Empowering the weaker sex

Stabroek News
March 15, 2000

The ugly spectre of domestic violence continues to dog societies the world over. Available statistics show that for every woman who takes a stand and reports abuse, there are at least two who continue to suffer in silence.

Women's organisations in Guyana have been working to empower women to stop accepting mental and physical abuse from their partners. Men Against Violence Against Women has collected thousands of signatures. Legislation has been passed which remains unused as the necessary measures to make it workable have not been implemented. At the ministry level, another consultation has been held. None of these measures seem to have worked; the abuse continues unabated.

Can this torment be stopped, or even reduced? Can we ever hope to have a society where men and women live in harmony? Where respect is the rule rather than the exception?

International Women's Day [please note: link provided by LOSP web site] was celebrated last week in much the same way in many countries. Women marched, went on strike, picketed to protest violence and discrimination against themselves and their sisters. Some men joined them in support, others kept themselves as far away as possible perhaps out of fear that the tide of militancy might turn against them.

Among the known causes of abuse by men of women are alcohol and drug misuse. Another known reason, though rarely discussed, is insecurity. Just as some women have been socialised to assume positions of servitude, some men have been taught that masculinity is synonymous with aggression, domination and brutality. And lest we forget, many of these men were schooled by their mothers.

Having been instructed that it is not manly to show feelings of hurt, men abhor humiliation. Psychologists suggest that men who feel that they are losing their grip will lash out. Dr Herb Goldberg, a clinical psychologist, in his book The Hazards of Being Male turned the myth that it's a "man's world" on its head. "In the undertone of masculinity," Dr Goldberg said, "a powerful sense of hopelessness develops, a feeling of being trapped, that there are no options left. A man becomes progressively isolated and negative in his perception of the world, closed up and also fearful."

In 1975 Warren Farrell, Ph.D. wrote a book called The Liberated Man in which he sought to enlist men's support for women's liberation. His reasoning basically was that as women became more financially independent, they would become less financially dependent upon men. Men would therefore be less burdened by the need to make money and could be more relaxed, more fun, more mellow, less focused on work, competition and money. Women would cherish their enhanced humanness. Eleven years later in a second book, he admitted his ideas were "nice", but recanted them.

Women's liberation advocate, the much-maligned Germaine Greer, suggested in her book The Female Eunuch forty years ago that truly liberated women should abandon the traditional institutions and simply co-exist with men. But free living, which is prevalent in cults, robs society of order and creates other problems.

Yet since the publication of that pathbreaking book, far more women have been well educated have relinquished the role of `supramenial' described by Greer and have embarked on careers, often within marriage. In the Caribbean too women have entered higher education in large numbers and hold better jobs though they are still sidelined at the higher levels of the male power structure in business as Mr Ram noted last Sunday in Business Page. Ending male oppression and abuse here will not be easy for cultural and other reasons. Women's organisations have to continue to press their case vigorously and to educate their members and women generally on their new role and responsibilities.

Women also need to do more to let men into their traditional `space' and twenty-first century women of necessity must do this with their sons. Socialising boys into being strong but not brittle, allowing them to also be dependent, teaching them to be resilient and pointing out that manliness also encompasses gentleness, gallantry and chivalry would ensure that fewer girls face the abominable conditions their foremothers endured.