I was 8-years-old when I first witnessed an incident that would later be described as domestic violence. I stood outside my house waiting for my friend to come out and play. Staring down at my shoes I wondered what was taking her so long. Out of the corner of my eye, I suddenly saw something move fast and disappear around the corner.
I looked up and saw my friend’s mother running towards me. She had no shoes on and had barely managed a chaadar.
I froze, unable to move or understand what was happening. Then I saw her husband, chasing her with a butcher’s knife in his hand, with the craziest look in his eyes. I quickly ran back inside and held the door open for her. She burst through and we bolted it as fast as we could.
Although I never spoke of that day until now or even mentioned it to my friend, I still remember it like it was yesterday. I remember her screams through the empty street that afternoon. How she managed to grab a chaadar to cover herself while trying to save her life. How my hands trembled when I bolted the door and the pounding of his fists. I remember him cursing at her, spitting on the door, and angrily walking away.
You hear similar stories about women getting abused and battered all the time and you read articles written by victims of domestic violence who were able to leave their version of hell, come out stronger and move on – and some who stay and continue to suffer. Often, you wonder why they didn’t leave when the violence first started. You consider these women weak for not realizing sooner how much time they’ve wasted. By doing so, you focus on blaming the victim and not the perpetrator.
Instead of asking why she didn’t leave, or why she chooses to stay, one needs to ask why some men are abusive in the first place?
Abusive, obsessive, and controlling behavior in relationships can stem from a variety of reasons. You cannot go back in time and fix a person’s broken family if that’s the excuse used for their violent tendencies. So why is it that most men get away with these acts? Why does our culture tilt in their favor most of the time? Why do we search for the reasons behind their actions, and not what’s necessary for them to stop?
Throughout our lives, women (myself included) are told to be more compromising, understanding, and tolerant of someone else’s behavior. That doesn’t, however, mean that abusive behavior is limited to men and women are the only victims. What that does in turn though is make women the main catalysts for abuse of other women in many cases.
Allow me to explain. In our culture, most mothers teach their daughters to accept what they cannot change, put their husbands’ needs first, and not involve her parents in times of major marital disputes. Boys are taught to be strong, protective, and expected to be future breadwinners. Unfortunately, boys are also allowed to make mistakes, and well, be boys.
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve witnessed major issues getting swept under the rug with the standard “you know how boys can get” excuse.
This mentality of covering up someone’s mishaps as a consequence of their sex is often the root of aggressive behavior later on. I’m not stating that all mischevious boys grow up to beat women, and all girls taught to be tolerant are helpless victims, but I AM speaking against the double standards used to raise children in our society.
The ridiculous stereotypes of our culture promote violence as an acceptable method of maintaining the patriarchal structure of a family. I am appalled by how casually some discussions are held in front of me about women getting beaten up by their husbands, taunted by their in-laws, and even more disturbed by those who narrate their own stories without thinking much of it.
To better understand this issue myself, I spoke to a woman married to a man who is consistently and remorselessly abusive in emotional, physical and psychological ways towards her. She told me how she tried to run away to her parent’s home but was no longer welcome because “a good wife takes care of her husband’s needs and doesn’t bring her problems to her parents’ doorsteps”.
Speaking to her was heart-wrenching because she actually now believes it is his right to treat her whichever way he desires because one simply does not disobey a husband.
By categorizing domestic violence as solely women’s issues, we release men from the burden that’s to be shared, therefore allowing this problem to remain intertwined in the fabric of our society. We give men the option to not hear us out because we’re somehow the only ones responsible to find a cure. Men do not need to be more sensitive towards this topic, but rather stand with us and create a zero tolerance policy. We need more brothers, fathers, and sons to stand up against other men who remain entitled and immune against all consequences under the mask of their masculinity.
Being a respectful man is considered a novelty when it should be the standard.
Being a victim of abuse is a social stigma, rather than an opportunity to punish the perpetrator. Teach your sons to be gentle, and kind. Teach your daughters to be strong and brave. Make sexist behavior socially unacceptable EVERY time, not when it’s convenient and a casual discussion in the comfort of our homes. Stand with us. Stand for us.
Cover image via witbanknews.co.za