Sat | Sep 22, 2018

Letter of the Day | Call out wife-beating for the evil it is

Published:Tuesday | January 24, 2017 | 12:00 AM


When I read Dr Herbert Gayle's concern about the (mis)use of the term 'domestic violence', it confirmed my initial scepticism when I first heard the term used in the 1980s as I did my Master of Laws degree in Canada as it was being touted by my feminist co-scholars as finally giving the topic of woman-beating the 'dignity' it deserved.

My feminist friends saw as a benefit the fact that is was an 'inclusive term' that did not exclude non-married partners, as did the term 'wife beating'. Later on, the term became 'intimate partner violence' so as to include same-sex couples, where the victim may be male, as well as that a minority of men are beaten by their wives, partners, or girlfriends.

Now, domestic violence includes violence towards children, beating women, and men beaten in the home.

During the early 1980s when the term was just coming in vogue, I disagreed vehemently with my feminist friends about the very term domestic violence. I resented the term and saw it as a polite euphemism, a less descriptive and less jarring term for woman beating. I believed then, and still do believe, that woman-beating is a horror that ought not to be ashamed to speak its name.

Doing otherwise for a term which detracts from the outrage woman-beating ought to engender in a well-thinking public would do beaten women a disservice. I argued that the term domestic violence was a more palatable, less lurid, more tame term, whose main advantage was to make it easier to discuss this ugliness of men beating women in polite society without engendering feelings of embarrassment we all feel at the idea of a man's fist to a woman's face.


Domestic violence


What I observed over the last 30 years is that use of the term 'domestic violence' has not really changed society's view of woman-beating.

I suggest we eschew the term domestic violence altogether and use the term less in favour of the specifics - woman-beating, child-beating-and man-beating.

I am not sure that lumping woman-beating, child-beating, and the minority of beaten men in one large category - domestic violence - is smart thinking. This broad categorisation only makes for discussions around who is more victimised than whom, whether local anti-violence agendas are being set by white northern feminist devils - topics Dr Gayle seems to revel in, though I do enjoy his broader insights into the Jamaican society.

The fact that this violence occurs in the home is helpful insofar as it makes it clear that it is a hidden form of violence, but the categorisation does not do anything to reveal a path to treatment of victims or elimination of the phenomenon.