I caught the tail end an interview on NPR's Tell Me More. It was with West African singer-songwriter Angelique Kidjo. (Listen or read it here.) Prior to this morning, I had never heard of her, but one of the bits that I caught really grabbed my attention and hit close to home.
And the question I always ask - and I'm still waiting for the answer - is what threat do we pose to men for us to be always the one that come after? Without us there is no manhood. Without women there's no humanhood. We give birth. Even though we need men for that, it's a relationship that have to be done in harmony. No one should be superior. We are partners in life together. You cannot disrespect the woman that gave you your children that you are proud of. If you dismiss her you, dismiss yourself, you dismiss your children.[Emphasis mine.]
Clearly Kidjo is speaking about a very specific relationship (heterosexual and child bearing.) Putting aside that this experience is not universal for a moment, I want to talk about my personal connection with the exact mentality that she is talking about--specifically husbands disrespecting their wives.
I've written before about how my childhood was contained a lot of really toxic things, including verbal abuse. One way that this was perpetuated was through the constant belittling of my mother by my father. It was often couched in a seemingly harmless "teasing" fashion. It was "all in good fun" and he was "just kidding around." His exercise of power in this manner was a daily lesson to my brother and I that my mom was lesser in his eyes. His disrespect of her was so routine that it formed our understanding of her. And we learned, from a very young age, that we could earn points in my dad's sick system by joining in with him on making fun of our mom. If we were "joking" around with him about her, then 1) we weren't being picked on ourselves and 2) we felt approval from and loved by my dad. I truly believe that, for lack of a better term, that we displayed a form of Stockholm Syndrome.
I try not to chastise myself for how I behaved as a kid when I was just doing what I needed to survive, but I do feel a lot of guilt, as would be expected now that I understand our problematic family dynamic. But, beyond that, it has taken me a long time to actively break this mentality in my own relationships--when you learn that making fun of someone is how you show love, it can really affect your behavior. It's taken a strong partner in Ronald to remind me, all the time, that's not what love looks like. I'm endlessly thankful for the patience he extends me because this type of healing is certainly an ongoing process.
Coincidentally, February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. As I frequently emphasize, it is so important that we understand what healthy relationships look like and share that information with our young people, because otherwise, how will they know? Unfortunately dating violence is currently at epidemic proportions. Check out some of the stats:
- One in three girls in the US is a victim of physical, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner, a figure that far exceeds rates of other types of youth violence.
- Girls and young women between the ages of 16 and 24 experience the highest rate of intimate partner violence, almost triple the national average.
- Only 33% of teens who were in an abusive relationship ever told anyone about the abuse.
Without greater knowledge, these cycles are bound to continue. And that knowledge must include a comprehensive view of what truly healthy relationships look like. I made the mistake as a teen and young adult of thinking that because we weren't sexually abused or routinely beaten that things in our family were "OK." I'd like to put out a friendly but firm reminder that violence takes many forms. The scars I bear on my mind are no different than those on someone else's body--both of which are simply unacceptable.