Is it a headdesk?—is it a facepalm?—is it a handcheek? Heck, I don’t know what it is this time. You decide.
– [Read Part 1]
I should have just walked out. Except I couldn’t. I was going crazy wondering how much crazier this bunch of people could get. I had to know. So I opened my mouth. Again.
‘But these men who beat up women…what exactly is their problem?’ I asked.
The response was immediate. A dude that has never been bothered to maintain eye contact with the likes of me looked up and glared at me.
‘The problem isn’t ours,’ he clarified. ‘It’s yours. Sometimes you women lack discipline. Every now and then, it becomes necessary to put you in your place.’
I sat there trying to remember when I’d last heard the word ‘discipline’ used with such an tone. Sometime in secondary school, perhaps?
‘And which place is this?!’ a woman that had miraculously began to hiss asked.
‘Yeah. Which place is this? I have a six year old son and I don’t beat him,’ Betty offered. ‘I’m an adult. Why should you discipline me like a child? Can’t we sit down and talk about whatever is bothering you like civilized people?’
‘Know your place in the home and no harm shall come to you,’ another guy added. He might as well have been a pastor berating a few errant members of his flock.
‘When you make more money than your husband, you think you have earned the right to step on his head?’ another guy asked.
‘For heaven’s sake, everything is not about money! Why are you always making it about the money?’ Betty asked.
‘Also,’ the first guy said, as if he hadn’t heard the question, ‘it gets to a point when you just can’t reason with a woman…there are some things women can never be rational about.’
‘So that makes it okay for you to kill her, right? Because she’s being irrational?’
Everyone turned to look at me. So I was forced to tell them about a cousin of a friend that died following a rather brutal episode of ‘discipline’ meted out by her husband. She’d complained about her husband’s abuse before but her mother and mother-in-law had stuck with her with the ‘stay the course—things will eventually get better’ advice.
Everyone went quiet for a while. Then, unbelievably, came the justification.
‘Maybe it was a mistake?’ one woman asked. ‘I don’t think he meant to kill her. You know sometimes you do something in a fit of rage and then…unfortunately…it’s too late.’
‘There must have been something she did to thoroughly piss him off,’ one guy suggested, ‘no sane man can throw his wife down the stairs without a good reason.’
At this point, I thought: I should just get up and leave.
‘I should like to hear what your idea of a good reason is,’ Betty said.
‘Perhaps she’d been misbehaving consistently,’ the guy continued. ‘You women should submit. Adapt yourselves to your man. Steer clear of anything that pisses him off. Stick with the stuff that pleases him. It’s as simple as that.’
‘That’s it?’ Betty asked. ‘That’s your brilliant rationalization. A woman dies…and that’s your explanation?!’
The guy shrugged. It was a shrug that seemed to say, ‘C’est la vie. These things happen.’
Then, without warning, the following:
‘He must have loved her a lot,’ a woman seated next to Betty said.
‘I’m sorry…what?’ I said.
‘They say if a man doesn’t beat you he doesn’t love you,’ Betty’s neighbour continued.
‘I’m sorry…what?’ And for the remaining thirty minutes or so, those were the only three words I could manage. Several times, I tried to say, ‘WHO ARE YOU PEOPLE?—and since when is it legal for you to have such a twisted idea of love?’ but the words just wouldn’t come out. I mean, these were supposed to be the reform-minded, university-educated Africans—the ones at the vanguard of progressive and cathartic thought.
‘Who’s they?’ someone asked.
‘In fact, if your husband doesn’t beat you,’ one of the guys continued, ‘you should go home today and provoke him into doing so.’
‘Some of us are not married,’ someone stated.
‘Then provoke your boyfriends into beating you.’
I’m sorry…what? (Repeat till fade.)
I was in so much shock about the whole ‘if a man doesn’t beat you he doesn’t love you’ business that I just had to share it with a few friends later. You’ll never believe what one of them said. ‘Yeah. My mother used to say that to me a lot when I was growing up.’
Heaven only knows how many such ‘heirlooms’ parents are passing on to their daughters. NGOs, donors and government organisations are falling all over themselves trying to end violence against women. Yet somewhere, somehow, many such dangerous and perverse thought patterns linger. So, then, how exactly does one go about the task of convincing someone like Betty’s neighbour that a beating from a husband or a boyfriend isn’t, in fact, something she should be boasting about?—even more importantly, how does one ensure that she doesn’t infect her children with such unhealthy ideas, if she hasn’t already?