A Little Bit of Me

Jottings and Writing, miscellanous misgivings

Archive for spousal abuse

Battered Husbands

2068014877_ac6c18d1c7_mThe “battered husband” is acknowledged in the historical record (Underdown and Underdown) and a matter established in folklore tradition (Barrett; Steinmetz; Steinmetz; Underdown and Underdown). In the UK, as in the rest of Europe, a tradition dating back at least as far as the 1500s signified a previous social acceptance of such a husband and social approbation for him, his wife and even his neighbours (see George, 2001). “Riding Skimmington” or “Skimmington” was the social vehicle used by the communities of towns and villages of England after this fashion to exert obedience to a norm that a husband should control his wife, and wives should show deference to husbands (Underdown, 1985a). Indeed, text (e.g. the Lutrell Psalter: twelfth century) and icons representative of the husband-beating wife and battered husband can be traced back in England to the Middle Ages. A thirteenth century stone carving (Speake, 1983) shows a woman hitting a prostrate man with a cheese skimming ladle, from which the word “Skimmington” derives. Another example from the very early 1600s is the plaster frieze depicting a wife beating her husband and a “Skimmington” procession. This is still in existence today at the great house at Montacute in Somerset, a part of England where such ritual processions were particularly evident according to the historical record (George, 2001).

In his detailed account of the customs of “Riding Skimmington” and “Riding the Stang,” Barret, in a paper presented to the British Archaeological Association in 1895 (Barrett, 1895), noted that “Riding Skimmington” or just “Skimmington” was the particular and elaborate custom intended to satirise and deride the husband beater and scold and punish the beaten husband. The remarkable aspect of “Skimmington” in its various regional performances was that it could not only be visited upon the hapless husband and husband beating wife, but also upon neighbors. Thus, Barrett quotes a sixteenth century reference as follows: “1562, Shrove Monday, at Charing Cross, was a man carried by four men, and before him a bagpipe playing, a shawm, and a drum beating, and twenty links burning about him. The cause was, his next neighbours wife beat her husband; it being so ordered that the next (emphasis original) should ride about the place to expose her.”

These customs can also be found to have occurred in other parts of Europe (Barrett; Davis; Shorter; Steinmetz; Underdown and Underdown) founded upon ancient customs of “Charivari.” While they took various forms and were used to admonish a range of social improprieties, the custom was at its most elaborate when dealing with the “domestic disorder” and the transgression against sex roles of the beaten husband and husband-beating wife (Barrett and Shorter). They included forcing the beaten husband to ride a donkey backwards in some continental customs (Davis, 1971). Citing earlier references of these customs in France, Shorter (1976) stated “In old regime France, where women were prized for their size and strength, it might well happen that a strapping peasant woman would shove her husband about with the result that a `Riding’ for the husband and sometimes the wife would ensue.” Such was the power of shame inherent for men in this, apparently, wives had little trouble getting their husbands to leave the bastion of male sanctity, the bar, voluntarily given that these wives were “ordinarily a little quick to strike out” according to contemporary report. In summary, it was noted that, whilst the subject of these rituals has received little academic attention, there is evidence for their existence, pre-nineteenth century, from New England to Bavaria at the very least (Shorter, 1976).

A host of male film actors have built their careers around the portrayal of violence, linked to masculinity, as seemingly reflective of the wider society in which men’s use of violence is accepted as “normal” and is legitimated by the attitudes of men generally (Archer,1994). This perhaps started with roles played by such actors as John Wayne and Humphrey Bogart in films immediately before and after the Second World War and has continued. Few realize, however, the irony or the reality, that despite their portrayals of a “Macho” masculinity in film, both John Wayne and Humphrey Bogart suffered violence from a wife in real life. John Wayne by his second wife, Conchita Martinez. 2 Humphrey Bogart from his wife, Mayo Methot, who was described by contemporary observers as having a vicious “right hook” (Bogart & Provost, 1995). The heroic and manly screen personas they portrayed arguably became icons of mid-twentieth century masculinity, which is a stark and manifest contrast to their actual life experience as one time “battered husbands.”

Henry is a quiet, home loving man who dotes on his wife. He is so kind and considerate he gets up his wife’s nose. So, every few months, she punches him in the face and breaks his nose to teach him a lesson. (Police, The Voice of the Service, February 1995, p. 28)

She was extremely aggressive. She had bitten her husband all over his body and broken his skin. She had scratched and cut his face to pieces. (Police Sargent Sue Reed quoted in Cosmopolitan, UK, February 1995)

Men were recruited through newspaper adverts and the survey found that 50% reported their female partner used a weapon in assaults upon them; 25% had been stabbed; and 33% had been kicked in the groin. Kicking, punching, scratching, clawing, biting, and burning with cigarette ends were amongst the assault methods described. One-third stated they had been suffered assaults when asleep, which included assaults using such items as knives or a hammer. Sleep deprivation was also commonly reported along with other forms of nonphysical abuse. Police officers were particularly identified as being unsympathetic to these male victims.

He not so much as jerked awake as rose from the dead, screaming, sweating, and gasping for breath. Vividly, he recalled the donkey under him, he facing backwards. Excruciating, he recalled the wooden ladle striking his bare buttocks, over and over again, until they streamed with blood. Horrifically, he recalled the gloating visage of Emma, as she vigorously went about her work. Thank God, it had been a dream. Then, he looked down at his naked body. His slight, pale, thighs were crisscrossed with angry, red welts. He saw that his pubic hair, once bushy and prolific was now but stubble. He saw the spreading bruise down his right leg. He shook his head feeling like a Labrador dog emerging from water, and tried to form a memory of hos this had happened. He remembered the pre-bed hot chocolate and the near instantaneous sleep. He had been drugged! She had done it again. Drugged, branded, shorn, and beaten.

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Harold Caustic Jokes

Harold’s Caustic Jokes

Harold’s caustic jokes always made Ruth feel uncomfortable but others just laughed. Even when Ruth cried they followed Harold’s lead and told her she was supersensitive, to grow up, get a life.

One day Harold, one day. This will all come back to haunt you.

There he stands, resplendent in his red and white nylon jacket, his receding hairline still has some ways to go to total baldness. He grins often. His Nikes are huge and he wears them so that his athletic socks are prominent. His stone washed denims are now almost white. His camera – a Pentax – hangs like a trophy around his neck. His Honda SLK900 is parked in the outer circle of motorbikes and matches his clothing. He smiles as he crouches and asks his favourite rider to smile and pose whilst he snaps him.

There is a little bit of the homoerotic in you Harold.

“Get out of the background Ruth. You’ll break the bloody lens.” Harold laughs aloud at his little joke.

Snap, snap, snap. He has the multi-shot motor on. He grins around the corner of the viewfinder at his hero.

“How about sitting astride the beast Gordon?”

Gordon obliges and Harold click, click, clicks.

But I love and need Harold. He makes me feel whole. Most of the time anyway. When his vitriolic urges are at a low ebb.

I’ll tell you a little about myself. I’m tall and attractive. I know this to be a truth, although Harold does his best to deny this fact. I am a little overweight but nothing a week’ diet wouldn’t fix. I wear yellow a lot. It sets off my strawberry blond hair and I read that it’s my color. My Mum always said that I was a little slow. I think she meant that I talked and walked slow, not that I was retarded or anything. I haven’t done as well as my brother and two sisters. My older sisters are both doctors and my brother is an architect and I ended up working in a factory, then as a model. Then I met Harold and we got married. Harold is between jobs at the moment. For a large part of our marriage Harold has been between jobs. He doesn’t stick at things for long. Harold gets bored easily. Me, I have been in the same job since I married Harold. I work as a pharmacy assistant. Pharmacy assistant; it has a nice ring to it and the job is interesting. Not only do I pharmacy assist but I do all the bookwork for Dr Lewis. Dr Lewis is the pharmacist and he is the sort of man that I should have ended up with. But he probably sees me as the slow, stupid Ruth-person who does her routine job adequately. He doesn’t see me for who I really am. Neither for that matter, do I.

It would be easy to steal some drug or another from the potpourri of those on offer that are untraceable. Dr Lewis has explained the ones that do it. It would be easy to smuggle some out and then drip feed it to Harold. No one need know. No one would detect it.

“Come on Ruth-shake a leg. Always lagging behind. We have a party to go to.”

I could feel my rage rising. Remember the calming, self-nurturing statements.

I was reading about a woman who went through with her rage against (in this case) her former husband. After unsuccessfully trying to run him down, as he stood at a bus-stop, for the second time, she took out a ‘hit’. Basically she asked her associates to break her ex-husbands legs. They took her instructions quite liberally and beat her husband so severely with a car jack that seasoned plastic surgeons threw their collective arms into the air.

So at the party I start out feeling confident. Harold leaves me as soon as we get there. Funny how he always gets together with his mates and they drink beer and laugh at their own jokes, then he collects me at the end of the evening, to ride home on the back of his bike, clinging, my arms around his waist, caressing him. I start talking to one of the men who doesn’t mix with the boys and the words just flow out of me like a leaking tap. I sound confident and I can hear my own voice echoing back. But I can see the light go out in his eyes.  Next, I am running up to the second floor bathroom where I sit crying, where Harold finds me and asks me what the hell are you blabbering about now Ruth? And I can’t tell him. I just don’t know.

One day Harold. One day I will be articulate and confident. One day I will be able to put my thoughts into words. One day Harold.

Then we are back at the house and Harold is alternatively amorous and sarcastic. I have to be careful how I act, as Harold can be nasty when he has alcohol coursing through his body. He has hit me when my silences have annoyed him. The word is probably beaten. Black eyes, bruised ribs, a broken finger, a lost tooth.

But tonight he is more interested in sex and sleep, although he falls asleep before the sex and I am left lying there in the dark. Thinking. Thinking and planning.

One day Harold.

I dream that I am flying. One minute I am at the top of Burns St and walking down the hill, watching the children making their way to school on the opposite side of the street. The next, I am two, maybe three feet, off the ground and my arms are out at my sides. I soar over the footpath and the road, and then I am far above the ground and over the playing field that borders the school and I am banking, then climbing and the people are so small, way down there. I thought it would be cold. I had been told that as you got higher you got colder but I got warmer and warmer. Then I am out over the sea and gaining height as I cross the harbour and toward the hills that are like voluptuous women. Down into gullies of armpits and up to peaks of breast and long ridges of sensuous arms or thighs. And then I am in a house that I recognise as a house that appears in many of my dreams. It bears features of houses I have lived in., in past times. But there are extra rooms that are never lived in. And spaces in cellars and attics. Mysterious places. And I am climbing stairs to one of those places and whispering to myself that it will be all right.

“Wake up. Ruth. Wake up. You’re talking in your sleep. Wake up for Christ sake. Are you mad or something?”

Oh Harold your hands are so versatile. The same hands that can stroke and knead and penetrate and bring such pleasure are now pinching and prodding and bringing pain. Now that fist is drawn back and a blow hits me so hard on the side of the head that for a moment I don’t realise that I am on the floor. Your feet prodding and pushing me and now savagely kicking, kicking. The pain so real and I scream for you to stop and then I strangle my scream because that just gets you more exited and your kicking more frenetic. And I crawl up into a little ball to present a smaller target and maybe stop you but your cries of frustration portend another flurry of fists around my head, my neck, and my ears. And then you are screaming, foul words at me. Telling me how useless I am. Telling me how mad I am. Telling me what a waste of time I am. Then I hear nothing but the sound of your motorbike disappearing into the still morning.

Nothing that a little makeup and dark glasses will fix. Dr Lewis is too nice to make an open comment about my left eye when I do remove the glasses but he does suggest some cream to reduce the swelling. He looks concerned but you quickly discover when you appear with bruises a lot, that people don’t ask too many questions. Their eyes seem to concentrate on other parts of your face unless you turn quickly and catch them staring at the eye or the cheek. The trouble was that I couldn’t hear to well every time someone was on my right side. The one that Harold had hit as his frenzied attack run its course. The ringing stopped about midafternoon but sounds were strangely muffled and mixed up. As he left Dr Lewis squeezed my arm and kind of grimaced a smile. That would be the closest he would come to any acknowledgement of what had possibly happened.

Harold was there when I arrived back. He acted as though nothing had happened. Maybe it was all in my head but then when I went to the bathroom and looked in the mirror I could see that it wasn’t. The blood was still visible along the rim of the basin where I had hurriedly cleaned myself up.

“This place is like a bloody pigsty. That bathroom is in bad need of a clean.”

I am tempted to make the obvious reply but I know it will only lead to a more painful response than last nights. Yet I want to. Some part, deep inside of me, wants to bring this thing to an end. But I hold my tongue. How can he sleep with me? How can he pretend that nothing has happened? I know, yet I do not know.

He was so tender. As if his lovemaking was some grim apology for the wrong he had done to me. Or was it the sight of my swollen lips and eye that excites him? I wake in the morning and he is already gone. I find the bathroom steamy and dirty from his early morning ablutions. Towels and underwear are strewn from wall to wall. Toothpaste and thick curly facial hair stick to the sides of the handbasin. As if a feral animals message left to mark his territory.

I try to concentrate at work but my head is pounding. I have been learning to use the Internet and all that staring into the screen has set me off. Dr Lewis says that I am a fast learner. Old slow me.  I ask Dr Lewis if he can do without me and he tells me to go home and have a nice rest. I arrive home just after two and Harold is not there. He must have just left because I can see that the door to his study is open and his computer blinks away in the corner. I have never been allowed in here as this is Harold’s sanctuary and he usually keeps it locked up. I go over to the computer and what I see on the screen takes my breath away. I feel a cold pain in my chest and my first thought is to get out of there. He has been on the Internet and part way through a session, which he has terminated, presumably to go out, but the page is still there for all to see. Pornography of a type which is sickening. Why women would allow themselves to be exploited like this I don’t know. Then an idea forms in my head but I have to be quick if it is going to work. My head is still pounding and my heart racing but I sit down in front of the flickering screen and go to work. Harold is running a program called Gator, which makes my task easy. It records passwords and credit card details so I type in paedophile and hit the search button. Soon I have a list of sites which promise streaming video of boys and girls. I punch in Gator and soon I have downloaded several files onto Harold’s hard drive. I then compose a message to Harold’s motorcycle and photography distributions lists and email the sites to them.  I then hit the history button and restore the original file and slip out of the room before Harold returns. If my plan works the people who monitor the Internet for this type of thing will be jumping for joy. I can only guess what his friends’ reactions will be. I am just downing a couple of aspirins when Harold walks in. Just in time. He growls at me

“What are you doing home in the middle of the day?”

I whisper that I have a headache and I am going to bed. He doesn’t seem too concerned and says “I don’t know how you can have a headache when there is nothing in there to cause any pain”, and grins at his little joke.

One day Harold and its going to be very soon. I know from reading the paper what they do to paedophiles in jail.

I wake up in a daze. I can hear pounding on the door and I hear Harold yelling out that he is coming. I must have slept through the night because it’s a morning light that shines through my window, I hear Harold working the bolts on the door then a voice.

“Inspector Tony Ryall-Vice squad. This is a warrant to search your premises for objectionable material. Where do you keep your computer.”

Harold splutters a reply but I can hear the bravado go from his voice as he unlocks the computer room.

That’s how I got my revenge on Harold. They found those pictures of those little boys and girls and despite Harold’s protestations that he didn’t know anything about them and that he wasn’t in to that sort of thing they carted him off. You see he was so foolish to say that the room was always locked and he really didn’t think I was capable of outthinking him. He was sentenced to nine years and I didn’t even visit him. I heard that Harold had a hard time of it those first few months in prison. I heard that Harold wasn’t making so many caustic little jokes anymore and that he had become quite respectful of other people opinions.