By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
March 15, 2021
She took him to court. Six months later the trial took place. The magistrate asked what had happened. My mother told him.
‘Have you made back up now?’ the magistrate asked.
‘Yes,’ my mother answered.
‘So is alright if I threw this case out?’ ‘No,’ my mother responded.
‘Why not?’ the magistrate asked. ‘Fine him so he won’t hit me again.’ I suspect they went back home reconciled and rejoicing, but my mother never let her children forget that incident.
Things did not end there. At nights, he would cuss the living daylights out of her, telling her how much man she had taken and many other degrading things. I also remember my neighbour (call him Mohammed) horsewhipping his wife from the standpipe to their home. Presumably, she had gone to the communal standpipe to fetch water but remained too long chatting with her friends. I thought ‘how can a man whip his wife as though he were whipping an animal?’ The feminist movement had not yet arrived, but my mother wasn’t going to let my father put his hand on her again. Somehow she put up with the cussing in the best way she could. Fortunately or not, he died at the relatively young age of 54 so she didn’t have to endure such abuse for the rest of her life. She died at the age of 93.
Years later I repeated the similar behaviour. I slapped my wife once because she may have transgressed some macho law that we, as men, had established. In retrospect, I had repeated that action because of what I had learned on the block from my friends. As a teenager I did not know much about man-woman relationships but had internalised the reactionary macho stuff about being in charge of the relationship and keeping ‘my woman’ in line.
My wife and I divorced several years after a turbulent marriage. She brought up my despicable behaviour during the divorce hearings. I owned up to it. After that dreadful incident I vowed never to raise my hand against another woman, and I never did.
To stop our brutality to women (domestic violence or even the ruthless killing of women) we must confront the centuries of socialisation we have internalised about the worthlessness or even inferiority of women. We may protest that we love them (and we do love our mothers, our wives, and our girl children), but sometimes our actions contradict this genuine feeling.
Margaret Nakhid-Chatoor, in an insightful article, argued that ‘many perpetrators of violence against women truly hate women-including their mothers and sisters-and there will be no proper redress to the issue unless domestic violence is treated as a hate crime… Why do men and boys hate women and girls so that they resort to barbaric, ritualistic, learned behaviours?’ ( Express, March 18.) Human relations are too complicated and nuanced to reduce what men feel towards women as naked hatred. Nadia La Mar, one of my students at Wellesley College, wrote: ‘Heterosexual, cisgender black and white men both upheld the ideals of patriarchy. While black men were under the oppression that comes from being black, they held immense societal power that came with being men… Black men relied on their sex and gender to extend power over the people they could abuse-black women… They held immense pride in being able to hit their wives anytime they wanted. Racism gives a false sense of superiority to white people as patriarchy gives a false superiority to men.’ (‘Race, Nature & Self in Their Eyes Were Watching God’)
It may be true, as the T&T Association of Psychologists suggests, that the psychological behaviour of abusive men may result from ‘depression, anxiety-related disorders, hypertension, stress and complicated grief’ and men and boys may (as Chatoor asserts) hate women and girls. I am not sure that reducing our behaviours to hatred explains the problem completely. If this is true, then one half of our population hates the other half, which means men and women are at constant war with one another. Or, it might be that many of us do not possess any love, be it filial (love for friends and equals), erotic (passionate love for another), or agape (love of mankind) for one another. We, as men, must examine our behaviour towards women, ask their forgiveness, resolve to change our behaviours and teach our younger brothers the supreme value of love in its largest embracing sense.
Wives and girlfriends must also resolve to expose and confront the misogynistic behaviour of men. If we do not examine the deep source of domestic violence, take it seriously and deal with it expeditiously, we will continue to perpetrate the same violence that we have always inflicted upon our women.
Unless there is a serious re-education of men and an examination of the psychological damage that patriarchy (a system in which men hold the power and women are largely excluded from it) has done to us, we will continue along the psychological death spiral into which we are taking our society. Few men are exempt from this patriarchal poison.
James Baldwin observed that ‘when men can no longer love women they also cease to love or respect or trust each other, which makes their isolation complete. Nothing is more dangerous than this isolation, for men will commit any crimes whatever rather than endure it’ (Nobody Knows My Name). The great challenge, he says, is to be a man in ‘the best sense of that kaleidoscopic word’. Such a man, let us hope, would never raise his hand to hit a woman.