5 October 2019
Any South African will have come across this slogan within the past few months with the spate of violent attacks on women and children that has swept our country with such a force. Is it addressed to the brutal men who deign to perpetrate such inhumanities against women; or to the authorities who do not prevent or effectively catch the offenders; or is it addressed to society who is inadvertently somehow a part of the atrocity; or perhaps it’s is addressed to everyone? The campaign certainly brings awareness to the issue, but seems to leaves us to work out the details.
There are so many different types of atrocities against women and children. Each of them is heinous and criminal to the core although they differ in intensity and nature somewhat. Today I want to look at domestic abuse. Physical and emotional abuse by men against their wives and girlfriends has always boggled my mind. This applies equally to men who are emotionally abused by their female partners. I will use the abuse against women as the context as it is more prevalent.
Many times, women reman in abusive relationships for years and years. Some leave and head for shelters in fear of their lives, while others forgive over and over again, secretly believing that they are somehow responsible for, and deserve the punishment meted by their partners. Sometimes they remain with these men out of fear while their bulling aggressive men continue to abuse them, often begging for forgiveness and declaring love and regret afterwards, only to repeat the abuse. The women live in fear of the next emotional outburst. Throughout these perpetual vicious cycles, the men don’t fully understand why they abuse and the women don’t understand why they stay in the relationship knowing that it will happen again. We tend to focus on the men and their abuse and look at ways of stopping their violence. We want government to intervene. They pass a law, but it doesn’t stop. They have national awareness campaigns but it doesn’t stop. People march in the streets and it doesn’t stop. In truth abused women often find ‘plausible’ excuses for staying, such as the children. Staying for the sake of the children is counter-intuitive, as they suffer irreparable damage if they experience (rather than observe) the violence against their mother. That is a topic on its own. Financial reasons are another common excuse. Do they honestly think that there is no other conceivable means to a living? If he were to die, how would she survive? She’d find a way. No-one is completely dependent on another human being. To believe that is to place limitations on God and his universal power. He will be to us what we are to Him, so if you believe He will not be there for you, you fulfil your own prophecies in a way.
Another common excuse is to convince oneself that his abuse is a perverse sign of love. She tells herself that –
he does love her, he tells her so.
It’s just that he gets angry now and then and he doesn’t really mean it, and anyway she brought it on herself.
He makes up afterwards and shows her how much he loves her.
Sometimes he even cries…
These kinds of destructive relationships are complex and involve a toxic symbiosis. They feed off each other’s weaknesses. At the heart of the poison lies the weak man who wants to dominate and overpower to feel stronger, most often coupled by the self-hating weak woman who submits to the punishment she secretly thinks she deserves. Ironically, the abuser who is physically stronger is essentially weak at the core. We all know that the archetypal bully suffers inherent feelings of inadequacy and flexes his muscles to hide his weakness. The man most likely experiences intense emotional stress and feels so disempowered at times that physical bullying seems to him the only way to prove his superiority and control over a situation over which he has clearly lost control. He makes himself feel like ‘the man’ by exercising brute force over a female who is physically weaker than he is. Only, he never manages to convince himself that he is truly a man, so he repeatedly abuses. He most likely suffered some abuse in his life and can’t stop himself from doing the same to others. The woman on the other hand is completely disempowered as she enters this arena with no defence and the only thing she gains from the situation is the label of the victim. Her bruises and shame are her covert badges to elicit sympathy and self-pity. She feels shame, and fears the judgement of others yet finds herself nurturing her sense of victimhood. It must mean therefore that the package of shame, pity and self-loathing must serve her is some way, otherwise she would have left at ANY cost. Although some women do leave and begin again, bravo! others clothe themselves with victim status and choose to stay in the harmful relationship or make some feeble attempt to leave, only to return again. She most likely carries around guilt of doing something unforgivable to herself, having fallen foul somehow of the rules that were thrown at her as a little girl. This vicious cycle feeds both partners’ deep emotional needs. One to regain power through abuse and domination and the other, to punish herself for being the bad person she thinks she truly is. These emotions don’t resolve themselves if the partnership or marriage breaks up. The abusive, emotionally damaged, disempowered bully will undoubtedly find another willing victim to bully and abuse. Unless he deals with the essence of his problem, he will continue to manifest his dominance by finding another victim to abuse. The woman who copped the role the victim at a high cost to herself, will not suddenly uplift her self-esteem because she left the bully. Inevitably she will be drawn to another in one form or the other.
By nurturing the idea of the woman in this scenario as a helpless victim are we not doing a disservice to her and to women in general. Is society not perpetuating the notion that women are less than men in some way. We say ‘shame, the poor woman. She is subject to that animal!’ While she is physically weaker than the man, is she really mentally weaker? I’d say it takes some mental strength and tenacity to CHOOSE to stay in a toxic abusive relationship for years, even if it does feed a psychosis. I think of the Divine verse where God says (loosely translated) that He will not help a people until they help themselves first. This applies to both the abuser and the victim, as both are trapped in destructive and dangerous behaviour. Our focus on pursuing the abuser has not proven successful. Putting him in prison (if one can secure a conviction) will not cure the ailment that plagues his kind and society at large. When we say ‘enough is enough’ to the brutal man, should we not also be saying ‘enough is enough’ to self-destructive woman. Should we not be saying ‘enough is enough’ to both for harming their children. Should we not be saying ‘enough is enough’ to a society that breeds such disease? Should we not be saying ‘enough is enough’ to ourselves for not changing the dog-eat-dog value system that breeds this poison?
To effect change we need to first understand Why. Why these disempowered people behave as they do, has been the subject of literature and studies, and although this is a complex phenomenon, there is a simple answer. It is the answer to most questions. At the heart of the anger, fear and emotional turmoil lies the very basic need for love because somewhere deep down, there is a rumbling feeling of not being good enough… More next week God-willing, as I explore other types of abuse, like rape and child abuse and molestation before exploring the why and finding the common thread that links these and other atrocities against humanity.
With love always