Thursday, 20 June 2013
I live in such a bubble I only heard today about Nigella Lawson and her abusive marriage. To say I'm shocked and upset is an understatement, it's been on my mind since I checked out the Google images this morning and skimmed some of the gutter press articles online. As I read, her silence is deafening, which only serves to confirm the assumption that her marriage is not a happy one.
I have been a huge fan of Nigella since she first appeared on tv, and own many of her books. I loved seeing such a confident, older female portrayed in the media. She showed us that "40 and Fabulous" can be true, you can be sexy no matter what size your hips are, and that we should all lighten up and enjoy real food. I think of her every time I stir butter into pasta for my kids and grate parmesan on top. Her writing had me reading the cookbooks in bed, I love her turn of phrase, and she really has fun with food, in short, I think she's great.
Some comments on Nigella's situation have blamed her, this is a really common and easy thing to do. Blame the victim. If she had a brain, she'd get out. If it was really that bad, she'd leave him. Surely an intelligent woman like her can't CHOOSE to stay in that situation, etc, etc.
Unfortunately an abusive situation doesn't work like that. You don't meet someone, get married, and suddenly out of nowhere get physically assaulted. It's far more complicated than that. Usually by the time the physical attacks happen you are already enmeshed in a manipulative cycle, where you are being controlled by the dominant one, and you feel already powerless. If you have kids, you will be doing everything to protect them from seeing and hearing the negativity, but sometimes you won't succeed. You will believe the abuser that you deserve this treatment, that you have no other option other than to take the abuse. You are probably deeply embarrassed that you got into this situation, you should have seen it coming, you should have left years ago, the signs were there. There will be good times where you think it's not so bad, and he was really sorry he lost his temper, so you believe he'll never do it again. You are afraid of what he might do if you tried to leave. Nobody would believe you anyway, everyone loves him. You haven't told friends how bad it is, but you've hinted that there are problems. Sure, everyone has problems. Maybe you grew up seeing an abusive marriage taking place around you, and you figure this is how it goes. Maybe you were totally stunned by his aggression, but there's always an excuse for it. He'll kill you if you try to leave. He'll kill himself. He'll kill the kids. He'll kill your mother. He has control of the money anyway, so how could you leave? Maybe it's better to stay, and try to keep the peace, act like normal. Hope he'll try to change, like he swears he will.
The statistics are shocking for domestic abuse. I think I read 20% of Irish women experience abuse at some point, be it emotional, physical, sexual or financial at the hands of a male partner. (Women can be abusers too, but less frequently, and men are less likely to report it.) That makes one in five of our male population abusers. That makes one in five of our friends a victim, one in five kids in a class living in an abusive home. It takes a lot to break the cycle of abuse. It takes a huge move to get out of a bad relationship. There is still a fear of parenting alone, of being stuck for money, dependent on the state, fear of still being targeted though you have separated. Barring orders only do so much. Every time I hear of a woman taking her own life, and her kid's I wonder how happy was her marriage.
I think in Ireland we have a really passive culture. We're all afraid to make a scene, to rock the boat, to stand up for our rights, to confront a bully. We are raised in a culture of martyrs, shouldering our burdens, keeping the peace, hoping for a better experience in the afterlife, because God knows we've earned it. One generation ago divorce was not an option. Two generations ago a married woman could not work. We still don't allow same-sex marriage. We still don't treat children with the respect they deserve. We are a long way off empowering our girls to demand respect, and raising our boys to be gentle and loving. It will come, slowly but surely, if we all start now in whatever way we can.
If you've been affected by this article, and need advice about your options, or want to discuss things with a sympathetic ear, please contact Women's Aid (Ireland) phone 1800 341 900 (10am-10pm), or see their website www.womensaid.ie. Or please contact your local women's refuge.
One good thing to come of Nigella's case is to show that domestic abuse transcends class, income level and can happen to anybody. If you would like to help out indirectly why not volunteer at your local Women's Aid charity shop, or donate them some stuff to sell, post them some money, or phone them and ask could you do anything else to help.
Or do nothing, change nothing and nothing will change.