One woman was killed by her husband; he was never charged with murder.
The woman had made repeated attempts
to enlist the help of local police before she
was shot while asleep. The man was convicted of assault and battery and received
a light sentence. Her relatives were never
able to learn his trial date from court
officials, so they did not attend or participate in it. They are bitter.
What "causes" a husband to harm his
wife, involves several factors. Alcohol
abuse by the husband is frequently present,
but authorities don't agree as to how often.
Financial worries and job pressures may
precipitate an attack. A man who feels that
he is unable to cope with his work as well
as he would like to, may displace his anger
and frustration onto his family.
Interestingly, about one-half of all
attacks are made on wives who are pregnant. Young children in the family frequently become victims of severe beatings
and then grow up to become wife-beaters
and child-abusers themselves. Richard
Gelles' research shows that, "not only does
the family expose the individual to violence, the family teaches approval for the
use of violence ... So the violence goes
from one generation to the next. It becomes the norm."
Psychologists and sociologists have
determined that the violent husband is the
product of a sexist society, one who has
bought the society's definition of masculinity. Anthropologists know that antagonism between the sexes is always higher
among cultures which force males and
felt that lhad
stay with my husband,
go on welfare or «*
become a prostitute??
females to live separate and different life-
roles. In such cultures, men are pressured
to prove their sexual identity by acts of
daring and competition that set them apart
One sociologist says, "We still believe
that the man ought to be head of the
house, that he ought to always be in command and totally sure of himself, easily
able to provide for his family, a constant
source of strength for wife and children.
This might not be a problem if in fact all
men were smarter, better educated and
more competent than their wives . . . But
this is obviously far from the truth. There
are few men able to live up to this idealized
picture of what a man ought to be. If he is
emotionally confused and defensive over
his inability to do so, he may, well try to
make up for his lack of psychological supremacy by a crude physical supremacy."
Males are conditioned toward violent
action rather than conciliation and exploration of alternatives; they have not been
taught to recognize and deal with their
emotions. When the bursting point arrives,
a man cannot afford to explode at the
office so he attacks his wife. Simultaneously, little girls are taught that they will
be judged by their looks, not their competence. They quickly learn that it is safer
and more rewarding to be dependent and
protected. They end up with no strong self-
image. In short, they are conditioned to
The sexist culture itself provides an
additional penalty for the victim. Just as
a rape victim is viewed as a seductive
temptress who asked for what she got, a
battered wife is viewed as a nagging hen
who provoked her husband into beating
her—and she secretly enjoys it! The popular male folklore of female masochism lets
society—and males-off the hook.
The majority of married women are
still economically dependent upon their
husbands. Women with children either cannot work or, for the children's sake, feel
that they should not work. But even a
woman who does work, if she can find a
job, makes on the average only 59 cents
for every $1 made by a man. Job equality
is still only a dream in the U.S. In the
words of one middle class victim, "I felt
that I had three choices—stay with my
husband, go on welfare or become a
The economic trap makes abused
women reluctant to follow through on the
prosecution of their husbands whenever
they have been lucky enough to receive
any law enforcement intervention. When
the husband goes to jail, the wife is faced
with the cruel reality that she and her children will not have food on the table that
week unless she drops the charges against
him. Police officers, not understanding
the underlying problem, see the wife's
"change of heart" as fickleness, masochism and another excuse not to take wife-
Wife abuse exists in all classes of
society and at every economic level. The
notion that wife abuse is a lower class
phenomenon finds its source in the fact
that the poor woman is more likely to report the incident. Economically, she has
less to lose; she may already be on welfare.
Likewise in terms of status and dignity.
To the middle and upper class woman, the beating may seem like more of a
shame than a crime. She has never heard of
it happening to her peers and may believe
she is alone in her plight. She has been
taught by a sexist society that if she fails
in marriage, she fails as a woman; she feels
responsible for the stability of the union
and for the happiness of her husband.
Her family, if they know about the abuse,
holds the same attitudes as she does, and
typically will urge her to go back and try
to make the marriage work. They offer
little support or shelter.
The savageness of a beating episode
is seldom brought home to concerned
neighbors and relatives. They may find it
more comfortable to downplay the severity
of the injuries and indignities faced by the
victim. It is fairly typical to find that a
woman is beaten so viciously that the
husband breaks his fingers in the process.
Threats of death are frequent deterrents
to a woman's attempt to call for aid.
One woman reported that her husband stopped kicking her in the stomach
only when their daughter began vomiting
at the sight. Some husbands rip the phone
out of the wall and hide the car keys to
insure that their victim has no escape.
- Other husbands use forcible intercourse as part of their brutal repertoire.
In most states there is no such thing as
rape between husband and wife. The law
is silent in such a case and reinforces the
concept that a husband has full rights to
his wife's body on command. In South
Carolina, as in many other states, this is
true even when the parties are separated
while awaiting divorce.
A few nights ago a woman called
me in the middle of the night. She said
she just had to talk to someone, and she
was whispering to avoid waking her husband. He had beaten her relentlessly and
jabbed her rectum repeatedly with his
knee. She has had enough, but she has
nowhere to go. Like most other women,
she is physically weaker than her husband
and cannot effectively defend herself. This
fact can lead to a strange result: a woman
may be convicted and sent to prison if
she uses a deadly weapon, such as a knife
or a gun, against a husband who uses only
his fists and the furniture. One-third of
the women in the South Carolina Women's
Penetentiary today have stated that they
used such a weapon to fend off attack by
a husband or boyfriend.
Physical cruelty is a frequent ground
for divorce in many states. For women
who do make the decision to seek a divorce, their lives may be saved and they
may go on to happier days. This is much
easier for those who are young and child-
free. Even so, if the husband contests the
divorce and can show that the wife has put
up with the beatings over a period of time,
the courts view the wife's behavior as condonation and no divorce will be granted!
For women who need alimony and/
or child support, the road is even rockier.
Only seven per cent of women without
children are awarded alimony; and only
one out of four mothers with children collects child support on any regular basis. The
grim fact is that 79 per cent of husbands
paying support default after the first year.
The wife is left with the burden of trying
to squeeze payments from him thereafter,
usually with little success.
Communities in some states have
set up refuge houses where a woman can
find shelter, bring herself and her children
out of the immediate danger, talk to similarly situated women and take a more objective look at her life. Such houses have
burdensome staffing and financial problems, but with continuing community
support can be a worthwhile investment. It
may be exactly what a battered wife needs
to change her life.
One successful project, the Assault
Crisis Center in Ypsilanti, Mich., received a
$250,000 grant for its first year of operation. The center served 500 women from
its inception in November 1976 through
July 1977. A project in Denver serves
1,000 battered women per year. Other
centers have been springing up around the
country. The Law Enforcement Assistance
Office recently earmarked $1 million for
battered wives' services, so more shelters
will soon be available.
Another solution may be exemplified
by an effort in New York to make the
police and courts accountable to the judicial system itself. A suit is now in progress
that asserts married women's constitutional
rights have been denied to them by the
officials' refusal to assist them.
Court action and refuge houses,
although desperately needed, are only
stopgap measures. The real solution to
marital violence lies in the evolution of
our society to one in which every child,
whether male or female, will have the
opportunity for personal growth unrestricted by arbitrary societal sex roles.
Only then will individuals shed the need
to subjugate another individual in order to
Welcome to Houston
"The ACLU has played a significant role in virtually every major
sex discrimination case that has reaehed the Supreme Court this decade.
The goal is the right of women to deteirnine how best to lead their lives."
-Ruth Bader, General Gounsel, ACLU
American tivil Liberties union
a membership organization that has historically fought
for equal protection and rights for women.
Donated by James C Calaway
PEACE is a Woman's Issue
It will be a great
day when our
schools get all the
money they need.
. . . and the
air force has to
hold a bake sale
to buy a bomber.
Women's International League for Peace and Freedom
1213 Race St., Philadelphia, PA 19107
DAILY BREAKTHROUGH NOVEMBER 19,1977 PAGE 9