Sunday 17 February 2019

It’s all your fault

Above:  Part of a series of anti-domestic violence ads which appeared in Poland

The murder trial being heard at the moment is another in a long line of domestic disputes which ended up in tragedy.

This time, it was not the woman who ended up as a statistic, but her partner, whom her ex-husband shot dead in broad daylight outside the Pembroke church on a Sunday morning. Apart from his cold-blooded execution of the other man, what chilled me the most on reading the court report was that the ex-husband turned towards his estranged wife and told her “this is all your fault”.

In that phrase lies the crunch of these types of dysfunctional male-female relationships.

It is the phrase that many violent men use when they flip out and beat a woman black and blue and then try to pin the blame on her – “You made me do it. See what you made me do?”

Now, before (non-violent) men reading this start to object, yes, there are also women who act horribly and go around blaming men for their own vindictive, out-of-control behaviour.  The fact remains though that women’s behaviour when they are thwarted or rejected by men does not usually end up in physical violence and therefore does not end up in the news.  In fact, their anger and fury is more likely to be played out in other ways.

The film Fatal Attraction in which Glenn Close’s character makes her ex-lover’s life a living hell, was quite accurate in the portrayal of how unstable women react to rejection; she harassed him with phone calls, she destroyed his personal property by throwing acid on his car and she resorted to self-harm in a desperate attempt to keep the man (played by Michael Douglas) from dumping her. As she continued to fall apart in a manic, downward spiral, she grasped at anything in his life which she could destroy, including the famous scene where she kills the family’s pet rabbit by boiling it in a pot – leading to the coining of the phrase ‘bunny boiler’, which has come to refer to deranged women who resort to bizarre behaviour because of their obsession with someone.

At the end, she even tries to kill the man’s wife (which is, frankly, the most unrealistic scene in the whole film). But it is interesting that at no point did she try to harm the man himself.

On the other hand, at least from what we hear in the news, when abusive, domineering, controlling men are abandoned, they do resort to violence and even murder of the woman who has rejected them. It’s his final control over her: if I can’t have you, no one will.

As has been repeated ad nauseum, the violence doesn’t always raise its head immediately: it is usually an escalation of incidents which start with psychological and emotional manipulation, verbal abuse and gradual, complete control of the woman’s life.

I recently watched a PSA against domestic violence starring Kiera Knightly which cleverly uses her life as an actress and the long hours she works to bring home the reality of what it means to live in constant fear. Coming home apprehensively to an impatient, furious boyfriend  (“Where were you? What took you so long?”), she steels herself for the inevitable confrontation. When he throws the dish towel in her face with contempt, she flinches and looking straight at the camera says “cut, that was not in the script”.  The clip is quietly frightening as it slips back and forth between reality and make believe as he starts to beat her and the camera zooms out to show us that this is a film set.

It is a breathtakingly effective. Paradoxically, I found that it was the hurled dish towel (more than the actual beating) which best demonstrated the daily humiliation victims have to endure. It shows how little the perpetrator thinks of her; how much of a ‘nothing’ she represents, except as a way for him to vent his own pent-up frustrations.

No, no woman (or man) ever thinks that being psychologically and physically beaten is written in the ‘script’ of their life.  It is not what we visualize as kids when we romantically daydream about living happily ever after. We expect to be loved and treated well, and it shocks us to the core to think that there are people right now living behind closed doors in the kind of hellhole which only comes out into the public sphere after tragedy strikes.

It is doubly tragic when a 30-year-old woman finally leaves the much older man (he was 59 at the time of the shooting) who has treated her so badly and finds someone who truly cares for her, only to have him taken away from her so cruelly in one last ultimate act of spite and hateful revenge.

To be then coldly told that it was all her fault (dan kollu gibtu b’idejk) was the one final, sadistic twist of the knife.




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