Jul 1, 2011, 11:56 AM
Women and children are increasingly bearing the brunt of violence, with men being the main perpetrators-as fathers, husbands, guardians, teachers, adults in positions of authority, boyfriends, partners, etc. But why do men and boys use violence against girls and women? Male violence is intentional, albeit not always conscious, behaviour that men and boys use to maintain power over and to control girls and women in every form of relationship, especially in intimate relationships. Put at its simplest, men and boys use violence to hurt, intimidate, punish, control and to force a woman or girl to submit to their will. Men's violence is learned behaviour over which men and boys have choice. Violence is part of a pattern of behaviour; a habitual response.
What shapes most children and adolescents, regardless of other circumstances, is the impact on their lives of their societies' gender-based expectations (how boys and girls should be, what they should think/want, what they should choose, etc.). Thus, male violence is rooted in the historic and cultural legacy of patriarchy whereby men and boys are socialised into believing they are superior to, and have rights over, girls and women. From boyhood men are encouraged to see themselves as different from women by rejecting notions of vulnerability, intimacy and nurturance, with emphasis being placed on 'masculine' characteristics of toughness, inexpressiveness and independence. Boys and young men learn that it is considered masculine to be strong and dominant, violent, sexually active, not to show emotions and inner feelings, and to exercise authority over women and children. Boys are often expected to support their parents financially throughout their lives. Also boys learn from an early age that conflict can and should be resolved by using physical and psychological violence and are also often taught to repress their emotions, with anger being the only 'legitimate' outlet.
From childhood, a girl is socialised to believe that she is inferior to a boy, is less intelligent, and is a source of comfort for the male who can abuse and misuse her according to his whims and caprices. Girls and young women learn that females are regarded as emotional, only considered adults if married and even then they are expected to be submissive to men in decision-making. A Girl's expected roles and responsibilities are usually associated with their future roles as mothers and wives. Society praises their sexual purity and unobtrusiveness, measuring their sexuality by a very different yardstick since they are expected to keep it well controlled.
In relationships with women therefore men see themselves as 'naturally' superior by virtue of their more 'valuable' traits. Their position of privilege entitles them to receive due respect. Echoes of this patriarchal tradition can be picked up in the currency of phrases we need and speak daily. It is not uncommon to hear men refer to women as 'the weaker sex' or as individuals 'taken from the last rib of a man' and therefore weak in power and judgement. It is the man who 'wears the trousers' in the home; men get ridiculed if they are perceived as being 'tied to the woman's apron string or under the woman's thumb' and there are assertions that women should be kept 'in their place'.
A very insidious and invidious form of violence against girls and women, but less talked about, is 'domestic violence,' perpetrated by husbands and boyfriends and condoned by society as permissible. Many myths abound about men's inability to control violent impulses and about women's responsibility for provoking men to violence. Our society, whose rules and orders are made and interpreted by men, decreed that a woman should be
'docile, prudent, decorous and pleasing' to the man in the house, and should she fail in her duties, whatever that means, he could find his pleasure elsewhere. However, often the most immediate manifestation of the man's lack of satisfaction with the woman of his domus is the bashing, the battery, the knocking down, the pulling down, the shouting down, the slapping, grabbing, punching, choking, sitting on, standing on, kicking, pulling and pushing by the hair or body, pinching, spitting and assaulting with whatever weapon is at hand.
We are constantly reminded by Sociologists and Anthropologists that the family is the basic unit of society, a unit ostensibly built on love, understanding, mutual support and commitment. Such a foundation is not supposed to allow brutality, physical abuse, battery or forbidden or unwelcome sexual relations against any member of that unit. Yet, it is within this setting that the woman endures the most tortuous pain and excruciating violence; a pronounced antithesis of healthy family life.
Society's attitude towards violence in the home is at best indifferent and ambiguous and at worst double standard and hypocritical. I have heard people argue that violence in the family is a private matter and no one, including the authorities, should intervene. I find it difficult to know where the line between 'private' and 'public' matter is drawn when it is about violence, humiliation and torture against a person. Monica Barnes, a judge from Trinidad, in an article entitled "Violence in the Family' asked a very relevant rhetorical question: "What is the difference in criminality between an unidentified assailant armed with a club who batters women on lonely roads at night, and a known assailant armed with a club who batters a woman within the constricting confines of her home with such regularity that she knows when she is to be bashed even before he enters the home? In the former case the police would be full alert. There would be neighbourhood watches and women would be warned to stay indoors. In the latter case the police often show a marked reluctance to interfere, neighbours withdraw into themselves and draw their curtains and the victim, though afraid to go outside, is even in greater terror by staying indoors".
Violence against women and girls in the family is a criminal activity and that fact should be well publicised. Men who are violent to their wives, partners and girlfriends should know that they are criminals and they should be named and shamed so that the whole world knows the inhuman and inhumane treatment they are meting out to the group of society that 'holds half the sky'. No one should shield them. A wife batterer should know that he is indulging in criminal conduct. And since organisations and institutions do not employ criminals, they should not also employ wife beaters since they too have known criminal tendencies. The police officer who beats his wife or partner must be seen as a criminal in the same manner as he sees the 'bumster' who snatches away the purse of a tourist. The religious preacher who beats his wife must be seen as a criminal in the same way that he sees the alcoholic who refuses to repent. The tax collector who beats his wife must be seen as a criminal in the same manner as he sees the businessman who short- changes the
It should be noted, however, that violence in the family or home goes beyond physical violence. Women and girls constantly endure open threats such as 'if you don't shut up, I will beat' and unstated threats such as commands to 'cut it our!' And the person addressed knows from past experiences what will happen if she fails. Mind games-using body language, mood or expressions- are employed by the husband and boyfriend to intimidate wives and girlfriends and he would deny doing anything abusive. In the name
controlled. The man wants to control what the wife or girlfriend does, who she sees, who she talks to, what clothes or make-up she wears, what she thinks, how she should behave and who her friends should be. Sometimes the man controls the finances by keeping all the money or hands over to her responsibility for money matters but audits her every minutes, including how the 'fish money' is spent. At times the violence is psychological. The husband or boyfriend makes the wife of girlfriend to feel rotten about herself, treats her like a slave, takes her for granted and punishes her by sulking or by withdrawing or refusing affection or communication.
We must make violence in the home not only the business of the female folk but also those of men too. Everyone must speak publicly on violence against women and girls, in the family or other settings. We must challenge our male politicians to speak out and persuade our imams, priests and other religious leaders to preach against male violence. We must call out to the men in their professional associations and clubs and dare them to speak out. Every man and every boy must be made to realise the price they ask their women to pay so that their machismo remains intact.
It must be shouted at every street corner, preached from every pulpit, debated in every forum that domestic violence will not be tolerated in our civilised society and that those who act in breach will face the full force of the criminal law. The victims must not remain anonymous or faceless. We have to encourage the victims to talk about their experiences and their fears, and assist them to find strength in their adversity. Men and boys must join the fight because our women and girls have suffered so greatly because of violence and for so long have wept in secret at the brutality of their men.
Let each woman hold up the mirror to her man's face. Does she really admire the man in the mirror? No more hiding or justification of a wanton wrong. Women must realise that their reticence shields the criminal. Women must know that their misplaced feelings of guilt protect the man from accepting responsibility for the violence and changing for the better. Victims must know that the guilt and shame is not theirs and that they need carry no one else's burden. Let's all come clean and work together, determined to restore the dignity and unique integrity of the family.
Every woman and every girl must believe, like Nora in Henrik Ibsen's 'A Doll's House,' that she is not just a wife and a mother but 'first of all a human being' just as much as a man is. Every woman and every girl should refuse to be a piece of furniture, a nurse, a doll, a doormat or a songbird to his man. The home should no longer be the circumference of any woman or girl, even if it remains her center.
Let it be said again and again that 'stable, well-ordered family life will be reflected in national life; disorderly, haphazard family relations will have repercussions in the wider community'.