Many see women who remain in abusive circumstances as somehow not fighting back. They are assumed to be reconciled to their fate in life. Many think they develop a kind of dependency. I can say for certain from my own experience and from conversations with abused women I met, that if a viable option emerged, we’d grab with both hands.
However, it isn’t as clear cut as that. Definitions of viable are subjective.
My mother suffered verbal abuse for years. My father was constantly at her for doing a job and neglecting the home, he called her everything from insane and fat to a whore. I remember that she used to give her salary to him, and he used to give her daily expenses to travel to work. It was a time when MTNL was less formal. When operators still knit sweaters when they weren’t attending calls at work.
If there was a problem with taking care of me, my mother often took me to work with her. Not often, but I’d been there enough to know how the call answering worked and dockets were filed, and I often helped with my neat handwriting. I felt all grown up. The women and men barely interacted, but my mother NEVER spoke with the men unless it was work or otherwise unavoidable. No casual conversations, nothing. I didn’t find it strange, because I didn’t know her to act in any other way.
We walked to the station from home, and then again from the station to her office. Rickshaws were a luxury to be avoided. I don’t know if she had money to do all four walks by rickshaw instead, even though she earned a salary.
The series “A life in Clothes” describes a lot of this time and what it did to me.
As I grew older, I started stopping him when he went on his verbal sprees. I used to counter with logic and rubbish his words as false. That made me a target soon enough – like mother, like daughter – I didn’t see anything worth his words in her actions.
I don’t know what a normal husband wife relationship is like. All I knew, when I chose men to share my life with, is that they shouldn’t talk foul like this man. I didn’t have any deal breakers if a man will respect me and speak with me well. When I married my husband, I see now that there were warning signs from the word go of his controlling streak. I didn’t notice them. Actually, I noticed them, but I didn’t think they were that bad. I had no standards of behaviour of my own. If I easily survived some words, then they were not bad. It never occured to me to question if I should be spoken with like this at all. Besides, anything that can get me away from my father was a big plus, right?
Several friends from abusive homes have shared this exact logic. They grew up in abusive environments, and got into abusive relationships.
And it is not one way traffic. I also often acted in a way that was abusive. Because it was my “normal”. I did not think it was a big deal if I taunted someone with an insult and demeaned something about him, because that was how anger is expressed in my parent’s home. It took me a long time of living away from that influence to learn to see the impact of my behaviour and learn to find more respectful ways of expressing myself – particularly in anger. It still sometimes gets tempting to use exact phrases that I have heard all my life. Though now I know that isn’t a good idea and I now don’t want to inflict the hurt they are capable of, even in anger, but ugly words are available to my mind in an instant, to use if I want – YEARS after understanding their impact and complete discontinuation of such talk.
Countless relationships have been damaged because I used to be extremely touchy about any perceived insult (sometimes not even intended). I didn’t recognise inappropriate behaviour with me, leading to realizing a relationship is abusive very, very late, and then, feeling cornered, by retaliations were ugly and destructive. It was a long, long battle fighting my own mouth to save my own heart. It was a long battle learning to become sensitive to nuances of behaviour and defusing demeaning behaviour as soon as it manifested, before it established. It was still too late for my current marriage, I suppose.
People don’t realize, but this is an important help needed – understanding and longterm counselling or other learning.
It didn’t help that my husband is a chauvinist. He didn’t appear like that, because he “approves” of confident women. Unfortunately, it took me after being married to realize that he approved of confident women only when he agreed with them.
So, he is capable of civil talk. His way of “managing” me is through using me and disallowing things I want if they are not interest to him. It doesn’t stop me, but it killed the relationship.
Many think that violence is what you see in films. The husband hitting his wife, pulling her by her long hair to the door and kicking her out of the house, etc. We even don’t see the occasional angry slap as violence. In reality, violence is experienced, not defined by specific actions.
Emotional violence of constant taunts. Demeaning words…. over the years, they erode the will. They make a person lose confidence. They make ordinary things seem overwhelming. The constant sword of approval changes every action into one that is constantly wary of reactions. And the emotional abuse hurts. Victims go to great lengths to avoid it ranging from confrontations to an eventual tuning out and mental defeat.
My mother is like that. My father says hideous things. There is no way they won’t hurt. Just not possible. She looks serene. Sometimes she actually hasn’t heard his words at all. The woman who had a job, did Himalayan treks including a Kailash Manasarovar parikrama today doesn’t leave the house at all. Depressed doesn’t begin to cover it. A kind word reduces her to tears and an immediate tuning out of it, as though she can’t trust it. She is now paranoid schizophrenic. She used to suffer from delusions. She had an entire world she lived in and ignored the real abuse, though the hallucinations were rarely kind either.
I am a firebrand on the internet. Vibrant, extremely attractive and engaging on my own. In any situation with my husband, I am totally quiet. Talking no more than needed, disinterested. Frankly, I don’t want to be there at all. I am not comfortable being wary for what he will say or do next.
In avoiding a man who verbally insults all day, I got one who doesn’t abuse unless drunk, but does the same harm without verbal abuse all day anyway. He patronizes and controlls with aggression anything he doesn’t find useful.
Three of my friends have been physically hit at home. One with a hot laddle by her mother in law over some argument. One slapped. One pushed so hard that she fell and kicked once in her back – alcoholic husband. The one who was slapped is still with her husband. The other two have moved on.
Financial violence happens. Today, in our home, I pay all the bills. All. Till before my son was born, I even paid the husband’s mobile bills and credit card bills, because we owned a business together, though it rarely made profit. My income from my individual work paid most of this money. The downside is that there is no money to escape either. I used to earn a lot when I worked. If I wasn’t spending it all on home, I could afford a place to stay right now. Even in Mumbai.
The logic: Because I use the computer and internet a lot and I purchased the AC, I should pay the electricity and phone bill – I use most of the amount. Because I use the kitchen, I should pay for the gas, and because the maid makes my work lighter, I should pay her too. I should pay health insurance premiums, because it was my bank, and his was only the add on insurance. When we order food from outside, I should pay the bills, because it is my job to cook that I am avoiding by ordering it delivered. I shop, so I pay the bills and it is “petty” to ask for part of it from him. I use the internet. Aggression gets me to the point of “pay this bill now, I’ll return later”. Later he has no money and will get angry if I push it. Of course, the money for drinking miraculously never runs out. A professional video camera, a phone – loaned to his friends, never seen again. Money loaned to him, his friends, never seen again. The list is endless. I stopped keeping track after some 80k he will return one day happened 3 years ago. His shoes cost 4k though.
Why am I gullible? It is the anger and aggression and alcoholism. Seems easier to pay when I have money than face the anger if I don’t.
There is sexual violence. Sexual violence seems to be a staple of all abusive relationships. I am sure there are exceptions. I haven’t seen enough victims to meet them. It looks different from the films. There is no screaming running around and tearing clothes as such. The most common manifestation I have seen is utter disregard for the wife’s comfort, enjoyment or willingness. Sex becomes a facility it is her duty to provide. Only one woman I know has actually been raped violently. Most of us have been raped with lower physical violence. Refusals to accept “no”. “persuasion” which basically involves refusal to let the wife sleep with constant “requests” till she complies. Inappropriate, demeaning touches. Two women had husbands who wanted sexual experimentation. Details are not required, but the point is they didn’t want sex of any kind.
I have been groped more times at home by my husband than on a bus. It feels worse. Take my word for it. More so when he doesn’t speak with me at all except to tell me what to do, or wanting sex after drunk. Yeah, like capping a drinking binge with a “whore”. I don’t allow it, but the fact that I live with someone who wants it gives me the creeps. But what option do I have? Anyone going to be interested in preventing a man from groping his wife? Particularly a wife who refuses him? Nah. If she didn’t refuse him, he wouldn’t be frustrated enough to do such things. No one finds it odd that a woman is supposed to have sex with a man who makes her feel threatened with clothes on already.
Society actually colludes with sexual violence to an astonishing degree. Advice like catering to the demands to “keep husband happy” has been received several times by all the women I know. The fact that they are married turns it into a duty. Any talk about sex being enjoyable, or in one case painful is ignored and sex is recommended as a fix all for every problem. Other ways include helpfully blocking any avoidance of separate sleeping arrangements, ignoring any sounds of inappropriate force during sex out of “politeness”. This talk is ugly, but the fact is that I know more women who are forced into sex after marriage than I know women who enjoy it. Including women with healthy sexual drives.
Every woman in a bad situation would like to find a fairy tale ending. Even the more “traditional ones” if they could be assured that they wouldn’t be victimized for leaving their husband. This is a promise no one can make, because their own families would lead the charge. They wouldn’t mind working for rehabilitating. But their experience of abuse often leaves them unable to evaluate or trust if the aid being offered would be enough for them to survive on. Yes. Every woman leaving an abusive situation has survival alone on her mind. Depression, lowered initiative, lack of confidence contribute to making this look near impossible.
What may appear to the world as a woman refusing to take responsibility of her own life can also be a woman chosing the devil she knows whom she would leave like a shot if she found a choice that she felt she could do.
This is why shelters, counselling and rehabilitation programmes being publicized is important. Their power to rehabilitate needs to be seen, heard often, so that more people may make that leap of faith.
It is not about chosing to live with abuse so much as feeling that they have little choice.
I left my husband 2 months ago. Last week, I came back because both our families pressured me into a last try. I had a choice to ignore them, but then, my son would grow up with takes about how his mother ruined his life. One chance they wanted, to make them happy, to get their buy in once they realized how bad things were, I knowingly walked back in. Last night was a disaster. 3 nights ago, I had the ugliest violation of my life – sexual, though not sex. This time, I told the mother in law bluntly when she asked me to shut down the computer and sleep on time – no way was I getting into bed with her son home and before he slept. She told me it is the women’s lot in life. What do I answer this? She understands it all. She is “on my side” in her words. She is pissed with her son for years now, but she flat out refuses to see beyond “it is a woman’s lot in life”.
I am no wimp. I don’t put up with it, but short of abandoning N to an alcoholic father, I MUST depend on support – which is there, but still not enough for me to sustain myself independently. Not yet. Work in Progress.
That is me and I’m a fighter to the last breath. This kind of lonely walk is overwhelming for many.
I wrote this article specially in support of Violence Against Women Awareness Month, because speaking out is important.