A Discourse on Cross-Cultural Domestic Violence

Studies done in the mid 80’s to mid 90’s point to a prevalence and general social acceptance of domestic violence against women in India. Indeed, it is so commonplace that a 1997 survey found only 22% of women willing to talk about it. The unwillingness to talk about wife beating and domestic violence wasn’t because these women were afraid to talk about it rather, it was so common place they thought it hardly worth mentioning.

In India, especially rural India, men have a “right” to beat their wives. If the wife misbehaves, neglects her chores or her wifely duties, has not born her husband any sons or if the husband gets drunk and depressed, he is within his rights to beat his wife. A drunken beating is usually tolerated as long as it’s not too severe, by village standards, and the man is generally a good husband. This mode of thinking has been culturally accepted for generations.

Female infanticide has also been culturally accepted for generations. Women carry very little worth except to bear strong male children, satisfy the husband and do housework. Males provide economic support and defend the family while females leave their birth families and are an economic drain. It is a womans societal expectation to provide male heirs. Those who don’t or can’t, are severely chastised and abused. These societal norms are prevalent in all aspects of Indian culture from the poor rural areas to the middle and upper class urban dwellers.

Modernization and industrialization have only served to increase domestic violence. Corporal punishment, according to Elaine Leeder, “… is so well entrenched in Indian society that even the middle and upper classes admit to using it.” With the shift from an agrarian society to a more modern and industrialized society comes competition to be ever more upwardly mobile. This puts greater economic and social stress on the family. The husbands react to this stress by taking out their frustrations on their wives. The easy access to alcohol and it’s affordability do not help matters.

The children also suffer from this scenario. As I pointed out, corporal punishment is the standard by which men maintain control and vent their frustrations. Modernization and industrialization has also sent shild abuse statistics sky rocketing. Almost 57% of college educated parents admitted using “acceptable” forms of violence while almost 42% admitted abuse. The actual percentages are probably higher as the data was taken from a relatively small sample.

Why do these women tolerate such unjust behavior and attitudes? Because it has been a part of their culture for centuries. They know of no other way of life. For women, there is no life outside of marriage. A single mother would be stoned to death or at the very least outcast from her village which in India also amounts to a death sentence.

   Violence need not be physical to be present. Corporal punishment and wife beating are only the “visible” forms of violence. In Vietnam, for example, women work long hours in the factories and are then expected to come home and do housework. They may spend five to six hours a night on household chores. This is the “Invisible Violence” common in Vietnam. Vietnamese culture is deeply rooted in the
teachings of Confucius whereby they “think highly of men and slightly of women.” Poor socio-economic status and it’s stressors coupled with Confucian dogma give men any number of reason to vent their frustrations out on women. Legally, in Vietnam, men and women share equal status. Culturally, the disparity is obvious and not soon to change.

   These are not the only two countries in the world to have domestic violence and child abuse issues. In Japan, domestic violence is so prevelent and common place they don’t even have a word for it. In the United States, according to a 1986 study by Gelles and Straus, “at least a million children are abused a year.” If the two most supposedly “civilized” nations in the world are guilty of this level of domestic violence and abuse, imagine what goes on in the rest of the world.

By: D

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