Tyranny of the male

 

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Category: Relationships Date: 29 May 97


Why marriage is unnatural - Part III

 

Firstly, thanks to the men for writing. Letter writer A: “(Of the) swinish, boorish, whorish behaviour of members of your gender, now gathered under your protective wing: Why don’t you ask some of your battered female victims whether they were not smacked before marriage - they seemed to have enjoyed it then.”

Dear letter writer A, in the five months of 1997, a police fax shows me that 142 women reported they were “smacked” as you daintily put it. They have also been variously chopped, burnt, had heads and noses bashed in, lost babies and arms and were bitten. Many don’t report these incidents. They, at least, are alive, so far.

Last year 21 women died from “smacking”. This year so far the figure is eight.

 

I didn’t want to write about marriage again. I was going to write about the pink poui trees seductively swaying like Tan Tan around the Savannah, their flushed blossoms (bleached almost white in places) shedding like confetti. Making mas’. But I can’t. I can’t write about this midway season of dry and wet, of suddenly darkening skies without thinking about those dead women. And I could have sworn they began to talk to me.

 

Then they came back at night. How these women must have wined like the poui, enjoying the effect their beauty, and movement had on their men. They must have turned their faces upwards to the sun and shied away from rain like the trees around the Savannah. They must have hitched children up to their hips, played Lotto and kneaded bread, swept their house clean, put up curtains for Christmas. So I went to the Guardian files to find out what happened to them. There are 29 stories in front of me. I don’t have space in this column for all of them. I hope they will understand that.

 

Nicole Agard, 24. Status: stabbed to death. “She managed to run to a nearby house but he followed her there and dealt several more stab wounds to her chest, neck, thighs, abdomen, back and finally he left the knife lodged in her chest.”

Natasha Jairam, 28. Status: burnt beyond recognition. “The officers believe that Jairam was in the middle of a love triangle that went sour.”

Savatri Balgobin, 39. Status: chopped to death. “Neighbours said there was an argument.”

Radha Nehora, 47. Status: head and arm chopped after she reported a man for breaking her jaw.

Don’t look away. You can’t have had enough yet. These women are calling us.

Sandra Sookrar, 23. Status: shot dead. “Villagers said there was friction.”

Vera Phillip, 47. Status: beaten to death.

Myroon Singh, 24. Status: beaten to death by her husband. “She told me he cuffed her in the face and stomach, stamped on her chest and slammed her against the wall.”

Devika Samaroo, 28. Status: stabbed to death. “Neighbours told the Guardian she was killed because she rejected the suspect.”

I hope I’m not boring you. The list is long, but I have room for just a few more.

Marva Ramkissoon, 27. Status: stabbed to death. “It is believed that her refusal to rekindle a broken relationship with a former lover caused a violent reaction which ended in her death.” 

Anita Sylvester, 37. Status: severely chopped. Two of her children murdered.

Sharon McDougall, 31: Status: decapitated. “According to reports McDougall told her friends after the lime that she did not want to go home because she was afraid of a certain person.”

 

Why? I thought. Why? “Get out early” scream the files to living battered women. “If you leave it too late, your flight may be the catalyst which gets you killed.” Some of the women cited here were killed by their ex-husbands and lovers. Several of the murderers subsequently killed themselves. They would rather kill and die than see the woman with another man. These murderers couldn’t deal with anger and betrayal, Some weird social conspiracy doesn’t condemn men who cheat on their wives. Once, at a social gathering a male friend said seriously, “There is no man in this room who doesn’t have an outside woman.” Men have always been unfaithful, while expecting chastity in return. If women thought like men, do you have any idea how many of you would be murdered and beaten up?

 

Women, men and children - all of us experience rage, betrayal, powerlessness. Women talk and talk about it - hence the term “nag”. Men hit. Children copy their parents. All-male gatherings, boys’ limes, simply reinforce all that bluff, bravado and machismo based on nothing but the fact  that they are male. Talking about cricket, “nice woman” and politics is no vent for feelings of insecurity, hurt, fear and conflict - emotions that affect all human beings. It’s all brushed under the carpet, ignored, joked away. A macho image at all costs.

 

Buy why the battering? I looked at the files. One dead woman was quoted as saying she had a child for this batterer because he helped with groceries. Walk into a boardroom, or a canefield, and the story is the same. Men earn more. Men are in charge. The unwritten contract is men are the main breadwinners. In return, even in homes where women work, they take ultimate responsibly for their children and homes. This suits the men. They tie the woman down with the children and keep the woman dependent. That’s why many battered women stay - for the milk in the tin. Women from wealthier homes may have it easier. They have legal and financial recourse. Their husbands may have more to lose from the matter reaching the police so they back off. Equally these women may find that because they have more to lose by leaving, they stay.

 

Then there is the converse. The clues point to men who want power without responsibility. And they are in a terrible jam, because they want the “freedom” to run around, but when they do that, they relinquish responsibly as the “man” of the house. But every time a man refuses to pay the rent, buy the groceries or shoes for the children, every time he stays away for the night with another woman, he erodes his power, because the woman has been forced to take over responsibility.

 

I believe that cruelty to other people always says more about ourselves than the recipient. Beating a woman then could be a way of men overcoming feelings of powerlessness, of overcoming a sense of emasculation. For those lightening seconds when he is chopping and raining blows he is able to assert himself. So when an emasculated man is faced with a horn there is no way out for him. He controlled her with his money, his sexuality, his children, but now he can only control her by literally cutting her down simply because he is physically stronger. Men have to find a way of dealing with their anger, not splatter it like deadly bottled up liquid on to the heads of those weaker than themselves.

 

Letter writer B quotes Simone De Beauvoir, “Marriage is traditionally the destiny offered to women of society. Most women are married or have been or plan to be or suffer from not being.”

Love and economics apart, women marry because they are vulnerable as single women and they recognise it. Women who have not married past 30 continually have to defend themselves, insist they like their freedom, are not ready for children. Not only are they easy prey for men, (married and single,) who are out for a quick physical release (like a burp), but unless they are high achievers they remain on the fringes of society. By our 30s we are regarded critically as if we have something wrong with us. We become “spinsters” with all its negative connotations while “bachelors” remain perceptually desirable, coveted - their exploits only make them more attractive. But if we play the field the way men do, we are labelled as “whores”. We operate in the midst of institutionalised hypocrisy - so ancient, so firmly cemented that it is accepted by both men and women.

 

And why shouldn’t men be hypocrites? They have everything to gain from it. They get to be middle-aged, wear gold chains and be Casanovas, escape from the drudgery of housework and do brainwork, abscond as fathers, work in first class cabins (wives safely at home) while they eye the air hostesses’ legs. Remember the days of slavery when the white masters got black foremen to control their own people? That’s what is happening to women who unwittingly perpetuate male tyranny. When we pretend we didn’t see our best friend’s husband with another woman, defend the indefensible in our sons, knock one another for not being good cooks or mothers, pull one another down and resent one another's successes, we perpetuate this conspiracy.

 

In the midst of writing this I saw a father holding his tiny daughter’s lunch kit, walking her to school, overheard a man (married 25 years) say, “I always miss my wife. The worst days of my life were when she was in hospital, and I had to hug a pillow for five days.” To men like you, I say we can’t beat this health risk to women without you. Protect your mothers and sisters and daughters and help them break the silence. And women, we’ve only got control over the next generation. Train your sons to talk, not hit. Cry, not kill.

 

Most of the poui trees are skeletal now. Scattered blossoms wither under a darkened sky.

 

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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur