Behind the myth

The image of the battering spouse is so ingrained in popular culture that he has an undershirt named after him: the “wife beater.”

There he is in the living room—his beer belly poking out from under that notorious white, sleeveless shirt—marinating in a puddle of Pabst Blue Ribbon and radioactive bile and muttering between the curse words: “Why you, I oughta …”

Meanwhile, his poor wife cowers in the corner, a fresh shiner on her face, the direct result of that sudden meltdown of the Oakland Raiders in the fourth quarter.

But are we looking at the right picture?

Contrary to popular opinion, violence between the sexes is not gender-specific. A woman can have an anger-management problem just as easily as a man can, and some women do. We just don’t hear about them as often, perhaps because a man is less likely to come forward with allegations that his lovely, demure wife has a habit of tossing a frying pan in the direction of his head every night.

But that seems to be changing, as Deidre Pike’s story “When women attack” (page 18) will attest.

Some years ago, when a Sacramento man named Frederic Hayward found out that ABC was airing a made-for-TV movie titled Men Don’t Tell, he approached KXTV-10 to ask if the station would be interested in lining up a profile of some local male victims of spousal abuse. Hayward, the founder of the group Men’s Rights Inc., claims the station did a last-minute time change, and the men couldn’t show up.

That subject may be less difficult to broach today, perhaps because repeated exposures to such tabloid programs as Jerry Springer have shown the American viewing public that both sexes can act like raging idiots if the conditions are ripe.

Still, one question remains: If a sleeveless, white undershirt is a “wife beater,” what does a “hubby beater” look like?