A Guest Post by Vamp.
I saw your recent post on domestic violence. I think this story will highlight several different aspects of domestic abuse from the victim’s point of view.
As I have said countless times before, my MIL, though an adorable woman, is a victim of chronic domestic abuse, both physical and emotional. The emotional part is also meted out to her by others in the family, who actually end up abusing her without knowing that they are actually being abusive.
I read about the cycle of abuse and it was very insightful. However, I feel that becoming a victim also involves a very vicious cycle.
My MIL wasn’t very weak-minded or submissive originally. From what her sisters and extended family says to what she has actually told me during our numerous conversations, she was a brat of a child and a chirpy woman who loved playing pranks. For her time and the community she lived in, she was quite the daredevil. In a time and age when women’s education was frowned upon, she did both B.Com and a Bachelors’ Degree in Music. To top off that chilled-out attitude, she had a ‘love marriage’.
Often, we see that people who get their own way all the time are also extremely stubborn. My MIL too, is extremely stubborn in her ideas on certain things, as in, she refuses to acknowledge facts even when she is actually wrong. She has a habit of going into the defensive. It’s a surprise seeing this in a victim of domestic abuse, but there it is. And believe me, it is a lethal combination.
My MIL would serve everyone selflessly in the family, including me, though I staunchly refuse to take any help from anyone for stuff I can do on my own. So, my husband, who readily does chores when with me, just gets served on his backside when his mom is around. I even chided him about it, because his mom being Diabetic and generally physically weak and taxed, needs help, in fact, even more than I do, so he must be highly willing to share chores with her. He acknowledged this fact. But this is what he said:
“I and <brother> do feel bad and try helping her. But while you openly assign me chores, she and grandma (daadi saas) drive us out or make fun of us saying that we men don’t know anything and that we would make a worse mess of things than they already are. They tell me it’s not men’s work…”
And this is very true. Some women harbor sexism and uphold patriarchy even when they have nothing to gain from it.
My MIL says these things in such a matter-of-factly way that there is no hint of sadness/hesitation in her despite that she is a victim of the very values she upholds. She is a curious mix of ignorant stubbornness and educated submissiveness that I just don’t know what to do with her.
So my MIL, with all her obstinacy, staunchly believes and defends the following:
- Traditional gender roles; women cook and serve men while men buy them flowers and spend for them
I guess she used to watch too many 60s-70s Tamil movies. Goodness heavens!
- Giving birth as soon as possible after marriage
She badgers me a lot for grandchildren, although very affectionately. And because she is nice and already abused so much, I don’t have the heart to be unkind to her. So, feeling sorry for her, I stay silent and pretend to listen even while I don’t actually do what she asked.
- Women are not as skilled in financial or other ‘outside’ work as men are
There are countless times she has said that the men would know better even when my decision was clearly the most rational/practical one, or I had better knowledge than the men of the household. The men’s decisions get accepted by default, no matter how stupid they are. (It’s only my husband who takes me seriously and consults with me on all matters)In fact, she is a living example of her belief. She has no original say in anything that matters. At most, she stays silent. Come to talk about practicing what you preach.I sometimes wonder if she really lacks knowledge or pretends to lack knowledge. Sometimes, she does make her ignorance evident. Other times, I feel she does it simply to please her husband’s and in-laws’ ego.
- Wife is always below husband no matter who/what she is
When I and my husband fight, and she hears about it, she does give out some advice to me, a major part of which cannot be called unbiased. It’s not really about him being her son because she genuinely considers me her daughter. The problem is her view of gender roles.There is always this subtle emphasis of even working women (read corporate, because she was a teacher in a local school once, and somehow, that is a more “passive” profession for wives. Corporate women are some kind of bitches) needing husbands (I do work, but it has got nothing to do with my fights with my husband).
- Treat husband reverentially and make delicious dishes for him
I and my husband have dated for 4 years before our marriage, and being from the current generation in a large metro city, we are more like friends. After marriage, this equation was upset by our families, who wanted us to adhere to their traditional gender roles.For instance, I am expected to formally address him at all times. We both hate it, but being basically respectful of their wishes we enact this drama whenever any elder is near. MIL insists on it.
- Always obey elders, no matter what they say. It is always your good
Ironically, she, in her heydays can’t be said to have quite obeyed her own parents and older siblings as evident from her life before marriage.Somehow she is the picture of ideal Indian submissive wife after marriage. All her sisters are strong ‘fighter’ women. But here, my MIL is known or even hailed for being so submissive, silent and easily-threatened.
- Being an excellent cook is vital for a wife
She is an excellent cook. I am an okay-okay cook; I have my good days and bad days. Somehow she believes I have to pick up better skills from her.Yeah I am perfectly okay learning from her, but cooking is not really my primary interest. For her, it is like everything in a marriage.
- People have all rights to reprimand you at any level if you forget to add mustard, curry leaves, coriander, salt or other extras in the dish, or if you spoil the dish or basically if you don’t “do your womanly duty”
Which happens quite a lot with me; I am a novice cook and sometimes turn out really bad dishes. My husband doesn’t make a fuss, but FIL makes sure he insults/beats or scolds MIL that “She let this happen…” She meekly accepts it.Okay, for the sake of convenience, let’s assume traditional gender roles are a fair norm. If equally responsible for dereliction of their respective duties, don’t women get a more raw deal than men?I mean I don’t flog/scold/abuse/scream at my husband if he doesn’t get the A/C fixed or forgets to pay the credit card due.
It’s not really about the traditional role really. It’s simply about who is in power. MIL refuses to accept this concept though it is in her favor. She, in fact, brings out “evidence” to argue against it.
- You can work, dress or go out but with in-laws’ permission
So, she grants me “permission” and convinces her FIL to grant me “permission” for the above and because of this I am supposed to count myself “lucky”. Heck, I don’t even NEED their “permission” for this. She doesn’t accept this concept too.She thinks she is a nice MIL, not because she is actually a nice person, but because she gives me “permission” to live my life.
- Domestic violence is her personal life
She doesn’t like it when I talk about it. But whenever she gets beaten, she comes to us (my husband or her other son) for help.When we do try to take concrete measures against FIL, she sides with FIL and says, “Respect your father… this is our personal life, why are you interfering?”After some days, she also complains about FIL to us. We listen. But when we make comments, we get a huge backlash from her.
FIL knows for a fact that I and my husband care two hoots about his blackmail so he uses the only weapon he has. He abuses MIL. The abuse stops (for that time period) only when we concede to his demands. This is also partly achieved by MIL crying and begging us to help.
Well, WTF really! The woman gets herself abuses to abuse us indirectly. Then she says it’s her personal life and gives us a strict warning. I wonder sometimes if she is a secondary abuser.
Sorry for the long mail, but to conclude, victims aren’t always in it because they do not have support or they really have any way of survival. It is also sometimes because their own innate faults make them susceptible to not acknowledging that they are also partly responsible for their own pathetic situation.
I don’t mean to blame the victim here. I am just emphasizing the fact that if you get a raw deal once, you are a victim, but it happens again and again and again, it is clearly your fault. And, this is not a case of child abuse. This woman is clearly equipped enough to escape if she wants to.
You would think a stubborn person wouldn’t be abused. But in this case, my MIL’s stubbornness is her only problem. Despite having a good start in life, and growing up in a more relaxed environment than her present one, MIL clearly screwed up her own life.
She has puzzled us so much, we don’t “interfere” anymore whether she gets beaten or not. She is just not the kind who will even listen to what you have to say. Her beliefs are etched on stone, even if self-harming.