Thu | Feb 20, 2020

Stacey Palmer | Domestic abuse bigger than sex

Published:Tuesday | February 11, 2020 | 12:20 AMStacey Palmer/Guest Columnist

I don’t think anyone alive – man or woman – would not agree that drastic actions must be taken to protect our women from being murdered by their spouses when relationships go sour, or when a woman decides that she no longer wants to be with any man.

With that being said, I take issue with recent arguments calling for a ‘sex strike’ to deal with the issue of domestic abuse, which suggest that sex ‘belongs’ to men and that they are the ones that derive the most pleasure or ‘benefit’ from intercourse.

This narrative suggests that when women withhold sex from men, they will fall in line and ‘behave’, because sex belongs to them. Not true!

This notion of men falling in line because of sex, or the lack thereof, is problematic, because this is what our girls have been taught, directly and indirectly, and have continued to perpetuate in their relationships instead of addressing issues at their core.

Notwithstanding, for many women, like me, sex is a very personal, emotional, and spiritual activity that they enjoy engaging in with the man they love and have a very deep connection to, which is typically the only time that sex occurs. For these women, sex is very personal, in that it is something that is considered sacred and shared in a very revered space.

How and why she chooses to have sex with her partner is very private and is not incumbent on instructions to withhold or engage for the sake of group activism.

Furthermore, why should a woman who enjoys a great (sexual) relationship with her partner ‘punish’ him and herself for weeks to bring awareness to an issue that requires much to be done at several levels? I don’t buy it.

The issue is way bigger than this – it is way bigger than sex. It is deep-rooted and hinges on how society has treated with women and the roles they are required to ‘play’ in their interactions with men. This instruction to activate or deactivate their ‘sex’ is an indicator of this.

For some, sex is transactional. I am deliberately using ‘some’, as opposed to saying women, because both men and women have agreements within their transactional relationships about what it is they are trying to achieve from the ‘relationship’/interactions.

For this rationale, there are those who may not be able to partake in this ‘demonstrative solidarity’ for economic reasons. In other words, no sex – no money = unfed children/unpaid bills. Whatever the case, a woman’s reason for having sex or giving herself to a man is personal.

MORE INCLUSIVE WAYS

There are many other ways for “women to collectively challenge patriarchal values of entitlement” than to impose on women an instruction to withhold something that they too may enjoy or consider sacred in their personal/private relationships. Surely, there are more all-inclusive ways to now make the private into political and, in turn, effect change.

For example:

n Begin the conversation with and about those women/mothers who continue to raise boys who become men that they themselves would have a problem dating.

n Stop excusing our boys and men from those ‘bad behaviours’ that we deem to be typical of what boys/men do; hold them accountable from early.

n Educate the agencies responsible for identifying and dealing with issues of domestic violence about how to properly/effectively handle these matters that are considered sensitive.

n Have open and honest conversations at the public policy-creation levels about the whys and whos and hows of domestic violence; create a culture of honest discourse among our policy creators, who are sometimes, themselves, victims or perpetrators of domestic violence.

n Impose greater sanctions on domestic-violence offences that would serve as a deterrent, instead of treating it as ‘man and woman business dat’ issue.

n Create a culture of rejecting the toxic masculinities narratives that are being taught to boys AND girls from very early, so that there is an early rejection of certain unacceptable behaviours that have been deemed the norm.

I will agree, at the very least, that the call for withholding sex (in and of itself) is a great conversation starter and is definitely consciousness-raising. I am also in full agreement that “the men have to be our allies”. However, reinforcing problematic ‘p power’ narratives as a means of addressing the domestic-violence pandemic is pussyfooting around the real and bigger issues, which will not achieve this alliance.

As such, this is not something that I would sanction as a solution, especially since context is too key a variable to ignore in man and woman relations.

Stacey A. Palmer is a gender and development postgraduate student at the University of the West Indies, Mona. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.