Over the past weekend, Zimbabwean social media was awash with responses to videos posted by Olinda Chideme when she went public on her Facebook page, exposing her husband Desmond ‘Stunner’ Chideme’s infidelity. Her outburst on Facebook Live was characterised by an overflow of tears and an emotional explanation of how she has always provided for her husband, yet he had disrespected their matrimonial bed. Furthermore, she lay into her friends and family for not telling her the truth about what her husband was up to during her absence. She expressed loneliness saying she did not have anyone to turn to for help, thus turning to Facebook.
The fact that infidelity is an issue in most relationships around the world with infidelity statistics showing that at least 41% of relationships often have to deal with the issue means cheating is a colossal issue in itself. However it is not my point of departure for this article. My interest was ignited after reading an apology from Olinda in which she wrote after breaking down on Facebook (a cry for help I assumed) the previous day. Olinda apologised for being ‘judge, jury and executioner’ in the case of her husband allegedly cheating on her. Since she had earlier on shown to have been convinced that Stunner was cheating, her apology felt like she was basically apologising for being cheated on . One online comment actually summarised this quite well, “Olinda as basically apologised to Stunner for cheating on her” it read.
Nothing new about victims covering up for abusers
As a content analyst, I found Olinda’s apology to have been well written, and could even be said to be a good recovery tactic from an embarrassing situation. I applaud her for trying to recover from her previous social media outburst, and the preceding public appearance of grocery shopping by the couple could be used as testimony to the couple trying to recover from the incident. However, the next day,another rant from Olinda broke the internet once again, thus pointing to the fact that there were still unresolved issues. I interpreted her rants as a cry for help, only that people decided to view them differently. I thought that there were some psychological issues going on with Olinda that need delicate and professional attention.
As I write this, I cannot help but recall other incidences that I have borne to witness growing up; a sister lying to her parents that she was stung by wasps when in actual fact her partner is the reason behind her black eye; a girlfriend saying she fell in the shower and dislocated her hip bone when it was a result of a physical altercation with her husband; a neighbour having to abort a child of rape because she feels she is to blame for wearing a short skirt which thus provoked an erection on an uncle; or myself for that matter- putting on a smile for the world not to see when my self-esteem has been shattered by the very person I seek validation from. In all these cases it seems the victim of physical, verbal, sexual and emotional abuse has somehow learnt to look for an alternative socially accepted version of the ‘truth’ and has even gone a step further to apologise to the perpetrator!
On day two of the online revelations, keeping up appearances as a woman whose bride-price had been paid seemed paramount for Olinda. The encouragement from the husband to ‘keep up appearances’ is yet another indicator of how manipulation works in relationships, and how the wife is psychologically persuaded to look at the bigger picture and sweep her emotions under the rag in an effort to save face. The ability to make a situation the victim’s fault to the extent that the victim apologises for the perpetrator’s behaviour is one of the traits of manipulative people.Olinda’s online outbursts were indicative of the deep seated psychological turmoil that plagues a large number of women involved in unhappy relationships. Emotional abuse remains an evasive type of evil in relationships, as the effects or signs are usually psychological, and not physically detected like that of physical and sexual abuse.
Abusers are so good at mistreating victims such that they can manipulate the victim into thinking that the reason behind the humiliation and degradation lies with the abused. It has become such an art that at the end of it all, the victim is the one who constantly has to apologise for their partner’s bad behaviour and selfish actions. You see, the issue is not about pointing fingers anymore, but to actually call a spade a spade, an abuser as an abuser, and pain as pain.
Here one needs to highlight how Stunner, and the public tried to manipulate Olinda. When the victim says ‘sorry’, what emotional steps has the perpetrator been taking to ensure that the victim will always be submissive to their abuse? It is no longer an issue of financial issues, considering the fact that the couple in question actually has the woman holding the purse. The issue lies in our social upbringing and what is deemed acceptable and the norm.
The world is full of abused women, who will not tell.
In this scenario and the Zimbabwean context, it is my opinion that the woman is the one who in most cases has to be the ‘bigger person’ (for lack of a better word) and protect her marriage by taking on the failings of her partner. Although some people called-out Stunner’s behaviour as wrong, most people were of the opinion that Olinda should not have exposed her husband’s flaws and hung out his dirty linen. Even Stunner himself, emphasised during an interview that the main difference between him and Olinda was that he had managed to keep their issues under wraps. It seems Olinda’s actions were used against her to downplay what may have caused her to react like that in the first place.
Olinda’s meltdown could have been an indicator of possible clinical depression caused by her marital unhappiness and this point is further driven home by the fact that after her apology, yet another outburst was recorded. My concern is that the psychological effects of abusive relationships are most often ignored and rather swept under the rug. Emotional expressions resulting from potential abuse should not be simply brushed aside to the extent of protecting the person who is breaking away one’s self-esteem.
Issues such as low self-esteem, lack of confidence in one’s appearance and general disorientation with regards to seeking help are possible outcomes of manipulative relationships, as the victim is made to constantly think that everything is their fault. As society, we sometimes fail to see genuine cries of help from victims because our socialisation has already provided us with flawed referential codes, especially when it comes to the relationship between men and women. Instead of treating each case as unique as it is, we often choose the easier route; that of blaming the victim without understanding the problem. Even worse we expect them to get back to their normal lives just by talking things out. Instead of quickly resorting to apologies that aim to calm tempers, why do we not actually take time to resolve the underlying causes, and break the cycle that has resulted in so many people particularly women enduring toxic relationships.
Written by Samantha Tatenda Majoni, a media and communication professional who enjoys analysing society through the mediated lens
Main Image taken from http://www.pindula.co.zw/