Not tonight honey


Two weeks ago a male colleague of mine shared a “joke” with me. It was about the very old and boring joke of the husband giving his wife two paracetamol tablets after having dinner, to which the wife responds: ‘I don’t have a headache’, leaving him with a smirk on his face and the words, ‘Good, then you have no excuse’. I was instantly irritated by this “joke” and my aggravation did not dissipate as the days rolled on. At first I thought it must be because I regularly heard a very different story during couple’s sessions in my practice, as it is often the man and not the woman who is avoiding sex in a marriage or longstanding relationships. However, my uneasiness continued and this “joke” kept forcing its presence into my thoughts.

After two weeks I eventually decided to deconstruct my discomfort and agitation about this joke. It then dawn on me why this “joke” alarmed me to such an extent. It is because this joke is based on the general discourse that, firstly, most men have a higher libido than women, secondly, that sex is something that it done TO women and not WITH women and thirdly, that sex is often only seen in terms of penile penetration with the sole purpose of a male climax. I realized that neither the teller of this joke or the listeners thereof, asked, if ever, why do women often refuse sex or try and find “excuses” not to have sex. It then immediately left me with the undignified question: Why should a woman present an excuse not to have sex? Underlying to the ‘having to give an excuse’ is the mindset that women are supposed to give sex as it is their duty and what they are made for! In other words women are there for men’s sexual pleasure and not that men and women are equal partners who should enjoy sex with each other for both partners benefit.

Moreover, why do especially men not respond to this “joke” with the question: Why is it that women supposedly often do not want to have sex with her husband or partner? Does it not say more about him as a lover and how he engages in sexual play than about her libido? Furthermore, is it not because of the way in which he treats his wife/partner? May it be that due to how we understand and live gender roles in our homes and relationships that women are often totally overworked and just do not have the energy for sex, especially late at night? Anyway, who would like to be intimate or share pleasure with someone who treats you as being less than him or expects you to do the majority of the work around the house?

A smile slowly spread over my face as I realised this joke was actually on men. However, very few men will actually think this far or ask themselves what this joke is about. Maybe it is also not only indicative of many men’s short-sightedness but also of women internalisation of the idea that she is a sexual commodity. This joke is not only a dig towards women, but actually also towards some men and their inability or unwillingness to treat women as equals. By treating their wives and partners as inferior to them, they do not get to enjoy WITH their wives and partners the joys of the intimacy and the pleasures of the flesh!

This joke is not an impeachment against sexual unwilling wives, but about the unimaginative, boring, predictable, monotonous, inexperience, selfish, dismissive and unexciting clumsy sexual approaches and love play of men who don’t get it! They do not get it because they don’t get it on a physical, emotional or gender equality level!

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Empty nest syndrome


Recently our youngest child flew the nest. Towards the end of last year I started to prepare myself for this event, as many people warned me about the empty nest syndrome. I also reminded my husband to prepare himself for this new phase in our lives, but he felt that I was putting the cart before the horse and that there was no need to run ahead of ourselves. Even so, I decided to visualise what our lives would be like and what I needed to do to embrace all that might come with the impending empty nest.

During this process of preparation I went through a period where I felt a sense of loss, but also a sense of achievement and excitement. I was excited about my daughter having the ability and opportunity to study at a university. I experienced a sense of accomplishment as we were able to guide and support towards her dreams, as we did for our eldest, her brother. She achieved her own goals and is now on her way to prepare herself for her adult life and an independent economic future. I realized that the home would be much quieter, but after twenty one years of sharing my space, being mom’s taxi, and organising my days in such a way that I would be available to my home and my family, whilst juggling post graduate studies and a practice, I was looking forward to the freedom that the empty nest would bring to my daily routine.

The big day arrived and we helped our daughter settle in her new living space. On our way home, both my husband and I experienced sadness, some anxiousness but also excitement about her prospects and the future ahead of her.

The next day I continued with my life and though I missed my daughter dearly, I really enjoyed and cherished the arrival of this new phase of my life. For the first time in twenty one years it was just my husband and I in our home. Our couple-hood had the opportunity to take centre stage, without interruptions or competition for shared energy and time or the needs of our children. BLISS! I could honestly exclaim: ‘Empty nest syndrome, what empty nest syndrome?’

About a week after our daughter’s departure, my husband started to really struggle. I often found him in our daughter’s room, stroking her cat, staring into space with tears in his eyes. Eventually he shared: ‘This is so much harder than what I ever thought it would be. I miss them terribly and feel without direction and purpose’. My husband has always been a very involved dad and used to do things like the kids’ breakfast, packing their lunch boxes and helping with other chores. Suddenly he came home with no one to engage with but me, who was quite happy with the void, I must add.

His sense of usefulness diminished and he felt without purpose. After two weeks of tears and deep sadness, he engaged with me in a long discussion about his experiences. He shared that for so many years his sole purpose (to his mind) was to provide financially. As a white South African Christian man he was indoctrinated from a very early age that he was supposed to be the primary breadwinner, he needed to take care of and protect his family. Suddenly this purpose seemed fulfilled and what now? The children were on their way to independence … what was his purpose now?

Was his response due to a midlife crises or indicative of the patriarchal society we life in? Why did everyone expected me to experience the empty nest syndrome but not my husband?

Often so much emphasis is placed on men’s role as the financial provider, that providing on other levels are ignored. My husband did so much more than just provided financially, yet he could not see this. He was unable to see that he will continue to provide in many other ways in our children’s and their children’s lives!

You might wonder in what other ways did my husband provide. He provided and supported on an emotional level in terms of co-parenting by co-creating an environment in which the following could thrive: stability and safety, encouragement, companionship, wisdom, emotional comfort and physical presence. He was also the handy man, fixing stuff and the one who knew how to do things. He gave hugs, read bedtime stories, had dad and son talks, dad and daughter talks. He contributed by loving me as the mother of our children. They saw him treating his wife with respect and equality, creating positive ways-of-being, living with integrity and honouring his personal moral compass.

Looking at the multiple ways in which my husband provided made me wonder why it is so difficult for men to see beyond their contributions other than just financial provider? Did patriarchal ideas become so internalized that men (and women) are unable to see their own worth in terms of their contributions to their families? Why do men (and women) buy into the discourse that the most important function in a family is that of breadwinner? Did the church, with its rigid gender role prescriptions regarding the man as breadwinner and the woman as caretaker and nurturer, create a society which values financial contribution of a man more than emotional and spiritual partnership? Did these patriarchal ideas, as often promoted by churches, contributed to a materialistic mindset which undermines men’s constructions of themselves as fathers and husbands and even as human beings? Did this turn men into walking purses with no apparent other function?

 

Conversation on Liberation Theology – Why do we need feminist theology?


For my readers who understand Afrikaans: I participated in a radio programme on liberation theology, on Sunday, 18 March at 19:00. You can download this conversation at: http://www.rsg.co.za/images/upload/sound/klanke/20120318_KRUIS_EN_DWARS.mp3

For my English speaking readers – a summary of my ideas regarding feminist theology and  the relevance of it in the South African society follows:

WHY DO WE NEED FEMINIST THEOLOGY?

For centuries the church was (and still is) steeped in patriarchy. The church mostly speaks with a male voice, which often excludes women’s experiences. One needs to understand that when one deals with religious scriptures and traditions, context becomes of the utmost importance. In Biblical times men had absolute dominance over women as women were seen are possessions. Women had no access to education and only a few educated men determined what would be seen as scriptural and what not. Throughout the centuries this tradition continued, often to the detriment of women. This mindset continued in the South African society and was especially apparent in the structures of the Apartheid regime.

Within the South African context, the Dutch Reformed Church (DRC) played a major constituting role and was used to further the Apartheid ideology. White males were positioned as the rightful rulers over women and all other races within South Africa society. Women’s voices were absent in most power structures, especially in the church. It was only as recently as 1982 that women were allowed to the office of deacon, and that of elder and ordained minister since 1990 within the DRC. Gender role definitions and prescriptions were at the heart of female subordination and formed the basis of arguments for women’s exclusion from ordained ministry. Although the DRC recently celebrated the 20th anniversary of women in ordained ministry, at present there are only 68 women who work in congregations as DRC ministers, thus only 4,13% of the total number of ordained ministers in the DRC (DRC Yearbook 2011).

However, feminist theology is not only needed to ensure that more women are allowed to fully participate as ordained ministers. In South Africa more than half of all congregants are female, yet the male voice continues to prescribe, determine and enforce the way how women are allowed to participate. It is time that Christians move away from this patriarchal status quo in order to give women a voice which will enable them to participate and set their agenda with regards to their spiritual needs and insights. Moreover feminist theology is about inviting women to contribute to a social consciousness with which they will be able to identify.

Many patriarchs might ask, why should women participate and seen as equals. I answers with the words of Denise Ackermann ‘it is the right to human dignity that offers women in the church a powerful tool with which to challenge the church.’ In other words the fact that ‘human dignity and the idea that all humanity is created in God’s image, go hand in hand’, and therefore each and every human being, including women, should be able to participate in spiritual structures in ways that is unique and authentic to them.

However, feminist theology is not only about equal participation and giving women the space and a voice to engage in spiritual structures. It is also about addressing the social ills and injustice which the church has created with its prescriptions of very specific and rigid gender roles. I am in agreement with Denise Ackermann, who asserts that feminist theology should focus on firstly what is happening to women in their marriages and homes in the South African society; and secondly the widespread degradation of our environment.

If one look at the statistics of violence against women in South Africa, one can only but agree with Ackermann: ‘A war is being waged against the bodies of women and children in [South Africa] country. This is both a theological and a pastoral issue – one on which the church’s silence is obscene’. This is a vast subject and therefore I shall only briefly focus on how prescribed gender roles, which many churches still promote, contribute to the subordination of women and ultimately to the abuse of women on an economical, physical, verbal and sexual level.

Most patriarchal church societies focus on the creation story as portrayed in Gen. 2:18, which is interpreted that woman was created from a man, for a man and named by a man. Then this disobedient woman challenged the all male God and caused the Fall. Therefore women are seen as inferior to men and need to controlled by men, which rationalize the subjugation of women to the will and power of men.

From this mindset flows the idea that women are men’s possession to make with them as men please, especially once married. The most extreme outcome of this sexism and gender inequality is violence against women.

Feminist theologians believe that specific theological discourses continue to contribute towards violence against women and enforce the silence about this social ill. Many Christians see a husband’s authority as ordained by God and therefore it cannot be challenged, even if he is abusive. Good Christian wives are portrayed as obedient to and in service of their husbands. A pious woman is supposedly a silent woman who makes sacrifices on behalf of her family. This is linked to the suffering of Jesus and therefore many Christian women believe that to suffer in silence is to be Christ-like. Furthermore, Christian values of love and forgiveness help to maintain relationships of domination, as women should not challenge the behaviour of their husbands and they need to forgive seventy times seven. Feminist theology challenge these gender based ideas which continue to subjugate women in the name of God and the Bible and this is why the world is in desperate need of feminist theology.

South African women are in a war situation


The woman in this photo are one of the lucky ones – she survived the beating.

A conversation on Facebook yesterday, sparked so much passion and fire in my soul, that I need to blog about it. In my private practice I often hear stories of abuse and maybe this is why the conversation had so a profound effect on me.

A friend of my shared with me an article on honor killings of women in Canada. There was huge outcry in Canada because 12 women were murdered by their fathers or brothers to protect their family’s honor. This is appalling and I do not want to detract to the horror of it. However, it made me think about our situation in South Africa (SA).

In South Africa, every SIX hours a woman is murdered by her intimate partner. EVERY SIX HOURS. Let us do the math: that is four women a day, 28 women a week, 112 women a month, 1456 women a year. One thousand four hundred and fifty six women (daughters and mothers of someone) are killed by their intimate partners! Yet, our government and civil society look the other way. It is not spoken about. There are not daily news casts or paper headlines about this. It is almost as if we just accept this is how it is for women.

I believe that as long as we are silent about this, as long as we tolerate patriachal mindsets, as long as we look the other way, was long as we do not challenge, as long as we accept inequality, that is how long we are complicit to this atrocity – knowingly or unknowingly.

When we accept abuse, in which ever form, we are allowing it to continue unchallenged. Looking at the above mentioned stats convinced me that SA women are in a war, an unspoken war, and often the aggressors are the men who they love. However women have very little support and often no means to defend themselves:

  • By the time of death one out of two women in SA will be raped.
  • One out of three girls are raped or sexually assaulted before the age 18.
  • Women in South Africa have a greater chance to be raped than to learn to read.
  • The threat of “corrective” rape is very real for lesbian women in SA.
  • Every six hours a woman is killed by her intimate partner.

The vast majority of perpetrators of violence against women are their men, often their husbands. Yet our churches continues to prescribe the husband’s role as that of head, leader and priest of the home. Wives are supposed to submit and honor, to be subservient, and to accept the husband as the head of the home.

WHAT ARE WE THINKING? Or maybe I should ask what are we doing? Some call me fanatical, some call me a feminist, some call me a activist. Call me whatever you want but please MEN and women stand with me against this violence and senseless killing. Make people aware of the problem in our society. Start with ‘ant steps’ – i.e. when you receive a sexist e-mail, challenge it, when you hear a joke which demean women (or men) call it out, do whatever you can, but please do not be silent on this matter.

Read a previous post of mine:

https://nickispies.wordpress.com/2011/11/29/cleaning-up-the-mess-after-violence/

Please also look at these links:

http://www.powa.co.za/website/

http://www.hccac.org/abuse/myths.html

Cleaning up the bloody mess after violence


Today I listened to an interview on the radio about a book called: Bloedsusters (Blood sisters) by Ilse Salzwedelwhich. It deals with the work of two sisters, who are crime scene clean-up specialists. They are called in after the fact, after the violence: to clean-up the mess.

Sisters, Eileen de Jager and Roelien Schutte from Pretoria, South Africa, see their work as a service to the families of the victims and to society in general. In their book they share that they find emotionally, the most difficult to clean-up violent deaths due to family murders and attacks on farmers. Maybe it is because we are supposed to be safe in our homes and when we are with those we love?

Their work reminded me of my own work as a narrative therapist where I often work with sexual and gender violence. I, as many of my colleagues, are ‘call in’ after the fact. We witness the aftermath of emotional violence. We see the emotional blood and guts that economic, verbal, sexual and physical violence leave. The details of the ‘crime scene’ differ, but there is often a common factor: gender inequality and it leaves a legacy of shattered dreams and lives.

There is one main difference between an actual physical crime scene and that of gender-based emotional violence. A bloody crime scene shock most people and they will properly, if present when the violence is perpetrated, try to intervene. However, each and every day we all see acts of gender-based violence, without intervening. It might be as subtle as a demeaning comment about women, or as violent as a rape – yet we do not intervene or challenge it. Societies continue to turn a blind eye. Men and women continue to laugh at demeaning gender jokes, especially about women. We continue to support structures and products which depict women as less than men. We continue to accept the all too familiar life-denying gender stereotypes about men and women. We should not tolerate any form of gender-based violence whether it is a snide remark, economic abuse or the beating and eventual killing of a wife. By not taking a stand against the most subtle to the most violent gender-based acts, we contribute towards making violence against women and children an acceptable phenomena in societies.

Cleaning up the shocking mess …. this made me think: If all forms of emotional abuse left a physical bloody mess as physical violence do, will we still be so complacent and tolerant of it. If we could see the bloody, smelly horrible mess that gender-based violence cause, would we still need 16 days of no violence against women and children or will every day be a day in which this violence is irradiated from our society?  

Sexual deprivation of wives


Lately, so many women shared with me their stories of sexual deprivation and isolation within their marriages. The withholding of sexual contact reminds me of the dominant discourse that a wife’s body becomes the property of her husband. I argue that this discourse is based on the premise that a husband has the power and right to decide when and how his wife could engage in sexual activity. Linked to this premise is the dismissal of female sexual desire and female sexual fulfillment. Women’s sexuality was and still is at times mostly linked to reproduction, and therefore men and women often hold different expectations for sexual fulfillment. Women (and men) are socialised to be indifferent to female sexual desire and fulfillment. This indifference is reinforced by the dominant discourse which encourages women to be passive in sexual activity and to wait for men to initiate sexual contact as “good girls” don’t. This discourse was present as far back as the time of Plutarch (46-120 CE), when it was believed that a wife who seeks sexual fulfilment for herself was regarded as bad, meretricious and impetuous. This discourse placed the fulfillment of a wife’s sexual desire under the control of her husband. It follows that if a husband disregards his wife’s right to sexual fulfilment – or even worse, if he believes that she has no need for sexual fulfilment – he might never attend to her sexual needs and desires.

Extract adjusted from my doctoral study: Spies, N 2011. Exploring and storying Protestant Christian women/s experiences living in sexually unhappy marriages. DTh thesis, University of South Africa, Pretoria. 

Electronic version available at – http://hdl.handle.net/10500/4823

Economic dependency and sexual infidelity


Financial dependence is frequently a major consideration whether a person, especially the wife, stays in a sexually unhappy marriage or not. Many South African women born in the 1950s and 1960s often gave up their careers once their children were born or continued working on a part-time basis in order to take care of their children. Stay-at-home mother seldom received any compensation for the work they did as childminders and taking care of their homes. Most did not have any pension fund: this left them financially totally dependent on their husbands in their later years.

The patriarchal system promoted idea that the husband was the provider for the family. Within South African society, males were (and in some communities are) seen as the breadwinners and – until 1994 at least most senior positions were reserved for White males. This meant that the majority of women who did return to the official labour force after the birth of their children, often still needed their husband’s income to subsidise their own. For many women this financial dependence meant that, after being married for twenty years or more, divorce was not really an option. By that time, women are often in their forties, they had no work experience in the formal labour market, nor did they have their own pension or medical fund. For such women, divorce was often not an option.

The partnership between husband and wife on an economic level may persist long after the marriage’s loving origins have ceased, and therefore the couple stay married (Lake & Hills 1979:20). The effort required to unbundle the marriage and its assets is not seen as sufficient to justify a divorce – and thus: ‘[h]oly wedlock is often sustained by financial deadlock’ (Lake & Hills 1979:21). When women live in sexually unhappy marriages – with little or no option of leaving the marriage because of their financial dependence on their husbands – many women regard an affair as a way to escape their situation.

Extract adjusted from my doctoral study: Spies, N 2011. Exploring and storying Protestant Christian women/s experiences living in sexually unhappy marriages. DTh thesis, University of South Africa, Pretoria. 

http://hdl.handle.net/10500/4823