AT LONG LAST, THE CAUSE OF THE BATTERED WOMAN has become "fashionable." There has been a spate of articles, a book or two and a movie, with actress Sally Struthers getting convincingly roughed up. Even the male-dominated wire services in the United States are recognizing that, yes, there is a problem, and, really, men shouldn't be treating women that way. Battered women finally are getting "PR."
But there are still those who, just as they did for rape, blame the woman, who is the victim, for her predicament. "Why does she stay?" they ask.
Why does she stay? Why does the woman, whose husband uses her as a private punching bag, stick around? The answers are so clear one wonders why the question is ever asked. She stays because she has nowhere else to go. She stays because she is economically and emotionally dependent. She stays because she may have small children or because her children may not want the family broken up. She stays because she is ashamed to tell anyone that her husband beats her. She stays because she fears the unknown; she has learned to cope, after a fashion, with being beaten, but she fears she might not be able to cope with whatever lies beyond her home. What she has, bad as it is, might be better than what would happen to her if she left. She stays because her husband has told her repeatedly that she is no good, no one would want her, she could never make it on her own. Her self-esteem is nil. She is isolated. Her husband's behavior has cut her off from friends and family, and she is beaten, in every respect.
"But," says the doubter, "She must really like to be beaten." That myth persists. Surely a grown woman must have something wrong with her to stay in her situation, the skeptic says. She must be a masochist. She must enjoy abuse. Somehow, this woman herself is to blame.
The myth dies hard. It is a simple truth, but one impossible for many to understand, that nobody likes to be beaten. Men don't like to be beaten, children don't like to be beaten, women don't like to be beaten. That is the fact of the matter. Just as a child may continue to love a parent who beats him or her, so a woman may continue to love her batterer. It is a form of childish dependency. And even if there no longer is affection, only fear, the woman stays because she is trapped. And there is always tomorrow. She can still hope that tomorrow will be better.
religious woman will have even more difficulty extricating her-self from
a battery situation.
to Mandy Stellman, a Milwaukee attorney and feminist who deals daily
with battered women: "A religious woman refuses to believe that her
marriage is not forever, and therefore convinces herself that her
husband is a loving spouse. She will deny that he ever abused her or
beat her; she believes God will punish her if she complains. So she will
never tell anyone that her husband has, in fact, battered her or
sexually abused her. Finally, she is so traumatized by fear of her
husband, and by the humiliation, that she lies to herself and denies the
facts of the abuse."
women have traits and circumstances in common, and these make up the
"battered woman syndrome." The battered woman is some-one who
denies the abuse, at first to others, eventually to herself. She is
someone who "bruises easily." Every battered woman in the
country will tell you that she "bruises easily." Always, she
feels guilty. Somehow, she thinks, she must be at fault. She believes
she must be doing something wrong, or this wouldn't be happening. Often,
the battered woman is some-one who "had to get married," and
the battery usually started before the marriage. Interestingly, the
battered woman is almost always someone who is much smarter than her
husband. This fact is all but ignored in the literature on the subject;
apparently that frail, male ego must be protected at all costs.
Frequently she is someone who was victimized as a child, either by
battering or sexual abuse. She is accustomed to being a victim. She
enters the relationship with her batterer with an already low
self-image. Although he will beat her drunk or sober, almost invariably
the husband of a battered woman has a drinking problem.
the battered woman is religious, a threefold problem. First, most
religions teach that marriages, if not actually made in heaven, should
last, and divorce, even if allowed, is a disgrace. Secondly, the
religious battered woman has read the bible and knows very well its
opinion of women. There are in excess of two hundred bible verses that
specifically belittle and demean women. Her low opinion of herself is
buttressed by her religion. Third, she has been praying when she should
have been acting. Surely, she thinks, god will help her if she prays
hard enough and long enough. Not only does her god not help her, her
clergyman, if she dares confide in him, will probably urge her to
"work harder at her marriage." Because she is religious, she
has developed no inner strength that is meaningful or useful to her in
times of crisis. She has relied on prayer to the extent that she has
lost the power to act, to cope, to initiate, to solve problems, to
anyone helps her, it will be other women, feminists who have established
counseling centers, legal services and shelter homes. Shelter homes are
a temporary answer at best, and one wonders at a society that tolerates
them as a real solution. The abused woman must uproot herself, bundle up
her children, live in inadequate, cramped housing when she is the
victim! Why doesn't society uproot the male? He is the problem. He is
the one guilty of battery. Why isn't he hustled away? It is reminiscent
of those curfews for women in some foreign countries because women are
being attacked on the streets. Why aren't there curfews for men? ...
are the answers? Clearly, men who batter must be worked with as well as
the victims who are battered. Certain men's need to inflict pain must be
analyzed; these men must be rehabilitated. There are so many of them, it
would be impossible just to lock them up.
the battered women? Their immediate needs must be met. They must be
helped to remove themselves from their dangerous situations, to start
new lives, if possible. They must recognize self-worth; they must know
that their partners' expressed opinion of them is not the opinion of
others, the opinion of society.
we must change the way we look at women, the way we "bring up"
girls. Young women must know that they are not
human beings, that it is not their duty to please men. This business of
romantic love-that there is only one true love, and if you blow that,
forget it-must be dispelled. Women must know that it is not necessary to
live in fear, that the men who beat them or abuse them can be arrested
and imprisoned, that battery is a crime, that women are not possessions.
The religious battered woman must come to see reality-that religion has been part of her problem, and that true mental and emotional health can come about only when she can reject her religious dependency sufficiently to recognize a fact: that the degradation of women is a cornerstone of religion.
Reprinted in Women Without Superstition "No Gods, No Masters" edited by her daughter Annie Laurie Gaylor and published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation.