Tag Archives: gender roles

A Culture of abuse

When my son was one year old, he decided he had enough with us shovelling food down his throat. He pried the spoon from me and insisted on using his motor skills. He picked up a bunch of noodles in his chubby little hands and watched in fascination as they wiggled like little worms and slid off his fingers. Then he must have decided to feed the carpet – that lovely beige thing that always fascinated him with its cornucopia of dust and hair – because that’s where the remaining noodles that he flung landed.

It’s a cute memory. We recite this story and laugh over it.

Let’s imagine him as a middle-aged man (with all mental faculties intact )doing the food flinging act ,food which … let’s say his wife prepared. The same act will no longer be called cute. It will be called domestic violence. It won’t be a memory that can be laughed over….ever.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month (DVAM) . Are you aware of what constitutes domestic violence?

Have you ever thrown objects on the floor in anger, in front of your spouse /or someone who were angry with? Remotes, cellphones, paper-weights, plates, cups……whatever you can get you hand on? It may not have landed on a person and “hurt” them- but did you know that it’s still called Domestic violence?  It’s called “destruction of property” and it’s a form of psychological abuse according to the  United states department justice: http://www.justice.gov/ovw/domestic-violence.

 The website called Hotline (http://www.thehotline.org/is-this-abuse/abuse-defined/) uses a diagram called the Power & Control Wheel to describe most accurately what occurs in an abusive relationship. The below text is from their website provided above:

Think of the wheel as a diagram of the tactics your abusive partner uses to keep you in the relationship. While the inside of the wheel is comprised of subtle, continual behaviors, the outer ring represents physical, visible violence. These are the abusive acts that are more overt and forceful, and often the intense acts that reinforce the regular use of other subtler methods of abuse.

Out of these 8 areas – how many areas have you actively dabbled in?  Whether you are a man or a woman, It’s important to look at these behaviours and see not only who has victimized you but to also see if you engage in any of these actions.

I’m guilty of one thing…. Please don’t start imagining me mounting my spouse on a crucifix …whipping him with a stick ……although I have done something close to that ,according to my in-laws , by asking their son to take out the garbage.

Many of us Indian women are already “victims” of  “male privilege” type domestic abuse  and this is not exactly a secret…it is one that we have experienced publicly, along with several of our fellow compatriots who are in the same proverbial boat. But here’s the issue – everyone including me , do not recognize that as an abuse. We  expect it , are prepared for it all our young lives and accept it because it’s our “culture” . A wife “Being treated like a servant”  would not raise any eyebrows in our Indian “culture”. Some people may even look down on him if he treats his wife nicely and as an equal and doesn’t exercise his male privilege. In some cases , they may be pressured- directly or indirectly –  to subordinate the wife and become the “master of the castle”, by their own parent(s).

It is difficult for this average (I say average because some Indian males have evolved and I commend them for that) Indian male to see himself painted as a domestic abuser because this is how he was raised to act. He is only following social conventions….Parental guidance….walking in the footsteps of his forefathers ,like sheep. No one has told him that this is wrong. Until now. If you have read this , you no longer have an excuse.  You have a choice: to change for the better.

It’s not an easy choice. For some it’s to choose between being a disobedient son and being a better human being. That’s major conflict, I tell you . Like how the legend goes that Parashurama had to choose between being an obedient son and  a murderer when his father asked him to behead his mother. (More on the legend: http://www.speakingtree.in/blog/why-did-parashuram-kill-his-mother )

But being aware of what is considered a negative behaviour is an important first step in changing negative patterns – in cleaning up our culture. As human beings we are endowed with a capacity to learn and evolve. Culture need not be static either – it can grow – it needs to evolve. So my question to you is : are you capable of evolution? If you are man, are you ready to forgo ‘male privilege” ? Are you willing to transcend the barriers of gender and look at everyone as human beings equal to you?

Note: I have only written on a mild form of abuse that a segment of the world’s population experiences.  I know that that there are much more harsher abuses that go on that impact both men and women and this post does not address that – simply because I don’t find myself qualified to talk about it . Another reason is that I believe the fundamental root cause of domestic violence (against women) is male privilege- that is sanctioned by “culture” and that if we change that mind-set we can curb domestic violence in its infancy.

Happy Belated Anniversary!

Last week was my parents 44th wedding anniversary. We didn’t celebrate it for a simple reason that my father is no longer alive.

When I reflect on my parent’s 28 years of  marriage I realize that theirs was a unique and beautiful one. They made it seem so simple and so natural that I was lulled into thinking marriage is a great game where both parties -bride and groom , husband and wife – are winners, equal partners.

Their marriage was a dance where they twirled and intertwined  into one entity to meet life and it’s adversities; and where they separated and showed their individuality , complimenting each other. They balanced the scale of yin and yang; not necessarily sticking to gender stereotypes. They respected and trusted each other despite their sometimes diametrically opposite principles.

His warmth
Her embrace
Their love for us
His reason
Her emotion
Their common sense
His principles
Her motivations
Their hard work
His empathy
Her sympathy
Their compassion
Her self-confidence
His humility
Their presence
His anger
Her calm
Their patience
His sacrifice
Her sacrifice

Their love for each other

That was my parent’s marriage …a symmetrical poem -where there was room for He and She and Them – the perfect nest for us children.

They each had their strengths and played them to the best of their abilities. The adverse life events they could control they tried their best to control; gave all they had to control….but there were too many that wasn’t within their control. They stuck together in it all…until death did them part.

In some societies a marriage’s success is measured by the longevity of cohabitation and  success of the offspring compared to a certain social group ; the wealth that they have amassed or social status of the husband and/or wife. Sometimes the success is measured in the height one spouse scales in their career and the other one is assumed to be behind the success. This is all the world can see and measure.

We can only intuit the dynamics of the marriage by observing the spouse’s interactions with each other. By the spark in their eyes or lack thereof, when they look at each other; Or whether they look at each other at all.  By how they speak to each other or about each other; Or if one is allowed to speak at all.

No one sees or measures that which goes on within four walls nor what goes on within the four valves (in the heart) of each person: the true marriage. No one can measure the value of a quiet evening playing chess together enjoying each other’s company. No one can measure the value of a spouse sharing without ego filters  the day’s events and the emotion it invoked: some times laughter , some times pain. No one can measure the value of intimacy. No one can measure the value of knowing that your spouse tears open their heart and pries open the lid to their soul just for you! And even more ,knowing that you can do the same without any fear of judgement.

In all those immeasurable ways, my parents had a successful marriage. That’s my observation as one who stood close to those 4 walls and those 8 beating valves.

It’s a shame that marriage anniversaries are not celebrated after the death of one spouse; especially such successful ones. Maybe its time to change that trend. Maybe its time to send a note or call and say to your one living parent….

“Your life together,
the way you lived it,
will always be my anchor
on stormy seas.
Happy Anniversary!”

The bridge to no where

Frost on a stump. Sandra Crook.

He told grandpa what he wanted for his 10th birthday.

“A bridge! Why?”, grandpa laughed.

That laugh froze the words in his mouth: “I love the big tree. Playing on it’s branches  makes me feel loved and secure, like being in my mother’s womb”.

Anyway, who spoke of feelings? “Only girls do that!” he remembered father saying often. So he just shrugged feigning nonchalance.

On his birthday he ran out to the meadow and saw the new bridge. His excitement turned to tears. Grandpa had cut his favourite tree to build the wood bridge.

He never once crossed that bridge.

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The above 100 word story is written in response to the 100 word photo challenge posted by Rochelle Wisoff-Field each week. Photo prompt  by Sandra Crook.