Sunday, August 14, 2016

Intimate Partner Violence/Domestic Abuse in South Asian Families (Male Privilege Part 2)

Intimate Partner Violence (IPV, Domestic Violence) is a problem in all ethnic communities and is not limited to the South Asian community (1). Intimate Partner Violence is “behaviour by an intimate partner or ex-partner that causes physical, sexual or psychological harm, including physical aggression, sexual coercion, psychological abuse and controlling behaviours” (2). Sexual violence is “any sexual act, attempt to obtain a sexual act, or other act direct against a person’s sexuality using coercion, by any person regardless of their relationship to the victim, in any setting” (2). Male privilege (discussed in part 1 of this post ) is one of the tactics used to control women in abusive relationships (3). These topics affect the health and safety of our families. The effects of intimate partner violence on South Asian women include increased risk for suicide, depression, anxiety, sexual health concerns, PTSD, low self-esteem, substance abuse, and physical health issues (1,4). Risk factors for both IPV and sexual violence includes “attitudes that are accepting of violence and gender inequality,” “beliefs in family honour and sexual purity”, and “ideologies of male sexual entitlement” (5), so it is important to examine how our cultural beliefs of sexuality are related to IPV. To provide a balanced approach I will discuss men’s and women’s issues.

Female Sexuality and Femininity
Femininity is described as “submissiveness, inferiority, self-sacrifice, nurturing, good moral values, docile demeanor, social dependency and chastity” in South Asian culture (6). The value system around female sexuality is based on the belief that men own women and have a right to control their sexuality to maintain izzat (see my post on izzat (6). This control is achieved through restrictions on her behaviour- where she goes, her clothing, how late she goes out, who she talks to, the music she listens to, how she dances, etc. A lot of these will be justified to women as being for her safety (7), even though women are more likely to be raped in their own home by a man they trust regardless of what they wear (8). Women pass on these belief systems because if they can separate their situation from that of the victim, they can create a false sense of safety. For example, asking a rape victim what they were wearing is a way of telling themselves ‘I don’t wear those clothes therefore I won’t be raped.’ This is used by defense in rape trials; Brene Brown explains, “‘The defense attorneys don’t want jurors to relate to the victim- what she looks like, her age, her race, where she was when the assault happened, et cetera. Fearing the jurors may relate to her, the defense attorneys attack her character so that no one would want to relate to her… I’m sure that’s easy to do- I wouldn’t want to relate to her, because that would mean it could happen to me too’” (9). These patterns of thinking then justify the inequalities in the freedoms afforded to males vs. females.

Women face conflicting expectations around sexuality. We are expected to be asexual before marriage (10), but western society expects us to be sexual enough to please our husbands yet not too comfortable in our sexuality, which would be considered “slutty” (11). Women’s reputations constantly able to be held against her and will be ruined whether its consensual sex outside marriage, or rape (12). The expectation to be sexually naïve when a woman is married actually “may make them more vulnerable in their relationships, as sex often becomes a means through which men can appropriate power” (12). A bride suddenly is expected to adjust to her own and her husband’s sexuality overnight with no preparation, knowledge or experience (12). Abraham explains that women “anticipate sex to at least fulfill some need for intimacy...If the wedding night becomes sex without intimacy, many women … feel empty, lonely, and objectified. The sexual act thus becomes one in which women are silenced, controlled and subordinated” (6).

Male Sexuality and Masculinity
The very concept of masculinity is considered to be the ability to be able to have power in the relationship: “Masculinity in mainstream South Asian cultures is defined to a large degree in terms of men’s power, virility, and ability to control women’s morality and sexuality... South Asian men are socialized to believe sexual virility is an indicator of masculinity and that male sexual needs are natural. As access to women is controlled through the larger culture of virginity and chastity… men’s sexual knowledge prior to marriage may be drawn from pornography or limited sexual interaction with women…” (6). Mens sexual needs are prioritized above a woman's and they are expected to take control of sexual interactions. One man talks about the messages he heard as a child: “The older people will say: ‘Oh if you are getting married, you have to show your wife that you are her boss right, on the first night. So you should be sexually very aggressive on that day and she will be scared of you for all her life’”(1). As I talked about in my last post, freedoms afforded to men often look very different than for women, including the ability to have a pre-marital sexual relationship without negative repercussions: “…men initiate the sexual act, define its nature, and determine when it ends, whereas women rarely have any say in the matter…in an abusive relationship, the baggage of an overwhelming cultural prescription that allows men rights to premarital sex and unquestioned gratification within marriage, but defines women’s sexuality in terms of premarital sexual purity, renders the marital relationship unequal” (6).

This definition of masculinity puts males under a great deal of stress to financially support their female, ‘control’ their wife, keep the family together, take care of his parents, and social pressure to start drinking to deal with these issues (alcohol abuse sometimes co-occurs with IPV) (1). Men who are abused by their female partners also face a lot of stigma (13). Men face conflicting messages about their sexuality in western culture; a man is expected to have sex with as many women as possible to be sexually experienced, but if he is too interested or has sex with too many women, that’s not acceptable either (14). For example, “a man who might be monogamous by nature or might want greater levels of intimacy before sex is seen as a freak” and “the man who has lots of sex partners is shown to have something wrong with him, emotionally and needs a Good Woman to heal him and teach him the wonders of monogamy” (14).

Normalizing Violence
These values of male and female sexuality lead to the belief that men have a right to force their wife to have sex. I’m sure there are many South Asian women that don’t know this is marital rape because they’ve been taught sex is their wifely duty, women are “socialized to believe that they have fewer sexual rights than their husbands… for men, the assumption is that male aggression is natural and a normal part of sexual intercourse and sexual activity” (6). The expectations of sex are based on the needs of men and women’s sexual needs are not a priority: “Traditionally men are taught that sex is their masculine right as husbands and little attention is given to socializing them to fulfill the sexual desires and needs of their wives…men assume that it is their responsibility and marital right to take control of sexual interaction and affirm their sexual prowess. This often results in marital rape” (6). Marital rape is normalized because silence is understood as shyness rather than lack of consent; Abraham writes

“Often rape occurs on the first night, with the husband justifying the woman’s silence as shyness. Given that women are supposed to be virgins when the marry, men confuse or attribute a woman’s lack of sexual experience, her reluctance, or her silence at his aggression with shyness on her part as a bride. The assumption that nonparticipation culturally implies shyness in the case of the woman and must be overcome by the husband is closely connected with cultural notions of femininity, masculinity, and gender role expectations. Women often keep silent from shock and dismay and because they have been socialized to place their husband’s needs before their own” (6).

The joint family system can be very beneficial in sharing the work-load and reducing stress for the couple (1). In the case of families where abuse is accepted, however, this creates isolation for the victim, and can create conflicts where the man is caught choosing sides between his wife and mother (1,16). The difference in these two situations is the belief systems held by the family (1).

Perpetrators are the regular guys we all know
Just as no woman wants to be a victim, no man wants to be seen as an abuser. In fact, it’s easier for all of us to believe that perpetrators are not the people we know or ourselves. This quote is written by men who worked with men that batter women:

“When we first began working with men who batter women, we kept waiting for the monster to come through the door. Seven years later, we're still waiting. Most of the men we've seen, whether self-referred or mandated by the courts or the military, seem normal to most of the people who know them. They just happen to be committing criminal offenses at home. FBI crime statistics tell us that close to 40% of all men living intimately with women have battered their partners during the course of the relationship. By ‘battering’ we mean the use of and repeated threat of physical force to dominate and control a woman… Seventy-five to ninety percent of rapes are committed by male acquaintances: family members, co-workers, classmates, dates, boyfriends, husbands. Battering and rape aren’t, as many of us would prefer it, being committed by pathological freaks. Women are most often victimized by men they once trusted and loved…Men batter women because, in the short term, it works; i.e., the violence temporarily stops a woman from doing what threatens or challenges our authority. Men batter women because they can get away with it…And finally, men have been socialized to believe we have the right and the privilege to dominate and control women” (15).

As second-generation men watch their parents model the husband-wife relationships, they pick up the same values and beliefs (1). I believe many are unaware of their own abusive behaviours because it has been normalized growing up and it gives them what they want: “while these [second-generation] men are generally more open to equality within a relationship, many get ‘stuck’ within their cultural male privilege and may not be willing to lose those benefits” (1). Furthermore, it’s not just men that are abusing their partners that benefit from IPV (15). These men write: “our partners frequently make decisions based on how to avoid subjecting themselves to male violence: decisions… influenced by whether or not a man (spouse, lover, friend) is available to accompany a woman on that walk. They have an unspoken agreement that she depends on a man to protect her from being raped or threatened by violent men. So men end up determining if women get to go out and where they go. And we don't mind having that control…This form of control never gets named. It’s classic male privilege, in all its invisibility, with all its power” (15).

What Can We Do?
For the benefit of all of the women in your life- your mother, your sisters, your partner, I would ask men that you listen to a woman who shares her struggles about being female. Please understand the courage it takes a woman to share this with a man, and value that she has trusted you because she believes you have the ability to understand her point of view, be empathetic, and that you have the insight and courage to be able to learn from what she is saying (15). Instead of denying, dismissing, defending, or derailing the issue (17), accept what she tells you as her experience.
Listening to women is hard for us. If we listen, we’ll hear things that are hard to hear. Our lies, our injustices, our faults will be exposed…We’re likely to feel confused and scared if we don’t emotionally withdraw, go numb or get angry. Our confusion and fear can be palpable…When we allow ourselves these feelings, the women and children in our lives may be able to feel a commonality and closeness with us, rather than feeling driven by us” (15).
If you really care about women, examine your behaviours and own up to the ones that have hurt them, even if you had good intentions. Be accountable, this means men “not only accept responsibility for their actions and the impact of their actions upon others, but also engage in actions in attempts to repair that harm…[this] includes breaking behaviour and thinking based on power and control and replacing them with new definitions of what masculinity entails” (1). This is what we have been taught as Sikhs. I don’t believe that it has to take being charged with a criminal offence, jail time or mandatory counselling for people to change...maybe for some men it does but it shouldn't. I encourage women and men to examine your belief systems and change the ones that are making relationships unequal power differentials.

Lastly, as a community we need to stop being silent about IPV, sexual violence, and sex in general. There’s an assumption we magically gain the skills to be able to talk about safe sex, boundaries, and consent after marriage. Consent is beyond yes or no: a yes that was obtained when coerced is not consent, and no can be communicated in various ways including non-verbally (1). I saw a great article (written by a man) called "Saying Yes: Power and Permission" that explains why a woman saying "yes" is not the same as a man, and how men can create an environment where "yes" is meaningful (18). A relationship without good communication between partners is ultimately going to be an unsafe one so it is our responsibility to develop those skills! Check out this amazing video that uses tea as an analogy to understand consent: 

1 Thandi, G. and Lloyd, B. “’This is a man’s problem’: Strategies for working with South Asian male perpetrators of intimate partner violence.” (2011). Justice Insititue of British Columbia.'s-problem_REPORT.pdf
6 Abraham, M. (1999). Sexual abuse in South Asian immigrant marriages. Violence against Women, 5, 591-618.  
9 Brown, Brené. I Thought It Was Just Me: Women Reclaiming Power and Courage in a Culture of Shame. New York: Gotham, 2007. Electronic.
10 Hunjan, Sandeep., "South Asian women in Canada: Experiences of intimate partner violence." (2003). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. Paper 3543.
12 Dasgupta, Shamita Das. Body Evidence: Intimate Violence Against South Asian Women in America. New Brunswick, N.J: Rutgers University Press, 2007. Electronic.
15 Bathrick, D. and Kaufman, G. “Male Violence and Male Privilege.” (2001). Men Stopping Violence, Inc.  READ THIS IS IF YOU HAVE TIME!
16 Bandan, P. “The obstacles South Asian victims of spousal violence endure in Vancouver, Canada: culture vs. the extended family vs. the law.” (2009). Criminology- Theses, Dissertations and other Required Graduate Degree Essays.

18 Hahn, R. “Saying Yes: Power and Permission.” Men Stopping Violence, Inc.

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