To have and to (strangle)hold

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.

Sad Woman by Michelle Mudekunye

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.

Illustration by Rudairo Chipangura

 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.

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18 Responses

  1. ” A sad mother isn’t the best kind of mother for her children.” AMEN! Thank you for writing on this important topic.

  2. It’s pertinent that parents, the extended family, and the community at large raise daughters who are aware of repressive social conventions , and are empowered enough to defy such conventions . A lack of support systems is to blame for the suffering of most women

  3. Thank you for addressing the issue of women being yoked to men with impressive jobs, it’ll definitely make the rest of the family happy but may affect the woman later on. This is truly important. Thank you once again

  4. While marriage is a God ordained institution, at times the Devil’s agents get into it as well, for various reasons. Any relationship hinged on something other than love eventually leads to violence or worse, death. In our African culture, people can marry simply to conform to societal expectations. Women are afraid of leaving abusive relationships lest they are accused of bed-hopping. We also have women being their own worst enemies too by confining others to painful relationships by quoting religion and culture…and yea a man can be violent through giving his woman silent treatment…good article which I will share with church leasers and opinion leaders…..if I continue commenting, I will end up writing something else….

  5. A thought provoking read which our African culture ought to address and especially with the dynamic changes happening globally . As a mother to 3 sons we need to raise a better generation of men who are open minded and have a diverse idealogy of what a healthy marriage ought to be. We have too many grown men who are damaged emotionally from watching how their mothers were handled growing up and those scars are bleeding in their marriages to date. How then do we stop this narrative

  6. As a male I agree that there is great need for men themselves to have these discussions amongst themselves. Women are burdened with telling men how to behave when boys and men themselves do not hold each other accountable

  7. “It’s almost as if women can’t be trusted to live by themselves.” Exactly…..its unfortunate that society thinks women are inadequate on their own when in some cases having a husband may leave one feeling empty. Stripped of her worth and robbed of a meaningful life. Sad realities

  8. Thank you for this great article. You are right on point that society patriachy greatly impacts this culture of women being oppressed and tolerant of violence against. Moving forward we need to redefine this norm to all women. What is love? How do I know that I am in a relationship that does not value me. #redefinetheculture

  9. This article resonated with me. It truly spells out the plight of most girls and women in Zimbabwe. While the mindset is slowly changing a lot needs to be done to raise strong, independent girls who know that marriage doesnt define who they are as a person.

  10. A great article indeed. It is up to us the new generation to change the mindset of our children. I am for women empowerment and i believe we can make a difference in the coming generations. Let’s help the girl child and fight for their rights.

  11. Absolutely Charlotte.Majority of girls do not consent to their first sexual experience.its almost like they are raped,because they are unable to say no.I think it’s a problem with black girls especially.Its important to teach women their rights to say no to things or actions they do not want..

  12. An excellent read Charlotte. There is need for intensive awareness and campaigns on this issue just like we do for HIV/AIDS and other issues. As long as the woman does not have a voice in society and makes keep on being glorified and rewarded for masculinity and phallicism then we will continue to have this problem. Education is need for both genders.

  13. “You can’t take all those certificates and cars you have to bed” … statements like this have made me sob myself to sleep. As teenagers, we are encouraged, even admonished to focus on their studies and avoid boys at all costs. When we follow that guidance to pursue academics and careers well into our 30s, we’re criticized for not working just as hard to find a man to settle down with. This is such a great piece, Charlotte, thank you for writing it!

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