Marriage and Violence in the 1950s

 Posted by on 9 September 2014 at 10:00 am  Uncategorized
Sep 092014

This article — Lock up your wives! — which looks at “advice columns from decades past [to] provide a chilling glimpse into the horrors of marriage counselling before feminism is well worth reading. Here, I just want to highlight these two bits on domestic violence:

In March 1957, in the case of ‘Josh’ and ‘Elsa’, Elsa reported that Josh hit her after he came home late from an office party. In the course of her description of their relationship, Elsa tells the counsellor that when their daughter Sally was born: ‘Josh showed plainly his disappointment that the baby wasn’t a boy.’ ‘When the baby and I came home,’ she added, ‘I stayed in bed and let him prepare his own breakfast. He was outraged and yelled so furiously all the neighbours heard him.’ Elsa told the counsellor that she was absolutely miserable in her marriage: ‘When [Josh] abuses me in the presence of our children, when he humiliates me before the neighbours, I want to curl up and die. There is an ache deep in my chest, in my heart. I feel physically sick.’

The counsellor wrote that Elsa was ‘jolted and shocked when I told her she was partly at fault’. This wife needed to be convinced out of her own self-righteous understanding of the situation, the counsellor argued. ‘If she wanted a serene family life, she would have to learn to give Josh what he wanted from their marriage and thereby help him control his temper.’

Oh, but wait, it gets better:

Perhaps most disturbingly, ‘Can This Marriage Be Saved?’ counsellors minimised and ignored domestic violence, as in the case of Josh and Elsa. Wives would report incidences of physical aggression, but these were never headlined as the major complaint – they were submerged in the couple’s larger story. Popenoe introduced the September 1953 column, which featured ‘Sue’, a wife who showed up to the counsellor’s office with a ‘large purple bruise darken[ing] her cheekbone’, by referring to the husband’s complaints, rather than the wife’s: ‘Many a husband has to pay the penalty for his wife’s failure to get any real education in homemaking before she married, or to acquire such skills after the wedding, when she must have begun to realise that she needs them.’ (Again: the wife should have known that she wasn’t measuring up.) ‘In a canvas of more the 500 marriages made by the American Institute of Family Relations,’ Popenoe continues, ‘it was interesting to find how bitterly the average man resents a sloppy and slovenly wife – even when his own habits are not beyond criticism.’

In Sue’s case, the counsellor found that her husband ‘Jack’ needed to ‘master his temper’, a simple trick accomplished after ‘a single consultation proved to him that his temper was not “inherited” but represented a poor pattern established in his childhood’. But it was Sue who had the most work to do. She showed a lack of insight – she didn’t understand her husband. By refusing to have sex with him after he hit her, ‘she… touched off another almost inevitable explosion. Many husbands endeavour to make up for their misdeeds by such ardour, a fact of life that wise and loving wives accept.’ Sue had to systematise her housework in order to get good at it – a recommendation that reflected Popenoe’s professional roots in the efficiency-happy 1920s. The happy ending: Sue ‘spends 15 minutes every morning planning and writing down a list of daily tasks. Any specific request of Jack’s takes top position on the list. As she acquits each task, she checks it off the list. This means she finishes one job before she begins another.’

Indeed, how dare a wife refuse to have sex with her husband after he beats her?!? The nerve!

We’ve come a long way, baby, but not far enough… as the NFL’s serious (and perhaps dishonest) mishandling of the Ray Rice case proves.

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