A single day does not pass without, in the newspapers, some reference to the embarrassment of our treatment of women.
In your edition of Monday, March 16, we read another interview with Minister of Human Services Priya Manickchand in which she again urges female victims to adopt an attitude of zero tolerance to violence in all its forms. Alissa Trotz, writing from the diaspora, reminds us of Eusi Kwayana’s call for the creation of a commission which will examine the causes and treatment of this problem. The number of women beaten, maimed, murdered, kicked out of the house, dispossessed and otherwise violated in their being serves to underscore the stubborn futility of campaigns to “stamp it out,” the inertial resistance to all the sermons in mosque, church and mandir, to the uncertain ministrations of the police force, the ‘busyness’ of the social workers, the well-meaning work of all the editorialists and commentators.
Absent from the discourse on domestic violence is much mention of the other half of the terrified population − the men, whom Sophie Torrent, the Swiss social worker in her book The Battered Man often portrays as object of a brutality of the worst sort, “diminished in his role of husband and lover, denigrated as a father, subject to public humiliation in some cases…” As we reform our approach to domestic violence, as we re-invent our attitudes to social relations, the role of women as generators of the very culture of sexism and violence in which they socialise their sons, the woman as active, determined and often pitiless perpetrator of the type of violence in which they specialise, ought to be brought to the commission we need to form.
Torrent writes “psychological violence is the favourite weapon of women…”
In a corner of the world roused from a long sleep, where violence against the slave, the Amerindian, the poor, has been justly condemned, where the regime of human rights is now extended to cover the deserving ill and mentally infirm as the most unworthy, the time has come for us to regard with care exactly where the pendulum will come to rest.
I remember reading, in this newspaper, of cases of women hammering men to death, stabbing, beating up; however, statistically, physical violence by women, as certain types of crime, will be rare. But is the concept of violence to be limited to use of this or that weapon, of tooth or claw? Should we forget that the tongue, the word, is a particularly destructive sort of weapon?
Elisabeth Badinter, the French philosopher, writing in Fausse Route notes, indeed warns, “To wish to systematically ignore the violence and power of women, to constantly proclaim their oppression, hence innocence, is to cut a trench through the ranks of a humanity divided in two… a depiction far removed from reality. On one side the victims of masculine oppression, on the other the oppressors, all powerful.”
The Holy Qur’an and the prophetic tradition in Islam takes care to dispense with the commonly accepted dichotomy − women as the weaker sex, the unique victim. There is a saying attributed to Muhammad (on whom be peace) (who in his final sermon exhorts us to honour and be kind to women) which states that Hell is full of women who have sinned with their tongues. And the Qur’an decries the human habit of bad-talking others, bearing false witness and acting unjustly. And one concludes, after a long reflection, that the violence abroad in the world, and more precisely in our societies, finds its roots and its nourishment both in the cultural forms that define our lives and in the mental health problems that are everywhere found.
It would, by the end, become evident that the cultural order creating conditions that enable violence against women will, inescapably, facilitate violence against other social categories –children or the handicapped, or men; a certain race or tribe, this or that class or socio-economic grouping.
In order then for the cultural conditions to perpetuate themselves there must be, at broad levels, a consensus by most members of the societies under study, that the oppressed group merits the opprobrium under which it suffers, and therefore earns the sanctions which it will attract.