Friday, 16 October 2009

OverRated: The Power of Men

'If, after years of abuse, you fight back against your husband, make sure that you kill him. If you only injure him, then you cannot use provocation as a defence.'

From the BBC's 'Criminal Justice'

'My husband is allowed to hit me with a stick, providing it is no thicker than his thumb.'

From 'The Duchess'

The implications behind both of these statements have remained with me long after the exact words were forgotten.

Criminal Justice was an amazing piece of television. Shown over five consecutive nights, its central premise was of a woman who was repeatedly buggered against her will by the husband who had managed to achieve complete control over her life, whilst seeming to be doing it with her best interests at heart. To the outside world, the perfect caring husband but, to his wife, a cold-hearted monster who photographed her life to spot the smallest of differences in her behaviour and punished her for it.

The contrast between her deep shame at being subjected to the act itself and the way that many in the blogging world view anal intercourse as part of their normal sexual bag of tricks was quite striking.

I got Ruf to watch the final episode with me, after spending several minutes setting up what had gone before. I think it really brought home to him the enormity of the gift that I bestow upon him when I allow him to penetrate me through that orifice. That such an act is not part and parcel of normal sexual activity in many relationships. But also that it is just as much a rape if taken non-consensually.

The second statement was from the film, 'The Duchess', where Keira Knightley recreates the role of a forebear of Diana, Princess of Wales, in Lady Georgeanna Spencer, the Duchess of Devonshire. Beautifully filmed, with a fabulous cast of both personnel and settings, this was a delight to the eye, but a conundrum to the brain.

Yes, she led a pampered and moneyed life, but also a very sad one, married to a man twice her age who is incapable of emotional closeness with her. But worse, takes as his mistress her best friend and forces her to remain in a curious menage a trois in the same house whilst refusing to allow his wife the same freedom with her own lover.

The fact that he could evict her, stop her from seeing her children and close every society door in London to her aspiring politician lover if she did not toe the line that he proscribed was quite frightening and I think the whole 'stick' thing just exemplifies the power that men had over their wives during this period of history.

And yet, is it just confined to 'the olden days'? The husband in 'Criminal Justice' could behave with equal cruelty and yet, if she fought back, the wife could not bring up his persistent provocation in her defence... unless she was defending herself against the charge of murdering him.

Sometimes the law does seem to tend towards ass-like.



Anonymous said...

Indeed. Can't say it any better than you just did.


Cate said...

A few months ago, I read The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox and learned that it was not that long ago in this country that men still had the power to send their wives and daughters to mental institutions with just a signature.

So if you didn't toe the line, you could be locked away for it. It's so frightening to think of how much power men have had and still have.

Cate xxx

Polar said...

I DO understand the Sentiments expressed here.
Yes, "A Man" can have that power, and with that, Also Comes Responsibility. Whether a man Takes that Responsibility seriously, is another matter entirely.
While growing up, I struggled with the internal question: "When CAN I call myself a "Man"? "Is there a magic age?"
I settled on the answer in my early 20's: "A boy becomes a MAN, when he takes Responsibility and the Consequences for his Actions, whether the be Positive or Negative.
My Grandfather never spoke these things to me, but Lived them out Daily. I took me several years after he was gone, to Own it, MYSELF!

Gorilla Bananas said...

But the law permits self-defence, and being forced to take it up the butt is classed as an assault even among the baboons. Pierce his body with a kebab skewer.

Jackie Adshead said...

Thank goodness we live in more enlightened times, and most of us strive for respect within our relationships rather than having to subjugate to control a spouse.

I think Polar makes a very good point about responsibility - and that counts for us all.

A thought provoking post, Cake, and as ever you're making us be more aware of what can happen behind closed doors.

Joanna Cake said...

SG - Im sure you could :P

Cate - Yes, I'd forgotten that aspect of a husband's power. Quite terrifying. My immense admiration for women who were suffragettes and advocates of female emancipation is increased yet again.

Polar - Hey you! Yes, but I think responsibility is all about being an adult, not just becoming a man. In days gone by in this country, a woman was just another piece of property with no responsibility or accountability. Her only function was to provide a male heir and do as she was told. Woe betide her if she failed on either count. I'm sure there were good and bad husbands but the very fact that a man had that power in the first place is quite shocking.

Mr B - I think what they were trying to say was that, even running self defence, if you cannot bring up previous provocation, you look seriously bad to any jury.

Jackie - You make me sound like I Spy from behind net curtains ;P I do enjoy thought provoking television and films tho :)

Helga Hansen said...

I think the big turning point in this country was when rape within marriage finally became illegal. Unfortunately, there are many men out there who still have this mindset that women are their possessions... and it can be very hard being one of those women! :-(

Loving Annie said...

Yes, Both cases are extrordinarily sad.

And yes also, it IS an act of love and generosity and trust to allow a man to have anal sex with you.

And a horror of pain and shame if you are not willing.