thinks, "It could have been worse."
We're collecting data over four battering
incidents and we're trying to see if it changes
Oliveros: Does it change?
Walker: The woman gets more passive. Although sometimes there are ups and downs.
She'll have sort of a quiescent period, then
she'll start defending herself, and, then, she'll
get quiet again. It's not a straight line. She
starts out with much more shock. It isn't until
later that she develops an enormous amount of
anger and hostility. The hostility grows as the
We also have found out that battered
women develop survival skills, not escape skills.
Maybe if you're going to survive you can't
Oliveros: I made an interesting observation
at the shelter, comparing the volunteers who
hadn't been battered with the women who
had been battered. A lot of the battered women
knew how to fix things-work on cars or repair
things around the house. Whereas the other
women were really ignorant about things
like that. They just said, "Oh, I'll call my husband to come fix this."
Walker: I think they're more self-reliant.
Although I don't know that I'd say that as a
group they are, I haven't got the data to say
Oliveros: Sometimes I think what attracts a
woman to the batterer is her own sense of being
powerful. But because she believes in sex role
stereotypes, she wants to be the power behind
the throne. I really enjoy having power over
what happens to me since I've gotten out, and
I think I was interested in power even when I
was in that, but I had to be the woman behind
Walker: Are you saying that women may have
difficulty in assuming personal power on their
own, and may stay in a relationship even
though it's not a good one because it gives
them some kind of power?
Myers: You're saying that the way you get
power, then, is not to have it yourself but to
Walker: Well, that's why the women's movement has been so critical in understanding
battering and abusive relationships because the
women's movement has said that women can
have and should have power on their own. I
think that's why we're having so many more
women leave abusive relationships, because
they're discovering that they can.
Myers: I think that's a real important thing.
I think men have beaten women because
they've realized they can, and now women
are leaving because they realize they can.
Walker: And that they would even get society's
support for leaving. If there's anything we've
done, we have made it really okay for a woman
to leave a relationship if she's being beaten.
Nobody asks "Why didn't you stay longer?
Why didn't you try harder?" People are now
saying: "Why don't you get out?"
Myers: The most fascinating case in your book
was the one of Alice, the physician, that got
beat up and lost a kidney. Did you ever hear
from Alice again?
Walker: No, I never heard from her again.
You know, that's one of the hardest things
when you work with battered women, that
you have to accept that it's not your responsibility to save them. And yet you have to be
available for them. You have to make it very
clear that you know what's going on, you
don't approve of it, you support whatever
they want to do about it, and that you will
be more than willing to be an advocate for
Toby Myers is a founder of the Texas Council on Family Violence.
Burnet Oliveros works with the Houston Area Women's Shelter for Abused Women.
them in getting help.
If you go that far and she says "I want to
go back. I don't think he's going to hit me
again, but I'm willing to take that chance,"
you've gotta let her go. And you die because
you're so sure that she's going to get hit again,
but how can you not do that without taking
away this woman's dignity?
Myers: I think getting out is a process. . .
Oliveros: ... of trying and going back and
trying and going back.
Walker: And it doesn't matter whether you
work that process out before the physical
separation or afterwards. You're gonna have to
go through that process no matter what.
Oliveros: One thing you've talked about is that
battered women often underestimate the extent
of their injuries. I think it was on 60 minutes -
they talked to some person in California who
was claiming that they overestimate.
Walker: In the years that I have been working
on this problem I have never found women who
overestimate. In fact, it's much like child abuse
cases. Most of the time the women minimize
what happens, because if you start dealing
with the reality of what's happening you've
got to do something about it. It's the psychological mechanism of denial, which just protects you from having to do something before
you're ready to do it.
When battered women do retaliate, they
are their own worst witnesses at trials, particularly at some of the trials I do for assaults
or murders, because you want the woman to
be able to convince the jury as to why she
stayed. And you're convinced, because you
understand it, but if she doesn't know how
to say what happened to her with impact,
then the jury is not going to buy it.
Oliveros: One of the really difficult things is
that it really is a life and death situation that
the woman is in, yet everyone around her is
denying the fact that she's in danger of being
killed. It's just too dramatic. People can't
deal with it, and it's really hard to get people
to take you seriously.
Walker: I agree with that, but I think it's
getting easier to get people to take you seriously. But I still think people cut off battered
women when they want to tell their stories,
they just don't want to hear. It's too gory.
Sometimes people are not helpful to a
battered woman. It's because of ignorance,
not malevolence. They don't really appreciate
the sense of danger she's in. A little bit of help
and assistance early on might have averted
what's been going on, escalating.
Myers: Do you think that when the woman
finally kills the man that it goes back to the
conflicting or paradoxical thing about control:
that she's finally in the ultimate control?
Walker: No. I think that the woman does it
because somehow somewhere she's made up her
mind, "I am not going to take it anymore. I
am not going to be hurt again. He has no right
to hurt me." And somehow, even if she doesn't
say those words, she has that feeling. Once you
accept that feeling, and he starts to hurt you
again, you strike back.
Oliveros: A lot of battered women go around
for a long time trying to get someone to make
him stop. The police can't make him stop,
his mother can't make him stop, nobody can
make him stop. She must realize that no one is
going to be able to make him stop.
Walker: Interestingly, the women I've worked
with, when they kill, most of them have used
guns. Maybe a knife.
Oliveros: No poisons?
Walker: No poisons that I know of. No
tortures. I mean we've worked with some of
the most bizarre cases. We've worked with the
case in Kansas where the man built a coffin
for the woman and made her try it out for
size. He'd put her in the coffin all night with
chains. He was going to bury her alive. She
killed him before he could do it.
Myers: That's bizarre.
Walker: But is that any more bizarre than the
man who takes you up to the mountains and
rapes you, then the next minute is loving and
takes you for a walk, then a couple of hours
later starts slapping you around?
Is it any more bizarre than the man who
takes out a gun and points it to his head and
says "I'm going to kill myself," and points it
at your head and says "I'm going to kill you"?
When the women strike back they strike
back with a tremendous amount of force.
After the first blow almost all of them say some
catch words like: "I better get him good
because if he gets up he's gonna kill me."
Myers: Well, that's what they tell you-l mean,
that's what mine told me-"lf you ever hit me
back you better make it good because if you
don't, you're a dead woman."
Walker: One of my interviewers said it was
almost like batterers went to the same training
school, because they all say such similar things.
You'd think that they all knew each other.
Oliveros: Sometimes I feel like there's an
uneasy truce between men and women. Even
men who aren't batterers-sometimes if you
talk to them for long you can feel-they have
this rage inside against women that they're
Walker: I believe that you can learn a lot about
relationships between men and women by
looking at the extremes. I sort of see all
relationships on a continuum, with the ideal
Utopian egalitarian relationship between a man
and a woman on one end and at the other extreme the most violent physically and psychologically abusive relationship you can think
about. Relationships can fall anyplace along
Myers: But not all relationships that aren't
egalitarian are violent.
Walker: No. But I would say and argue that all
relationships that aren't egalitarian fall somewhere on that continuum. And when you get
to the normal traditional relationship, I think
it goes over the halfway mark, in that there's a
lot of coercion involved. It may well be just
psychological coercion, but the power base
is still unequal.
Oliveros: I want to talk about money. You
made a very good point: that even when the
women are earning the money, the men still
control it. I read a book about prostitution,
and there seems to be a lot in common between
pimps and battering husbands.
Walker: I didn't say it, you did. My view of
domestic violence and wife abuse is that it's
not only violence run amuck (which I think it
is, and I think violent behavior is learned behavior), but I also believe that the root of all
violence between men and women is the
power difference between men and women,
and that were there egalitarianism there would
be no need for violence.
daniel boone cycle
HOUSTON, TEXAS 77004