words spoken in Seneca Falls decades ago.
She is acutely aware that every nine seconds, about the time it took you to read the last paragraph, a woman is battered in the United States. Growing up in Ulysees, Kan, Stanton had an abusive father, Bryce, who ultimately committed the worst type of spousal abuse. Brittnee’s mother, Tammy, was the target of most of the abuse, and she protected her children when she could. Still, the family dynamic was complex, she recalls.
Stanton’s brother, Connor, was “Mommy’s little boy, and I was Daddy’s little girl,” she says, “You could see it caused a rift in our family because Dad wanted Connor to be a manly man.” It was difficult for the family to resolve disputes because of this. “My mom and I fought a lot. Once she slapped me after we got into an argument and harsh words were exchanged. I said: ‘I want to be with dad!'”
The conflict, though, was deeper and more violent than friends and family suspected. “I didn’t find out until later, but Grandma tells me now that my dad said if Mom ever left, he’d kill her and kill himself. Nobody took him seriously.”
Nobody, that is, except maybe Mrs. Stanton. She’d witnessed the violence first hand, and took a life insurance policy out on herself. She planned to leave her husband, and worried for the safety of herself and her children. As much as a third of intimate relationships in the United States are abusive, but Mrs. Stanton was no longer going to contribute to this statistic. She divorced Bryce Stanton and sent her three children—Connor, Brittnee and Cambree– to live with their grandparents.
Then, on August 15, 1995, when Brittnee was 11-years-old, her father shot and killed her mother, turned the gun on himself, and committed suicide.
Stanton remembers hearing the news. “That is the clearest moment in my head. We had just gotten home from shopping and one of my grandparents’ friends drove up to the house. My grandma was standing there and he comes running up and says ‘I’m sorry. Bryce shot Tammy, and then he shot himself,’ and she dropped her groceries.”
A psychiatrist came to Brittnee’s aunt’s house where the family was gathered. “I remember her saying ‘I’m sorry to be the one that tells you this, but neither one of them made it.’ I screamed.”
Bob and Tammy Stanton had separate funerals on separate days. They were buried on opposite ends of the town’s cemetery.
Stanton was raised by her grandparents as stipulated in her mother’s will and benefited from her mother’s life insurance policy. But, understandably, she had trouble coming to terms with her parents’ deaths. “Junior high was a mess. I didn’t address my fears and problems, and it all came to a head sophomore year of high school.” This is when she began to turning her energy outward into the community. “I started volunteering at a shelter and speaking out against [domestic violence] and ever since that’s been my outlet – how I deal.”
She has continued her service through high school, volunteering at the Domestic Violence Emergency Shelter (DoVES) where she helped place women in shelters, answered hotline calls, and dealt with police reports. Her parents deaths, says Brittnee, “were a defining experience for me, they helped me find my vocation.”
Beginning with DoVES and continuing at Pepperdine, one of Stanton’s goals has been aiding victims of domestic violence. She has been active since her freshman year here on campus in a variety of activities with the overarching theme of feminism. She spoke at the feminist forum in her freshman and its founding year; last year she was honored during the Vagina Monologues as a “Vagina Warrior,” and this year decided to perform a monologue in the off-campus production to an audience including her grandmother. “I think Grandma was a little freaked out, but she liked it…It’s got a good message,” said Stanton.
During my interview with her, though, Stanton was careful about being assigned the stigma of the radical feminist. “I wouldn’t call myself a feminist in a bra-burning way,” she explains referring to the second wave of feminism during the socially polarized 1960s, “It’s more like women need to find a voice, and I especially want to give a voice to women who are victims of domestic violence…For me, it’s more about domestic violence than feminism, but they certainly go hand in hand.” ,p>
Stanton, a junior speech communication major and applied music minor is using her voice to give a voice to as many women as she can. She’s told her story at multiple convocations, and donated time and effort to help fight domestic abuse. Ruchika Mohla, philanthropy chair of the Tri Delta sorority (of which Stanton is president) said, “Brittnee is always contacting me to see if I need any new ideas or if she can help with anything. She is a very active, genuine, and concerned individual.”
Stanton is making a difference. Through her actions on and off campus, she’s attempting to raise the volume of the feminine voice in the Pepperdine community, and she’s having success. Over the last three years, there has been a small but present feminist stirring on Pepperdine’s campus. In the tradition of resistance to liberal social agendas, Pepperdine has shown some resistance, banishing “Vagina Monologues” to an off-campus theater. However, they have allowed continued meetings and club status to the Feminist Forum since 2002.
President of the Feminist Forum, Victoria Russell says future students, “will definitely have to make their own feminist atmosphere on campus as the administration is doing nothing to openly foster that.”
While it’s important to note Stanton’s success as an advocate for battered women, it’s also important to note she is not all business. Despite her trial, she makes time for fun; she’s still a normal 21-year-old woman. She has garnered the respect of her roommates and earned the nickname: Cage Dancer. “That girl has got one of the best booty-dances I have ever seen,” says Stanton’s roommate, junior Molly Rowe, with humor and awe.
Stanton sees there are positive results of her experience. “Anything God takes out of your life, he puts back in ten fold. Connor, Cambree, and I probably wouldn’t have been able to get out of that cycle. Cambree and I would’ve likely been victims…it set us free.” Now, Stanton has chosen to maintain a healthy, romantic relationship with her boyfriend from Kansas. “He’s got a lot of sensitivity toward me and he’s quite a gentleman,” she said with a smile, a blush, and a tell-tale accent.
Stanton’s plans for the future? “Music is my passion, but I like the wheeling and dealing aspect of it. I’d like to go to law school and be an agent and a lawyer to musicians.” As far as giving women a voice, Stanton continues to fight the good fight. “I’d like to do pro-bono work for women who can’t afford an attorney. I think doing family law would just be too intense, but I really want to continue to do what I can.”
Russell sees big things for Stanton.”I know Brittnee will continue in activism, and spreading the word about domestic violence. She’s a great public speaker and her inner and outer beauty make her appealing to everyone. Brittnee Stanton is going to rule the world.”