“[…] The first and most important red flag test a woman can give a man is to tell him ‘no’, especially when he really wants to do something involving your time, body, reputation, property or livelihood.
“His request does not just have to be sexual. It can be anything. If he throws tantrums, harangues ceaselessly, sulks, emotionally blackmails—‘I bought you dinner’—and seeks to punish you in any way for simply not consenting to something, end the date/engagement…”
DISCLAIMER: This is Part Two of a column that focuses specifically on one kind of domestic violence, the kind in heterosexual relationships that results in our high rates of femicide.
This column isolates this specific dynamic for deeper exploration of how Trinbagonian women can avoid being in such a situation, despite being raised in a culture that sabotages that ability from girlhood.
This column was not written without an active awareness that domestic abuse victims come from all sexes, gender identities and sexual orientations, nor is it meant to paint a picture that domestic violence only happens in heterosexual relationships.
This column does not postulate that only men can be perpetrators or that men are never victims of domestic violence at the hands of women or other men. Many of these tips can be applied universally.
In Part One of this exploration, I outlined why our Trinbagonian society is not a wise one when it comes to emotional intelligence, mental health and male-female relationships. I pointed out several areas where women are not raised to be wise.
One of the biggest ones, not mentioned in the last article, is our high rates of grooming and molestation of under-age girls, which also will impact negatively on their ‘man-choosing wisdom’.
Our Prime Minister asking women in our society to choose men wisely is akin to asking a crowd of mostly illiterate people to read the fine print.
But never one to turn down a chance to shift cultural norms, I also accepted the challenge placed on women who are ultimately blamed for their bad choices in men. If we don’t want to end up a statistic or victim-shamed—like so many women in our families, neighbourhoods and those news headlines—we need to make some drastic changes, given our circumstances.
Tip Number One: The wisest choice is not hitching your entire future, safety, well-being to any man, PERIOD!
All girls should be made aware that they do not need to hitch the wagon of their entire life, hopes, dreams, well-being and future to any man in order to enjoy emotional intimacy, mind-blowing orgasms, companionship, romance, financial or social status, motherhood and a feeling of living a purposeful life.
Trinidad and Tobago may not be a high-performing SDG (sustainable development goals) and SPI (social progress index) country on gender rights, but we are miles better than South Sudan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, DR Congo and Sierra Leone. You have options!
You have free education up to secondary school level. And while health services may not be efficient and sufficiently holistic and advanced, there are publicly subsidised services.
Young women can access birth control. You are allowed to work, earn your own money, have your own bank account, travel on your own. You do not need to get married to a man (common or traditional law) to accomplish what you can do yourself.
While a man may be a lucrative short-cut, it is much like investing your money in the Lotto: winners are few. Those who win rarely keep their winnings long-term. I acknowledge there are exceptions to the rule, but the rule must not be ignored.
We have one of the highest divorce rates and single mother rates in the Caribbean.
Marriage in our societies primarily benefits men, not women. It’s because when men wrote their religious texts, they made it clear that women are the caregivers to men, not the other way around.
According to Harvard Health Publishing, it is married men who report more happiness and live longer and healthier lives directly as a result of being married. The same does not apply to women.
Single women have longer lifespans than married women and nearly 70 percent of divorces are initiated by women, according to a 2015 research study conducted by the American Sociological Association (ASA) which suggests two-thirds of all divorces are initiated by women.
Invest in yourself! Improve yourself! Invest in building your communal group of life-long support comprising both older and younger and male and female mentors, patrons, confidants, comrades (blood-related or not) who have a track record of always being there for you. Once that is established, then you bring a man into it.
Never allow yourself to become isolated from your community where you are safest.
If parenthood is your higher calling, know that romantic drama and domestic upheaval will hinder your ability to be a good mother. Mitigate that by not mixing up co-operative parental duties and romantic drama.
Accept that heterosexual romantic relationships inevitably (for the vast majority) run their course, especially after children. Be realistic and manage your expectations from now.
Be in a resilient situation where you and your offspring are just fine no matter what. Be in a position where he has no power to utterly ruin your life and no effect on your financial security or housing security.
Children need both masculine and feminine influences in their life. Do not gamble with their well-being by only providing one source of mentorship from these essential elements, with zero back-ups. We do not live in a world where that is wise.
Too drastic a system change for you? Still crave the recent social experiment (in the entire span of our human history) of two people going it alone in a love nest, whether for religious or realistic reasons? I’ve catered for you too!
Tip 2: Therapy before tying the knot
In reality, marriage is not some holy state of being. The ritual of the marriage ceremony does not magically transform you into different people. The older GenX-ers will remember the acronym: GIGO (Garbage In, Garbage Out) which explains that computer programmes only give back what you put in. Marriage is the same.
If you have not even lived together—or even worse, have not even had sex yet—marriage does not guarantee a fairy-tale ending. You have not even started!
The level of happiness and health in that marriage is contingent on how ready, willing and capable the people in it are to do the work. How hard the work will be depends mostly on whether you won the ‘man lottery’ and he is compatible with you—synched/complimentary sexual libido/orientations, trouble-free in-laws, not too much generational trauma, mentally healthy, aligned lifestyle and values and in-tandem personal growth and values.
The less unhealed generational trauma, raw wounds, complete ignorance about your psyche, and cluelessness about your sexuality that you bring to the table, the better you will be at beating those odds.
Do not wait till the honeymoon night to find out you are asexual or have vaginismus or severe PTSD from a previous sexual assault (as many Trinbagonian women have because our rates are so high).
Also do not hitch your wagon to a man who is unwilling to put in the same kind of self-work effort too, especially if he comes from a family or childhood that was extremely dysfunctional and abusive.
But if you do marry, you have not sinned [in doing so]; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned [in doing so]. Yet those [who marry] will have troubles (special challenges) in this life, and I am trying to spare you that. – 1 Corinthians 7:28
Perhaps even the prude Paul was on to something here.
Tip 3: Relinquish the fairy tales
The majority of human beings will fail at life-long monogamy. Even if they do not have sexual contact with another person, they most likely will lose the same degree of affection and desire they had for their spouse and/or know for a fact, others can and will love them in ways that their spouse will not or cannot satisfy.
For most of us, it is not a question of if but when and how.
It is not a moral issue either. The only moral breach is in oath-breaking/lying, manipulation or mistreatment because you no longer love them that way. We did not evolve to be monogamous. It’s not our biology.
The wisest thing would be to amend your marriage vows and expectations and have palimony agreements and separate finances, which acknowledge the reality that a time will likely come when you need to separate with as little messiness as possible.
The wisest thing would be to not marry men whose behaviour and values indicate they will punish you with violence for simply being human, even if they seem to offer you a little ‘wiggle-room’.
It is wise before you swear to never feel lust, infatuation, or an emotionally intimate connection with any other person but that man for the rest of your life, to truly be comfortable with your choice and reflect on the fact that:
Keeping an oath of life-long sexual and emotional and domestic monogamy means depriving yourself of someone who is perhaps sexier, more compatible, and has more chemistry with you or a more valuable partnership to offer than your current selection.
Keeping an oath of life-long sexual and emotional and domestic monogamy means when you are feeling discontented or resentful because of how your spouse (common-law or otherwise) has changed physically, sexually, emotionally, philosophically, you still have to stick it out with them.
If that seems like a ridiculous thing to do, don’t make oaths now just to be an oath breaker later. Marriage is what YOU BOTH make it. You can make your own rules.
Tip 4: Know the red flags; end it when you see them.
HAVEN, a female-resource and support center for women who are victims of abuse, created a very comprehensive checklist of ‘Red Flags’ for women to look out for that will help them choose not just men but intimate partners of all sexes and genders wisely. I have drawn from that resource and adapted for our Trinbagonian context.
Red flag 1—cannot respect your ‘No’: The first and most important red flag test a woman can give a man is to tell him ‘no’, especially when he really wants to do something involving your time, body, reputation, property or livelihood.
His request does not just have to be sexual; it can be anything. If he throws tantrums, harangues ceaselessly, sulks, emotionally blackmails—“I bought you dinner”—and seeks to punish you in any way for simply not consenting to something, end the date/engagement.
Tell him violating your consent is an instant dealbreaker and there are no second chances given.
Red flag 2—jealousy: No, it isn’t because his ‘lurve’ is so strong. Jealousy is not love’s fruit. It is the fruit of insecurity, a possible emotional attachment disorder, PTSD over betrayal of some kind, or deep-seated misogyny. There is nothing ‘romantic’ about that hit song by The Police.
While there may be some leeway as we all struggle with such things and slip up from time to time, there is a limit.
If a man wants you to believe he loves you but does not trust you to the extent of engaging in any of the behaviours listed below, he is not ready to love anyone! He needs to go work on himself. Set him free!
Do not look back. Here are the behaviours that make it go beyond just a minor bout of insecurity:
Paternalistic behaviour: He wants to dictate what you wear, eat, if you are allowed to work or allowed to have your hobbies or interests. You are interrogated about all the hours you are apart. He needs you to agree with him on everything and goes into hysterics or violent rages if you don’t.
He expects you to ask for permission to do things that do not concern him at all. He thinks he is God’s appointed leader over you just because he has a penis and not because he has any actual leadership qualities in general or on a particular subject/area. Even in areas where you are the expert, he refuses to hand over the reins.
If he expects you to serve under not hand in hand with him, tell him you are not into Dom/Sub or ‘Daddy Kink’ as a 24/7 lifestyle. Wish him luck finding a woman into that dynamic.
Neediness: He expects you to drop your entire life, stop shining your own light and just reflect his and revolve around his sun. He does not reciprocate the same interest in supporting you in your endeavours.
He ties up your time so you do not have any for yourself or to pursue any of your dreams or ambitions. He has to be included in everything you do and if there is anything you enjoy doing without him, he throws tantrums or finds a way to sabotage it.
Tell him you are looking to be a partner, not a devotee, and you are clearly not compatible.
Love-Bombing/Rushing You: Too intense, too fast. Beware speedy committers! Beware men who pressure and push marriage when you are still trying to get to know them and understanding yourself in tandem with their energy.
Men who ambush women with public proposals are highly suspect. A public proposal should only be surprising to you because of venue and creativity of it, not the fact it is happening—because you would have already told him that you are ready to get married and were waiting for him to ask.
If your request for more time results in his doing ‘Red Flag Number 1’ or any of the others, end It!
Isolating You: He tries to extricate you from your safe, communal family. He sows disturbances between you and all the people who would ride or die for you, especially those who call him out on any unacceptable behaviour.
He has a huge problem with your being able to earn your own money and have financial security of your own. He has issues if you have a voice, status, or reputation of your own, especially if it brings recognition and people into your life.
Tell him you are a primate, not a bird. You evolved to need community and get your emotional needs and protection met by a group, not one person. Send him on his way.
Red flag 3—hair-triggered and never wrong: He goes OFF just so! You feel jumpy, uneasy, walking on eggshells around him. He overreacts often and loses his temper and patience.
When he is clearly in the wrong, he never apologises of his own volition, only if there is something in it for him. He is never responsible for his behaviour, other people ‘make me do things’ is always his narrative.
Tell him you need an emotionally stable person and not someone who is so powerless that everything he does is because other people made him do it. End it.
Red flag 4—cruelty to animals, children, service staff or subordinates: Any man who shows sadistic behaviour towards animals or bullies children, waiting staff or employees… Just walk away. Be prepared for damage control by having those receipts and your community support ready.
Red flag 5—negging/verbal abuse: He does not ever want you to think too highly of yourself. He always is ready with a comment to strike at your self-esteem. He always strikes at your confidence to be able to do things.
He says things like, ‘nobody will ever love you’. He also allows friends and family to do the same, to your face, in his presence, unchallenged.
If he ever calls you demeaning names or allows buddies and in-laws to do so… RUN! No explanation needed. Be prepared for damage control, so have those receipts and your community support ready.
Red flag 6—makes any threats or moves to hit you or destroys objects during arguments: RUN! SNITCH! GET RECEIPTS! Call your ride or buddies from your community for protection.
What would happen if women followed this to the tee?
Some men will adapt because that is what they will need to do to ever enjoy any kind of emotionally and sexually intimate relationship with a woman. But a large number will not and we will have to deal with the fallout of having an even larger population of incels in our country.
Men whose personalities, mental and emotional disorders are so terrible that they cannot woo or maintain any kind of relationship with women are now considered a national threat to security in the USA.
But that is not your problem. Your first priority is to yourself and your own health and happiness.
Editor’s Note: Click HERE to read Part One as Jessica Joseph explores the colonial roots behind violence against women and children.