6-29 What I Learned this Week: Black Eyes and Domestic Violence

If you block the bottom, the top looks like a bad eyeshadow job.

Warning: This is not a humorous post. This is about some ugly things, not just the current state of my face.

The real story goes like this: I went to Judo training. We were learning a new throw. My partner was having some problems and couldn’t get the throw right. The teacher came over and corrected him. He got the throw right and I fell, correctly and without damage to myself. Because he’d tried the throw a few times and failed, it was surprising when he succeeded. He lost his balance and fell on top of me. The strongest place on the human skull is the ridge of bone running vertically down your forehead. His ridge collided with my eye socket. The collision split the skin above my eyebrow and gave me a nice black eye.
(Side note, eye sockets are genius. Unlike shoulders, knees and ankles, eye sockets are effective at their job, protecting the eye and taking significant damage without long-term consequences. Well done, evolution. Now, will you work on the shoulder?)
The story people think happened goes like this: I have a man in my life. I did something that irritated him, or maybe he was drinking, or maybe he was just bored. He hit me. He blackened my eye and nearly caused me to get stitches. I’m still with him.
I’m not saying “a few people think this.” I’m saying that nearly everyone I’ve talked to assumes that Jason hit me. I work in an organization that discusses domestic violence and I have been a strong voice advocating for other forms of conflict resolution, and my colleagues still assumed Jason hit me. Even the staff in the PC office, people who work with Americans and personally know Jason and I, immediately asked if he hit me. So many people have asked me, that I am becoming embarrassed to go out anymore. I’m sick of giving the same explanation, over and over.
Spanking Husband ad, circa 1950s
This says something disturbing about the culture. Maybe disturbing isn’t the word I’m looking for. Disgusting, might fit better. The general assumption was that Jason hit me, because that is the most common reason women here have bruises. There are two things wrong with this statement.
The first and most obvious, is that no one – woman, man or child – should be hit. The banal attitude toward domestic violence is a warning sign to the entire culture of the disrespect towards women. The effects of a lack of gender equality effect every strata of society. (I’ll write another entire blog post about that at some point.) Though I think the culture is beginning to change, domestic violence is still a joke here. It isn’t something treated as a cultural illness, its treated as a cultural norm. I’ve been teased about my black eye, I’ve had comments made about a “different sport” and I’ve had people tell me I’m lucky I have a Man American because Man Vanuatuwould have done it himself. It makes me think about the “spanking husband” ads in the 1950s, and how they are now socially unacceptable in the US. I hope that the culture in Vanuatu will follow suit and create a taboo around hitting anyone, especially your family.
The second issue is more subtle. The idea that women have no other way of getting a black eye is concerning. It means that women don’t have hobbies or other social outlets. In the US, I and my friends got bruised playing sports. We twisted ankles at dance clubs and had occasional injuries from “alcohol induced vertigo.” We also learned new skills, tried new things and had fun. We learned things that proved to us we could learn and that bolstered our self-esteem. The process of learning involves failing, and failing, sometimes, means bruises. Women here do not have activities outside the house, so there is no other excuse for a black eye. That, in itself, is something that is damaging to both self-esteem and the cultural equality of women.
I was witness to the aftermath of domestic violence in the village. I couldn’t pretend it didn’t happen. This week has brought that awareness to a whole new level. (One could say it opened my eye about it, if one wanted to make a terrible pun.) When I am feeling the weight of eyes as I walk down the street, I can’t imagine what it is like for a ni-Van woman who’s husband did hit her. I’m used to being stared at, I’m used to being different, I’m confident in myself and I know that I have a black eye for a healthy reason.
This is an issue that needs to be discussed. Both sides of this issue, the side of domestic violence and the blasse attitude towards it. We need to talk about it so that we change the expectations and create a culture where women and men are safe and equal.

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