Why we should all be feminists: women as abusers
On the 29th of August, I decided to leave the house and hang out with people my age for a change. It was the first time since lockdown that I was spending time out of the house and so we spent this day at the beach, sipping on gin and tonic, enjoying the latest Amapiano songs, while debating a variety of topics.
While we were discussing if we will ever get another album from Rihanna, we witnessed a disagreement in a car, parked next to ours. More specifically, we saw a black man and woman in the car, the man in the driver’s seat and the woman in the passenger seat and the man hitting the steering wheel in an aggressive manner. This is how we moved from Rihanna to the conversation of abuse in intimate partner relations.
A few of us in the group expressed that we were uncomfortable with the scene we all had just witnessed from this other car. We felt that, that sort of aggression often leads to violence especially in men due to toxic masculinity. Why did he feel the need to violently hit the steering wheel? One of us said that the man in the car was obviously frustrated about something or someone hence his aggressive behaviour. I then asked, “well, was it necessary to hit the steering wheel?” to which my friend asked, “in front of his girl though?” I asked the group why, in most cases, do men punch walls, kick down doors and hit the steering wheel when intense emotions rise up? What happens when there is no wall to punch, no door to kick and no steering wheel to hit? What if the only thing that that man could take out his frustration on was the girl sitting next to him?
The men in our group then posed a question which geared this debate towards a different direction but one that is often marginalised through societies and the media. They asked what happens in situations where the woman is being the aggressor? I heard questions like, “what if I am just chilling, minding my business and this hun comes to me, throws her drink in my face, starts cussing me out and throws hands?” Good question. Here’s a good answer: You walk away and do not engage. Simple.
This is often a question that I hear from men especially. They say they feel stuck between the fear of being demonised and shunned by society should they physically harm a woman in self-defence but also face belittlement and their masculinity being questioned by other men for choosing to be defenceless against a woman. We spoke about this in more detail, unpacking this fear that black men in some communities felt about their masculinities being questioned for not “facing your woman” and why by this logic, women in our country continue being victims of abuse and murder at the hands of men. Before I continue further, I must make it clear that I do not condone violence against anyone. I strongly feel that no one, man or woman, has the right to harm another person regardless of the situation. Violence is never the answer!
So, why is it that in some black, African societies, men think that if he is being physically attacked by his woman or any female, that, that’s his green light to retaliate? This was the question also asked by some of the men in the group to which the rest of us responded that, even in such a situation, choose to walk away. Being provoked by a woman, or a man, should not mean that because they started it, now you must finish it. Walk away. Run away if you must but violence of any kind is wrong. It does more damage than control. Why does society keep enforcing violence as a masculine trait? Why does society spread this toxic masculinity and how can we as a society cut this disease out? More importantly, why does society trivialise cases of abuse against men? Women can be abusers too. Men are victims of abuse as well but in a culture of victim shaming and blaming women who speak out against abuse, how can we expect men to feel safe too?
This whole conversation had me reflecting on an Instagram post I saw a few months ago. It was a photo of a young woman’s face that had been badly beaten. I do not know who she was and neither did I know her story. The caption read that she had been beaten by her boyfriend and alleges that the entire thing happened because he couldn’t take the breakup. I admit, I immediately picked her side as I was infuriated. Another woman being abused yet again in South Africa. But I began searching social media for this boyfriend and that’s when I stumbled on a video which shows a different narrative of the events that took place the day of the fight between this couple. It can be heard that, it was in fact the boyfriend who broke up with the girlfriend who was then heard refusing the breakup and cursing at the boyfriend. Another clip of the same fight emerges and it shows this girl now being fully aggressive towards the boyfriend and hitting him over the head repeatedly. A third clip shows the boyfriend trying to stop the girlfriend’s fists and then, suddenly, he begins hitting her and the video cuts off abruptly.
Now I am not defending the boyfriend here because what he did was absolutely disgusting and it’s a pity he didn’t remove himself from the situation. However, I can’t ignore the fact that the girl was the aggressor. Yes, she did not deserve to have her face bruised and battered the way it was. One can only wish that the boyfriend had walked away instead of what he did but I also cannot ignore the fact that women can be abusers too. She had no right to hit him regardless of how she felt about the breakup or how it was delivered. As I have said before, no one should ever feel entitled to hit another person no matter what. I do not believe in violence or abuse of any kind but the fact remains that they were both wrong for their actions. In the end, I truly hope that each person received justice. Still, I found it unsettling how easy it was to come across the photo of this girl’s battered face on social media and how so many people had commented on it, expressing explicit hate towards the boyfriend and men when there was actually more to the story and one that only portrayed the man as the aggressor and abuser. I began thinking about the number of innocent men who are victims of abuse but their stories are never heard and seldom appear in the media.
A few days later, I found myself still thinking about this entire topic and realised that it was more personal than I had thought not because I am a black woman who is against GBV or because I am an African Feminist but because I am an older sister to two younger siblings. After the brutal murders of Tshegofatso Pule and Naledi Phangindawo, I wrote a heartfelt post on Instagram expressing my anger and frustration towards GBV and the lack of response from our country’s leadership and, for the first time, I truly felt the heavy responsibility of being an older sister as I couldn’t stop thinking about my younger sister. I wrote how I would be devastated and completely broken if, God forbid, she became a victim of abuse.
Now I realise that I hadn’t even thought of my younger brother and perhaps that’s why I couldn’t let this conversation go. My brother was taught to never raise a hand to a woman and I know that he would never but what if he was in an abusive relationship with someone? What would I do? What would he do? Would he feel safe and supported enough to tell his truth? What happens if he didn’t out of fear? How would I let that happen to my younger brother as his older sister? I didn’t like the feeling that stirred in my stomach during these racing thoughts. I can only pray to God that he protects my younger siblings and continues to give me the strength to protect them too. Besides my parents, my brother and sister are the two most precious blessings that God could have ever given me. I must and will protect them at all cost because they inspire me each day in the struggle of African Feminism and I will continue to fight for them until there is a future that protects and celebrates every African child.