Guest Column: Fr Oskar Wermter SJ
“Domestic violence” normally means men giving their wives, and women in general, a beating, while women beating their menfolk also happens, but not so often. We thank our Lord and Creator (Mwari Musikavanhu) that he has created men and women “in his image”, and yet different from one another. We admire a loving partnership that lasts.
The first time a human being was murdered, a man killed another man, Cain spilling the blood of his brother, Abel. The first woman, Eve, did not kill anyone; she merely seduced her husband and broke a taboo, in an act of rebellion. The “bone of contention” that caused this rift between the Creator and his creatures (the “original” sin) was actually a sweet little apple.
In many ancient myths, the man’s honour consists in his sword; the weapon that gives him the power to kill. In early history, there was a (religious) belief that “life depended on the destruction of other creatures, … and ancient huntsmen remained dedicated killers”. Only a man armed for violence and aggression was respected as a leader.
Even in our modern times, collective, organised armed violence (especially in warfare) is still very attractive to men.
“War makes the world understandable, a black and white tableau of them and us. It suspends thought, especially self-critical thought. All bow before the supreme effort. We are one. …Investigating “post-traumatic stress disorder,“ psychiatrists have noted that “in the destruction of other people soldiers can experience a self-affirmation that is almost erotic.” Men go to the battlefield because of the tedium and pointlessness of ordinary domestic existence.
Why would people seek to acquire the power of violence and killing? The primordial sin is seizing of power. This is the attempt to overcome one’s own mortality and fear of death by obtaining the power to kill others oneself. If I can kill, I need not fear those who can kill me. That is why military, armed power is so desirable to men.
Women do not have this close relationship to the power that enables to destroy and kill. A woman is by nature not a violent fighter or warrior. Her power and influence have their origin in her love, her caring attention and protection of life. Women, unlike men, are not proud of their power of destruction or shedding of blood. In fact, women do not shed blood, (except possibly in childbirth, or in a stillbirth or in maternal death). Women suffer violence, encounter violence and death in their own personal tragedies.
Women do not know the addiction to violence and killing that some men have.
Men survive and live on through their might and power to kill others. Women survive by giving life. Women have no strategies about how to obtain the killing power of men or the strength to intimidate and terrorise their rivals.
Men seek to gain food for themselves and obtain wealth and riches mainly for their own benefit. Women, as mothers, must collect food, not just for themselves, but for their offspring. This caring and life-supporting behaviour is the origin of genuine and effective love. “It is the power of love that has created the human race.” The prophet puts it more simply and directly: “For it is love that I desire, not sacrifice” (a sacrifice involves killing by violence) (Hosea 6:6).
Men and women were created in “the image of God”, the triune God who is threefold relationship, family and community. This is where women are at home. This divinity is the nonviolent love which has created man and woman in their mutuality and complementarity. This is the power of a woman as mother within the family. She has authority and influence as mother, sister, aunt [sister of father (which equals vatete in Shona).
A mother is facing death, and living in fear. She is facing her own death in giving birth. A mother is aware that death is inevitable and cannot be overcome altogether. A woman, as giver of life, knows of the terror of death, and yet she is dedicated to life. She loves and appreciates and is grateful for life, even while she is aware of the presence of death, and has this existential knowledge that one day she (or the child) will no longer exist nor be blessed with the gift of life. The care and attention given to the living child, and preserving the child’s life, are a negation of death.
Life and the giving of life give a woman power as great, or greater, than man’s capacity to destroy life.
The love of the family makes the woman great. This is her power, her dedication to life and her indispensable contribution to the community. The sinking birth rate (now below replacement level) in the West weakens the woman, even if she gains power in civil society and government. Instead of disparaging motherhood as a form of slavery, women should remember that there is no substitute for their maternal influence and their position in the family. The destruction of the family will diminish the woman.
War will never build a nation and make a people grow. Not even the “war of the sexes” will be of benefit to anyone. Violence, domestic or otherwise, is never constructive or liberating. Man and woman together, complementing each other and acting in solidarity, will build the family and community, a nation and a country.
The love of man and woman is a metaphor of our Lord and Creator “who is love” and a wonderful image of a life as it should be. This love is a foundation stone of the church, which is family (African Bishops, Rome 1994). Good families are like stones and bricks with which we build the community of the church and our entire country.
State and church should take care of family life in solidarity. Both the country and the church need the family with which to build their communities. Peace and reconciliation in the family is needed by the nation and all its people. If husbands and wives are alienated from one another and the family collapses, then there will be an epidemic, like cholera or TB, doing harm to the family of our own people and to the family of nations.
Man and woman may differ. A woman has her own vocation, and so has her husband, but they share the same human dignity our Maker has given them and the same task of building family in their home and country. This has been so ever since Adam and Eve.
Fr Oskar Wermter sj is a social commentator. He writes in his personal capacity.