Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Dogs, Apple Trees and Women

All of those are supposed to get better when beaten. It's an old saying, and many such old sayings are ways to validate the practice of wife beating. Even the Koran allows that, explicitly based on the assumed superiority of the husband over the wife. But as far as I know, no religion or set of proverbs has ever validated husband beating.

That background is important to keep in mind when discussing intimate violence, violence between close partners, especially now that we tend to view family or intimate violence as something which women do, too. It's not that men aren't ever the victims of intimate violence, of course. But the culture has never condoned husband beating or equated it with love (the way wife beating has been equated with love in Russian proverbs, say), never argued that beating your husband or boyfriend is somehow justified. But that is exactly the history of wife or girlfriend beating.

We should keep that in mind when reading all the stories about the most recent case of possible couples violence in the news: that concerning Rihanna (of no last name?) and Chris Brown.

What should feminists say about the case, if anything? That's a difficult question, in many ways. But one thing I'm sure of is that pointing out the deep and important asymmetry in the treatment of wife beating and husband beating is most important, as is pointing out its roots in the power hiearchy within families, in the right of the husband to rule over the wife.