I experienced “awareness” of domestic abuse — directed at my mother — long before the term became well known. My father was a Royal Navy Commander and the archetypal “Officer and Gentleman” and as such would never strike her. He would, however, and often did, belittle her. He used two techniques. One was along the lines of “What would you know? You are only a woman.” The other, if she argued her point was “The Bible says women are not to lecture men, they are to obey their husbands, remain silent and learn from them. Are you trying to oppose our Lord?”. While doing this he would make her read sections of the Bible that supported oppression of women. My mother was intelligent, a Magistrate, and not a pushover, but she was still manipulated by this combination.
They separated, my mother returned to University, graduated and became a writer for a well known Women’s Publication, although she remained a Magistrate for another thirty years. In those days a Magistrate was required to be a person of good character, it wasn’t until a few decades ago that Magistrates required Legal training and qualifications.
As a result, I was raised primarily by a very strong woman, in an all female household. Mother, sisters, a Grandmother (French) and an Aunt who was a cross between Auntie Mame and Anais Nin. My Aunt was amazing.
The sort of abuse I describe was commonplace in Middle to Upper class society. Women seldom spoke back to their husbands without being labeled a shrew. They did little without first obtaining their husband’s permission, and although they would manage a household, the deed or the bank account was seldom in their name or joint names. That is unless in the form of original dowry, something they brought into the marriage. In many instances they could not even travel overseas without their husband authorising it. This was NORMAL in Post War Britain.
I was a twin, but my brother died as a baby. It was what would now be termed a “Cot Death”. My father blamed her as he claimed that it was the mother’s responsibility. He used this often, to make sure she knew that she was not a good mother. Good mother’s don’t have babies die.
Once they separated my mother bloomed. I was very young, but I could hardly reconcile the two personas. She looked the same, but that was where it ended, she didn't even sound the same. She was a brilliant mother, and a great magistrate. She had Police response to domestic abuse change from listening to only the husband’s side (normal practice) to — if the woman had signs of physical abuse — immediately arresting the husband until he could appear before her at the next Court sitting.
Since those early days I have had only one “in family” instance of abuse. One of my daughters was physically beaten, and I only found out accidentally. I had to be restrained from beating him into a pâté. It took a lot of self control.
They divorced, but he is still the father of some of my grandchildren. Family gatherings are very difficult for me — he seems unconcerned. Told me that it was a “brain-snap” that would not have happened again, and my daughter should have moved past it.
Yes, domestic abuse is still a problem, many men still regard modern laws as restrictive and unrealistic. A decade or two back when “Rape in Marriage” became a crime, there were MANY protests, often led by Christian Clerics. They claimed the Church could not recognise criminalising a man’s RIGHT to have sex with his wife whenever he felt the urge. It was a wife’s duty.
I don’t see much that can retroactively change established male attitudes, all we can do is increase awareness and penalties and try to influence young boys. We could start with video games that allow or encourage very graphic violence against women. GTA anyone?
The looming possibility of Sharia Law being accepted in Western countries, will reverse all of this. Under Sharia, woman are chattels and can be physically punished for breaches of traditional Islamic attitudes to marriage. I have no problem with Muslims, just with Islamic religious Law becoming State judicial law. I hope that it never happens.