A while ago, I was at a party catching up with a new friend of mine. She had recently broken off her engagement (this occurred well before we had become friends) to a friend of her friend. Curiosity got the best of me so I inquired into the reason for the dissemination of their relationship.
This was a rather audacious move on my part because having just recently befriended this woman, I was not sure whether this would prove to be a touchy point of discussion. Not only did her response rattle me to the core, it made me consider the various issues that emanate from what she revealed to me. I was rather shocked to hear my friend say that the reason that she broke of her engagement was a result of physical, verbal and emotional abuse that spanned over a year. It shocked me for a number of reasons. Firstly, the woman in question is so young and for her to have experienced abuse at this stage in her life is heart-breaking. Secondly, I had never had anyone this close to me, experience physical abuse, at the level that she had. And lastly, she revealed to me that a number of mutual friends knew about the abuse but preferred not to do anything. Now, I am sure many will look at my second point and think ‘well, I wouldn’t want to put myself in that kind of line of fire by interfering in domestic matters’, and that is perfectly normal. We are all human and we cannot all be expected to do heroic things. Most times we do put our safety and self-interest first. That’s just human nature. Plus, in the case of abuse it is a very testy subject, and needs to be approached with due care. Also, my friend was repeatedly told by friends and family to break up with her fiancé, but opted not to, so in that case, there is just so much that other people could have done for her.
But let us fast forward to the point where she courageously decided to break up with this man. Mutual friends of the woman who knew of the abuse continued to be friendly with the man, and essentially swept this huge elephant in the room (his sickening abusive nature) under the rug. There is a huge tendency of human beings to say that it is not their problem when it does not directly affect them, but when faced with an undesirable situation such as the above, we feel disappointed and betrayed when others turn the other cheek to our problems.
Although abusive characteristics are deeply entrenched in one’s being and has plenty to do with their upbringing and personal traits, I do strongly feel that as a society, we cannot continue to entertain men who abuse women. By entertain I mean: casually ignoring the fact that this man is deeply troubled and abusive, continuing to give such a man the benefit of a friendship, or even deciding to date an abusive man, knowing fully well the extent of his abusive discretions.
An interesting thing about human beings, is that we do not need an express undertaking to show a general acceptance of a certain behaviour, because an implied or inadvertent one will do. It’s a basic tenant of humanity and we see it from a young age. For example, when a child continuously steals, and their parent/guardian fails to confront them about it or simply ignores the issue, that gives the child the impression that their propensity to steal is acceptable. The parent/guardian choosing to ignore the issue and fundamentally entertain the child’s ill behaviour, is sufficient to demonstrate an implied acceptance. Therefore, in continuing to entertain an abusive man, we are impliedly accepting his abusive nature. We are unwittingly giving the man the avenue to continue to be misogynistic and perpetuate this through abusive means.
Chris Brown is a perfect example of this conundrum. His return as a chart topping artist following the beating of Rihanna in 2009, just highlights how women are infinitely degraded by society. And unfortunately this degradation is propagated by both men and women. Going back to Chris Brown – he is untouchable. The man can sell fire in hell if he tried to. He is simply untouchable. And that is because as a society, we have allowed him to assume this title of invincibility. After he brutally assaulted Rihanna, within a few weeks the world had forgotten what he had done. Fast forward a few years, if the abuse topic is brought up, Chris Brown sympathizers/fans (both male and female) are always quick to note that it happened so long ago, or even go as far as speculating that Rihanna had provoked the incident, thus deserving of the abuse. We buy his music, rush to his concerts and bump to his songs that include lyrics that are unashamedly laced with misogynistic and sexist undertones. He dates women, who most definitely know about the assault on Rihanna, many of them thinking – for some very arrogant and odd reason – that he will be different with them. However, we should know that people don’t change unless THEY want to change. Even the presence of a good woman will not inspire an abusive man to change, unless he feels that he needs to change. If he does not have a reason to change, his abusive nature will just carry on. Now as far as we know, he did not physically abuse Karrueche, but he did abuse her and that took the form emotional and verbal abuse. He publicly cheated on her, had a child with another woman while in the relationship and openly berated her on social media –even going as far as exposing their bedroom conquests. So if we look at it properly, Chris Brown did not change, he just re-strategized his mode of abuse and misogyny. We see it in the appalling lyrical content of his music, we see it in his treatment of Karrueche and we see it in how he conducts himself on social media (remember the incident with Adrienne Bailon and Tamar Braxton?). Jail couldn’t help him change, neither could his PR team. But Chris Brown has absolutely no reason to change! Why would he when collectively, we have implicitly accepted his behaviour? We have implicitly let him know that no matter what he does, we will be quick to brush it under the table and continue to support and reward him.
When countries violate a norm or custom of international law, how do other states respond in order to force the perpetrating country to re-formulate their actions? By way of sanctions! States are forever using sanctions and trade embargoes to cripple another nation into change. Some do, some do not. However, the probability of being crippled to the point that one is forced to look deep into themselves and re-evaluate their nature, is much higher in an individual than in a country. So why don’t we then use this method to force an abusive man to want to change? Even if he doesn’t change, at least we would be taking a stand and showing him that his behaviour is unacceptable, instead of glorifying his abusive ways.
The narrative of the Zeitgeist should not be one where we choose to remain unconcerned by the wrongdoings of abusers because it does not directly affect us, but it should be one where we alienate or thoroughly condemn abusers because abuse could affect anyone we know and it could affect us too.
We would not continue to entertain someone who assaulted a sister or a close friend, thus in the same vein we should not continue to entertain someone who could possibly go on to harm someone else’s sister or close friend. We need to stop inadvertently accepting abusive ways, by thinking ‘it is not OUR problem’, because it just could be.