08 Sep The Underplayed Reality of Women as Perpetrators of Violence
Recently the First Lady of Zimbabwe, Grace Mugabe made headline news after reports of her assaulting the South African model, Gabriella Engels (who was in the company of her sons at a hotel in Sandton) surfaced on social media. Gruesome pictures of the wounded woman have been making rounds on various platforms which can only tell of the magnitude of brutal force that was used against her. Personally, I am not surprised that Grace Mugabe stooped so low. One only needs to pay attention to her insensitive utterances and tirades to understand why I am not shocked that she would go to the lengths of physically assaulting someone.
Patriarchal violence is the most appropriate way to sum up Mrs Mugabe’s behaviour, be it towards the South African woman she viciously assaulted or the many Zimbabweans who have to endure her, mostly, verbal assaults. Sadly, in Zimbabwe not many ordinary folks would be able to garner what would be risky courage and call her out or as Gabriella Engels did, lay a charge against her. Anyone who fears for their safety or life would not be able to do that. In Zimbabwe, the First Lady’s status protects her and she knows it. By virtue of being the President’s wife, she is a powerful person in her own right. As with any person in a position of (perceived or real) power over others, the need to assert or reinforce that power is great and such people deem it acceptable to assert it through whatever means, however abusive, unethical or inhumane those means may be. Sadly, her privileged status granted her diplomatic immunity and she will not be held accountable for her violent actions. This is just another case of how our leaders continue to abuse their powers and get away with it.
The actions of the First Lady add to the growing evidence of how women can be violent. I staunchly believe that if we are going to end violence against (marginalised) groups of people then we need to acknowledge and confront all purveyors of violence. Categorising people in such a way where we end up with one group of people being viewed as the victim while the other group is deemed the abuser only serves to foil our efforts to eradicate violence. We can shout, get enraged and stage all sorts of protests but if all this (justified) anger and dissatisfaction is directed towards one group only, then all our efforts will be in vain. No-one should be above reproach, even if they belong to a group of people who may be experiencing systemic oppression. And no-one should be allowed to get away with throwing the ‘oppressed’ card so as to worm their way out of being called out on their own violence (as someone who belongs to a marginalised group). The oppressed are very much capable of not only perpetuating their own oppression but oppressing other people.
It is worrying that the reality of women being purveyors of violence is one that is often (and sometimes, conveniently) overlooked. If this chilling truth is not overlooked, it is often confronted with little vigour, not comparable to the vigour used when violence perpetrated by men is confronted in the feminist space. There are various ways that women inflict pain on other women, children or any other person. One of the ways in which this happens is through verbal assaults (other examples include transphobia, beauty discrimination and ableism). Such assaults, which usually take the form of body-shaming, are likely to be seen as less sinister than physical assaults, especially if we do not call them for what they are. But words do hurt and many women have been (emotionally) hurt in this way by other women. Many people have had their self-image tarnished because of these verbal assaults.
While some women act on their own accord, others will conspire with (usually) men to entrap unsuspecting victims who are then left to be assaulted by those men. Yes, more cismen than women (or any other person for that matter) perpetrate violence and that violence is usually targeted towards women but that does not mean we tip-toe around the issue of women being abusers as well. Any human being, regardless of gender can be abusive or violent. The frequency, severity or magnitude of the violence does not negate the reality of it being committed and the vital need for it to be addressed. If we are going to be biased in how we approach issues of violence, we are only doing ourselves a huge disservice. Fact is, an imagined society without cismen would still not be a violence-free society.