In 2014, 1.4 million women were victims of domestic abuse according to the Office for National Statistics. This amounts to approximately (pardon my maths) 15% of all married women in the UK. If you find numbers hard to empathise with, let me put it this way.
15% of all married women are afraid of their own husbands, and with good reason, 15% of married women are attacked within their own homes. 15% of married women have no place where their and their children’s safety is guaranteed. 15% of married women have to lie to the world about their bruises. 15% of all married women are going through hell and are too scared to report it.
What I’m trying to get across is, domestic abuse is shockingly widespread and intense. Considering how violent crime rates have overall fallen in the past decade, why is violence within the home still so prevalent?
The easy answer is to vilify the men; aggressive, selfish drunks who have no respect for women. They not only abuse their wives physically, but emotionally as well, fostering an environment that feels impossible to escape. And in many ways, it is. Especially when children are in the picture, a marriage is hard to break off.
When 50 Shades of Grey was released, various activist groups and women’s shelters rushed to condemn it as a “manual for sexual torture”. To them, the film was promoting violence within the home and against women.
I will not be the first one to note (considering how common sense is, you know, common) that their attempt is a shot and miss.
Anastasia Steele, the ‘abused’, is fully consenting and informed about her relationship with Christian Grey, prior to signing herself over. Women who fall victim to domestic abuse don’t consent to it per se, and no one is giving them Audis in return. In the real word, there is no contract, or at least not one that would hold up in court.
In the real word, a man and a woman fall in love and get married. The man gets a bit violent one night, after a couple of drinks. But she makes excuses for him: he was tipsy, he had a bad day at work, she provoked him. Year after year, the excuses don’t change and the lie she tells herself doesn’t either; “he loves me.”
The crucial difference between Anastasia’s contract and that of marriage is lack of information. Or at least, denial of important traits of the fiance’s character. In other words, these women don’t know, or don’t want to admit they know, what they’re getting themselves into.
They are blinded by ‘love’, or whatever this emotion with masochistic echoes is. More often than not, it doesn’t fade. But even if it does, all the aforementioned constraints make it hard for her to leave.
And therein lies the problem, in the concept of ‘love’. As a society we have decided that to love someone is a noble emotion. We should be grateful when someone loves us. The unfortunate by-product of this mentality is that we consider love to be a good excuse.
Case in point, ‘I lied to you, but I love you. So, please forgive me. Because I really really love you.’ In this example, it’s probably a good idea to forgive. But when it comes to physical violence ‘love’ is most definitely not an excuse. ‘Love’ is what should prevent you from hurting someone.
Under this light, the puzzle of 25% of domestic abuse victimising men can be solved. It is not sexism that is the problem, but rather the dynamics of specific relationships.
What is more, the notion of marriage makes things even worse. When two people walk down the aisle, or maybe after the honeymoon, they come to terms with the idea of ‘forever’. And as soon as they have they will always factor that promise in their decision-making.
It is socially and morally acceptable in many Western cultures to hit your own children. Because you love them and you need to teach them a lesson, or maybe they spilled your Cosmo. The disturbing reasoning behind hitting your wife is not far from that. Marriage and family are not either.
We need to redefine ‘love’, ‘marriage’ and ‘family’ if we are serious about fighting domestic abuse.