In … an ancient Welsh publication called Laws of Women: “A man may beat a woman with a stick, or rod as thick as his middle finger and as long as his forearm. Elsewhere in Welsh laws, there are references to sticks the thickness of a thumb and their appropriateness in the chastisement of the unruly wife. Certain conditions applied. Such violence was justified only if a woman had insulted a man’s beard, wished dirt on his teeth, been unfaithful or given away property that was not hers to give. He could hit her three times, anywhere on the body, but not on the head.”
– Cited at historyofwomen.org
When Ugandan MP Onesimus Twinamasiko announced that “as a man, you need to discipline your wife”, the world’s headlines exploded. According to Twinamasiko, a couple of whacks when your lady steps out of line can “really streamline her”. Because women are really more like vehicles than humans. If you don’t panel-beat them properly, you can run into quality and performance issues.
“You need to touch her a bit, you tackle her, beat her, somehow to really streamline her,” he said.
He is facing investigation despite his attempts to clarify his comments by saying he merely meant a “slap”.
Advocacy groups have demanded that he apologise, and citizens have taken to social media calling for his resignation. And, well, I suppose it’s promising that this extraordinary pronouncement attracted international outrage. But are we surprised to hear him say it?
Uganda is famous for its draconian anti-gay laws, which were softened slightly (ag, thanks) only for politicians to call for the harsher version to be reinstated. Violence against women is rife, so it’s hardly Africa’s shining outpost of gender equality. Which, one might argue, is all the more reason for its MPs not to behave like club-swinging buffoons. But bigotry has to filter down from somewhere.
This column is a round-up of the world’s more inexplicable trends, however, so it seems fitting to point out that Twinamasiko is not alone. Politicians and celebrities the world over have done their share of endorsing gender-based violence. Another day, another apologist.
In February this year, the Bahamas saw (female) MICAL MP Miriam Emmanuel saying – to laughter from some fellow MPs – that her father taught her that wives would get “manhandled” in certain circumstances and that this was, essentially, par for the course. “I am the seventh of 10 daughters and I recall, as we begin to mature and move on to take marriage and family, one of the things that my father often said to us as his daughters, ‘If you want to remain a lady, if you want to remain treated as a lady, then you must behave like a lady’,” Emmanuel said.
“He said, ‘If there ever comes a time when you have to come back to this house and say to me as your father that your husband shook you, or gave you a slap or punch you in your mouth, I will analyse while I listen to you… the consequences that would have caused your husband to probably shake you, slap you or punch you in your mouth’.” According to Emmanuel, her father meant “we are to respect each other, have respect for your priest, your provider and your protector”.
“If you as a woman want to come up in your husband face and behave like you are a man, my father said, then you would get manhandled,” she added. Later, she said her statements caused offence because they were taken out of context.
Also in February, Bulgaria’s ruling GERB party withdrew from Parliament a European treaty geared towards combating violence against women. Reuters reports this occurred in the face of opposition from the party’s allies in government and religious groups.
In 2017, Vladimir Putin signed into law an amendment that would decriminalise certain types of intimate partner violence, in a country where the Guardian noted at the time that a woman dies every 40 minutes as a result of domestic abuse. The laws were relaxed to allow for just 15 days in prison or a fine for beatings of spouses or children that result in bruising or bleeding but not broken bones, provided this happens just once a year (nice touch). Previously, this level of abuse carried a maximum jail sentence of two years. Just a week earlier, reports at the time added, an article in the science section of a popular local tabloid read: “Recent scientific studies show the wives of angry men have a reason to be proud of their bruises. Biologists say that beaten-up women have a valuable advantage: they more often give birth to boys!”
August 2016 saw Philip Davies, Tory MP for Shipley, addressing a “men’s rights” conference about “feminist zealots” (sorry, I snorted now in a very unladylike fashion that would no doubt get me manhandled by Emmanuel’s husband) that “were ‘stirring up’ and wanted ‘equality’ but only when it suits”.
He said: “In this day and age the feminist zealots really do want women to have their cake and eat it.
“They fight for their version of equality on all the things that suit women – but are very quick to point out that women need special protections and treatment on other things.” Davies has previously argued that more women should be sent to prison and that same-sex marriage discriminates against heterosexuals, so it’s possible someone hasn’t explained to him that maintaining the unequal status quo isn’t the same as equality.
In January this year, British MP Robert Halfon “joked” in the House of Commons that a poll carried out by Essex Police and Crime Commissioner Roger Hirst was like “beating your wife” because “at the end of the day he’s going to get the answer that he wants”.
October 2017 saw Singaporean publication Berita Harian come under fire for an article titled How to handle a stubborn wife. Advice given included guidelines for how to beat one’s wife – namely, avoiding her face, not leaving marks on her body, and only hitting her if you thought it would had a positive impact on her disobedience. According to the writer, he had been arguing from an Islamic perspective; he later backtracked and said he hadn’t meant literally hitting. (Confusing. He’d referred to “physical punishment” and “striking one’s wife”, which seemed pretty specific.)
In February 2017, HuffPost SA Lifestyle Editor Sarah Koopman wrote a column taking on both South African politicians and members of the public for condoning violence against female EFF members outside Sona – arguing, to a surprising number of critics, that women never “deserve” to be hit.
The laundry list goes on, and it includes women who are supposedly defending gender equality. Late in 2017, Hollywood darling Lena Dunham – a self-confessed feminist and supporter of the #MeToo movement – hastily backtracked in order to defend one of their associates when he was accused of rape. Actress Aurora Perrineau filed sexual assault charges against former Girls writer Murray Miller, saying he raped her in 2012, when she was just 17. In response, Dunham and her Girls colleague Jenni Konner sent a statement to the Hollywood Reporter saying that while their “first instinct was to listen to every woman’s story”, they were “confident” that “sadly, this accusation is one of the 3% of assault cases that are misreported every year”.
In August 2017, closer to home, the ANC Women’s League defended then-Deputy Minister of Higher Education Mduduzi Manana following his assault charges, on the grounds that there were other, “worse” culprits.
So when I hear that one more public figure has made light of gender-based violence, forgive me if I give a sigh of resignation. Angry, yes. Tired, yes. Surprised? Nah. Just throw it on the pile. DM
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The Hindenburg had a smoking room.