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THE BATTERED WOMAN
BY BURNET OLIVEROS-
The Battered Woman by Lenore E.
Walker (Harper & Row, 1980). Reviewed
by Burnet Oliveros.
The most frustrating, perplexing, aggravating and downright embarrassing
thing about battered women is that they
often remain in violent relationships for
years, sometimes lifetimes. Even once
they leave, they usually return. Over and
over. And they usually claim to love the
man who beats them. Why? Why? Why?
Of all the good books written about
battered wives, none comes close to answering these difficult questions with
as much insight and empathy as
Lenore Walker's The Battered Woman.
Battered women are neither crazy
nor masochistic. They desparately want
their men to stop hurting them and will
go to great lengths to avoid or postpone
a beating. But perhaps battered women
believe too much in traditional feminine
virtues like nurturing and forgiveness.
Burnet Oliveros is a former battered
And that's part of their trap.
Battering men are not all evil and
brutal monsters. They can be exciting,
sensitive and charming. At times. Such a
man does not think of himself as a
"batterer," although he may accept the
title "disciplinarian." A battering man
feels that he should be the boss, and if
the woman has to be slapped around a
little to teach her a lesson, that's too
bad. Both the man and the woman
agree that it's somehow her fault that
she's getting beaten. And they're wrong.
Lenore Walker has been interviewing
battered women for over five years.
After her first 20 interviews she was
struck by the similarities in the stories
she was hearing. She began to be able
to predict what each woman was going
to say next. Her interviewees thought
she must be psychic. Every battered
woman feels alone and isolated in her
own private hell, convinced that she is
the only person in the world this is happening to, feeling somehow at fault,
and working very hard to keep her shameful secret hiddden.
Yet, as Dr. Walker discovered, all the
horror tales are very much the same.
She applied the theory of learned helplessness to explain why battered women
find it so difficult to extricate themselves from such a destructive situation.
The theory of learned helplessness
was developed by psychologist Martin
Seligman. In his experiments, random
electric shocks were applied to dogs in
cages. At first the dogs struggled, tried
to avoid the shocks, tried to escape from
the cages. But eventually the dogs learned
that nothing they did could prevent the
shocks: they learned that they were
helpless. Their behavior became passive
to the point that they refused to try to
leave their cages even when the doors
were left open. Battered women are
beaten repeatedly by their batterers.
The excuse one time might be cooking
the wrong thing for supper, the next
time it might be wearing the wrong dress,
next time it might be having the wrong
expression on her face, or saying the
wrong thing. A battered woman soon
learns that it makes little difference
what she does, she's going to get beaten
anyway. She, too, feels helpless.
Yet life with a battering man is not
constant violence and misery. Dr. Walker
developed her own cycle theory, and she
describes the three phases that make up
the psychodynamics of the battering
Phase One, or You've screwed up
again, you stupid bitch. The first phase
is called the tension-building phase by
Dr. Walker. The batterer constantly
criticizes everything about the woman,
everything she does or doesn't do. He
slowly builds his case against her, proving
to his own satisfaction that she is a
thoroughly worthless person. This phase,
punctuated by minor violent incidents,
is usually the most lengthy phase. The
stakes slowly rise until the explosion,
the acute battering incident.
Phase Two, or Now, look what you're
making me do to you. The acute battering incident is marked by loss of control
and by destructiveness. It almost always
occurs when the couple is alone together.
Batterers, if you talk to them later, are
either unwilling or unable to remember
or discuss details of the beating. They are
totally focused on their justifications for
having done it, reciting at length a whole
laundry list of offenses committed by the
The battered woman, on the other
hand, remembers every detail of the
beating vividly, often for years. She frequently describes her perception of the
beating as if she observed it from far
away, in slow motion. Her immediate
experience is reported to be more of fear
and of feeling trapped than of physical
pain. The pain is felt later.
When the beating is over, the womanlike any other disaster victim—is in a state
of emotional collapse. Then comes phase
three, like a key turning in the lock of the
battered woman's cage.
Phase Three, or / love you, I'm sorry,
I promise I'll never hurt you again. The
batterer, his hostility vented, is now calm
and loving. A strong shoulder for the
collapsed woman to lean on, concerned
hands to bandage her injuries. He apologizes, earnestly he promises never to do it
again. He exudes sincerity, charm and
love. This attentive man is the man the
battered woman loves. This wonderful
romantic movie hero is the man she
believes herself married to. The violent
behavior is seen as an aberration that he
could control if only they would both
try harder. But the good times don't
last. Soon, with criticism and recrimination, the cycle begins again.
This book is essential reading for anyone whose life is touched or might be
touched by family violence. Until we
understand what is going on, we cannot
hope for any end to the cycle.
«« «**«r ***»«*« §
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liiMii in H ■■"
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