I recently participated in an interactive session organised by a nongovernmental organisation for community members. The participants were a diverse group of people, including single, married, and divorced people, people in their early twenties to people in their sixties, and people of many different sexualities. They sat together, listening to a presentation on the domestic violence law in their country, then moved into small groups to talk about their experiences of domestic violence.
Every participant had experienced domestic violence or knew someone who had. The types of violence varied. We heard the story of someone who experienced economic violence, deprived of their basic needs. We heard the story of someone who experienced sexual violence perpetrated by their parents. We heard the story of domestic violence that moved into public space. People were asked to not only share their experiences, but whether or not they reported, why or why not, and the outcomes. One of the stories was of a man who tried to report domestic violence at the police station and was turned away. The police officer told him it was not domestic violence because he “you’re a man.” One of the stories was about a gay man who called the police when he was physically abused by his partner. A police officer went to the house, but upon realising it was a gay couple, told them it was not domestic violence because “you’re a man,” and laughed at them. The person who called was upset by this, but not deterred, so he told the officer, “It is domestic violence. He is my partner and we live together.” The police officer still did not offer any assistance and left the residence.
No one was surprised by the responses of the police in these stories involving men. It is well known that there is a limited understanding of domestic violence. People, including police, often find it hard to accept that men can be victims of violence. In addition to that, from the stories, we see that police officers also fail to understand that domestic violence does not only occur between one man and one woman, and that domestic relationships are not always between one man and one woman. They do not understand or accept that relationships and households take many different forms, and all people are entitled to security of person and equal protection of the law.
The stories of the man who experienced violence sparked discussion about gender. What is it, and how does it impact the way we treat one another? We talked about the way the inadequate response to gender-based violence against women has helped to create this environment in which we struggle to address domestic violence and intimate partner violence against men. This, of course, goes back to gender ideology and the gender norms developed and reinforced by society. We are taught that men and boys are to be tough, and women and girls are to be soft. We are taught that men and boys are to be in charge, and women and girls are to follow instructions. We are taught that men and boys are to have limited emotions and emotional reactions, and that anger — especially anger that is loud and on display — is more appropriate than sadness or grief, and women and girls can have more emotions and emotional reactions, but are not entitled to anger.
Almost everyone at the session shared a story. Everyone expressed, in some way, that they experienced both sadness and anger. Some of them described feelings of grief and betrayal. They talked about what they knew would be expected of them. To stay. To leave. To cover it up. To suffer, both for people who were supposed to stay or supposed to leave. To overcome. To forget. To make peace. To bury their feelings.
There was a strong reaction from a religious leader participating in the session. The person spoke passionately about the pain that women go through when they are physically and sexually abused — physical and emotional pain. It was said that many continue to search for ways to make things better and reduce the harm caused to them. Eventually, many of them resign themselves to the situations — violent households that can no longer be considered homes. They go through the motions of their daily lives, from work to childcare to community events to church functions, and deny themselves the human response to pain. They have no support from the people around them, and are hyper-focused on saving their marriages, not themselves, because they can see no way out and think they may as well have the dignity of appearing to be in a happy marriage and home. It is a double-life, it takes more than double the effort, and it is a kind of death that they experience, over and over again. They die so that the marriage, and the perception of it, can live.
It may be time for marriage to end. Time for marriage to cease to exist. It continues to be seen, in some circles and cultures, as a goal and a necessary step in life, rather than an option that has a specific set of benefits that are, in many ways, outweighed by the negative aspects. No one is selling marriage very well right now — not the government, and certainly not the (anti-rights) church. Marriage is, according to them, an automatic reduction or complete erasure of rights. Married woman? Can’t pass on your citizenship to your child unless your husband is a Bahamian or you give birth in The Bahamas, because your citizenship is weaker due to your marriage. Oh, don’t forget that these sick individuals think you give up the right to make decisions about your own body when you get married, and the person you marry has more control over it than you do. You become a sex object and you have no legal right to withhold consent, and according to the anti-rights misleaders’ interpretation of The Bible, you are required to submit without thought and regardless of feelings.
Lyall Bethel said he would “reject any law that would weaponize sex in a marriage.” Well, sex is already weaponised. That is, unless we acknowledge that there is no sex without consent, so what people are doing, legally, when they force their spouses to have “sex” is rape. Rapists and rape apologists are weaponizing widespread misinterpretation of biblical text to rob women of their bodily autonomy when they get married.
He asked, “The cries, the statements being made, what more do you want?”
We want men — especially rapists and rape apologists — to either shut up or support the rights of women to make decisions about their own bodies and to be full human beings with access to all of our human rights, whether or not we are married. That would be an acceptable start.
We want religious misleaders to disabuse themselves of the notion that their deranged interpretation of a text they have chosen to follow and use to mislead others is an acceptable basis upon which to govern this secular State.
We want men and the misleaders they follow to stop raping people, and to stop encouraging others to rape.
We want them to be more disturbed by the death of a woman, the rape of a woman, the lost humanity of a woman than they are by the fact that women are human beings with bodily autonomy and men do not and cannot own them, married or not.
He said, “We already have something in place.”
What is in place is an exclusion. It is a law that says it is legal for a man to rape his wife. Section 15 applies only in cases where the two people are divorced or legally separated. That he considered this to be sufficient makes it clear that he denies married women their humanity.
He said, “It is feared that the social ills in our country will increase dramatically, namely less marriages, which in turn leads to destruction of the nuclear family, which was designed by God almighty for the flourishing of society.”
Rape is a social ill. Violence against women is a social ill. Misuse of scripture to support the abuse of women is particularly sick.
I look forward to less marriages. I look forward to people being able to freely leave relationships that are not happy or healthy, and that no longer work for them. I look forward to the complete rejection of the institution that the anti-rights Christians think they own when it is regulated by the State. I look forward to the complete destruction of the fantasy of the nuclear family which is unfamiliar to many generations of Bahamians because we have always had extended families and will continue to need them as the cost of living increases and our elders need our care. I look forward to society flourishing when we learn that we are interdependent, that parents do all of the childcare work, that money does not solve all of our problems, and that we are our greatest resource when we live in love and peace, free from violence, including the kinds of violence that some religious misleaders tell us is condoned by the men who wrote The Bible.
I look forward to us finding other ways to show the world our commitment to one another in love. I look forward to new ways of sharing property and ensuring that we can, in dire circumstances, have the legal authority to make decisions on each other’s behalf in accordance with our expressed desires. I look forward to alternatives to marriage, and to generations and generations of people overwhelmingly choosing that alternative instead. I look forward to relationships where love, freedom, and safety reside without the contradiction or imposition of anyone’s favorite scripture to weaponise. I look forward to the end of marriage — the institution that far too many people value over the people in it. May this weapon, wielded against women, be destroyed.