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?"
"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?