Domestic violence is a preserve of closed doors. Both perpetrator and victim will always strive to keep that door firmly shut.
Do you remember that video of a man who slapped his pregnant wife in full view of their neighbours? Feeling all ninja, he decided to drag her back into the house, he closed the door and beat her to a bleeding mess and eventual unconsciousness. Behind the closed door.
The door remains shut because the victim has been led to believe that the door must by all means remain shut. Women who leave the doors to their homes and marriages open are not good women, she has been told. She has been given the code of conduct that a good woman should abide by, and she has memorized it by heart. She believes that the punches she is receiving are a result of her silly shortcomings as a woman and as a wife. She therefore deserves them. It is embarrassing for people to know that she is not living up to her husband’s expectation. It is embarrassing for all and sundry; Tom, Dick and Harry to know that she is failing her husband, and subsequently, her marriage.
That door remains closed.
The door continues to stay shut until the abuse becomes unbearable and she cannot take it anymore. She might scream for the neighbours, anyone who will hear her, to come to her aid. She might grab the chance to fling the door open, sneak out and seek solace in a neighbours house where she will gladly sleep on the couch till morning.
Then she will go back to her home and pretend that last night never happened.
And then the questions will come: why won’t she just walk away from this good-for-nothing man? Is she waiting for him to kill her? Even if she doesn’t have a job and therefore no means to provide for her football team, si it’s better that she walks away and lives instead of enduring the abuse and running the risk of one day being found dead, maybe with kitchen knife wounds all over her body, or a split head resulting from being pushed from the balcony, or her body being found lying rigor mortis in bed after she takes an overdose of pills when she can’t endure the abuse anymore?
We will ask these questions because when it comes to domestic violence, all of us concentrate on the punches, the bleeding nose, the black eye that she tries (and fails miserably) to hide under the sunglasses, the missing teeth and the broken arms. There is however a part of this abuse that we turn a blind eye to: the part before the first punch is thrown.
We don’t focus on this part of the abuse because we choose not to see it or we just don’t recognize it. It is nonetheless the most damaging part of domestic violence, and it happens before, way before, that fist is clenched, before the blows start raining on her.
This part of domestic violence, this very destructive part of domestic violence, is where you will find a majority of us choosing to side with the perpetrator instead of the victim.
In perfect collaborative fashion, we will nod in agreement when he declares that this woman is not his equal. “And never will she be”, we will intone. That she is inferior to him. “Yes. She. Is”, we will recite. He has power and control over her. “But of course!”, we will agree. She should act like a proper woman and learn to do what she is told. “As she should sir. As she should!” we will all chant in unison.
We will help that man make sense of his abusive behaviour, but turn around and ask ourselves what kind of an animal he is to do what he does to a fellow human being. One he claims to love. One who has borne him children.
To this violent man, there is a way a good woman should behave. There is a way she should dress. There are places she should go and others she should never be seen. There is no way she could be going to bars, or having male peers, or mangamanga-ing around in the name of hanging out with ‘girlfriends’. If she gets into any of these bad habits, he will be offered free advice: keep your wife in check, he will be told.
We stand aside, to watch this man beating up his wife, while we shake our heads dejectedly forgetting that we helped hold the spoon when he was feeding his mind with derogatory thoughts about her. With hands folded across our chests, we nod along as he wields, in his own twisted way, the power and control that we convinced him he had over her.
When it starts raining blows, she will blame herself. Remind herself to be a better woman next time. She will check her behaviour, her dressing and her attitude. Make sure she does not come off as a know-it-all, too educated, or worse still a feminist. When the blows keep raining on her, she might try to leave. And please note that not all women have it in them to walk away from a bad marriage. Not all of them can risk carrying that ‘single mother’ tag everywhere they go. But she might try.
She will then realize that the same people who are telling her to leave her abusive husband are the same ones who keep giving her pitiful looks because she is single. They are the same people who will take every chance to ask why her children don’t have a father. Then she will not have enough money to feed her babies or take them to school. And that ‘single mother’ tag she carries around will get heavier and heavier. She might hang in there, tough it out and fight the urge to go back to him.
Sometimes, we will make life so unbearable for her, that she will choose to accept that indeed she’ll never amount to anything without her abusive husband. Then she will retrace her steps and walk back into the waiting arms of her abuser.
This woman who is pounded every single day to the point that she lives in constant fear. She believes that she is better off being battered half to death, than she is being single. It takes a really messed up woman to believe that.
Living with a violent man is like living with a snake in your house. You know it is dangerous. You know that one day it might kill you. But you stay put and hope that one day it will turn into a harmless bird instead. And you will pet it and co-exist happily ever after.
Before he throws that punch he has filled her head with words to tear her down. He has made her rely on him and need him. Desperately. It is difficult for her to walk away from him when she is like that. It takes a lot of mending for her to believe that he is not the key to her survival.
The real damage in abusive relationships happens before the physical assaults begin. The sad part of abusive relationships is when we as a society help the men become abusive to women. The biggest tragedy however is that we don’t even see it!