Female criminals behind bars on TV are typecast as ugly, butch and foul mouthed. So it was pleasant reversal when Langata Women’s prison in Nairobi held an annual beauty pageant. The winner was stunning and a sight for sore eyes, until I looked up her back story. Two months earlier, she had been incarcerated for stabbing her boyfriend 22 times to death. A classic case of fatal attraction.
Yet, I still found myself empathising with her. Like most men, I am socialised to shower female inmates who pass for attractive with pity. Where there is clear evidence of premeditated murder, my instinct is to explain it away as a crime of passion and an act of self-defence. She must have been wronged and provoked to anger. Why else would such an angelic face deliberately dice up her lover?
Since women are disproportionately the victims of physical violence, we are inclined to think of female murderers, as simply justified in getting even. The average vulnerable guy ill-equipped to deal with toxic women who are violent partners in relationships. A petite woman can be highly dangerous when she reaches for a weapon, anything from a kitchen knife to a sufuria of boiling water leaving a physically larger man hopelessly defenceless in a confrontation of this nature.
Traditional gender stereotypes allow us to trivialise the danger men face in relationships. It is weak men who get abused. Only abusive boyfriends get passionately murdered. A ‘real man’ never has to wake up in the middle of the night to see if his vitals are intact after a nasty argument with his wife.
As a result of this ingrained thinking, good guys become easily vulnerable to manipulation and remain stuck in denial as victims of partner domestic or emotional abuse. Living in that hard place between shame and guilt.
An otherwise good man enters a relationship weighed down by the burden of patriarchy. All men are guilty of hurting women until proven innocent. He desires to be the exception from the norm and his inner saviour complex drives him towards trying to save a jealous partner from inherited insecurities accumulated in her past.
The woman begins on the premise that men are incapable of fidelity, at least from her previous dating experience. She believes that the only way to own him, is to break him. Her first order of business becomes house training him into a submissive pet. Grown men begin respond promptly to calls of ‘baby’ as classical conditioning to the slightest hint of a lovers’ distress.
The manipulation normally starts with passive aggressive behaviour tendencies that come across as mixed signals. The wife says she does not mind her man spending the afternoon with his boys watching footie only to bombard him with crisis phone calls. The man arrives home feeling remorseful for enjoying his time without her. The emotional games become draining as he is left confused by the harsh reaction to what he imagines are small blunders like leaving a toilet seat up.
The repressed emotional frustration festers into destructive habit patterns.
The man seeks redemption in performing to her expectations and bends over backwards to compensate for his accrued sins of omission whether real or imagined. He becomes consumed by the fear of her hurt and the guilt of seeing her tears.
When he meets anger, his preservation mechanism becomes silence and withdrawal. He ends up spending his waking hours avoiding any situation that could be misconstrued as hurtful.
Even when his wife is out of sight, she is never out of mind. A man released to party, will still huddle with his mates at a corner when his curfew hour draws nigh, to work on his alibi. Relationship become unattainable because it is ruled by mistrust.
Women say they want men to be emotionally accessible but it is difficult for men to show vulnerability in spaces where they do not feel they will be respected, let alone understood. Therefore many Kenyan men at least, view the display of vulnerability as an open license for emotional manipulation, shaming and humiliation.
The repressed emotional frustration festers into destructive habit patterns. Mostly manifesting as defensiveness and dominance postures of defiance to save face in front of other men and cover up for recurring episodes of humiliation and disrespect, at home.
When the relationship eventually falls apart, it leaves a damaged man whose only way of dealing with his inner pain is hurting others, sending him off in self-destruct rebound cycles.
The world is full of emotionally predatory women who don’t have the greatest of intentions. Too many good men waste energy trying to save toxic women from themselves to the detriment of their own wellbeing and happiness.
Consequently, it is imperative for individuals to get out of the dominant mind set of winning in relationship conflicts. Your partners’ insecurities have nothing to do with you. It is better for your soul to set boundaries, stick to your principles and when they get violated, learn to swallow your ego and walk away from people that cause hurt in your life.