This is an earlier post that I felt was worth re-posting in light the current press about Ray Rice and domestic violence.
Deeds of violence in our society are performed largely by those trying to establish their self-esteem, to defend their self-image, and to demonstrate they too are significant.
—Rollo May, Power and Innocence
One hazard of intimate relationships is that, because of the intensity of feeling which they engender, they may provide the stimulus for violence. Occasionally, that may involve women being violent with men; but when violence occurs, it’s most often men being abusive with women. Male strength is vastly superior to that of women. Even relatively small
and frail men have a disproportionate advantage, and when that edge is fueled by fury, then it’s a clear and present danger.
Conflict is inevitable in almost all intimate relationships, and some of that conflict is potentially violent. This fact of life, less pleasant than other facts of life, is something that should be taught to all young girls. It’s a reality that a woman of experience must learn to accept and to take into account. She cannot avoid it entirely, but she can learn to minimize the odds.
In our culture, as in many other cultures, there is, for many people, an implicit association between sex and violence. It’s apparent in some pornography, which equates eroticism with dominance and brutality. This sex-violence link is apparent in much of the old folk wisdom, which endorses wife beating as legitimate and even as necessary under some circumstances. Such attitudes are not restricted to the uneducated or to the unsophisticated. The philosopher Nietzsche offers the questionable advice: “When thou goest to a woman, take thy whip.” Noel Coward quips, “Certain women should be struck regularly like gongs.” If a man is not free to beat any woman, he’s often perceived to be free to beat his own, especially if he’s provoked.
Ordinarily, it’s not feasible to ask a man directly whether or not he will hit you. Even if you were to ask, his answer would not necessarily be very informative. You can, however, find many occasions where you can ask him how he feels about corporal punishment for kids. The man who feels that it’s all right to spank, beat, or whip a child “if he deserves it” may very well feel it is also all right to spank, beat, or whip a woman “if she deserves it.” Guess who gets to decide if the deserving child will be improved by abuse? Guess who gets to decide if the deserving woman needs to be corrected?
Some potentially violent men are easy to spot. They tell you outright that they believe that might is right and that their own judgment of the appropriateness of the use of force and pain is justification enough. Don’t be surprised if an argument with such a man eventually leads to him emphasizing his point with the back of his hand.
While you’re talking about life in the abstract, you can always ask a man about his own parents. If he reports that his old man used to knock Mom around, that’s not necessarily a danger signal. Listen to how he describes it. If there’s an undertone of pride in his old man, who really knew how to handle women, then don’t be surprised if eventually he attempts to handle you the same way. If, however, he’s full of sympathy for his mom’s plight and if the story ends as such stories often do, with the boy finally challenging his father successfully thereby being able to protect the mother, then he may be more sensitive to violence against women than are other men. He may, in fact, be the kind of man with whom you will be most safe.
Some philosophers would contend that there’s a potential for violence in all of us and that it only requires sufficient provocation for it to erupt. This may well be true, but it’s difficult to prove or to disprove. If all men are potentially violent, it doesn’t follow that all men are potentially violent in terms of women.
The code of chivalry asserts that although violence is often necessary, it’s not appropriate in those circumstances involving assaults on people who are relatively powerless and defenseless as, for example, women and children. With men living by a chivalrous code, the possibility of violence is virtually negligible. When you fight with them, they will fight back; when you offend them, they make you pay one way or another, but they will not take out their rage physically.
Other men, however, are prone to violence in varying degrees. Many women, at least one in ten, perhaps more, have experienced the violent laying on of hands by a boyfriend, husband, or lover. The violent lover is trouble and is to be avoided no matter what his other attractions may be.
I pray that I may not be married
But if I am to be married
that I may not be cuckold
but that if I am to be a cuckold
that I may not know it
but if I know it
that I may not care.
—Anonymous Bachelor’s Prayer, circa 1650
In a number of cases, the practice to deceive a husband about an ongoing or prospective affair is simplified by his implicit, and sometimes explicit, agreement not to notice anything. The wife and her husband enter into what amounts to collusion, thereby saving face on both sides. If he doesn’t ask, she doesn’t have to lie; if he doesn’t know of an affair, then he doesn’t have to do anything about it.
Such an arrangement may often occur in a marriage of convenience where there’s little pretense of affection between the husband and wife. They simply agree to lead separate lives and come together only when the business of the marriage, in the form of children or property or social functions, demands it.
A parallel arrangement may also exist for couples who are quite fond of each other but have made a realistic assessment of the importance of their sexual bond. In fiction, the well-known story of Lady Chatterley and her lover involves the explicit permission of her husband to take a lover, and indeed to have a child by him, since the husband was crippled and paralyzed and could not provide an heir for himself. Righteous indignation eventually came, not because she had an affair but because she selected a gamekeeper who was too déclassé to be considered an equal.
History provides some real-life examples of husband-wife collusion. When Lord Horatio Nelson began his infamous affair with Lady Emma Hamilton, they were both living in the same house as her husband Sir William Hamilton, her senior by thirty years. Husband and lover were friends, although there is little doubt that Sir William knew the real parentage of “his” daughter, especially when Lady Emma named her Horatia. He simply announced his quiet determination that the peace of his household would not be disturbed, and apparently it was not.
Similar situations occur in the contemporary world. There is a vivacious, sensuous wife, a mother of two that I know, who habitually goes out to play bridge or to see a movie or something equally innocuous and returns home at two or
three in the morning and explains that she and the girls “just got to talking and forgot the time.” She has been married for nearly twenty years and has been playing bridge far into the night for at least eighteen of them. She has learned a lot more than Goren and the Blackwood convention.
Her suburban husband watches the eleven o’clock news and then goes to bed and goes to sleep. Sometimes if he wakes up at four and she’s still not back, he worries. She could have had a car accident or be in some kind of trouble. He’s reassured when she comes home all right and goes back to sleep. Sometimes, since he is awake anyway, they make love first.
Eighteen years. He does not ask how the bridge game went. Various men show up at various times to take her to lunch. After lunch, they tend to stay for dinner at the house. The husband is gracious enough, plays the good host, and then retires to his study and his books.
Peering through the window into the mystery of other people’s marriages, one must conclude that the husband does know what’s going on but chooses not to recognize it. This is what is meant by “the blind eye.”
Unless a man has decided that he wants to divorce his wife, presenting a blind eye to her affairs or to the possibility of her affairs is an excellent and wise strategy. If he officially knows, then he’s required to act, and none of the available options for action is very appealing. Oliver Goldsmith considered all of this and concluded that, in the Western world, not seeing may well be the best answer. In The Citizen of the World, he writes, “If I were an English husband, I would take care not to be jealous, nor busily pry into the secrets my wife was pleased to keep from me . . . Whenever I went out, I’d tell my wife where I was going, lest I should unexpectedly meet her abroad in the company of some dear deceiver. Whenever I returned, I would use a particular rap at the door, and give four loud ‘hems’ as I walked deliberately up the staircase. I would never inquisitively peep under her bed, nor look behind the curtains. And even though I knew the Captain was there, I would calmly take a dish of my wife’s cool tea and talk of the army with reverence.”
There are two players in such a charade: one who deceives and one who agrees to be deceived. Vicki Baum puts the same message somewhat differently in And Life Goes On when she observes, “Marriage always demands the greatest understanding of the art of insincerity possible between two human beings.”
There is no word equivalent to “cuckold” for women.
In medieval times, a man whose wife deceived him with another man was called a cuckold, a pejorative term which fortunately isn’t used much anymore. The origin of the term “cuckold” is revealing. If you are interested in ornithology, the study of birds, you may have come across accounts of the habits of the cuckoo bird. Cuckoos solve the problem of the perpetuation of their species by the simple expedient of laying eggs in other bird’s nests and departing, leaving other birds of another species to raise the young cuckoos.
Once upon a time, observers might signal the approach of a man who was committing adultery with someone’s wife, or who had designs in that direction, by warning the husband with a whispered “cuckoo, cuckoo.” Eventually, the term got changed around to refer to the betrayed not the betrayer and became “cuckold.”
Shakespeare and other authors perpetuated the literary myth that such a man was burdened with a set of horns on his head, which others could see, but of which he was blissfully unaware. It was another version of the truism that the husband, or the wife, is often the last to know. In Italy, one of the most unforgivable insults still is to make the sign of the “cornu” at someone: taking your index and pinkie and putting them on top of your head to resemble horns.
On the issue of bastard children, there are some real legal and moral differences in the situation of single women compared with married ones. If you are single, you might decide to have a child but choose not to get married. You have a right to become a mother without becoming a wife. It’s the contention of many that, as long as you expect nothing of the father, you don’t need to have his consent or, indeed, don’t even need to inform him. It would seem that, if such is your intent, having a child through artificial insemination would be a better alternative, but there is nothing to stop you using the old-fashioned way if this is your decision.
However, if you’re married, any child you have is legally the child of your husband and is assumed to be so socially and emotionally. A husband has the right to certainty of the parenthood of “his” own children. As the lyrics from The King and I caution, “But blossom never ever float from bee to bee to bee.” A basic assumption is that the married woman having an affair has no right to get pregnant by another man. Her body is her own, as is her sexuality; but her children are to be shared for as long as she stays married, and usually after that.
The married woman must be especially scrupulous and fastidious not to let herself get pregnant by her lover rather than by her husband.
Originally posted on QBG_Tilted Tiara:
In the last few weeks, we were treated to some real cretins, lacking in any form of social grace or guile they have spewed the vile bigotry into our homes through the airwaves. Granted, at least one of them didn’t intend his remarks to reach our ears, they did though and we hung on every disastrous word. Interestingly, these two cases have nothing in common and their outcomes cannot be compared, except for one very specific point; they prove beyond a doubt…
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You may fool all the people some of the time; you can even fool some of the people all of the time; but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.
—Abraham Lincoln, Lincoln’s Yarns and Stories
In relating to a paramour, the first thing a wife must decide is just how secret her affair has to be. To decide this usually means deciding whether or not she wants to maintain the viability of her marriage and, if so, for how long. If a couple who embarks upon an illicit affair takes seriously the need to remain undetected, both participants can usually avoid exposure and embarrassment. Most of the time, they get away with it, and no one is the wiser. Most of the time.
A word of warning. A serious word. If someone, a husband or a lover, decides that he does want to know what you do, where you go, and when and with whom, then he can find out. A skilled detective can know more about you in a few weeks than you care to know about yourself. A bugged telephone is not entirely a far-fetched idea if total surveillance is what someone has in mind. Such techniques are expensive, but even those of modest means may decide that the price is worth it if the stakes are high. Few husbands are this unscrupulous or this paranoid, but if there’s enough at stake, it’s always possible for such drastic measures to be taken.
When a married woman has an affair, she must also remember that there are more people potentially involved in the question of secrecy than herself and her husband. She may also be subject to scrutiny by her lover’s wife, or girlfriend, who resents her poaching on what she considers “her” territory. Your lover’s wife may need to be able to prove his adultery to establish her own alimony payments, and you end up being an unwilling co-respondent in a divorce action. His girlfriend may be simply curious to know what is going on. And if he’s in a position of power and authority, he is always vulnerable to the blackmail of opponents who will resort to whatever techniques they think will work. Mr. Sterling are you paying attention?
Jealousy can be a desperate thing leading to desperate measures. Adultery may also involve serious practical issues: who gets a divorce, contested or otherwise; who gets custody of the children; who does or does not pay alimony.
It is unlikely that anyone will be interested enough in your affairs to go to such drastic lengths to discover and document them, but it is possible, and that possibility is something to assess and to keep in mind.
An outraged husband I know, determined to avoid alimony and to keep custody of his children, led his wife to believe that he would be out of town overnight. He anticipated that she would take advantage of his absence, as she had on other occasions, to entertain her lover in their master bedroom. He quietly let himself into the house and, using equipment he had set up the previous day, secretly taped her activities, using her own video recorder. She was so appalled at the video tape he subsequently produced that she meekly signed over everything to him and retreated to a commune in New Mexico to think things out.
Schoolchildren often advise each other, “Be good. If you can’t be good, be careful.” Out of the mouths of babes can come some sound advice. Be careful.