Compassion versus Chauvinism: Nature or Nurture?


I was reading this amazing article about men and compassion this morning and it really made me think. An almost five year widow of an abusive husband who was also an off the charts alcoholic (think 20 bottles a day of beer and hard liquor when that ran out), I sometimes think back to the warning signs I *should* have seen early on and why I truly was emotionally weak and allowed things to progress in a way that I don’t believe I would today. I guess it’s hindsight? It’s easy to say now that knowing what I know now, I never would have stayed with him, nor would I have married him. However, the price would be that I wouldn’t have my children, so you can’t have it both ways.

My abuse wasn’t the black and blue, totally physical horror many who live with domestic violence experience, so my words are about me and not meant to compare or contrast anything other than my own personal experiences. Sure, there were times when he would slam me into the wall and spit in my face or trip me when I was carrying things for example. However, a great majority of the abuse I dealt with was the breaking of things or the deliberate taking away of things in order to control my movements. If he didn’t like what I said on the phone, then he broke the phone. If he didn’t like something I said, he would throw something at me. To this day, I remember hurling myself over my small son as my husband violently hurled a standing fan at me and he was in the way. He would see me enjoying something online or disapproved of a message I’d sent saying I was upset or sad about something (he was FIERCELY protective of anyone finding out how he treated me or the children) and he’d go outside and cut the lines, smash my monitor, snap my keyboard in half, etc. I shake my head now when I think of the extra keyboards I would keep hidden under the bed so I could wait until he left and plugged a new one in. The monitors were more difficult to replace.


The article that I read spoke of two paths. The first path, what appears to be pre-determined, tells a story of a man, who grew up in a home that was abusive and wound up slapping his little son as his life spiraled into stress and disappointment. Thankfully, the author sought out help after realizing the cycle he was perpetuating by abusing his child. He found that empathy and then compassion were signs of strength, not weakness, which is often preached by the chauvinist. My husband grew up on a home where the man “wore the pants” and the woman “knew her place”. This seed had been planted and well-watered by HIS father, who was neglectful, reveled in corporal punishment and believed that children should be “seen and not heard”.


Our society has oftentimes placed women in sub-standard roles, whether it be as far back as their singular role as child-bearers, housekeepers, cooks and devoted wives, all the way to today’s modern woman who still struggles. I am FAR from a feminist. In fact, I shy away from just about all politics and labels. I’m very centrist and believe in equality and treating people as they deserve; with the same compassion and empathy they show me. I spend a lot of time analyzing why I, as a strong woman, who grew up in a traditional home but one full of many signs of equality and tolerance, found myself in a loveless marriage full of control, violence and abuse. Almost five years after his death in a fiery single car accident, I still have no answers.


I really got to thinking when I saw the saying above. Is being a gentleman a matter of choice? I know my husband isn’t here today to speak for himself, but I can remember during some VERY rare times, he would apologize and say that he knew he drank way too much and he was sorry, that I deserved better in life. Then, the monster would resurface and the name calling, abuse and destruction would return. I may never know what demons he held that made him feel that was the only way to be, but the question of nature versus nurture is a tough call. Maybe it is a combination of both? Some may have the strength to overcome and move ahead with the determination needed to live a life of empathy and compassion, while others have chauvinism so deeply rooted that the cycle can’t be broken. I’ve often looked to the archaic practices of other cultures who seek openly to oppress women and see much more nature there. The ability to change is either purged through generations of tradition or fear of change.

I’d like to think that being a gentlemen is a choice and I wish more would make it.

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