Why women keep beating each other up

By Minh Vi   September 11, 2017 | 11:51 am GMT+7
Why women keep beating each other up
An art installation calls attention to violence against women in Brazil. Photo by Reuters

The worst thing is, most of the time it's over men.

A woman was waiting patiently to be examined at a hospital in Saigon last Thursday when three women burst in and attacked her.

Police had a hard time breaking up the fight, and the group of women kept screaming at the victim for “husband stealing”.

The "thief" was quickly transferred to a sickbed with multiple injuries.

Around 300 kilometers (186 miles) away, a man in Ca Mau Province was fined more than $100 last Friday for beating his long-time partner after she tried to ambush a woman she suspected of sleeping with him at a hotel.

These two cases on consecutive days are perfect examples of the illusion many women still have about men in this world.

They underestimate men and at the same time overvalue them.

They think men are a property that can be "owned" and “stolen”: Whoever wins gets the toy, a precious one that they cannot live without.

Too bad this isn't true, but for many women a broken heart forbids them from seeing what's worthy of them and what's not.

But there’s at least a silver lining, however blurred it is, in the way women stand up and empower themselves.

For the attention of a man, there are much more painful things women put themselves through.

My cousin, who has a two-year-old boy, knows that her husband has been having an affair for at least a year now. Her parents know too.

They have not attempted to do anything to the other woman, which I'm relieved about, but they haven't done anything about their son-in-law either.

All her mother has done is to tell her to dress more nicely, wear more make-up, be a more caring mother, be a more patient wife, be a more responsible daughter-in-law and serve her husband better both in the kitchen and in bed so that one day he’ll come back.

“Women do not need to be proud to be happy,” my 27-year-old cousin wrote on her social media page, which I hope was just a phase of denial and not her being brainwashed into blind happiness, if that even exists.

It’s a universal thing for people to convert men’s infidelity into a narrative about female inadequacy.

Earlier this month, the New York Times’ advice column published responses to a woman’s question about her boyfriend who was still in contact with his ex. She was worried she was being paranoid because of the way her mother dealt with her father’s affair when she was a child.

She said her mother had blamed her and her sister for their father’s infidelity, saying that it would not have happened if they’d been better behaved. Her mother had cosmetic work done and urged her and her sister to do the same because they "were not attractive enough to keep a man.”

Mutual doubt and rivalry happens in all kinds of relationships, be it family, in-laws, friends or colleagues.

A sister’s advice such as “I’ll show you these sex tricks to keep your husband” or “You should stop with your broken English or your foreign boyfriend will disrespect you!” are just condescending ways of saying “You’re not good enough for him” or “You’re not as good as me”.

Somehow, women have further enforced the boundaries and limitations that are already making their lives hard.

There are as many as 20,000 cases of domestic violence reported in Vietnam every year, and around 97 percent of the victims are women, according to government data.

Certainly many of those beatings happen when the man believes he has the right to belittle the woman and the protection she is entitled to.

A government study found that 90 percent of female victims never sought help, and many of them believed their husbands’ violence could be justified.

This year, the most purchased photo for the search term “woman” from Getty Images’ library is of a woman hiking alone in Banff National Park in Canada. Ten years ago, it was the photo of a naked woman under a towel.

“It really feels like an image about power, about freedom, about trusting oneself,” Pam Grossman, director of visual trends at Getty Images, said in a Times report about the photo. “Who cares what you even look like? Let’s focus on what you’re doing.”

So maybe it’s time we all started doing something to make sure women know they are free and powerful.

*Editor's notes: The writer lives and works in Saigon. The opinions expressed are her own.
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