ethel’s words

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WOMEN AND VIOLENCE

Why do women stay with men who subject them to any or all forms of violence--beatings, verbal abuse, public humiliation, and even spousal rape?

There are many reasons. In the case of the worst abusers, the woman may have learned, or observed, that the man--married or not--thinks he owns his victim and refuses to accept the fact of divorce or even restraining orders, and the woman feels she is less likely to be murdered if she knows what the man is doing. (She’s right.)

Another reason is a woman’s fear that she cannot “make it” alone and give her children their basic needs. At one time, this need for a man’s support was a real excuse. Today, a woman can get a job, and should know that poverty is less harmful to her children than brutality. (The husband who beats a wife is probably a battering father, too.) There is another reason that is thoroughly “sick”, but real. Women who have been taught--usually by religion--that “the man is master” accept their slave role. And some men think it is their duty to beat the woman to teach her proper behavior. When both believe that, the relationship is set in concrete.

But I offer a thought I have never read nor heard discussed. Aside from the religion-based submission “to authority”, there may be other reasons for women’s tolerance of brutality in their marriage. That is their own acceptance of cruelty and violence as ways of “solving problems”. Until recently, a majority (probably) of Christian (and other religious) women believed in physical punishment as appropriate.

They may not call their punishing modes “torture” but that is what punishment is. That is why it is presumed “to work”. (It usually establishes obeisance, and it also perpetuates brutality.) Even the non-physical punishments of children (certainly an improvement over the switch)--such as deprivation of freedom to play, going to parties, having “dates”, or simply being forced--backed up with threat of violence--to sit immobile for a long time, are a mild form, but still torture.

So the woman who whips, slaps, or beats her kids, kicks the cat and hits the dog with the broom, is more likely to put up with brutality against herself, simply because, on some conscious level, she sees it as “part of life”. To talk and communicate with her children, explaining so that they understand, has never occurred to her. She is the unfortunate child of human cultures that never consider negotiating before, rather than after, a bloody war.

Ethel C. Hale