Laceration doesn’t breed love
THE story has all the ingredients of a potboiler—a beautiful woman desperately in love with an impetuous, impulsive macho man who is devoted to her but is also given to bouts of uncontrollable aggression. She decides to distance herself from him. He runs amuck, even killing a poor pavement dweller in the process. Her parents lodge a complaint with the police to prevent her from being harassed. Not once does she acknowledge the fact that he was 'violent' with her despite the fact that he has been so many times. She accuses him of 'cheating' her. The only difference is that this potboiler does not have readymade solutions and a happy ending at the end of three hours and raises more questions than it answers.
The most important question that it raises is why did an obviously 'empowered' woman such as Aishwarya Rai put up with violence and continue in an abusive relationship. This is more pertinent in view of the fact that Salman had a history of having abused at least two other women in his life.
Talking to women who are
trapped in abusive relationships and listening to details of torture—physical,
emotional and psychological—that they endure reveals the common
patterns of denial, shame and self-flagellation. Irrespective of their
educational and academic backgrounds, childhood experiences and
professional attainments, all the women I spoke to were equally
reluctant to snap out of the relationship initially, despite the
enormous toll it had taken of their self-esteem and ability to cope with
life. (All names have been changed to protect identities.)
What are the common fallacies that women who are in abusive relationships nurture?
Almost all of them believe that things will change one day. Just as they believe in the power of love to transform the perpetrator of violence into a caring guy full of tenderness. A majority of women believe that "I have some role in bringing it upon myself...Perhaps, I am too stubborn or self-willed". This self-blame and guilt exists because the primary responsibility to make a relationship work still rests with the woman. Another common thread that runs through the responses of women who put up with abuse is how they continue making excuses for the man. Either they try to pin the blame on his childhood trauma, financial crisis or state how he has to face a tough time at work and has had a raw deal in life to be like this...The underlying message is: a basically good guy has gone astray and his behaviour is an aberration due to an x number of factors...for all of which he is not to be blamed.
As Vaishali, a fashion designer, who ditched a boyfriend who was abusive but only after she found another friend who was caring and gentle, says, "While you are in the relationship you are governed by a strange inertia that prevents you from taking rational decisions. You try and push what is happening to the back of your mind. I remember making excuses for the bruises on my face and somewhere I started blaming myself for him not behaving in a human, leave alone a civil manner."
In fact, women in such a situation are not defending an abusive person but are "trying to defend my choice of him as a partner." From a proactive subject who is capable of taking decisions and governing the direction of one's life, one is reduced to an hapless object who is at the receiving end of abuse and violence that mutilates the spirit more than it scars the body. Even leaving an old relationship seems more traumatic than outsiders would believe because a woman who tolerates abuse loses confidence in herself and her capability to handle a relationship effectively.
As Priti, an MBA, says, "The choice is often to put up with one man’s abuse or lend yourself to being abused by society. A woman can put up with a lot within the four walls of her home but outside she feels more vulnerable and might have to cope with many more wolves than she can handle." This fear of being alone is what the men cash in upon and test the limits of her tolerance. If only women invested half as much effort they do in trying to mask the abuse in actually breaking free, they would discover reserves of inner strength, they were unaware of. And by endorsing such behaviour women are helping to increase the number of men, who as Sagar Sharma, an eminent psychologist, says "resolve their stresses by stressing others. And who are these others? The meek, the weak and the dependent." Most men do consider a woman to be emotionally dependent on them, even if she is financially empowered.
As it is our child-rearing practices that not only condone but also reinforce violence in a boy in the same way as submissiveness is extolled in a girl. Often boys grow up thinking of violence as an acceptable way of demonstrating control and aggression as a suitable means of redressing their grievances. This cycle of violence and capitulation, more violence and even the complicity of the victim, is a Catch-22 situation from which it is difficult for the woman to escape. She almost becomes addicted to it.
According to Rajshree Sarda, a clinical psychologist, "the idea of love turning into an addiction might sound bizarre but those in an addictive relationship get a paradoxical high and so are more likely to be abused and misused. A person who is dependent either stifles or gets manipulated. The inability to break away from an abusive relationship depends on whether the relationship has already imposed involvement or dependence. Love becomes loving too much and unlike substance abuse, it is intangible, thus more difficult to get rid of."
Whereas, financial security, and the future of the children might be issues for the wife and might bind her to a relationship, the same is not true of a girlfriend. The looks of a guy, his charisma, his financial status, his capacity to wield influence over you and emotional vulnerability all contribute to the appeal a boyfriend has for the partner and of course, women remain suckers for a sob story any time any day. The more you get intimate physically the more difficult it is to snap ties. Somewhere the caveman, macho image does dominate the psyche of women who admire force and rippling muscles but do not contend with it being directed at them.
According to Gurmeet Anand, psychologist, "It is the emotional dependence as well as the manner in which women are reared that is responsible for them not snapping out of an abusive relationship." She feels a sense of belonging is what a relationship gives women and they do not want to lose out on this feeling of belonging at any cost and are willing to go to any length to retain an existing relationship. Shail Nagpal, a social worker, feels the fear of being alone is so overpowering that, coupled with the conditioning of most girls to "make relationships work at any cost ,even at the expense of their own sanity", ultimately it increases their potentiality for becoming a victim and takes a toll of their sanity, too.
Neelu Kang, a sociologist, is of the view that had the system been egalitarian, a woman would have opted out of an abusive relationship easily. A relationship fulfills the need for social security. A sense of shame is attached to breaking up. It is this concept of shame that is a deterrent for her and prevents her from disclosing the fact that she is being abused. For a woman others matter more than herself. Norms and values change at a slower pace, those who do opt out of a relationship are termed "deviant." In the process, her spirit gets as mutilated and bruised as her body. Scars on her psyche benumb her responses and blunt her reactions. A woman in the USA, married to an extremely handsome guy, while she was barely 18 put up with his battering until the first child came. He was not doing well but did not allow her to work. He even locked her up when he went out. He turned very caring and tender when the first child was due. She thought another child would mellow him down and things would change. They only worsened. One day, he battered her so much that the neighbours called in the police and she was taken to a home for battered women. Her cousin in Toronto rushed to her rescue and was shocked to see the disfigured woman who had become a zombie. So shell-shocked was she that she had become atrophied and lost the capacity to feel and express her emotions. Her story at least has a happy ending. She did a course in nursing and is married to a sensitive man who has helped her erase the scars of her traumatic past.
A woman in the hallowed
hall of fame, who is privileged, at least, in the eyes of millions of
ordinary women, hangs on to the guy who bashes her up because even she
does not cease being as vulnerable and as soft a target as the woman
next door. Ultimately, it is about emotional empowerment. Sometimes, an
unsung household bai or street labourer can show more spunk in
dumping an abusive man.