Women I interviewed for my Masters research said that before marrying, most of them had total belief in their partner – because he was a man. The women said that trusting and believing their partner – just because he was a man – was socially encouraged. In other words when he used abusive language, or abusive behaviours, this was confusing for women.
The idea of the Knight in Shining Armour who will protect and care for his lover led to doubting their own view of the abuse and control they were experiencing.
One woman said:
“Over the time that I was with him my self-doubt grew even more and more because everything I suggested just got put down. It just proved the patriarchal thing that women are inferior and men are superior, they do know more, they are cleverer.”
Some women said they were “quite happy” to allow their husband to make decisions because “he seemed to know best”.
Another woman’s partner “could present very strong seemingly logical, rational arguments. I thought he must be right so I’d shift my opinions. I started to think that I must be quite thick”. This belief in their partners was not just about these individual women, this is a social issue.
Finally, one other woman told me that she had thought that believing in the man’s superiority was a sign of love:
“It didn’t really worry me at the time because it felt quite nice in a way, like protected. He was right, and that I didn’t know as much as he did, about things. He knew what he was doing. It just confirmed to me that I was a bit incompetent really.”
This historical notion that men are dominant, more superior, stronger, more capable, more knowledgeable and more logical than women is not natural. It is the way our society has been constructed over thousands for years.
Men talked to me about the social influences on them to climb the hierarchy of masculinities and to dominate over other boys and men and over women.
What that meant to those men during their school days, was that to gain respect, prestige, kudos and acceptance from other boys, from teachers, sports coaches and from girls. These men adhered to dominant social messages that all boys and men learn …. that it is important that they dominate so-called weaker boys and that they dominate and control females.
Many boys and girls who are not taught to critique society, grow up believing in these social hierarchies. They learn that male power and domination is sexy. They learn that female submission is necessary for a marriage to work. Yet at the same time deep down they know this does not seem right, but no one talks about it. What has to happen for these social constructs to be up rooted?
It is extremely rare for boys to talk amongst themselves and say, “Do we actually want to dominate each other? Do we really want to walk all over each other just so some of us can have power and the rest of us can be squashed?”
According to the men I researched, and the many other research projects I have read, many boys learn that it is not safe to have such discussions. If they do, they would be risking a loss of masculine status. And that loss of status can bring shame, humiliation and ostracism.
It is extremely rare for girls to talk amongst themselves and say, “How can we learn to love men who are genuinely kind, caring, respectful and want a relationship in which our differences are respected – as opposed to believing the man is better than and believing the woman is lesser than?” Because these issues are seldom discussed, many girls start to believe in their fate – that they have to tow the line. Many girls learn that arguing against it or questioning it are not very feminine behaviours. And so the cycle of silence continues.
The media continues to represent the idea that it is totally okay for boys and men to dominate girls and women
As Hans Christian Andersen’s fable shows below, most of society pretends that it is totally okay that boys and men should be dominating and controlling. These kinds of behaviour are considered honourable and being a “good wife” is considered admirable.
It is time that more people muster the courage of honesty. To take a step towards change – towards stopping violence, stopping psychological abuse, stopping coercively controlling behaviours by men, against women – it is imperative that we be honest about how we each are truly affected by these dominant social hierarchies. It is time to courageously speak the truth that is inside each of our hearts.
The following is a snippet of the fable that inspired this cry for such honesty:
In Hans Christian Andersen’s story, The Emperor’s New Suit, written in 1837, there lived an emperor, whose only ambition was to be always well dressed. One day two swindlers came to his city and they made people believe that they were weavers, and declared they could manufacture the finest cloth to be imagined. Their colours and patterns, they said, were not only exceptionally beautiful, but the clothes made of their material possessed the wonderful quality of being invisible to any man who was unfit for his office or unpardonably stupid.
“That must be wonderful cloth,” thought the emperor. “If I were to be dressed in a suit made of this cloth I should be able to find out which men in my empire were unfit for their places, and I could distinguish the clever from the stupid. I must have this cloth woven for me without delay.” And he gave a large sum of money to the swindlers, who then set up two looms, and pretended to be very hard at work.
“I shall send my honest old minister to the weavers,” thought the emperor. “He can judge best how the stuff looks, for he is intelligent, and nobody understands his office better than he.”
The minister went into the room where the swindlers sat before the empty looms. He could not see anything at all, but he did not say so. He thought, “Can I be so stupid? I should never have thought so, and nobody must know it! Is it possible that I am not fit for my office? No, no, I cannot say that I was unable to see the cloth.”
Soon afterwards the emperor sent another honest courtier to the weavers to see how they were getting on. That man too could not see any cloth and thought, “I am not stupid … It is therefore my good appointment for which I am not fit… I must not let any one know it” and he praised the cloth, which he did not see.
Then when the emperor went to see the cloth for himself, he thought, “I do not see anything at all. That is terrible! Am I stupid? Am I unfit to be emperor? That would indeed be the most dreadful thing that could happen to me.”
He told the weavers, “Your cloth has our most gracious approval” for he did not like to say that he saw nothing. All his attendants, who were with him, looked and looked, and although they could not see anything more than the others, they said, like the emperor, “It is very beautiful.” And all advised him to wear the new magnificent clothes at a great procession, which was soon to take place.
The emperor and all his barons then came to the hall; the swindlers held their arms up as if they held something in their hands and said, “These are the trousers!” “This is the coat!” “Here is the cloak!” and so on… “Does it please your Majesty now to graciously undress,” said the swindlers, “That we may assist your Majesty in putting on the new suit before the large looking-glass?”
The emperor undressed, and the swindlers pretended to put the new suit upon him, one piece after another; and the emperor looked at himself in the glass from every side… “I am ready,” said the emperor. “Does not my suit fit me marvelously?” Then he turned once more to the looking-glass, that people should think he admired his garments.
The emperor marched in the procession under the beautiful canopy, and all who saw him in the street and out of the windows exclaimed, “Indeed, the emperor’s new suit is incomparable! What a long train he has! How well it fits him!” Nobody wished to let others know they saw nothing, for then they would have been unfit for their office or too stupid.
“But he has nothing on at all,” said a little child at last. “Good heavens! Listen to the voice of an innocent child,” said the father, and one whispered to the other what the child had said. “But he has nothing on at all,” cried at last the whole people. That made a deep impression upon the emperor, for it seemed to him that they were right; but he thought to himself, “Now I must bear up to the end.” And the chamberlains walked with still greater dignity, as if they carried the train, which did not exist. The End.