A Real Man Doesn’t Beat his Wife, his Kids, or his Nation
I’ve never been the ruler of a country, nor been part of a crowd of several hundred thousand protesters calling for the ruler’s resignation while being pelted with stones, Molotov cocktails, and other nastiness from the ruler’s supporters (paid and otherwise). I *have* lived under dusk-to-dawn curfew in the midst of protests during the Vietnam war, and seen armored personnel carriers go up and down my street filled with National Guardsmen with their weapons in hand and unlocked, but compared with the scenes this week from Egypt, what I lived with back then was a walk in the park.
That said, in listening to Hosni Mubarak this week, I realized that I had seen the events of this past week play out on a much smaller stage, and so have many others. The dynamic of what’s going on in Egypt is but a massive version of something far too familiar to far too many ordinary people. . .
* * *
Husband: Hi honey, I’m home.
Wife: Don’t ‘hi honey’ me. Pack your bags and get out.
Husband: What? What? This is my house, these are my kids, you are my wife. What’s all this about ‘get out’?
Wife: It’s all about ‘you’ for you, isn’t it. Well, what about me? What about our kids? What about ‘us’? Let me tell you about me for a minute. I’m tired of being hit. I’m tired of you hitting our boys. I’m tired of our girls living in fear. I’m tired of you destroying our lives. Get. Out.
Husband: Out? But I give you security. I earn a living, I provide for you, I’ve given my all so you and the kids have a roof over your heads and food on the table. For all these years, I’ve provided for you. You ought to be grateful!
Wife: If telling the neighbors “I got a black eye when I tripped and bumped my head” instead of saying “my husband beat me up” is security, I can do with a lot less security, and so can the kids.
Husband: Those boys need discipline — a strong hand. They need to know who’s boss. Why, you have no idea the trouble they’d get into if they didn’t have me around. It’s for their own good, and yours as well.
Wife: Ha! Sending someone to the hospital after a discipline session says to me that someone is seriously out of whack — and it’s not the boys.
Husband: (raising a hand) Why, I ought to . . .
Wife: Go ahead. (Husband puts his hand down.) See? That’s what I’m talking about. You don’t care about us — you care about you and whatever threatens you. You care about you being in control, even over us.
Husband: That’s not true. (pause) See, I didn’t hit you. I can control myself. We can make this work. I know we can.
Wife: No, we can’t. The girls are tired of walking on eggshells around you, afraid that they’ll do something wrong, and then when you hit me for not being a better mother and keeping them in line, they feel guilty that I got hurt — like it’s their fault you’re an abusive and violent man. You have your moments of remorse, but then it’s back to the same old thing. Get. Out. (pause) Now.
Husband: Oh, sure, you say that now, but what will you do tomorrow? What about next week, when the rent is due? Or the end of the month, when the pantry is empty? You need me, and you’ll come crawling back. Let’s take our time with this . . . perhaps give it six months or so.
Wife: Which part of ‘get out now’ is so difficult for you to understand? Yes, we’ll have to deal with the rent and the groceries, and all the rest, but we won’t have to deal with the doctor and the hospital and the neighbors wondering what all the screaming was last night. The boys won’t have to wonder if one of them will end up dead after arguing with you. The girls won’t have to wonder if I’ll end up dead the next time I try to protect them from you and one of your angry rages. Believe me, given a choice between poverty and freedom on the one hand and money and abuse on the other, I’ll take poverty and freedom. You don’t offer security — you offer fear and chains. It’s taken me years to realize it, and years more to get up the courage to confront you with it, but living under the constant threat of violence from someone who claims to love me is no way to live. Get. Out. Right. Now.
* * *
As a pastor, I’ve seen this story play out again and again in families, and what we’re seeing in Egypt is nothing more and nothing less than this same story played out on a national level.
Where it goes next in Egypt is hard to say, but the options are as familiar as the story. Maybe Mubarak’s threats and those of his pals will cause the battered protesters to back down and continue living with a leader who loves his country so much he will beat it into submission. Maybe Mubarak will leave, and the nation will try to get on with its life without him. Maybe Mubarak will go, but a similar paternalistic authoritarian will take his place and try to lead in the same manner. Maybe a new kind of leader will emerge. I don’t know, and quite frankly, neither does anyone else.
But I do know that when a batterer is confronted by his victim, the game changes. When the neighbors start watching, the batterer no longer can get away with nearly as much as he could before. When the batterer is actually held accountable, that’s when things really change, and not just in that household.
Down the street, you know, there are other husbands who act the same way toward their families. When one battered wife stands up for herself, other wives take notice . . .
A real man doesn’t beat his wife and kids. Or his nation. And real neighbors don’t stand by and watch it happen.