We need another victory

(girl)*

My heart is aching, my heart is aching, I’m troubled by sadness,
Why wasn’t I, why wasn’t I given to the one I loved?
Why wasn’t I given, why not to the one I loved?
Why wasn’t I given, why not to the one I loved?

I begged and cried, cried and begged, cried and begged to my mother,
If she loved me, if she loved me, why wouldn’t she hear my cry?
If she loved, if she loved me, why wouldn’t she hear my cry?
If she loved, if she loved me, why wouldn’t she hear my cry?

My heart is aching, my heart is aching, I’m troubled by sadness,
Why wasn’t I, why wasn’t I given to the one I loved?
I begged and cried, cried and begged, cried and begged to my mother,
If she loved me, if she loved me, why wouldn’t she hear my cry?

(group of men)

We are coming so nicely,
Carrying a lovely bride,
Spotless is her name,
and her robes beautiful.

Come out, mother of groom,
Make haste, open the gate,
We are bringing you a helping hand,
A wife to make your son a husband.

This text, originally in Hungarian, is the middle part of a longer medley of folk songs.** It shows what ‘normal’ was for women not so long ago—parents married their daughters off without as much as telling them beforehand, and the daughters got raped by men they barely knew. It was normal for the husbands to treat the wives as property, and it was normal and accepted to beat the wives if they did not behave. In some parts of the world, this is still happening.

Correction: this is still happening everywhere. In most places it was made half illegal, and timidly labeled as ‘domestic violence’. I’m saying ‘half illegal’ because of the lack of proper police response and the rampant victim-blaming perpetrated by the justice system in most parts of the world.

Some people, including the Hungarian government, seem to have a nostalgia for these times. Two days after Mothers’ Day in Hungary***, the Hungarian parliament voted to prohibit the ratification**** of the Istanbul convention. The Istanbul convention promotes effective action against domestic violence and violence by a significant other. What they cite as the cause does not matter. That they say they still condemn domestic violence does not matter—I don’t believe a word of it.

What matters is that by this gesture alone, they sent a discouraging message to all the victims—that they better learn their place. All this during a partial lockdown when victims are forced to be with their abusers.

Today is the day of the European victory in World War II, but it seems we need more victories. Because—make no mistake—this is war. One does not negotiate with people who are OK with seeing women die at the hand of their significant others.

Charities tend to bring up examples from the so-called ‘third world’. I’d like to refer to the stories of two successful and privileged women: Melissa Benoist and Evan Rachel Wood (details in the end note).***** Both are victims of violence by significant others, and both came forward with their testimony very recently. But the violence happened too long ago—neither of them can pursue a legal action against their abusers. There are several reasons why victims are unable to speak out for years—and if these famous women were forced to have this experience, what should the less privileged victims expect?

(To be fair, both of them use their privilege to bring help to others, too.)

I have a stunning view from my home office window. I can choose to see one of the most beautiful cities in the world. But these days I can’t help seeing countless homes—where any of them could be the scene to the suffering or death of a woman. And I won’t shut up about it.

Happy Mothers’ Day, America.


* The post starts with a quick, rudimentary translation perpetrated by me.

** It’s called ‘Szerelem’ by the Hungarian folk band Kolinda, originally released in 1978 in the Netherlands (it was banned in Hungary). Not the entire medley is traditional, but we know that forced or arranged marriages are a frequent, although concealed, theme in folklore. Listen to it here, see the Hungarian lyrics here.

*** Mothers’ Day in Hungary is one week ahead of the one in the US.

**** ratification: making an international treaty into national law

***** Evan Rachel Wood is co-author of the California Phoenix Act, which extends the deadline for victims to seek legal action. (The website is about the campaign to bring the law to all US states.) Listen to Wood’s testimony to the California legislature here. Read about Benoist’s account here (contains link to original video).

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