Editor’s note: In Suffering in Silence, our writer described the story of Nasifa, a woman who was regularly abused in her home by her husband Ahmad. She continues their story here and explains how domestic violence becomes culturally ingrained.
My uncle and his wife Fatima have six children. Although my uncle worked in Iran for thirteen years without coming home or sending any money, the family was happy without him because when he came home they were beaten every day.
The only income the family had came from the ten sheep they raised. I was at the home one day when Fatima’s son, who was barely a teenager, began shouting and screaming. Fatima started shaking and was embarrassed as the boy yelled about why his socks had not been washed. All the boy did all day was walk in the street. The mother said, “Sorry,” and went to wash the socks.
On another day in the same household I saw a totally different situation where the oldest daughter of the family had to wash everybody’s clothes, on top of cleaning the house and cooking the lunch. Fatima was not happy and verbally abused her.
When I asked Fatima why the boys of the family did not have to do any work and were still so highly regarded while the girls worked all the time and were treated with no respect, she said, “Because they are male!”
“So what is the difference?” I asked. “Both are human.”
With a smile, she replied, “Because they are males!”
When I bothered her again with the same questions, she started to shout at me, saying, “My son is beating me as well as his sisters. Whatever he says we cannot deny because he is a male.”
I was shocked and amazed. Her belief was attached as strongly to her as a part of her physical body. You cannot cut off your hand very easily from your body, I thought.
Still my question remains unanswered. Why does she believe so strongly that her son is superior to her just by being male? She willingly accepted that men have superpowers coming directly from God, and whatever they do should be silently accepted.
Fatima is clearly not alone in thinking this way. Almost all elderly women think the same way, including my own mother. Maybe it is because in my society we strongly believe we must follow our culture or else society will not accept us.
The environment begins to take effect on individuals at birth. People start filling our brains with the idea that males are better than females. I am a product of this society and my mind was filled with the same ideology before I studied in another country, the United States.
I blame neither myself nor those women for their beliefs, because there is no other reference point for them. All the evidence we get from religion and our social structure tells us that men are superior.
When I was young and in third grade, on the first day of school I went to choose a seat in the front row. When my classmates entered the classroom they pushed me out of my chair without a word. When I resisted they tore my books, punched me, and broke my pencils.
I knew if I tried to fight them back they would just take my seat away from me, so I just sat and watched them tear up my books and tolerated the beating so I could keep my first row seat.
In order to stay in the front row I would place my legs on the opposite desk, which gave me twice as much power. After a while, five students tied up my hands with my scarf, carried me to the end of the classroom, and dropped me.
That was not the first time that my rights were taken away from me by force. In the following years when I would go for a first row seat, the same five to ten superpowers of the class took my seat away from me by force. I complained to the teachers but they ignored me. With all my power I tried to take my rights back, but I could not succeed. I finally became resigned to sitting in the last desk in the classroom.
In the fourth and fifth grade I did not try to sit in the front seat because I knew I would get punched, my books would be torn up, and I would still end up in the last row. I finally accepted the fact with a submissive attitude. I would sit at the end of the row, eating my own pain.
But I still have not found the answer to my question: What other options did I have?
Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”
We will take our freedom! But how? What price will we pay?
Nasifa gave up her freedom and rights to find a family. Fatima gave up her beliefs because society forced her to submit to her thirteen-year-old son. Whenever I feel someone is denying me my rights, I try to stand up, but still I lose. You either accept what is being told or are eliminated from society.
It is scary to think that I could become a victim to this violence also. Take Sahar Gul, who refused to become a prostitute when her husband forced her to, and she was beaten nearly to death. Her ears and nails were ripped out. Aisha, another victim, had her nose cut off. There are too many cases of other women who can’t raise their voices and die in silence without anyone of us knowing.