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Lessons from Nyeri women

By RENEE MURRAY
Published Feb. 27, 2012

Kenyan women of Nyeri County, Central Province made it to the headlines, but for the wrong reasons – battering their men. Mind-boggling, isn’t it?

The ubersmart Google search engine agrees too that it is unusual. See when I enter the search words ‘Violence against women’ it readily gives me four suggestions on the same even before I type the ‘o’ in Women. However, when I attempt to search for ‘Violence against Men’, Google is not so happy and reluctantly gives me two suggestions on Violence against Men, and that is after I type out all the three letters in ‘m.e.n’. I start by typing M, it feigns ignorance and suggests – Violence against Muslims. I add an –e and it still offers suggestions like Violence against me (Presumably ‘me’ in this case is some woman?) It even goes further to suggest Violence against Mexican Immigrants! I resign to typing all the three search words ‘Violence against Men’, and yet I still get one relentless suggestion thus “Violence against MENtal Illness” Denial much? What is violence against Mental Illness anyway? Guess I have some reading to do, ha?

Evidently we are all used to Violence against Women and not men. Domestic violence has been viewed traditionally as a crime perpetrated by domineering men against defenseless women. Heck, Domestic Violence is synonymous to violence against women. Yet here we are!

Dealing with domestic violence against men will be an uphill task mainly because men don’t appreciate being considered weak, helpless and defenseless – tags tied to domestic violence. So, we’ve witnessed it; we research about it, read about it and even talk about it. What do we do about it though?

Sample these two scenarios:
Scene one: You are in a mall, or wherever – a public place. You then spot a couple arguing and they are both yelling and throwing insults left, right and centre. Moments later, the woman lifts her small hand, serves the man a well-aimed, resounding slap on the cheek and walks away, hands flaring, face red – visibly furious. The poor man is left clutching his cheek. How many onlookers do you believe will think “He deserved it!”?

Scene two: Same place, same couple, same argument. But this time, after the exchange of words, the man, clearly incensed lifts his big intimidating hand, and delivers a well-aimed resounding slap on the woman’s cheek. The poor woman, feeling the dizzying effects of the slap, screams, understandably. Now how many onlookers will think “She deserved it!”?

Naturally, scenario two elicits contempt and harsher judgment. How dare he attack a woman, right? But how often do you see a man slap a woman in public? Which man would even dare to do that in this day and age? Domestic abuse can go on for eons if the victim doesn’t speak up because it is mostly private; unseen, unknown and therefore, never dealt with. Domestic violence against women went on the decline only after so much noise was made about it, and women were encouraged to speak up, something that men are not comfortable doing. Yet.

When the media was abuzz with this man-eat-dog news a few days ago, the modern woman was vilified a great deal. One man shared with me an incident where his neighbor’s wife ordered the neighbor, who is a good friend of his, to wash their bed sheets one morning. This was after he had come home drunk the previous night and puked all over the bed. Washing the bed sheets wasn’t the problem, my friend intimated. He felt sorry for his neighbor because as he scrubbed the sheets clean, his wife stood over him like a tower, hands akimbo (you get this picture, don’t you?) to oversee that he did not ‘miss a spot’. Could it be that what makes abuse of men so ‘invisible’ is in fact, these blatantly ‘justifiable’ acts? When you think about it, who enjoys washing soiled clothes for an able, fully grown adult of sound mind? But then again, was the ‘hands akimbo’- “you missed a spot!”-attitude really necessary?

We see it happen but we ignore it because the woman is the weaker gender – these helpless beings, we think. They’re always the victims. The man is physically stronger, therefore always the aggressor and so he should just suck it up! Whatever a woman does to a man, he had it coming! He deserved it! He’s been had because he is a jerk; a good-for-nothing, irresponsible jerk. Though this is true most of the time, it is not always the case. Domestic abuse is entertained in a perpetrator’s mind if they have an elevated status in the relationship. Be it financially, emotionally or physically. Most of the jerks don’t suffer domestic violence because the same attitude that an irresponsible man has towards his relationship is the same irresponsible attitude that he will apply when faced with a violent spouse – that of thoughtless retaliation. Most ‘irresponsible jerks’ are not abused. They fight their women – the epitome of jerk-ery.

The men who suffer abuse from their women are therefore those who are truly weak in one way or the other; financially, emotionally or physically. These men are yet to earn the respect of their women. Respect for a man is earned when he proves capable of providing and protecting his family. Most of the women who resort to abusive behavior, you will find, are the ones providing for the family while their men waste away in changaa dens.

When faced with a violent spouse, men’s physical strength works against them in two ways: One, female abusers will make up for their physical handicap by using weapons or harmful devices which could prove even more fatal than the typical blow from a clenched fist. In the two most prominent Nyeri incidences that made shocking headlines, one man was scalded with hot water and the other was cut with a panga all over the face.

Two, for men who know that hitting a woman is wrong this restraint could be exploited by abusive women, putting him in a dilemma. How does he ‘man up’ without inflicting the same violence through self-defense? That decisive blow, by way of self-defense could easily change his position from being the abused to the abuser. He could therefore take the blows and appear weak, or defend himself and by virtue of his strength, become the aggressor with a blink of an eye (or a swing of the fist if you like). Ironically, retaliation is seen as weakness just as being abused is. Either way, men are damned if they dare, and damned if they don’t. The bottom line is we always believe the victim over the perpetrator, regardless of the initiator.

Obviously Nyeri women are mad about something their men are doing. Were the recent cases rare acts of revenge for past ills or were they a product of unchecked abusive behavior that had been ongoing? Women are by nature nurturers and caregivers, and when they resort to acts of violence they cannot be ignored.

We have to understand that under duress, human beings, men and women alike, are capable of turning violent against each other. To fight or flight is how we are ALL wired. It has nothing to do with feminism or any other -ism, or -ology. It has everything to do with human nature.

Violence towards another human being – male or female – is never OK. If you cross that line, YOU are responsible, not your partner. Whether she is a ‘disrespectful loud-mouth’ or he is an ‘irresponsible drunkard’. It is degrading.


Reach Renee Murray at rmurray@eafricainfocus.com

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