I Just Cannot Understand
By Edward Ladu Terso
On November 27, 2018, almost everybody who has phone, received a text message saying, “Real men do not hit women.” I guess this message is meant to discourage Gender-based violence (GBV). Another message reads, “Stop violence against women and girls.”
We could as well say, “Real women do not hit men,” and “Stop violence against men and boys.” It happens but rarely. That is why the weight of the message drastically falls on men.
There is also a specific violence which is male-driven against women and that is rape. Child and forced marriage are other forms of violence, inflicted mostly by male parents, on female children. Domestic and gender-based violence in our society are caused mainly by the male members of the family and society.
In this column, I am also adding my voice to this campaign or advocacy because I believe everybody would want to live in a violence-free South Sudan.
Now, you just listen to these stories first. I gathered thata man was beaten hollow by his wife. His friend visited him at home and saw the bruises on his face. The friend asked, “Who did this to you?” The man pointed at his wifesaying, “I was beaten by this man.”
Notice that he referred to his own wife as “this man.” This reflects the psychological mindset in our society that “only men can beat women.” Women have the same mindset. Women often tell men, “You beat me if you are a man.”It is an expression that exalts men’sphysical strength as superior to women. It also indirectly assigns the role of beating, including all forms of violence, to men.
The saying, “How can you fight a woman, why not look for a man like you,”highlights the belief that it is shameful to fight a woman because women are generally physically weak. This has been taken even further to mean women are weak in everything.
Surprisingly, as if to admit and submit to helplessness, weakness and fragility, some women used to say, “Ana mara sakit,” Arabic for, “I am just a woman.” This further complicated matters for women as they ignorantly succumbed to a pseudo reality, a reality that does not exist at all. Women used to look to men for everything: money, protection, clothing, cosmetics car lifts … among others.
This had emboldened men’s false perception of women as inferior human beings because women have “faithfully believed” the lie which has been incorporated into tradition since time immemorial. When a lie is repeated for thousands of years, it begins to appear like truth. It is internalized as truth and this is the tragedy for women in our society.
All these are to be expected in a male-driven society as opposed to male-dominated society. I am saying this because the use of the adjective “Male-dominated society,” might carry two different meanings.It could refer to a higher population of men than that of women in a given society. It could also mean men’s dominant role and influence in a given society.
Therefore, if we use the second reference, then male-dominated society would mean a society where men is always perceived as superior and by extension custodian of tradition and authority, physical strength, intellectual ability, among others.
Take for instance the facial scarification of boys in front of girls as a rite of passage from boyhood to manhood. The boys who are scarified are not expected to moan, groan or sob as this would reduce their male superiority.
“Crying like a woman,” so goes the saying. Ever heard this expression? This was and still is meant to promote male burden of proof. You have to prove that you are a man. Men do not cry when pain is inflicted on them. It is only women who make noise. Such has been the belief.
Men must prove that they are resilient, strong, courageous, or “real men.” But of course this is one part of tradition that promotes violence. Of course this has been circumstantial or based on circumstances in those times where territories and cattle must be defended and women must be protected.
Having said that, I think we should also try to know what the word gender means.Gender refers to both masculinity and femininity or roles of the two sexes. Gender could easily be misunderstood to mean just men and in this case gender-based violence could be interpreted as male-based violence. The word gender is like a coin,which must necessarily have two sides, men and women. So, when we say, gender-based violence, we mean violence perpetrated by both men and women because gender refers to roles of both sexes.
Men brutalize, hit, beat, assault or physically abuse women. The same could be said of women. In our society, which is believed to be male-dominated, men feel too inferior to admit that they are also victims of women’s violence.
Husbands who are victims of their wives’ violence accept to suffer in silence for fear of being shamed. But take it or leave it, women in our society of today do hit men.
The next thing to explore is violence. Is it only physical?Domestic violence is now commonly defined broadly to include “all acts of physical, sexual, psychological or economic violence” that may be committed by men or women, husbands or wives.
Violence includes those acts that result from a power relationship, including threats and intimidation, neglect or acts of omission. Such non-physical violence has a broad range of outcomes, including psychological harm, deprivation and maldevelopment.
It would be interesting to research how much non-physical violence has been and isbeing inflicted on men by women. I think the result would be really amusing. When wives decide to use their femininity (you understand what I mean) as a weapon to force their husbands to submit to a request, it is non-physical violence and probably the worst form of violence.
Husbands could retaliate by using economic violence to force their wives to give in. But where! This does not work these days. Wives have found a way of being economically independent.
Or husbands could threaten divorce to inflict psychological violence on their wives. Does this work these days anyway? Some wives would just be too happy to part ways.
You know what! Sometimes we use English words and expressions believing everybody understand. For instance, the word “unpacking” confused me to the extent that I could not understand what the whole sentence meant. “Unpacking practical ways of ensuring full involvement of …” But when it was finally explained that unpacking, which is the opposite of packing, means taking out, identifying, or removing obstacles to understanding, then the sentence bean to make sense to me.
Another phrase which took me by surprise was, “reserved talent.” It is appears vague because it was packed. But it was unpacked to mean, a talent reserved for emergency situations.
Back to our discussion! So you can see the dichotomy here. Violence, oppression, cruelty, brutality, ruthlessness, rudeness, deceitfulness or mercilessness has become attributes or characteristics specific to men alone.
On the other hand, helplessness, dependence, weakness or fragility, inability, short-sightedness, innocence, credibility, timidity, compliance, passivity and obedience, among others, became women’s sole attributes, not applicable to men.
This, to me, is so mean. The difference between male and female is only biological. But when it comes to roles and abilities, there is nothing that a man can do which a woman cannot do and vice-versa. Both men and women are human beings. Men die just as women die. Men drive and women drive. Men are leaders and so are women.
All those perceived attributes mentioned above are true for both men and women. Men can hit women. Women can hit men. But real men do not hit women. In the same vein, real women do not hit men. It is a question of mutual respect. Men and women are meant to be partners in everything. It is partnership that creates a positive bond between men and women.
It is true that most men view women as sex objects. It is equally true that some women view men as sex objects. Men rape women. Women also rape men. But when both men and women understand and believe that they are partners right from creation, then the whole negative narrative about who brutalizes who, who is more able than who, who should lead or who is more violent than who, becomes immaterial.
In our society, gender-based violence is easily attributed to or associated with men because here, violence is mostly perpetrated by men against women.
That is why when women advocate for their own emancipation, it is logical becauseour traditions have been unfair towards women and perhaps this tradition wasinitiated, and promoted by men.
Even in recent times, we have reached the level of auctioning female minors to men for marriage. We auction them to the highest male bidder. This reinforces the hypothesis that men commit more violence against women than the opposite. It also reinforces the fact that more men view women as sex objects.
Well, I am not against the campaign or advocacy for a violence-free society especially violence against women and girls. I am not even against the advice that “real men do not hit women.”
I am particularly interested in the second part, the advice. Women are persuaded, not hit. Some have sharp tongue. But men must be creative to tame that sharpness of the tongue by providing alternatives. Dialogue is the best way.
As opposed to the sharp tongues of some women, some men have golden tongue too. They say a lot of beautiful things but mean nothing of whatever they say. If a woman finally discovers the fakeness of the narrative, it inflicts psychological violence. Advice is, believe nothing of what you hear and half of what you see. Sense perception is not full knowledge.
Let me end this article by apologizing to my female readers for using expressions that are really demeaning and inappropriate for women. Our women deserve better. No malice intended.
Though some of the expressions were uttered by women, specific situations dictated that and it is understandable. Women have already come a long way in knowing, defending, protecting and demanding respect for their rights. Things are changing and change is changing the unchanged. But it will take a long time to achieve relative change. The good news is that the journey started a long time ago.
Even if the undertaken journey is one of millions of miles, we can still find solace in the Chinese saying that “a journey of one million miles begins with a step.” Good news again is that, we in South Sudan travel on foot, walking. The Chinese saying fits us so well. There is hope. Bye!!