George Walford: Battered Husbands

A large part of the argument about feminism turns on the question whether present sex-linked tendencies such as the greater warmth, gentleness and passivity of women and the greater aggressiveness exhibited by men, come from biological or social sources. If biological they will remain constant, if social they will change with social conditions.

From early times there have been enough instances of assertiveness on the part of women to suggest that their submissiveness was conditioned rather than inherent, and since the contraceptive pill appeared in the advanced countries this greater boldness has been spreading. Unisex clothing indicates the tendency for the two sexes to engage in the same activities, and both at work and at play women have been entering spheres formerly monopolised by men. Women have responded to wider opportunities for joining the military and the police, and the pattern of violence between spouses seems to be changing.

Police reports suggest that in the last five years the number of men beaten up by their female partners has doubled; in 12 percent of ‘domestic incidents’ last year men were the victims, 887 of them in London, 506 in the West Midlands. One police inspector reports that ten years ago they just didn’t think of women beating up men; now they are accustomed to it. A national helpline has been set up, and the University of London has undertaken a study. (Sunday Times, April 24)

Some of the beaten men submitted, rather than fighting back, for fear of harming the women, but that hardly affects the issue. It is the female disposition that is in question, and women do seem to possess the full range of human potentialities. Like men, they engage in violence or not according to circumstances and social conditioning. That picture of women as naturally submissive and gentle always did have more than a tinge of patronage about it.

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REMEMBER those Caucasian villages where yoghurt-eaters lasted a century and more? Now Vilcabamba takes over, an Ecuadorian village where ‘life begins at 100.’ Clear evidence of the benefits of simple living; the natural-lifers are pouring in. Less predictably, the locals are pouring out: ‘Many young Vilcabambans would rather watch MTV and eat hamburgers in Quito than live to be 100 in a mountain idyll.’ (C. Honore, Observer 13 February).

from Ideological Commentary 64, June 1994.