The work I do at the Indrani’s Light Foundation towards violence-free homes is a very personal and intense commitment. Suffice to say, it’s not only because I care about eradicating violence towards women or girls. Not at all. As much as I care about that, I have an extra bonfire of passion for the cause because I know, from personal experience, that men and boys are also being abused, and their plight has not thus far been given its due. Gender-Based Violence is about all of us and it will take all of us, men and women working together, to make it a thing of the past.
If you’ve ever heard the saying, ‘When you’ve been abused as a child, you’re far more likely be abusive as a parent,’ you can do the math. It doesn’t matter where the cycle of violence started – though usually it has its roots in war, if we look far enough – lots of abused girls gives rise to lots of potentially-abusive moms. The conflict inside a human being that leads to abusive behaviour doesn’t discriminate by sex. What’s happening to all this anger?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m far from against the great work being done by so many towards eradicating violence towards women. It’s great work that I’m very grateful for, and, it becomes even greater work when done in a context of compassion towards men and women, whether they are the abused, or the abusive. None of us is what we do, nor what is done to us, which is why you won’t see me use the labels Victim, Perpetrator or Abuser.
May I ask you a personal question? When was the last time you yelled at someone? (Inside your car during rush hour doesn’t count.) I’m interested in whether you remember yelling at someone who could hear you.
For me it was a few years ago, before Christmas. I had my hands full, hurrying back to my car when I came upon two boys, both under the age of 10, who were banging on the windows and taunting our dog, Oz, in the way that kids are wont to do.
Catching them in the act, Ozzy’s barking amplified through the crack in the window, I yelled,
Two small heads turned to look.
And my measure of myself plummeted in the split second afterwards, when I realized what I’d done.
Statistics show the rate of convictions for domestic violence committed by women in the United Kingdom has more than doubled since 2005.* It may be that the delta is only so high because we haven’t been measuring very long, and we have yet to reach a baseline threshold of data. Like in New Delhi, India, where it was commented that the nickname, ‘Rape Capital of the World’ is unfair, because few other places in the world have (courageously) measured to the degree Delhi does.
This fly in the ointment of our measuring abilities doesn’t obscure the facts, however. Gender-based violence is not the exclusive province of men on women, nor is the issue all about women and girls. It took a lot of violence towards women, and long years of suppression, to add up to the surge in activism we’re seeing now, in the cause that One Billion Rising and other communities have taken up so well.
On the other hand, I hope that as the gender rising – as women – we will not forsake our compassion for the ‘other side.’ Although many of us have suffered at the hands of men, they are not, in fact, the source of the problem. Abusive behaviour should never be excused. But the way to healing violence in the home must honour all genders. In my book, this means compassion, fairness, responsibility-taking and the recognition that an increase in violence towards men can only mean our cause has failed.
“We need to forgive the person who has acted against us, while condemning his or her actions. What we usually do is to become angry with the person. The issue of Tibet may show us a clear example. Tibetans have suffered unbearable atrocities, which we are opposed to, but we nevertheless need to cultivate compassion for their perpetrators.” – His Holiness the Dalai Lama**
What would it take to be the woman I know myself to be, who instead of yelling ‘Get lost!’ could pause and naturally respond in a constructive fashion? What can I continue to do to create a life of ease and gentleness, self-compassion and ample time to do what I want, such that the only reaction possible would be to introduce the dog to the boys, and invite them to make friends?
“Boys? When you do that to the car, can you see it really upsets the puppy? His name is Oz, like the Wizard of Oz. What’s your name? Would you like to meet him? Here, he won’t bite you, go ahead, just crouch down a bit and stretch out your hand for him to smell. That’s nice! […] So boys…next time when you see a dog in a car, instead of banging on the car, why don’t you try just looking, and if you see the owner, ask if you can pet him just like this?”
Fortunately or unfortunately, what I’ll remember instead is two young, very straight backs, walking quickly and neatly away from the car, one small head turning back furtively to look, as if to make sure no one was chasing.
Violence is a kind of energy, and like any kind of energy, can feel like it’s happening TO us. Becoming someone who’s able, increasingly, to stand on the side of the light, rather than be the defensive, protective and fearful versions of ourselves? Even with the help of counselling, studying, practicing new habits or other self-awareness, when push comes to shove (and that’s the thing, this world can have us feeling pushed and shoved in the blink of an eye) staying peaceful can be very, very difficult.
Which is what makes the work so needed, and so rewarding. “Gender-Based Violence,” “Domestic Violence,” “Violence-Free Homes” – whatever we call it, is about all of us.
[Discussion Group Questions]
Each of us is a part of the conversation around violent behaviour, regardless of whether we’re outwardly violent ourselves. In fact, violence can also occur within, turning ourselves in on ourselves. Being less than kind to ourselves is a kind of self-violence, and can be just as harmful as bruises on the skin.
What can you share about your experience that can help contribute to, and shape this conversation?
Are you a man experiencing violence against you? http://www.whiteribboncampaign.co.uk/violence_against_men
The hidden side of domestic violence http://www.batteredmen.com/batrcan.htm
MN Center against Violence and Abuse http://www.mincava.umn.edu/