Tuesday, November 27, 2007

White Ribbon Day

I was asked to do a blog post in response to white ribbon day www.whiteribbonday.org.au. which is taking a stand against violence against women. This is a cause i am delighted to support, and I invite anyone else who is interested to also blog on the subject. This is what I wrote:

She walks in fear. He has cast a long shadow over her life, and she can see no prospect of light. The light went out the first time he hurt her, when the hands that had caressed and held her first turned into slamming fists. She learned, with acid pain, how swiftly fear and pain can destroy the fantasy she had mistaken for love. She carries her heart like a crushing stone inside her, confused and guilty, and finds it hard to keep hold of the reality that it is he, not she, who violated and destroyed love.

He does not hit her often. This confuses her too. If he were wildly, frequently violent, she thinks she would know what to do. Her physical survival would be at stake, she would have clear reason to leave him and the terrible ambivalence would be over. Yet even to say that it would be simpler if it were worse sounds like some perverted heresy. After all, whatever she has heard some people say, she doesn’t want to be hit. She doesn’t ask for it, and finds no security in his macho control. She is a woman, not a child, she never asked for anyone to do her thinking for her, or supply external discipline to help her to conform.

Yet self-doubt lingers. What if, in some unfathomable way, she is provoking him? What if she really is the failure, impossible to live with and impossible to please, that he has told her she is? Who can she turn to? She has internalised his condemnation for so long, she believes the whole world would condemn her: a woman who exasperates her own husband to the point of lashing out. On the bad days she suspects that even God condemns her; on the good days she remembers that He is supposed to be on the side of the hurting and oppressed. Her shame runs deep, deeper and more permanent than any bruise, it has stained the very colour of her soul.

She walks in fear. She has been taught it is her duty to submit, and she has really tried. But she cannot turn her brain off, or deny her own principles, and this is what has got her into trouble. Nothing enrages him like being questioned, but how can she not question when his orders make no sense? How is she supposed to conform when the demands keep changing, the goalposts keep shifting? How can she be the ‘perfect Christian wife’ when she is a human being with a desire to understand, not a pre-programmed robot? She has lost all confidence in her own judgement and doubts her social abilities (and all their friends are his choice anyway, she doesn’t feel close to anyone). Sometimes she almost hates him, so smug, so self-righteous, while she carries all the pain, but that just makes her feel guiltier. What sort of wife doesn’t love a husband who is faithful, a ‘good provider’ and well-liked by the rest of the world?

She walks her days as an automaton, afraid to think, afraid to truly be. She withdraws from life, she does not have the emotional energy to engage with risk, laughter or tears. She swallows her dreams with the same dull terror with which she has learned to swallow the retorts that would upset him. At night she lies alone in bed, two inches from his warm body, alone, cold and desperate, and tries to remember a reason, other than fear, for getting up the next day ... and the next … and the next …

And she wonders if that overused word “love” is just another terrible lie ..

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