marriage is unnatural - Part III
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.”
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.
year 21 women died from “smacking”. This year so far the figure is
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.
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.
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
Jairam, 28. Status: burnt beyond recognition. “The officers believe that
Jairam was in the middle of a love triangle that went sour.”
Balgobin, 39. Status: chopped to death. “Neighbours said there was an
Nehora, 47. Status: head and arm chopped after she reported a man for
breaking her jaw.
look away. You can’t have had enough yet. These women are calling us.
Sookrar, 23. Status: shot dead. “Villagers said there was friction.”
Phillip, 47. Status: beaten to death.
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.”
Samaroo, 28. Status: stabbed to death. “Neighbours told the Guardian she
was killed because she rejected the suspect.”
hope I’m not boring you. The list is long, but I have room for just a
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.”
Sylvester, 37. Status: severely chopped. Two of her children murdered.
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.”
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?
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
of the poui trees are skeletal now. Scattered blossoms wither under a