By Adeela Kasoojee-Gathoo
Surprisingly, and despite the typecast of female as the weaker sex – there are many men that endure daily abuse at the hands of their wives.
“It is just not something we speak about”, says soft spoken *Hamza (*name changed to protect identity) who was abused so much by his spouse that he opted to leave his marriage as a result. He describes the abuse suffered at the hands of his petite wife as “embarrassing and upsetting”. He was physically, mentally and verbally abused, profanities hurled at him in the presence of his young children for much of his 10 year marriage. He says that the last straw was when she physically attacked him – kicking, clawing and biting at her husband in front of his children who stood wide-eyed and traumatised whilst their mother abused their father. After numerous attempts to reconcile and no change in her aggressive behaviour towards him, Hamza chose to end his marriage to Zahraa and despite his anguish at the loss of his children,he feels that he made the right decision.
Even after their divorce, she continued her destructive behaviour – damaging his property and hurling profanities at his family and friends. Hamza says that in ten years of marriage he did not raise his voice or his hand to his wife, but quietly endured her mood swings and predilection to violence when things were not going her way. Initially, he would walk away from her whilst she raged. Ignoring her anger only fuelled it and he soon became a target. Raised by loving parents in a home where violence was never a solution, he chose not to retaliate but rather to reason with her. It did not work. When questioned about why he allowed her to behave in such a manner, he shrugs his shoulders and says, “she was chatty and vivacious when we married. People took to her. I was more of a quiet type of person. I thought it was the way she expressed herself so I let her be. Later on, I realised that it was abuse and by then it was too late and I was too ashamed to talk about it or acknowledge that my wife was abusing me. A counsellor or my family would have found it hilarious. I feared being an object of ridicule, a woman beating me up and reducing me to tears. It is just not something that happens to men”.
Those are words which may have rang true twenty or thirty years ago. They are not applicable in present-day society.
Abuse is starting to spread like a cancer through our entire society. Its victims are no longer limited to women and children. Men are also joining the cohort of victims that suffer at the hands of abusive family members.
The Mayo Clinic admits that “it might not be easy to recognize domestic violence against men. Early in the relationship, your partner might seem attentive, generous and protective in ways that later turn out to be controlling and frightening. Initially, the abuse might appear as isolated incidents. Your partner might apologize and promise not to abuse you again.” (http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/domestic-violence-against-men/MY00557)
The Mayo Clinic goes on to list the ‘symptoms’ of domestic violence – “You might be experiencing domestic violence if your partner:
- Calls you names, insults you or puts you down.
- Prevents you from going to work or school.
- Stops you from seeing family members or friends.
- Tries to control how you spend money, where you go or what you wear.
- Acts jealous or possessive or constantly accuses you of being unfaithful.
- Gets angry when drinking alcohol or using drugs.
- Threatens you with violence or a weapon.
- Hits, kicks, shoves, slaps, chokes or otherwise hurts you, your children or your pets.
- Assaults you while you’re sleeping, you’ve been drinking or you’re not paying attention to make up for a difference in strength
- Forces you to have sex or engage in sexual acts against your will
- Blames you for his or her violent behaviour or tells you that you deserve it.
- Portrays the violence as mutual and consensual”
It is useful to identify the symptoms of an abusive relationship but what is the impetus that causes a person to believe he/she is allowed to abuse a spouse in any manner?
Desifeminist, in her blog post entitled “Violence against men is a Feminist issue” (http://desifeminists.wordpress.com/2010/01/23/violence-against-men-is-a-feminist-issue/) touches on the mind-set of the abuser when she says “I think when we see abuse from women against men or other women; it seems either horrifying or funny because it’s so “unnatural” for women. For feminists, this is an opportunity to point out that abuse and violence result from a sense of entitlement, not because it’s a male characteristic.”
Another article touches on the reluctance of an abused man to retaliate when he is a victim of domestic violence – “Naturally many men are very reluctant to hit a woman, even in self-defence, because it is considered very unmanly. In fact this is something that many violent women depend upon, as shown in this study: “Women [who hit their husbands or boyfriends] stated that they expressed aggression toward their male partners in part because they wished to engage their partner’s attention, particularly emotionally. Also assaultive women did not believe that their male victims would be seriously injured or would retaliate”.
“Deeper reasons endorsed for initiating aggressive behaviour” included: “I believe if women truly are equal to men than women should be able to physically express anger at men” and “I feel personally empowered when I behave aggressively against my partner” http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9129375
This non-reactive response is so ingrained that “when it comes to nonreciprocal violence between intimate partners, women are more often the perpetrators”. In fact women were found to be the perpetrator 70.7% of the time. http://pn.psychiatryonline.org/cgi/content/full/42/15/31-a
“Once again we find that the truth about domestic violence is very different from the public perception, and it seems that many men simply refuse to hit their partner back. You can be sure that these same men will be even less likely to report the assault to the police.”
Around the world, in the present-day, the term ‘domestic violence’ has been modified to include just being “afraid” or “fearful” of harm from your partner. In the USA two thirds of US states have include in their definition of “domestic violence” a reference to “psychological distress”. A further third of US states include the term “harassment”. Picture the scenario – a man reporting his abuse to the police, insisting that his wife is arrested because he claims that she is harassing him? It is highly unlikely that the arrest will be carried out. In fact, there is a good chance that he may be arrested instead, as is the case with about 20% of male domestic violence victims who seek help from the police in the UK http://www.dewar4research.org/DOCS/PlightOfMaleVictimsSummaryMay08.pdf
In the practice, these definitions of domestic violence only apply when the accusation is made by a woman. Elaine Epstein, a former president of the Massachusetts Bar Association, opines that it is precisely because the definition is so wide that it is wide open to abuse: “In many cases, allegations of abuse are now used for tactical advantage”. http://www.onlinelawyersource.com/news/false-allegation-domestic.html” www.freewebs.com/feminism-evaluated/
The South African government also focuses on violence against Women and Children http://www.info.gov.za/events/national/16days.htm and whilst this is an excellent initiative, we need to highlight that there are also men out there suffering at the hands of abusive women. Lifeline, a NGO concerned with domestic violence, acknowledges the incidence of domestic violence against males but states that the prevalence of such violence is unknown due to under-reporting by males. http://www.lifeline.co.za/need-support/domestic-violence/
The truth is that our justice system is so focused on the plight of women and children that these men are likely to be arrested if their abusers choose to lie about the abuse or claim they are the victims and lay complaints based on false allegations.
This was the case with *Zameer (*name changed to protect identity), a 28 year old IT consultant. His ex-wife abused him and when he threatened to lay charges, she made false accusations and told the police officers who arrived at their marital home that she was the actual victim. The officers laughed at Zameer’s protestations to the contrary and he was arrested. They kept reminding him that the justice system was intolerant of perpetrators of domestic violence. His family arranged for an attorney and he was later released based on the lack of evidence.
The questions that arise are as follows – In this day and age of equal opportunity, are we raising daughters with a sense of entitlement? Is this culture of fear the manner in which women seek attention and acknowledgement/respect from their spouses? Do they feel that the feminism that is so rampant in our society allows them the right to abuse (equally) as patriarchy afforded men in previous years?
It is all well and good for females to have equal opportunities and equal rights, but are we instilling in these impressionable young women, the maxim that with equal rights comes equal responsibilities and that one of their duties is the good treatment of all of Allah’s creatures? Surely that is the basis of Islam and the key to a functional society.
These are undoubtedly points to ponder but, we can only hope that men like Hamza and Zameer find a voice and speak out against the abuse perpetrated against them, that the abusers are made to see the error of their ways before it is too late and that society stops and listens to the plea of abused people and redresses the wrongs.