The Monster in Our Bedroom
By: Evelyn Miranda-Feliciano
Retrieved from Vol. 10 No. 2 (1994)
I was pulling weeds in my vegetable garden when Delia arrived unexpectedly. “Good morning, Ate,” she greeted me. “Could… could I stay with you for the day?” It was a strange request knowing that her husband had just reunited with her after a long absence. She had to come to Manila from Bohol to find his whereabouts. “Of course, you can stay,” I said. I stood up to scrutinize her face. It was smeared with tears and her lips were trembling. “What happened?” I asked.
“He hit me, Ate. He hit me again” she choked. I led her to the house and gave her a drink until she calmed down to tell me what happened.
“Rudy came home drunk last night and wanted sex. I refused him because he was drunk and he could be very rough. I was also tired from washing. And I don’t want to have another child. He got furious and socked me here,” she touched the pit of her stomach, “and here.” She lifted her skirt. Her husband’s fist left two ugly blue blotches on her thighs. “I fainted, Ate. And he forced himself on me.” Delia winced bitterly. I winced myself imagining the beast that she had to live with.
A movie called “Sleeping with the Enemy” describes Delia’s situation. KALAKASAN (Kababaihan Laban sa Karahasan or Women Against Violence), a non-government organization, calls it “The Silent War Against Women.” Both refer to domestic violence, a tragic, albeit, glossed over, even tolerated reality in our society until very recently. In domestic violence, the woman or the wife suffers the brunt of abuse by the spouse or partner. It takes the form of physical force—beating up, kicking, choking, and spitting. It could also be emotional or psychological abuse such as shaming in public, threatening her of leaving to be with another woman, and allegations of her having affairs with other men. Meanwhile, economic abuse is characterized by intentional deprivation of her basic needs and non-support for the children. Lastly, sexual violence is illustrated by rape and the pointing of a gun or any deadly weapon towards the woman while undressing her. It is also possible that in some cases, domestic violence is done by other family members.
Demystifying Domestic Violence
Society has a standard explanation for domestic violence. “Nangyayari lang ‘yan kasi hindi talaga nagmamahalan ang mag-asawa. Aba, baka napikot lang ang lalaki kaya nambubugbog,” Ka Bading, the wise man of our barangay explained. “Or else, the man is insane, a drug user, a drunkard, an illiterate, an inveterate gambler or walang asenso sa buhay (a loser in life). Walang matinong lalaki ang gagawa ng ganyan,” he added expansively.
It sounds logical enough. Unfortunately, this is not true at all. Wife batterers can be found in all social classes. In “Sleeping with the Enemy,” the husband was a filthy rich stock market broker. I know of religious ministers whose passion for preaching is matched by their passion in making it difficult for their wives. “That’s why I no longer go with him to church, Ate,” a wife confided to me. “I only become cynical about God, and loving and caring and all that stuff that he mouths up there. Not even half of what He says he tries to do in relation to me. You understand if I sound bitter.” This woman is much brighter than her husband intellectually but now cowers in submission for being constantly called “bobo” by him.
“At about six o’clock in the evening. I begin to have palpitations. I’d tremble and get confused. And the more I get confused, the more I am afraid because my husband would surely get mad at me for looking confused and afraid. Sometimes he comes home happy, and I am relieved. But at other times, it’s terror personified. My children and I are much happier when he is out of town. We could be ourselves.” This came from a wife whose husband is a doctor. “But sometimes,” she added as if to justify him, “he can be sweet also. Then, my happiness is complete.”
A lady principal I once worked with would come to school sporting bruises on her arms or an outright black eye. A teacher wife has learned to sleep on the couch in the living room while the husband sleeps with the children in the bedroom.
It could not be said that these couples are anywhere near the description of Ka Bading. They don’t look like dregs of society. They started loving each other. They got married properly with all the pomp, circumstance, and romance they could muster. And, seemingly, they look successful in their careers. Yet, violence stalks their homes as it does many families on other social levels. And as documentation of domestic violence becomes more systematic and complete, hopefully, we will see the magnitude of the problem and find effective recourse to stay this evil out in our homes.
Getting into the Battering Cycle
“Bakit ka nagpapabugbog?” a friend asked another with obvious irritation. “Kung ako ‘yan, pipitikin lang ako ng asawa ko, iiwan ko siya.”
Indeed, to those who have not experienced domestic abuse, that abuser and abused could live together five, ten, fifteen, or twenty years together is a deep mystery. A woman counselor once talked of a wife who began to wonder whether her husband had stopped loving her. “He hasn’t hurt me for so long, he must have another woman,” she surmised. One almost wants to wring this wife’s neck to awaken her to sanity. But that is adding to her already violence-tilled life. For this is hardly peculiar reasoning for a victim of abuse. Studies show that constant battering does distort one’s values, breeds dependency on the abuser, and in some unexplainable way abets the cycle of violence a person fears dreadfully. Domestic violence most likely happens between two people who may have the notion they love each other but somehow feel they are unequal in person, position, and power. “Ako ang lalaki, ako ang dapat masusunod. Malilintikan ka sa akin ‘pag nagkamali ka.” This is a common threat we hear when couples quarrel. This springs from our macho culture which projects men as “matatag at matibay” and ironically “may paninindigan”. The church reinforces such thinking by its overemphasis on submission and obedience to one’s husband: “Our pastor told us that the husband is divinely appointed to be the authority over us, wives,” an American friend told me. If our husbands maltreat us, it will not be our sin. It will be his sin.
“We should learn to accept our lot in silence. After all, it is the husband who will give an account of his family before God.” I could not believe that such a teaching could come from what purports to be a highly enlightened society. This particular friend was unable to accept her church’s teaching and her husband’s battering. With much pain, she left him. The church was horrified by what she did and she suffered much vilification from her former friends.
Nori did not have this friend’s option. She came home to her parents, a baby in her arms. The day before, her husband kicked her and she almost fell down the stairs. She was expecting some sympathy, but she did not get it. “Stupid woman!” Her father fumed. “Go back to your husband. You chose him, then learn to live with him. How could I help you when you belong to him already? Go back! Go!”
Her mother comforted her some. “Ay, that is what life is, Norita,” she philosophized. “We must learn to follow our husbands. Learn what he likes and dislikes. Please him. Make him happy always.” Nori went to the pastor. And he read her the Bible, prayed for her, and gave her the same advice. “Live peaceably with your husband. Make your marriage work. What God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.” Two days later, Nori’s husband came, fetching a picture of meekness and effusive in his apology. The couple left smiling. Now and then, Nori would come home, looking more and more run-down, with more children in tow.
She would get the same sermon; her husband would come and she would obediently go with him. “This time, he will change,” she would say to herself. But he would only get worse. The cycle of battering had become vicious. The victimizer and victim had become locked in a strange bond of cruelty and helplessness.
The way out
There is no easy way out. Women abused by their husbands are often in a state of fear. Physically, the men could whip them to submission by sheer strength and manipulate their emotions by cajoling and kindness at other times. Economically, these and their children are dependent on them for support, shelter, and clothing. Socially, people often blame the woman who leaves her husband and home as the source of the break-up. Only recently have laws been enacted to protect victims. In some police stations today, there are women’s desks where women could report to. But most would rather remain mum to uphold the tradition of not “hanging one’s dirty linen in public.”
And women suffer silently. But we need not to. God has created woman and man in His own image (Gen. 1:26-28). No one, much less the man, has the right to trample upon that divine image by abusive acts, whether physical, verbal, sexual, or psychological. This biblical fact should give every woman a sense of rightful pride and confidence. The very essence of our humanity does not give anyone, even our husbands, the right to reduce us to an animal or a thing. Women should know their rights as taught in Scriptures and under our law. True, the way out is not easy, but there is a way out.
Marriage is sacred and the family is a divinely wrought institution. The family is in the very heart of God when he created and brought together the First Man and First Woman in the Garden of Eden. His desire for them was wholeness and growth. But we know the story. They sabotaged their own welfare.
Thus, today, we see brokenness in many of our marriages. Domestic violence is just one of the effects of the Fall, “…your desire is for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” is the prophetic insight into what will happen and incidentally not a normative rule in husband-wife relationship.
For this reason, Jesus Christ had to come to break that bondage. The potential restoration of broken marriages and broken families is ultimately anchored in following Him. For in Him there is respect and equality. As apostle Paul puts it: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
If we live in the light of this claim, surely the monster will have no choice but to flee.