20 June 2013

The hands around your throat

I usually steer clear of gender issues in columns, but Nigella Lawson's husband has made me change my mind, says Susan Erasmus.

I usually steer clear of gender issues in columns, but Nigella Lawson's husband has made me change my mind, says Susan Erasmus.

The shocking images of him grabbing her by the throat in a public place – not once, but four times – cannot but make me wonder what he would be prepared to do in private when there are no cameras around.

OK, this is not going to be a standard 'Aren't men just the pits?' column. And that's why I have steered clear of this topic for the last four years.

Because on the one hand my views on gender issues are probably too radical for general consumption, and on the other hand not nearly radical enough. So what it comes down to, is everyone is going to be angry with me. But, hey, I will just have to take it.

Let me begin by saying I abhor all violence. The only thing a woman should do when she gets beaten up by her partner is to pack her bags and go, like Nigella Lawson has just done. But there is one big difference between her and 90% of women out there who are being beaten up by their partners: she has money.

There are three things people happily ignore when passing judgment on women who stay with abusive partners.
  • Firstly, abusive partners usually make very sure that the women in their lives have no unaccounted-for cash lying around which they can use to flee. Many women are forced to hand over their entire salaries every month, if they are allowed to work. You need cash to start a new life. Many women return to these situations, not because they want to, but because they have no choice.
  • People seldom get abusive to their partners before they are absolutely sure that the other person's self-image and support structure have been systematically destroyed and that they have become emotionally dependent. Making someone think that no one else will want them, and being alienated from the friends and family who might have come to their assistance effectively imprison victims of abuse.
  • Women are brought up to please, to be peace-makers, not to rock the boat and not to be too demanding. In short, most women are sitting ducks for a skillful abuser – most of them will think that it is something they are doing that is causing the abuse and that they are somehow to blame for the situation.
In short, we have become extremely good at blaming the victim.

Are women always the victims? No, I definitely don't think so. The stats speak volumes though; the vast majority  of cases of domestic violence entails men beating up women.

But men in our society are also given a hard time. They are not taught or encouraged to deal with emotions in a constructive way. For many men the only acceptable emotion is anger. On top of this, society expects men to be strong, good breadwinners and so forth. All of this without much in the line of emotional support. Generally women are much better at giving one another emotional support than men are. But that doesn't mean men don't need it. They just often have to go without.

Back to violence. I can never condone any form of violence in a relationship. But I have watched many people (women and men) who froth around the mouth about the issue of domestic violence, but are quite prepared to slag off their partners in public, or treat them with a complete lack of respect. I actually don't really see much difference between a slap and hurtful insults. The one just leaves a physical bruise and the other an emotional one. Pain is pain. And men and women can be on the receiving end of both.

In short, if someone treats you badly, get out as fast as you can. The doors are closing behind you as we speak. Nothing you do will change them. They are just like that and they have always been.

Follow Nigella Lawson's example, even if it means you will be camping out in your parents' garage for the next six months. It's still way better than being dead.

Susan Erasmus is a freelance writer for Health24.


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