The information that we share here has to be helpful in making us feel connected as a community, as diverse as we know it to be. So it was with interest that I read the response by one reader – who identified him/herself as being from Tanzania – to the opinion column that ran in Share three weeks ago under the headline, “When a man beats a woman”.
(The headline was meant to be an ironic play on the old hit song by Percy Sledge, “When a Man Loves a Woman”.)
Actually, given the information the commenter offered, it would have been fascinating to know whether the writer is a man or a woman. While the column condemned the use of violence in spousal or other similar relationships, the commenter noted that in Tanzania (mostly in the rural regions) it is the custom for husbands to beat wives; that wives urge their husbands to do so; and that this fact of life is considered an act of love and a noble thing.
I would argue that there are many ‘facts of life’ that are considered cultural/societal norms. But actions considered normal do not necessarily equate with being right, or good or in the best interest of a society as a whole, or beyond it.
If we consider that murder has a long history in the family of man, then we could think of that as a societal norm. Yet, there is hardly a right thinking person who would condone murder – whether it is the legally state-sanctioned kind or not.
If women and men worldwide gave equal value and dignity to female life we would also be looking at a new dynamic.
Of course, another dimension to consider in this whole husband-beating-the-wife-as-an-act-of-love-thing is related to what we now know from those who study the brain and neural system: That pleasure and pain activate the same circuits in the brain… which gives logic to those who get pleasure out of being whipped, for example. But sadomasochism is a sexualized realm entered into by mutual consent.
When a man beats a woman because he has developed the sick habit of blaming her and others for the disagreeable conditions in his life; when he becomes violent after drinking; when he is mild-mannered at work and violent at home; when he has a stressful job and relieves his stress by pounding on the back, head and stomach of his wife; when he verbally, physically, emotionally, financially or sexually abuses her in an attempt to feel some power by controlling the life of another human being, then we have moved beyond the pleasure/pain continuum into the realm of sick and criminal behaviour – whether it is considered a fact of life in a culture or not.