Amswers from Elena Ornig
Are women more likely to escape such marriages in today’s society?
The tragedy is that the woman may begin to truly believe she is unworthy of love, affection and consideration.
There is no doubt that many women are oppressed in marriage, even in our supposedly modern Western society. This oppression may be blatant and obvious, or it may be subtle and insidious to the point where even the woman being oppressed has difficulty understanding what is occurring. A woman may not be in physical danger from the latter type of oppression but the damage to her emotional well-being and her self esteem is devastating. How does this occur? After all, women are not forced into marriage in Australia.
Women are free to marry or to not marry. Women do not lose their legal rights when they marry. Women are not legally required, or morally expected, to stay married if they are being oppressed. A woman can be oppressed in marriage in many different ways. Many husbands still believe they have the right to control the finances in the relationship, especially if the wife is not working in paid employment. Even if the woman has access to a joint account, the money is considered ‘his’ not ‘theirs’, and she may be expected to ‘account for every penny’. The wife cannot spend any money on herself (or any children) without asking for permission.
This type of abuse is called “economic abuse”. A more subtle form of economic abuse occurs when the woman has full access to the family money but is ridiculed and made to feel irresponsible for her spending decisions. Some men never compliment their wives, never say ‘I love you’, and never seem to consider the emotional needs and feelings of their wives. This too is a form of oppression because it makes the woman feel that her needs are not important. If she asks for more consideration, or insists on it, she will be told she is selfish or that she should spend more time catering to her husband’s needs instead of concentrating on herself.
The tragedy of this is that the woman may begin to truly believe she is unworthy of love, affection and consideration. This type of oppression can be difficult to identify and even more difficult to
address. Often it is almost invisible to anyone outside the marriage. The woman may feel that if only she was a stronger person or a ‘better wife’ it wouldn’t occur and that she is to blame. Many women will not even attempt to escape an oppressive relationship ‘for the sake of the children’.
In 2008 the median age for divorcing women in Australia was 41.4 years – an age when the majority of children have left the family home and begun their own independent lives. Oppression can also take the form of threats and intimidation. Men are generally larger and stronger than their wives and, even if they never physically hurt her, the pain that this psychological abuse causes in immense. Robert Fulghum has been quoted as saying, “Yelling at living things does tend to kill the spirit in them. Sticks and stones may break our bones, but words will break our hearts …” In all its forms, oppression is a ghastly phenomenon. Although a wife’s physical safety may not be at risk, the emotional consequences for her – and her children – last a lifetime.
As we observe divorce rates around the world continuing to increase the question is: are more men oppressing their wives, or is the rate of oppression fairly constant but are women more likely to escape such marriages in today’s society?
Family oppression can rob you of many critical developmental factors.
You don’t develop your identity, self awareness, confidence, personal competence or a sense of self-endorsement. You lose the ability to prioritise your actions, to connect with others. You don’t develop the ability to think productively for yourself and you fail to realise how special you are as an individual. The list goes on; no belief in self-reliance, no recognition of any self-dignity and you certainly don’t become psychologically resilient nor develop the ability to be a free thinker and a free spirit; a very substantial list of the consequences of oppression.
Tragic isn’t it? But as frightening as the above list may be, all is not lost. There is hope for all victims; that hope comes from an inherent emotional instinct; an instinct incredibly powerful and valid.
Curiosity is one such instinct; curiosity cannot be taken away or oppressed. It is strong and represents an internal need to explore, to discover, to seek, to learn and to try something new. We are all very lucky, as human beings, to be naturally inquisitive and curious. We have and exercise this need from infancy to the end of our lives. With our curiosity, we went above many dogmas; individually and collectively we proved throughout history that we can make the seemingly impossible become possible.
Luckily for all, curiosity is an extremely strong motivation that drives us constantly forward and beyond new horizons. It gives us the ability to fantasise and to imagine. It makes us want to find out more and more, and inevitably we become explorers. Who are we? What are we good at? What should we learn, act upon or do? What will be our next step? What do we want?
As we grow, if this emotional instinct is recognised, nurtured and encouraged, there are no limits to what we can discover within our inner selves and the world outside. The only long term difference between victims of family oppression and those who were spared is an initial delay in development. It is only an initial limitation. Instead of contemplating life and asking yourself, “What should I be – an engineer, a brick layer or basket weaver?” the victims will face the very ambiguous and helpless question: “Can I be anything at all?” From that, they will begin their own journey to discover not only the outside world, but also their inner selves.