I remember a time, my 20s and early 30s, when things were really chaotic. I interpreted it as ‘exciting’. The rear view is always clearer; it was actually a dark period in my life.
I radiated confusion and the Universe dutifully responded. The law of attraction, the most powerful natural law.
This thought was triggered by another webinar I watched on Saturday which resonated so deeply. Odette was brave enough to share her personal story on abuse, what is commonly expressed as gender-based violence or GBV.
She was first Mr T’s friend when they were singletons; we’ve both since claimed her and her hubby as our friends. I digress briefly at this point as I want to stress that people of the opposite sex – I’m referring to heterosexuals – can and must have platonic friendships. It enables us to share experiences and wisdom across genders for mutual benefit.
Ladies, you never ever want to be with a jealous partner.
This is one of the important points that Odette raised and any woman who has suffered any kind of abuse – emotional, physical or other – will know that intense jealousy is the hallmark of an abuser. Ladies, you never ever want to be with a jealous partner. It does not equate to love.
Rather, it’s an obsession. An unhealthy one and it has very little to do with you. What you do want, is someone who is self-confident enough to appreciate it when another gives you a look that lingers for a few seconds longer or you get complimented on anything. Perhaps this acts as a gentle reminder of the gem he has.
Let’s get back to the webinar. My heart was sore that I could not reach out and hold Odette’s hand or give her a hug when she had to stop to cry. This time, I had to make do with the chat function and realised in that moment that I still want to hug my loved ones.
This is the heaviest burden that victims carry.
I could tell from some of the other comments that there were one or two others who also identified with her, “you’re telling my story”. What stood out for me was the shame and embarrassment expressed by Odette. This is the heaviest burden that victims carry.
Most women have either experienced abuse or know someone close to them who has. And the rest, as Odette pointed out, don’t even realise that they are being abused. The shoving, the grabbing that hasn’t escalated to full-on assault, the emotional denigration, the financial slavery; these are all indicators of abuse.
And it leaves us embarrassed. We keep silent when we are violated. The murder statistics prove that this is often fatal. We even rationalise it, “he’s very stressed at work”, “I shouldn’t have said that”, “he had too much to drink”.
When we are brave enough to take a stand and speak out, we’re dismissed, we’re vilified, we even “asked for it”. Damn it.
If gender-based violence is so prevalent, if we all know someone – ourselves and others – who has experienced this, where are the perpetrators? The faceless abusers? The violators?
Since women carry the shame and embarrassment of abuse, and men get to walk around shameless, here are a couple of questions for men. Can you acknowledge that you are an abuser or have been one? Do you know someone who is an abuser or continues to be abusive? Tell your story.
This is not our shame to carry!
I dislike the use of the acronym GBV as it loses impact. I get nauseous when it’s used by men, particularly politicians and leaders, paying lip-service. Without saying ‘gender-based violence’ in full, it sounds like another virus. Reminiscent of the stigmas around it.
This is not our shame to carry!
The other part of Odette’s story that was particularly powerful was the indignation and disbelief she received when she shared her trauma with her abuser’s sister. “Not my brother”. We fail each other.
Odette’s story has a happy ending. My story has a happy ending. We live to tell it. Many others do not.
I understand the complexity of the psyches of both victim and abuser. I’m not diminishing the curse of gender-based violence to a quick overnight fix. But since we all have circles of influence and live in families and communities, here are little ways that we can make an impact.
Women, let’s be more vigilant around our mothers, sisters, friends, colleagues and neighbours. We can often tell that “something is not right”. Our intuition is never wrong. Let’s create safe spaces to share and find comfort. When we share, we release. And that’s a start.
Men, you need to call out your fathers, brothers, friends, colleagues and neighbours when you witness abusive behaviour or sexist, violent language. It is your problem. Call the police if you have to. But don’t stand on the sidelines. Tomorrow, it could be your mother, wife, sister, daughter, or friend.
This is not an invitation for #NotAllMen. So, you’re not an abuser? We’re not going to applaud you. That’s like congratulating you for breathing. But we do appreciate you and ask that you continue to respect and nurture girls and women. And most importantly, educate and support other men.
Cycles are broken when attitudes and behaviour changes.