PART 2 of an exploration into the role of women within the family circle in being both active and passive perpetrators of abuse. Through complicity there is acceptance.
As siblings girls are already undergoing the social conditioning to “accept their lot as women”. Beginning from a very early age the best clothes and foods are “saved” for boys, they are often served first, given greater freedom to play, attend extra-curricular activities and travel. I remember the neighbour’s daughter, my friend whose job it was to polish her brother’s shoes, iron his clothes; the milk and sweets were for him, the private schooling his entitlement, and her government schooling a favour!
Achievements by girls in any field whether artistic or academic are down played as being the “expected level” however similar achievements by boys within the same family will receive outstanding praise and gifts. The most basic example is that of girls being expected to help with household chores, however boys doing so is taken as taken at best as an “earth shattering” achievement in empathy or at worst a direct insult on the maternal head of the households ability to maintain a “good home”. It is most disturbing when one sees such trends in Indian parenting outside India, with sons treated like princes and little geniuses who must not lift a finger at home to do any household chores. Many believe that it would demonstrate the failure of good parenting and supreme sacrifices attached to it!
These inequalities create not only a simmering resentment in the sisters but also a degree of internalization of their own self-depreciation and low self-worth. This becomes most apparent when we see some of the reactions of these women when they are faced with abusive situations as wives themselves. Some women will be extremely passive and submissive to the demands of their husbands and families, others (who undoubtedly also suffer), however, are extremely defensive to outside contacts when questioned regarding their intentions and future plans.
The Wife & (at times) the defensive victim
Having lived a life of oppression throughout their childhood, many of these women view marriage as an opportunity to gain a form of autonomy within their own new families. However, often they enter another power struggle with their new partners. While many women are aware of their own inequality, many are also severely emotionally abused and manipulated by not only their partners but also their families, who have a vested interest in the marriage continuing at all costs.
Many women defend their male partner’s actions of intimate violence, in some cases because they are convinced that these men are “powerless” that they are “vulnerable, hurt souls from past experiences” and therefore, require special attention and allowances. Phrases such as “you are the only one who understands me” and recounting previous abuse inflicted to them, a false bubble of vulnerability is created around these men, despite having been the perpetrator of the abuse moments earlier. This creates not only a flood of guilt in their victim but also protective instincts, not dissimilar to maternal emotions of nurturing and attachment.
In a terrible tragedy of emotional manipulation some women already isolated from their social support networks, begin to believe that their experience of the DV is almost a privilege, in that they bear direct witness to the “vulnerable tortured” side of their partner, and therefore this is an intimate and wholly exclusive experience. This is further re-enforced by the lack of engagement and withdrawal of the perpetrator from the victims social support figures, reiterating to the victim how special she is that he is willing to engage with her in dialogue, and disclose his past secrets with her, and display his “vulnerabilities” albeit in the form of abuse.
The witnessing and experience of DV at home plays a key role in its perpetuation on future partners. These infantilized young adults that are meeting the challenges of a rapidly changing modern world are often bewildered as to how to assert themselves on such ever-changing terrain. Having had every whim and expectation fulfilled within the home, they revert back to ingrained behaviours that were acceptable before, ie. playful fighting and stealing from sisters and mothers; the teasing of female friends and relatives.
When such advances are resisted or worse refused, these men up regulate their previous behaviour to that of the violent and heavy-handed approach they have already witnessed within their own homes. They become their fathers, uncles, and brothers. Having heard the endless tirade played out against sisters, and mothers in the form of verbal and physical abuse, they resort to their final survival tactic within their own arsenal of behaviours. Violence.
It is very important to understand these modes of patriarchal oppressions. They are hardly discrete and are normalised in the most educated of families. Such has been my experience and those of many others I know.