If you have come to read one of those delightful, funny blogs then you might want to leave around now because this one is going to get real serious.
As I have been travelling around a great deal in the region recently and meeting so many people I have been touched by the number of women who have come to speak to me once they realise the nature of my calling. Their messages to me have all been so similar: they have expressed the hope that the introduction of LDS Family Services in France would result in things improving for them as women. As I have listened to them I have stepped into a cultural world that I do not understand and that literally upsets me.
I would like to share some of what these brave women are saying in the hope that their voices will be heard, sometimes for the first time. While naturally I am not going to discuss individuals and their heartfelt secrets there are some common themes that I think need to be shared.
Firstly, there are a number of women who have had the heartache of going through a divorce as a result of their husbands being unfaithful. Unfortunately what they have in common is that as women they have been blamed for their husbands straying with the reasoning that if they had kept their husbands sexually satisfied and if they had worked on keeping them happy the unfaithfulness would never have happened. As I have heard this story repeatedly I have been both incredibly saddened and disgusted at the same time. I have been open in my opinion that there is NEVER an excuse for being unfaithful to a spouse! That the responsibility rests squarely with the unfaithful spouse and no-one else.
One of the worrying messages in all this is that sex is to be gratified, that men somehow have these base desires that need to be catered for or they cannot survive. What a hideous way of seeing something so beautiful that the Lord has given as a gift. Maybe I am naive about this but the minute that we start saying that the wife has a responsibility to take care of the sexual appetites of her husband the magic of the relationship just went out the window. Making love with our spouse is a totally unselfish act by both parties but just having sex catered for is more about selfish self-gratification.
These women went on to report that as they have sought to rebuild their lives that they have often been shunned by their former friends and associates that they had previously shared with their former husbands. Blaming them for the marriage failure has resulted in an ongoing stigma against them in their communities. They have struggled on their own with the grief of the loss of their marriage with little empathy or support.
These issues would be serious enough but some women here in France have expressed similar problems when their husbands have been physically or emotionally abusive. They report that the advice they have received has been along the lines of, "Keep quiet and just accept it" or "If you work harder to please him then he will stop the abuse". Unbelievable advice that just breaks my heart and raises the temperature of my blood! It is insulting to the men involved to think that they could not control their abusive urges and take responsibility for their actions. It is doubly abusive to these women who have need of real ways to stop the abuse in their lives.
The same is true for the children here in France (as with other countries as well, I know). It appears in this patriarchal, very traditional society that children's rights are at an all time low. An extreme example is in the fact that France only instituted a specific law against incest in January 2010 although it was able to be prosecuted under other legislation. The shutters on the windows of the homes and apartments reflect a very private society, a state of affairs that keeps sexual and other forms of abuse deeply hidden. In a small space of time since I have begun this calling I am already seeing evidence that the problem of incest and sexual abuse in general is no less a problem in France than in my home country of NZ or in other country in the world. I had expected a large, what I believed to be modern culture to be much further ahead in its fight against child sex abuse but here there is a mountain of work to be done to bring it out from behind the shutters so that it can be stomped on and stamped out.
I am probably putting the cat among the pigeons now but my last word in this blog is for the children again. I have a strong belief that smacking children is not the answer to changing children's behaviour or to discipline. Every single parent I have questioned has admitted that when they have smacked their child they have felt anger. When we as parents smack our children it is not discipline, it is an expression of our anger and we teach our children that it is OK for those feelings to be expressed in violence. I was told by a young teenage girl recently that we could not be good people if we were not smacked. That message just scared the heck out of me and left me frightened for the future of our society. It is time to understand the messages that we give our children and to motivate them to change using more constructive methods.
I am feeling suddenly very overwhelmed by what lies ahead.