Preventing male violence against women starts in the cradle.
Despite the often deadly effects of male violence, it still remains hard to grasp the bigger picture. Why does this violence happen despite all we know? Do women have a part to play in this?
We know that no-one but the individual is responsible for a man's violence - there are no justifications for verbal, physical or sexual abuse.
We can not accept the excuses that she "provoked me", or "brought this on herself", or "pushed me over the edge", or that "the alcohol made me do it". Men must take the full responsibility.
But I believe women do have a part to play. Whether as mothers, as lovers, long-term companions or friends, I think we have a choice. We can decide to perpetuate the tragedy that men and women so often slide into, living at endless odds with one another, or we can embrace a new role.
This will require us to let go of myths and social pressures that have separated men and women from one another. It will require us to take on a responsibility, to consider ourselves as an instrument of love and nurture in order to bring about change. We will be required to learn how to behave, what to do, how to model, what to envisage, in order to help bring men to the place of feeling.
The first and most powerful place we can begin this from is as mothers. There is compelling evidence that the principal cause of human violence is the lack of bodily pleasure infants experience during the formative period of life. If we accept this fact and include the additional knowledge that research offers us - that individuals and societies that experience and promote physical pleasure are also peaceful - we can be effective in reducing crime and violence in the future.
As mothers, as educators, as mentors, we can stop the abuse of children, infants and young people, by encouraging and finding ways to provide the physical nurturing they need.
The evidence of these findings was developed by the neuropsychologist James W Prescott as far back as 1975. One wonders why such clear and unequivocal findings have been ignored for so long.
Prescott's studies found that when infants are provided with a great deal of physical affection ("tender loving care") they later become relatively non-violent adults.
While we generally raise our children following patterns set by our own parents, many of us want to do better. We now know that boys do not fare well in our society. Research confirms that from a baby boy's beginnings in life, he is likely to receive less love and nurturing, fewer cuddles, less attention and less interaction than baby girls. Many parents believe that infant boys are stronger than infant girls, but the opposite is true - more boys than girls die in the first 12 months of life and more boys than girls suffer from a range of illnesses.
Long before boys start school, many parents start to withdraw from their boys. Their best intention is to encourage him to be strong. They fear if they get too close to him, he may not be able to stand up for himself at school and in the wider world. Just seeing their boy being clingy can cause a parent to worry.
Bullied by peers and encouraged by other social restraints, many boys soon learn to keep their pain and emotional needs to themselves. When a boy's needs are neglected, he learns to shut down and mask his feelings. Ashamed of his emotions, he will be unable to express his needs. It will become harder for him to be interested in other people's feelings or empathise with those around them.
The other day, I saw a young mother hurrying along the footpath, pulling along her reluctant small boy who was unwilling to keep up her pace. She suddenly rounded on him, lowered her face to his and hissed abuse. He began to howl. "Shut up and stop being such a baby!" The boy trembled, pulled away from her, sucking back his sobs.
I have no doubt that abuse will continue for him, out of the sight of others. Encouraged to be strong, this child is learning that if he cries or shows his feelings, he will be ridiculed. The often covert abuse that parents express to their sons leaves a deep reservoir of rage.
When fathers nurture babies, it is not only good for the development of the children but for the father as well.
Tending babies puts men in touch at the deepest level with the feelings of vulnerability, dependency, love and forgiveness, feelings they learned to repress at an early age. The emotional education of many boys is often a complex and lonely journey.
- Helen Mounsey is co-director of Sex Therapy NZ.
For help go to sextherapy.co.nz.
- The Marlborough Express
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