As the strength of women is being celebrated this month, their vulnerability has also been in the spotlight, with the murder of Wits Student, Asithandile ‘Kwasa’ Zozo, 26-year-old Joburg mom, Jayshree Singh, and the five women whose decomposed bodies were found in sugar cane fields in Kwazulu Natal. Kwasa was allegedly murdered by her boyfriend after she rejected him, while Jayshree was reportedly shot dead by her fiance, before he turned the gun on himself. It is usually when something as drastic as this happens that people stand up and carry their placards in protest.
Spare a thought for those who no-one carries a placard for, those who never have no hashtags trending in their names because they have no scars to show for the anguish they endure in their relationships. The type of violence whose damage is not visible to the naked eye, in my opinion, could actually be as bad as the physical type in some instances. It might not leave a black eye, but it definitely murders and blackens the souls of the women at the receiving end of it. It breaks no bones, but it surely breaks the spirit. The bruises that are inside are probably the most difficult to heal because no-one can see them, therefore no-one commiserates.
Some men even beat their own chests that they have never raised their hands to a woman, never mind that their wives might be contemplating suicide or are on medication to help them through other forms of abuse in the union.
The abuse of women cuts across all races and cultures. I can’t claim to know what drives it in other cultural groups, but I’ve observed that in most African societies, it is driven by patriarchy. A girl is raised with the view that she ought to get married and procreate. Although the tide is slowly changing, those that choose to go ‘against the grain’ and pursue careers, not marriage, are usually viewed as failures. A woman can have seven degrees and a job that pays tonnes of money, but if she’s not married, she hasn’t arrived yet. Something is still missing in her life. “You can’t take all those certificates and cars you have to bed,” aunts will retort. She will be made to feel smaller than the drop-out cousins who pop babies every year. She will be the subject of constant unwelcome banter about how she might end up walking down the aisle with a cane in her hand. Instead of her mother being proud of her academic achievements, she instead hangs her head in shame at the thought that her daughter has failed to find a man to marry her. A lot of street cred rides on parents being able to marry off their daughters. Failure to do so results in the parents, particularly the mothers, being lampooned in social settings. As a result, most women are forced to hold on to toxic relationships to protect the reputation of their parents, or just to save face and look like they’ve made a success of their lives by having long-lasting marriages.
Dynamics are much different when it comes to how boys are raised. Discussions are not always family or marriage-oriented, but are more to do with their careers. A man’s worth is mostly judged by how successful his career is, and how much money he makes. In the end, women are yoked with men who might have impressive jobs, yet lack the emotional intelligence to sustain a healthy family life. We therefore have an unbalanced situation where women are coached ad nauseam about how families and marriages are supposed to work, and men falling through the cracks and having to bumble blindly through family life, yet believing they are doing a magnificent job as long as there’s a roof over the family’s heads and food on the table.
In the event that abuse rears its ugly head in a marriage, women are encouraged to be resilient because “marriages, by their very nature, aren’t easy. Where will you find the perfect husband?”. Aunts will say, “Look at me. All my front teeth are gone from the beatings your uncle gave me, but I remained steadfast, I never gave up on my marriage. Your husband doesn’t hit you and you want to leave?” Verses like Proverbs 14 verse 1 are quoted, “A wise woman builds her own house, but a foolish one with her own hands tears it down”.
Whether a woman questions her husband for indiscretions, stands up to him against abuse, or decides to pursue a career without the husband’s blessing, she is accused of tearing down her house with her hands. It doesn’t matter what manner of evil or pain the husband inflicts on her, she’s just supposed to turn stone into bread and ensure that her marriage is happy. If she gets depressed or complains about ill-treatment, she is accused of nagging. This forces women to stay put, and in some cases die in volatile marriages because society is harsh on women who give up on marriages that aren’t working for them. When a woman has had it and wants to throw in the towel, relatives and friends are quick to say, “Think of your children. They should grow up in a stable environment with both their parents present.” The presence of both parents under one roof doesn’t always create a stable family life. Sometimes the reverse is actually true. A sad mother isn’t the best kind of mother for her children.
A girl grows up under the authority of her father. Just as she grows and starts to run her show, people are on her back asking her when she’s getting married, the biological clock is beginning to get louder. She then gets married, to prostrate herself to another male figure. It’s almost as if women can’t be trusted to live by themselves. There always has to be a puppet master hovering over the cage, pulling the strings.