They say that men cannot control themselves.
So, when they see a woman, the body overcomes the mind. If you have to rape, you rape. I have heard it many times, the same argument to justify cheating. “I am a man, I can’t control it, I HAD to do it, I DID NOT KNOW what I was doing”. Sure, they can control themselves. Sure, they DO KNOW what they are doing. Because they control themselves with other men. They can and know how to maintain alliances with other men so none of them will reveal their secrets. Secrets called women abuse. They are so updated in what they do, that if you call their machismo out, they organize a cold strategy to silence you. They will have a Masters in mind games and gaslighting to leave you full of bumps without touching you, and you will have to put up with the wall of silence from his friends defending the abuser.
During this week, the last in my country before my trip moving to South Africa, I spent every single day in a workshop or a lecture, talking to university students, academics, women’s groups and activists on Rape Culture and Gender Based Violence, the paradigm under which it is permissible for one part of humankind to strip off the humanity of the other part.
Violence against women, VAW, is held in two social devices: The agreement of silence, in which it is better not to talk about the abuse we suffer, because it is something shameful, and the permission of transgression, which gives impunity to abusers under the idea that our personhood can be owned by someone else.
Some of the women who participated in my workshops this week were victims and survivors of different kinds of violences: Julia* experienced sexual harassment by a male teacher at the university; Gloria* had to listen to sexual jokes on the way to work; Sandra*’s husband shamed her often for being fat and having a flabby stomach after pregnancy. All of them experienced the violation of their dignity as individuals on a daily basis, with the silent complicity of people around them.
The recurring question that arises in those meeting was: Why is the abuser still among us?
If we agree that violence against women is a crime, as many laws of many countries say so, it makes no sense that many abusers are part of, without any guilty feeling and with great cynicism, our communities. Julia’s professor still teaches, Gloria is cat-called every morning, and Sandra doesn’t find enough support to leave and manage a life with a newly born.
Who’s to blame for this? The woman who doesn’t put a claim? The Police that don`t arrest them? Or the Justice System that fails in prosecuting VAW? We live in a system designed to allow the abuser among us, who says: “She makes me act like this, you know? She has a temper and gets angry easily. What can I do? I am a man of peace.” Or; “What can a man do when they come to class in leggings? I am a man after all.”Now, I wonder. What are our reasons for keeping the abuser among us?
We can easily count the bruises and show outrage about it, but there is a lot of micro-violence that is underlying it all – harassment, humiliation, verbal abuse, physical, sexual or economic exploitation, body or slut shaming, for example. There is violence we do not want to see, but know is there: “My husband insults me and humiliates me because I am overweight.” We hear it and we fail to call that emotional violence. We legitimate the abuse by saying: “He’s a fool.” Or; “Maybe he said it in good intention.”
People commit to fight VAW but it’s like they need to know there will be blood to show an open empathy.
Men and women friends collude. Men excusing them. Women saying the abuser is a “good person deep within” a “good neighbor” even an “activist for noble causes.” Men calling you crazy, liar and … irrational. Men stating you speak up on resentment. Men asking you to take it as “a test from God.” Women doing business with them. Women saying you exaggerate and should take it with humor…
Everyone saying they reject VAW, but normalizing women’s abuse by including the abuser in their circles.
So, when we are silent about the violence that don’t leave bruises, we allow the “everlasting legitimization” of the status quo: Processes of violence involve strategies for reproduction of the patriarchal system, i.e., the renewal of vows of subordination of the oppressed and permanent concealment of the instigator act, the act of abuse.
Major acts of violence are possible thanks to the micro-violence of everyday, which most of the time we fail to see and give visibility to, so they remain concealed as we keep silence, allowing the abuser to perform among us. People who accept abusive behavior as normal only because it doesn’t leave bruises, doesn’t affect them directly, or because the victim is not “one of us,” are as guilty and damned as the perpetrator. Collaborating in letting an abuser get away with it, while turning a blind eye because “it’s a personal problem” or “I will pray so God/His Family/The Police/Someone else takes charge of it (but not me because I am ethically lazy).”
Throughout my life I have seen how micro VAW has been kept secret, as coldly as a psychopath would do, even acting as if it was funny. Abusive men, their male friends and the women who justify them, laughing at an abused woman and in this way narrowing their ties against her. An abuser, no matter the degree of the abuse against women can never be a “good person” or “sick”, but is the healthy product of Patriarchy. Violence against women has many structural causes that we are always ready to identify, meanwhile micro-violence has many names. As long as there is no courage to name them, silence will perpetuate the abuse, with our agreement.
Image: Journey Shoes, Walking In the Cycle of Violence: Magdalena’s Journey Shoes workshop encourages exploration of a journey or experience through altering one’s own shoes or used shoes as symbols and expressions of these journeys.
*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of the women.
Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente is a social communicator, writer, mentor in digital activism and community educator in gender and capacity development. She has led initiatives for grass roots female leaders’s empowerment in Latin America and Africa. She is an intersectional latin muslim feminist in the crossroads between Religion, Power and Sexuality. Her academic work addresses Feminist Hermeneutics in Islam, Muslim Women Representations, Queer Identities and Movement Building. Vanessa is the founder of Mezquita de Mujeres (A Mosque for Women), a social media and educational project based in ICT that aims to explore the links between feminism, knowledge and activism and highlights the voices and perspectives of women from the global south as change makers in their communities.