Marriage: an institution in need of an overhaul?

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UNSETTLING as they may be, I find that Shaw’s insights are still as relevant today as they were in 1933 when he wrote them. I think it is impossible to address the issue of domestic violence without looking at the underlying structure within which it is perpetrated. As we get to the end of the 16 days campaign for peace in the home, there has been some media attention given to this issue and some of the discussions seem contradictory to me.
One writer in yesterday’s The Star newspaper was calling for an end to violence and divorce. This type of message, which is reinforced in different fora, must be confusing to a woman who finds herself in a situation where violence is repetitive and the perpetrator shows no signs of changing. How then is she expected to change her life if not by leaving the unhappy union? Perhaps a real life story will add some perspective. In discussions of this nature, a man’s point of view can bring a different angle and South African McIntosh Polela, is one such man. I finally bought a copy of his new book, My Father My Monster, which is now available in leading bookstores. For a guy who is currently the spokesperson of the Hawks, the South African special police unit, Polela is a good writer and he is not afraid to show his feelings. Without giving too much of the book away, I would like to share the following points: The effect of domestic violence on children — in the name of keeping marriages together at whatever cost, children are being subjected to sights and sounds which they should never see or hear. The effect of domestic violence on children is one of the areas receiving the least attention from society, including from some of the women who are in such relationships. At just five years old Polela couldn’t understand why his father was beating his mother with a sjambok and it was years later after her murder that he understood the kind of violence that she had been subjected to. Perpetrators don’t change easily — Polela changed his name twice. In his late teens he abandoned his mother’s surname and took on his father’s, in a bid to stay true to his roots.
But many years later after meeting his unrepentant father (who got a suspended sentence for killing his mother when he was five years old) he let go of that surname in disappointment. He had earlier chosen McIntosh because of his love for Peter Tosh’s music and he added Polela, a river which runs through his mother’s rural home. He was even more confused and disillusioned to discover that up to this day, his father hadn’t changed. According to experts, there are four stages in the domestic violence cycle and couples repeat it many times. The first stage is the tension building phase when the woman senses the tension in the home and oftentimes modifies her behaviour to avoid a violent episode.
This doesn’t work and the “acting out” stage is reached, when the physical abuse is carried out. The third stage, “the honeymoon or reconciliation” phase is one which keeps many women trapped. There is a semblance of normality as the abuser apologies, buys gifts, shows remorse and acts as if it will never happen again. Because the woman thinks real change has come at last and is often worn down from the stress, she stays. The fourth stage is the “calm” phase but unfortunately this doesn’t last and the cycle repeats itself again and again. So it’s a complex issue and involves personality traits in both parties which are not easy to change.Moving on is something society doesn’t readily encourage but as George Bernard Shaw added, “Even those who say there is only one man or woman in the world for them; find that it is not always the same man or woman.”

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