Introspection on violence against women: we must all look inward to restore balance
- Louise Halfe
In recent years the subject of missing and murdered aboriginal women in this country has been on people’s minds both on and off the reserve. There has been a lot of anger and blame projected onto men in general. Hence, women have been on the lookout for a salve that takes the form of a white or native male. They want men to accept their responsibility for their violence and want accountability. And this is not an unreasonable expectation. There is a need for ownership and change.
I grew up watching my mother physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually abused. I became an inheritor of those dynamics. I was challenged with insecurities and unprovoked jealousy. I’d lash out emotionally and wished that if I had been physically strong I’d become more than an emotional and mental abuser. It has been only through hard personal work that I have been able to free myself from those dynamics. Many aboriginal people and settlers have witnessed and grown up with these abuses, and unfortunately learned behavior. If people are given the right opportunities and resources this learned behavior can change for the better.
What happened to our humility, respect, and kindness that our community professes to show? If there is no forgiveness, then what? What do we have? Is there not hope? Silencing is a form of violence when we can learn so much from the experiences and stories of these men and women who are in recovery.
Our values and traditions teach us to respect one another. In particular this respect is to be extended to our grandmothers, mothers, aunties, sisters, and daughters. Women are the carriers of water and life bearers of children. Laws have been imposed on men who are violent toward their partners. They have to participate in anger-management workshops and immerse themselves in therapy. But, is this approach sufficiently broad?
Frankly, I believe that the whole family system needs such help to re-establish and maintain a healthy family balance. Some form of reconciliation and redemption for those men who have worked hard to change their behaviors must be forthcoming. Having said that, women too need to examine their closets; we are not saints and we carry our burdens just as heavily as men with anger issues. Our anger as women is also projected in all kinds of ways. We take it out on our children, our partners, and our communities whether it is physically acted out or not.
We can be masters at emotional abuse through destructive gossip or by calling others down. Women can’t afford to be hypocritical and avoid self-examination. Otherwise we will create a form of lateral violence toward not only our communities but toward men as a group and/or as individuals.
I believe we must share a form of compassion. Matthew Fox, a theologian, writes “compassion, one might say, works from a strength born of awareness of shared weakness, and not from someone else’s weakness.” The roots of the English word compassion “cum patior, mean to suffer with, to undergo with, to share solidarity with” and points to shared experience and common fragilities. In Cree compassion, kisewatisiwin, implies that one is capable of kindness and forgiveness.
Every person on this planet has experienced and expressed anger in some form. Anger is driven by the emotion of guilt, shame, humiliation, powerlessness, anxiety, and fear. It is a sense of injustice having been done to the self. These feelings urge people to become conscious and probe to transform their behaviors. However, the fear of being further shamed, judged, ridiculed, or abandoned stops many people from recognizing these emotions. They are intense and need to be honored as teachers. We then have an open understanding and have the ability to forgive not only ourselves but also others. If people can confront their fears and honor anger in a healthy manner, the learning happens. Anger in itself wants change. It is the driving force to apply wisdom. “Wisdom wants the people to live.”
We must strive to restore balance between men and women by everyone looking inward as well as outward, recognizing that self-examination and wise change must occur on both sides of the gender divide that has been created by colonial ideology, policies and practices.