Saturday, February 17, 2007

How to beat Girls and Women

One sunny afternoon in Uthiru, when I was 16 years old, my father sent me indoors to fetch the belt. This was a part of the punishment ritual. It started with a lecture which you listened to in a search of the spots you might massage to prevent an escalation to beating - was he tired? Could you make a long explanation and bore him off? Create a distraction? Be sick? Or was he dead set on his entertainment? You knew the final judgement leaned towards beating when he said 'Fetch the belt.' This might mean walking all across the compound and round the house to the corner of the sitting room; or it might just mean turning round and unhooking it from the nail. But whatever the journey, nobody ever saw you do it. Even if they were sitting right there trying to work out how to melt away into the floor.

When I brought it back he took it and stood weighing it, looking down at me, and said invitingly, "Can you think of any reason why I shouldn't beat you?"

I stared at the ragged grass beneath his feet, on the path under the washing line. I thought of my bullying chemistry teacher turning away abruptly to the board and saying, "Go!" to a girl he had just been about to refuse leave to go the loo, when she said why she needed to go. I said, "Please don't beat me. I'm having my period."

"What??!" he gasped.

"Please don't beat me. I'm having my period," and he turned abruptly away from me, dropping the belt to his side, and marched away to the end of the path to stand staring at the fence for a few dangerous moments. Then he turned and marched back to me and handed me the belt. My heart leapt.

"What you just mentioned to me," his voice had gone low. "Never mention it to me again. Never. That's between you and your mother. Go!"

I was never beaten again. Nor as far as I recall was my little sister. Psychological torture became the punishment of choice, and it is so much more far reaching I don't know that we did any better. But I never lost the edge I had gained by daring to raise my unassailable objection. That wasn't the end of that episode, though.

A few days later I was walking home with my mum, down a steep rutted path, when out of a silence she suddenly asked, "Why did you ask Daddy not to beat you because of your period?"

"Pardon?"

"The other day, when you asked Daddy not to beat you because of your period. Did you think it would make you bleed more heavily or something? Why did you - ? What did you think would happen?"

I was puzzled. I decided to stick with pure fact.

"I wasn't having my period," I said.

"What? You weren't?"

"No. I wasn't," I waited for her to burst out laughing and congratulate me.

"You mean you lied?" she was shocked.

"Of course!" so was I.

"But why?" she asked. Of all the absurd questions an abused woman has ever asked the world, that has to rank among the strangest. I stole a glance at her. Was she serious? Yes, she really wanted information here.

"So that he wouldn't beat me, of course," I said.

"Seriously?" she gaped at me.

Nine years later, my boyfriend picked me up and threw me at a wall. He then kept me up the whole of the rest of the night with various torments. In the morning he sat heavily down as I dragged myself about getting ready for work (he didn't work) and said, "But you know I would never hurt you!"

That statement, and my mother's question, come from the same league of thinking. What do you mean, you'd never hurt me, you've spent the last 8 hours doing nothing but, and the damage will continue hurting me for days yet. Do you expect me to ignore my bruises and welts, my aching bones, the care with which I have to turn my head, to stand and sit down for days, and believe your words instead? What on earth do you mean, it wouldn't matter if I was beaten during my period? It matters if I'm beaten any time! My nerves don't lie! What twisted scale of values are you suggesting here?

My daughter, who is two, runs a finger down the scar on my upper arm where the belt curled round it and the tip bit into me. I told people for years that the cat scratched me. Only one person ever looked at it doubtfully and said, must've been a very deep scratch. She says, "Mummy hurt." Am I supposed to tell her, "No, not really, women don't feel pain?" No way! I'm not bringing up a woman anyone can beat! "Yes, Mummy hurt," I say, "but I'm all right now."

For your information, being beaten during one's period definitely is extra painful and humiliating. There wasn't time to change my sanitary dressing to a tampon when fetching the belt, and asking to go to the loo first didn't work, as I couldn't bring myself to say why. Anyway I'd've had to go to the bedroom first, for the tampon, though I did frantically reflect that if only I could get to the loo, I could just throw out the pad and roll up some tissue paper to stuff up myself for the emergency.

In those days, pads didn't have huge expanses of glue on the back, they weren't gossamer thin and fitted to the body. They were pinned into my undies with a safety pin, and the beating belt dislodged it, and the blood went everywhere. My legs were sticky with it, and my clothes. Every item I wore had a puddle of blood through. It's very difficult to squat over the loo (we had a long drop toilet, not one with a seat) when your thighs are trembling with pain and your body's shaken with sobs, and try to get clean with one wet flannel that all too swiftly dries. You can't really take along a whole bowl of water without everyone noticing, not unless it's dark. The welts sting when the water touches them, and then the blood dries on you and it's hard to walk, fetching water and boiling it for a bath, waiting in front of everyone when you want to just hide and cry.

But none of this "would really hurt." My ex-boyfriend pursued me for years, eventually accusing me of using that night as 'just an excuse', because I knew that 'really he would never hurt me'. Really he did! I had a responsibility to myself to really listen to my stinging eyes and aching bones! It was a final warning! Yet the making of a woman who would believe him, rather than her nerves, begins in such statements as my mother's, when a woman is told that her pain doesn't count.

It's just a question of mind over matter. It 'doesn't matter' if Daddy beats you, it's important as a good daughter to let him, to swallow the pain, to let yourself down into your seat for days afterwards with a gasp and dismiss that pain as just your womanly due. Because if you don't he will complain later of having been baulked of his rights. I can only imagine that's why he brought himself to bring it up. Was he swapping stories of how his day went? Was he complaining that I brought up a forbidden subject, she hadn't told me never to mention it? Maybe he asked her to reassure me, so as to clear the way for him to beat me in future. Or did he just use it to explain why he was mad?

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21 Comments:

At Sunday, February 18, 2007 , Blogger Mshairi said...

I read this post first thing this morning and I am still sorrowful hours later, Mama Wangari at the thought that as women, we are brought up to think that our pain does not count.

I feel your pain and think you are a true survivor. May your both your inward and outward scars soon fade.

 
At Sunday, February 18, 2007 , Blogger sanaa said...

Mama Wangari,

This was a deeply moving and sober recount. Thank you for sharing it. I was shocked at your mother asking you what she did, mothers are supposed to have their children's back. The sad thing (or not) is that we remember most if not all the details of our childhood including the ones that really hurt.

I'm glad you decided to leave your boyfriend when you did. No one should have to put up with any physical or emotional abuse. Our children learn from us and you are the best example for your child.

Sanaa.

 
At Sunday, February 18, 2007 , Blogger sura said...

I have never heard it told this way before. And to think that amongst my peers are men that don't think twice about raising a hand agains the same person that they profess all their love for. I pray everyday that my sisters would find the courage to let me know if anything was to go wrong in their relationships; and not wait until it's too late and am reading about it from the dailies. Really moving story mama Wanjiru.

 
At Sunday, February 18, 2007 , Blogger mama shady said...

first time ive landed on youre blog!and heh, what a story. im so sorry!i cant even begin to imagine all that you went through. hope you are healing and i really hope God blesses you.
thanks for speaking out though.

 
At Sunday, February 18, 2007 , Blogger sura said...

My bad...I actually meant Mama Wangari on my last comment. And, I love the posts on this blog. Well written, articulate and a pleasure to read. Please blog more!!!

 
At Sunday, February 18, 2007 , Blogger Jesse said...

Great blog; great writing.

 
At Sunday, February 18, 2007 , Blogger home to find it said...

A very moving account. I often wonder what it is that makes people in abusive relationships stay (even when there are no kids involved). More and more though I'm beginning to wonder what makes people abusive. I wonder if it is in me, because I'm sure the same people who ask the absurd questions you mentioned also say to them selves, "I would never do that!". I pray that I never do.

 
At Sunday, February 18, 2007 , Blogger bomseh said...

Through blogging I'm beginning to understand women both young and old and the challenges they face everyday; which I used to ignore.
I now appreciate the female species more and understand why they always say "strength of a woman"

 
At Monday, February 19, 2007 , Blogger Girl next door said...

Thanks for sharing such a personal account. It takes a lot of courage to refuse to undergo such treatment. One of the saddest things about the physical abuse is that it leads to emotional abuse too, and the people start to think they deserve it. Or they're too scared to get away. This is an issue that hits close to home for many of us. It's very serious but some people justify the behavior on a cultural basis. I detest the jokes people make about women being beaten up.

 
At Monday, February 19, 2007 , Blogger Acolyte said...

My ex-boyfriend pursued me for years
I am sorry about your father laying hands on you but in terms of you staying with your boyfriend, I dont know the full circumstances; it is sad that you had to experience that. But I find it hard to understand why women stay in abusive relationships when they can leave, staying merely enables the man's behaviour. Sorry to say so but when doors to leave are opened and are not taken, my sympathy fades away.

 
At Monday, February 19, 2007 , Blogger Mama Wangari said...

It's really irritating when people make comments without bothering to read properly - why comment at all?? You even quoted the relevant statement, you refused to read it twice - Acolyte, meaning you! Thanks for all your input otherwise, people

 
At Monday, February 19, 2007 , Blogger Gathara said...

Pole sana mama. This should be a wake-up call to all men who think it OK to lord it over the women in their lives. It is sad to see that some women (like your mum) acquiesce in this form of brutality. I hope your post helps them to see the light.

 
At Monday, February 19, 2007 , Blogger mzakai said...

@Acolyte, kijana...can't you read? The EX-boyfriend pursued, but Mama Wangari did not concede. Your comment does us all a disservice.

@Mama Wangari, Bayete ntombi!
Halala! Halala! Halala!

 
At Wednesday, February 21, 2007 , Blogger Acolyte said...

@ mzakai and mama wangari
When I made this statement
But I find it hard to understand why women stay in abusive relationships when they can leave, staying merely enables the man's behaviour. Sorry to say so but when doors to leave are opened and are not taken, my sympathy fades away.
I was not reffering to mama wangari specifically but other cases I have seen where help has been offered and been refused. But since I have been misunderstod I might as well continue in that vein and ask a question,
msichana mzakai, what did you mean by the term she did not concede?

 
At Wednesday, February 21, 2007 , Blogger Mama Wangari said...

Well. I find this explanation somewhat specious. A comment on my blog, on a subject I just blogged about, would rather obviously seem to refer to me unless clearly stated otherwise.

I was touched by the term 'did not concede'. It displayed an understanding that the challenge I had was to maintain the integrity of my worldview despite scornful doubt being cast on it. The weird thing about a violent man is that he doesn't seem to see that his behaviour is not compatible with love, and indeed my ex, after a short hangdog interlude, clearly felt that I was being unreasonable. Si he apologised, so kwani what was the issue? Where else would I find such deep, true love that I was throwing away for such a paltry excuse? eh? He was asking me to concede that his 'love' counted for more than his violence - presumably I would find this comforting, one day, lying in my early grave, and contemplating that he now had the care and upbringing of my children with which to perpetuate his worldviews ...

Did I understand you correctly, mzakai?

 
At Friday, February 23, 2007 , Blogger Acolyte said...

@ mama wangari
Your clarification is much appreciated and I do stand by my explanation of my general observation as specious as it may seem.

 
At Friday, February 23, 2007 , Blogger mzakai said...

@ mama wangari, on the matter of concession, we understand each other well. I think I've said it before, I'm particularly drawn to your politics and consciousness as a woman.

PS, kijana's comments sound quite specious to me as well.

 
At Thursday, April 17, 2008 , Blogger Beetle said...

My father knew it was wrong to beat us. He apologized profusely every time. He couldn't live without my mother. She COULDN'T leave him. He'd kill us if she did... I am 36 and still digusted with her for not leaving him. She seemed crazier than he did. He was crazy like a fox. She was just a doormat. I am so glad for your daughter's sake you left.

This year was the first time I ran into anyone who reminded me of your ex. A guy and I were dating for maybe 6-8 weeks when I decide it wasn't going the way I liked so I left him. He was devasted. Why would I leave him when he didn't even beat me? I was so shocked that I laughed in his face and told him of course he didn't beat me! I'd beat him back and call imigration besides. He honestly viewed himself as an enlightened man for having ceased to beat his girlfriends. Amazing.

 
At Friday, April 18, 2008 , Blogger Mama Wangari said...

That's amazing! what a fascinating mother you have. wouldn't it be interesting to send her, say on the landmark forum, or into therapy, and hear what she had to say when she got out of the mindset herself? i can see why you're disgusted, and you're right, but isn't it just fascinating that 'he couldn't live without her' and she didn't ruthlessly exploit that to get a better life? people are so interesting. As for your boyfriend -hilarious! in the uk one out of every 5 women has experienced domestic violence in her lifetime. i think it must be much higher across the world.

 
At Wednesday, April 30, 2008 , Blogger Not a said...

Thank you for sharing, this was very powerful. I came here from Alas, and hope to read more of your blog in the future. I hope you don't mind if I link you.

 
At Sunday, January 18, 2009 , Blogger Sherry Clark, Founding President said...

You did it, Mama; you made people around the world understand what a violent culture does to the human mind and soul. It removes common dignity and respect for life, it teaches individuals to ignore that feeling in the pit of our stomachs that says, "This is wrong, this is wrong, this is wrong." It makes us all less than human ourselves and diminishes the collective sense of peace and joy for victims and - ultimately - communities. My heart goes out to you in your journey toward peace and healing.

 

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