The sense of shame that I feel cannot easily be explained; nor can it be wished away. I live in a suburban middle class neighborhood where professional men, accountants and attorneys, mow their front lawns at weekends in shorts and sneakers as a sort of concession to physical exercise. The wives are mostly overweight and forty something; much of their time is spent wondering whether some younger, trimmer, more appealing woman isn’t keeping their husband busy. They worry about their weight and their bulges and the calories that derive from the frequent cocktails; so they buy themselves brand name jogging gear and make a public point about trying to lose weight.
Not that it makes much of a difference. Their husbands heads are well and truly turned.
My own husband beats me at intervals that are determined by his mood. If cause is not given for chastisement one will be contrived anyway. I suspect that the beatings derive from the frustration of being stuck with me. He knows that my suspicions about his infidelity are not nearly sufficient reason for me to walk away. I have nothing else to go to and he has always been a good provider. I suppose you can say that we have reached an understanding. The beatings are the price I must pay for the good life I enjoy.
It is much the same with the other frustrated, overweight wives in the neighborhood. All of us have our days when we wear our huge sunglasses to hide our black eyes or when we simply disappear for a few days into the sanctuary of our cavernous bedrooms to cry our frustrations away and to recover – mentally as much as physically – from the latest round of beating.
Communities like mine hold their own distasteful secrets……except of course that we have learnt to keep our secrets to ourselves. There is image to uphold. After our husbands have beaten the hell out of us we focus our minds on pretending to ourselves, the children and the world that it never really happened. On the morning after the last beating we’re out of bed at five as usual, making breakfast, doing lunch for the children, straightening our husbands ties and seeing them off – to work and school, respectfully – with a rather public ceremony that includes elaborate gestures of affection for our wife-beating husbands. The whole thing is a charade, pure theatre.
But that, in large measure, is what this elaborate discourse about violence against women is all about…….theatre. We have become rather expert at pontificating about the issue and at saying the right things and making the right promises. Sometimes we can be a nation of the most awful hypocrites. Men who beat their wives are not averse to ‘speaking out’ against gender violence and the politicians have become quite adept, and, frankly, quite shameless in their insincerity. Who cares about the unschooled rural housewife with a lack of any real options who gets her face punched every time her husband comes home drunk?
Sometimes I think that the women from the working class neighborhoods have an easier time of it. Their beatings often turn into public brawls and that way the police sometimes gets involved and there are places that they go for counseling and sometimes they are even lucky enough to have the beatings stop. Its different with us middle class women. I remember once discussing with a friend the idea of raising with a Social Worker my frustration over being beaten by my husband. She was appalled! She accused me of not appreciating just how much my husband had done for me and the children and even said that my aim was to ruin him and end his career., After that I never discussed my suffering with anyone else.
A point is eventually reached where smiling and bearing it becomes the only option. Indifference becomes a small price to pay for ensuring that your nice, secure middle class family remains intact and unaffected by controversy. After all that is all you have or at least that is all you think you have; and even when that point is reached where you know that you have taken a kick or a punch too many you still tell yourself that the thing to do is to continue to hang in there.
The children never witness the beatings. These are administered with the greatest measure of discretion. They sometimes see the bumps and bruises though, and they ask and sometimes you feel the terror of that unguarded moment when you do not have a satisfractory answer to give and you get that knowing look that says we know there is something terribly wrong.
The mind is often guilty of the greatest insubordination. Sometimes it sabotages even the best-laid plans. After a time I came to feel that it was not my husband who was chastising me. I had become a prisoner of a mind set that had come to see the beatings as an inevitable element in my own broader existence and that it was part of a tapestry with which I could not expect to benefit from the whole picture. But the pain and the shame and the children’s frightened looks and the mind’s refusal to accept my skewed reality asserted themselves with an aggression which I could not ignore.
That is when I came around to thinking that something had to give, that something had to be done, that, somehow, whatever the cost, I had to stop the beatings; I had to have my life back.