The Monsters Among Us

If you follow news in general, and celebrity news in particular you’ve probably heard about the public throttling and assault of Nigella Lawson, the beautiful British celebrity chef. She was assaulted by her advertising mogul cum arts collector Charles Saatchi as they settled in for a meal at a relatively packed restaurant. I was not going to write about this because almost everything that can be written about the incident has been written. That was until this past Monday when I heard a statistic that changed my mind for me:  50% of all women in Africa have experienced or will experience physical abuse in their lifetime. Scary! In simple non-statistical language: if you’re a woman and you have five friends, three of you have suffered physical abuse, or will be beaten up by their intimate partner in the course of their lives. If you’re a man, and like me have three close friends, two you have assaulted their wives or will do so at some point in their lives. Of course that’s  very simplistic, but it serves to drive the point home, it’s not them doing the assaulting, it’s  us, me and you.

That very human thing inside of you, the one that always says, “no, not me, never!” , the one that says “I can use the phone whilst driving, I’ll never cause an accident”, right now it’s telling you “I’ve never hit a woman, so this doesn’t concern me”. If not me, or you, then who’s doing the assaulting or getting physically abused for that matter.

Well, consider, Mr Saatchi, all of 70 years old, filthy rich(at least to me), he throttles Nigella, who’s far from poor herself. Socially, upper class, if you will,He does this in a relatively packed restaurant, doesn’t wait till he gets home to sort out the domestic matter.

I hope you noticed that I said he doesn’t wait till he gets home, as if domestic abuse is ok if it happens behind closed doors. We’ve been brought up to think domestic disagreements belong in the house, which makes a lot of people loathe to raise cases of abuse with people or structures that are supposed to help them. The second thing I hope you noticed is that not a single person in the restaurant dared to come to Nigella’s defence. Not one.This I believe is a result of that upbringing that says Mr Saatchi should have waited till he got home, so who am I to intervene?

Do you know why people do drugs in private? Well it’s illegal for one, but more importantly it’s socially embarrassing to be known to have a weakness for illegal substances so much so that people will go to great lengths to hide anything that might cause people to suspect them of using. Now, before I lose you, here’s my point: why was Mr Saatchi only “interviewed” by the police about the assault? I put it to you that Mr Saatchi should feel the same amount of shame over his actions as any criminal caught in the act should feel. He should have left that restaurant covering his greying head with that expensive jacket he was wearing, so ashamed to have been caught in the process of committing a shameful crime. He should never have been given a media platform to play down his horrendous action as a “playful tiff”.

Strangely, the media behaved as though Nigella was the one in the wrong here. Paparazzi waited outside an apartment she was in to see what “state she’d be in” when she reappeared in public again. And sure enough they noticed she was minus her wedding ring when she did come out. Where was the wealthy Mr Saatchi in all of this? Shouldn’t he be the one under scrutiny here? Shouldn’t he be the one to appear in public wearing a track suit top with a hoodie to hide his face? We should be asking if he was “brave” enough to show his face at the office. But no, we are scrutinizing the victim here. Somehow life has taught us its ok to assault a woman, it’s ok not to intervene because she’s not screaming and there’s no blood visible. Why didn’t anybody check on Mr Saatchi to see if he still had his wedding band on? Does he look worried? Is he pitching for work? If the focus can move away from the victim to the abuser then the accompanying shame will follow. We can tell our friends that we didn’t allow James to join us to watch the game because he hit his wife, that we are ashamed of such acts.

There are those who are questioning Nigella’s silence in all of this. She has said nothing at all concerning the assault. A word of caution here, Nigella Lawson is a celebrity chef, not a social change activist so it’s understandable if she hasn’t said anything, for now at least. Lets wait till she’s strong enough to do so.

That said, I strongly believe that if your career success depends entirely on being liked by a lot of ordinary people, you automatically carry an unwritten responsibility to those who like you for you. The same responsibility that allowed Tina Turner to authorize a movie about her abuse in the hands of her then husband Ike Turner. I hope at some point, Nigella Lawson will be strong enough, courageous enough to speak out. To tell those ordinary men and women who look up to her that what her husband did was wrong, and he is or should be ashamed of it.

I’m part of a Stokvel, that very South African phenomenon. There’s twenty-five of us. In our last meeting two weeks ago, a lady member could not make it and it was said in very hushes tones that her partner had beaten her up. Out of the 16 who were there that day, no one expressed shock at the incident. In fact, the general view was the lady shows no respect to her partner. Shockingly, half of the women there agreed that because she showed no respect to her partner she had it coming. Really? Uyadelela, so beat her up? I am disgusted to think that those mothers and fathers are bringing up their boys to think it’s ok to beat up a woman if you have a reason. It’s never ok.

The only way the shame and stigma around physical abuse can be defeated is if we speak out. Never making the victims feel ashamed and never being silent because everyone else is silent.See, we can have a “16 days  of activism against woman and child abuse” every year but until we as a society, especially men,  change our thinking about the monsters who live amongst us, our sisters, daughters and mothers will always be victims. It doesn’t matter if he’s your friend, dad, doctor or CEO, if he’s assaulting  his wife or partner he’s a monster. Like Mr Saatchi he should be very ashamed of his actions. It’s always said that domestic abuse knows no race, class or status. That statement always rings hollow because what the media always shows us is abuse amongst ordinary men and women. This shameful incident, if it can be used as a learning act, should serve to remind us that these monsters are in every family, mine and yours, and should not be allowed to continue unchallenged. They move in the same social circles as us, they are our friends and neighbours – let’s stop them.

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