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I Am More Than I Was Told I Was

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Photo courtesy of Surfer

I think it’s time we changed the conversation in our society from what a woman’s role in society should be – from dutiful mother and wife – to whoever it is she wants to be. Personally, I always saw myself as more than someone waiting for a suitable husband. I never saw myself as a liability like my ex-husband did. He is my ex-husband now.

Women are expected to act a certain way: to dress and behave in ways that do not provoke or draw too much attention from the opposite sex. In some religions blame is put upon women when it comes to rape and also gender based violence; assumptions are made that the fault in sexual assault or harassment incidents is the woman’s or female’s. More often than not, the criticisms are focused on her choice of attire. In fact, the often concealed contempt men have for women is the real cause. They need to fix their own mindset not shift responsibility and try to control women’s clothing and conduct.

In our society and culture, we know we can be rejected and marginalized or even cast out when we don’t act within the expected and imposed norms. The accepted codes of conduct are set and upheld to serve only men.

Most women act accordingly in order to fit in and belong and be accepted and find a place in the social status. Women in 2022 are still oppressed the most and even more so if they don’t stick to society’s standards. Some may not even realize it because they think it’s normal and acceptable behavior.

I am speaking here about the social and psychological violence that I experienced in my marriage: where traditional cultural values were weaponized and used to control me.

Our first argument, in the first few years of marriage, was about dowry and the fact that I did not come to the marriage with one. This, by the way, was the day I decided deep down that I was going to divorce him one day. Having been raised by a single mother in a very sheltered context, it took me over 15 years to actually act on this very strong intention. Partly it was due to the fact that I was already a mother of my perfect little son and also because I was scared of all the misconceptions society had about single mothers and divorced women, not to mention the archaic laws on divorce and separation in Sri Lanka.

However, I must be thankful for the upbringing I had where both my male and female role models growing up including my mother, teachers, aunts and uncles all brought me up to believe in myself and that any achievement I wanted to try for was not out of my reach.

The books I read also gave me the knowledge that financial independence gives women the decision making ability and that there is nothing wrong in practicing selfcare.

There is a very big misconception in society that a failed marriage is a woman’s fault. I have listened to many sermons from religious leaders who ask women to be more tolerant towards their male partner while no such advice is given to the male. When complaints are made against men in domestic violence situations, women are told to reconcile their differences with the perpetrators. I write this from personal experience of having gone to the local police in Sri Lanka from 2003 to 2020.

Also from personal experience I can tell you that women are blamed and shamed within toxic marriages and that my mother-in-law once told me that my husband is having affairs because I’m not good enough.

This same misconception results in the woman being blamed and criticised as being so scared that she cannot handle “small problems” in a relationship. That she is playing the victim card to shame her partner. After all, if not women, then who will adjustin the relationship? But rarely is a single finger is raised to accuse the man who mistreated her. Rarely does anyone blame and shame the man for breaking his commitment and disrespecting a woman.

The police have a consistently pitiful record when it comes to dealing with violence towards women; their recent excessive reaction to two women walking along Galle Road in protest to free two activists does little to dispel the feeling women in Sri Lanka have that the police, whose duty it is to protect the most vulnerable from violence, are often part of the problem.

Investigating officers generally presume the women in any incident are drunk, incapable and unreliable. The victims are blamed and the male perpetrator/s will move on.

I’ve always known that the world we live in has been corrupted and it is hard to defeat the impact of this. I nearly let it destroy my spirit. Too bad for the perpetrators and those who endorse them that I won’t be defeated that easily. My heart is too strong!

It’s time we look past stereotypes and stop making superficial pre-judgements. Nobody is the same, we were all created equally unique and perfect in our own way. We all deserve the same respect, no matter what our lifestyle choices or achievements are.

If our subconscious thoughts are used against us, we are no longer a threat to the patriarchal system: we just give in and don’t even question it out of fear or a desire for comfort and peace.

I can say that while many women experience physical violence, many also endure verbal and emotional violence over years; we are belittled, cut down, silenced, undermined, discouraged and broken by our extended family and our partners. Our homes are not safe places for our hearts and minds and spirits.

We have to detach ourselves from that unsafe and violent situation – physically and emotionally – to start to create the good life we deserve.

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