July-August 1996 Home   Newsletters

September 1996

October 1996

LWV-Honolulu General Membership Meeting
President's Message (Astrid Monson)
Wiki Wiki Drive-In Vignettes (Arlene Ellis)
General Election Activities Volunteers Needed
Position Paper on Con Con (Jean Aoki)
Orientation Meeting (Grace Furukawa)
Vote Count (Arlene Ellis)
Mahalo for Contributions

President's Message

Since the emergence of the "battered woman's movement" in the mid-1970's, there is increasing recognition of the fact that the problem is not a series of isolated, unconnected individual breakdowns of law and order, but. rather a deeply ingrained cultural pattern long accepted as a normal part of the way men and women treat each other.

It wasn't so long ago that in certain countries, and even here in Hawaii, "wife beating" was practiced even at the highest social levels, and many women accepted it as their natural lot in life.

More recently, emphasis has tended to be on legal measures to hold batterers responsible for their conduct, on restraining orders, on court directives to take anger management courses, on short or longer jail terms, on economic restitution or fines to be short, on punishment.

There seems to have been relatively little discussion of what the basic causes are of men's alleged need to dominate and control those around them. Baby boys are not born that way, they learn it from others. Domestic violence, I feel, cannot be understood out of context of the society in which we live – widely admitted to be a violent one Not only do men beat up on women; they beat up on each other; they beat up on children; women beat up on children: both beat up on frail, elderly family members; children even beat up on each other.

Let's take the concept of "control". It means to be able to force things to happen – to have the power to get one's way in situations which otherwise would be out of hand. We are all familiar with the term "uncontrollable rage". Why do violent men feel so frustrated, so helpless to shape their lives, so unable to deal with life's problems? What makes them think that physical beating of someone else will solve anything? Women get frustrated too, but for obvious reasons only rarely beat up on men.

Many children grow up in an atmosphere of parental abuse and violence. They see their fathers exerting mental, emotional, and physical dominance over their mothers. Sometimes they fare no better. Ann Landers, in her 7/8/96 column in the Advertiser, prints a letter from the child of a battered woman. "My mother thought we were safe" she writes, "because he didn't rip off our clothes, threaten us with a gun, choke, kick, stab, punch, shove or scream at us, but she was wrong. He didn't need to.... because we already were paralyzed with fear at the sight of what he did to our mother".

Children also experience the anger and frustration arising from such situations as severe physical punishment for disobedience; beatings at school by bullies; physical "fights" accepted as a way to settle arguments; or gang violence. They see thousands of hours of televisions violence which teaches them that the way to control situations is to beat, maim, or even kill people with whom you have differences or who frustrate you. Boys learn that the weak are despised, that only the strong are respected. that the strong dominate the weak, that to be a "man" requires them to be "macho", that to submit is to be a "woman". On the streets they see countless examples of violence. It is hardly surprising that they learn to accept it as a normal part of life.

It gets worse when they become adults and have to meet the demands of a job and/or a family. They may not have the education or training or experience to get a decent job; they may be down-sized or otherwise lose their job; they may feel they can't get anywhere; they may envy the successful; they may be disillusioned with political leaders; they may be unable to keep up with their bills; they may feel their wives and children don't respect them.

They may feel guilty and ashamed that they can't provide decent housing for their family; they may resent criticism or differences of opinion from family members; they may have sex problems with their wives. Can we wonder that they may be angry and frustrated and that they want to get some measure of control over their lives? And what easier way to take out their frustration that to strike out against their wives and children? Didn't they learn long ago that the way a man expresses anger and frustration is through violence – whether against those close to them or against society in general?

Not only the poor or disadvantaged resort to violence. Even the well-off and well-educated are so immersed in the culture of violence that this is how they may take out their frustrate on those around them. We do not know, of course, what their childhoods were like, what the relationship of their parents was , what they learned in school or in their neighborhoods. Someone like O.J. Simpson may not have been born rich, and football is notorious for the violent behavior it engenders.

Are things getting worse? In a recent Advertiser article on "Our Economy: Does It Still Work?", U.H. Professor Noel Kent argues that for several decades our corporate society has been marked by increasing concentrations of wealth, with the rich "waxing wealthier and isolating themselves from the chaos around them, while the poorer half of our citizens grow more hopeless and bitter." Social services for the poor, he says, have been assaulted. Living standards have dropped. In Hawaii, he says, the crisis of the past five years has revealed the shocking vulnerability of a low-wage high-cost economy overdependent on the influx of outside capital and tourists.

What this means to me as a layman – oops, layperson, in the causes of violence domestic or otherwise, is that the problem is rooted in our society and cannot be seen merely as someone's desire to "control and dominate" someone else. This is not to minimize punishment, or anger management courses, or teaching children in our schools the evils of violence. But, sooner or later we have to face the fact that we have to root out the basic causes of the anger and frustration that lead to violence, that the desire to "control" or "dominate" is itself the result of destructive factors in our society.

I don't know the answer

Astrid Monson

July-August 1996 Home   Newsletters October 1996