Authority and Abuse

I was going to include this in that last monster post about the fucking patriarchy, in the part where I talked about authoritarian systems, but it was already ridiculously long and I was falling asleep at the keyboard and this really didn’t add anything new.

I saw this video a while back on Pharyngula. You may be familiar with the Overton Window, which in brief is a political theory that there’s a range of acceptable policies, with stances on the fringes considered radical and stuff in the middle mundane. Here’s Pat Robertson showing us the edges of the window with regards to power structures and violence in marriage.

If you don’t want to watch it, (and really who could blame you?) a guy going by Michael tells Pat that his wife is becoming a problem, she won’t respect him, insults him, once stretched out her hand to strike him, and refuses to talk things through. What should he do? 

Pat’s initial response is a joke that he could become a Muslim and beat her. He then waffles a bit. He goes on to psychoanalyze this woman based on a few sentences, decides she’s rebellious and probably rebelled against her parents too, that the problem here is that she won’t submit to authority. Divorce is out of the question, of course, but Pat also seems strangely reluctant to recommend counseling. Actually watching it again he never mentions marriage counseling for the couple, but psychological counseling for the woman. He thinks the whole problem must be in her head. Then he ends with “Move to Saudi Arabia!”

I’ve got to hand it to Pat, he does a masterful job of advocating domestic violence without actually recommending it.

I think that’s about the edge of the window on this subject, on the extreme precipice of socially acceptable. I think it was still too blatant for an actual politician to say without the howls of outrage that Pat only avoids because he’s an irrelevant fossil who’d be behind the times 50 years ago, but my general impression is that there is still quite a bit of support for the idea of beating one’s wife into submission, even if few people will actually say it aloud.

It’s not strictly relevant, but I found this comment by Patricia, OM to be very chilling.

In my old church you wouldn’t dare sympathize with a woman who came to meeting with a black eye. That would be encouraging her to sin again. Pats sheep pay him millions of dollars to say that shit because they have read those verses in the bible and they want their rights respected. *spits*

Viewed in that light, I almost wonder if Michael was really asking for permission to get violent. If so, Pat implicitly gave it to him.

But even if we give Michael the maximum benefit of the doubt, this is seriously messed up. Imagine this scenario: Micheal’s wife is in fact verbally and emotionally abusive and starting to escalate to physical abuse. The closest thing Pat gave to a course of action was an implicit suggestion to abuse her harder. The problem isn’t that this is an abusive marriage, it’s that the wrong person is the abuser, a lowly woman defying the natural divine authority of the mighty penis.

I remind you that this scenario is the one giving Micheal as much benefit of the doubt as possible, where we assume he’s a real person who’s being honest and straightforward and accurate and not leaving out any pertinent details or imagining things. Given my experience with humanity, that’s unlikely at best. Especially for someone who’d ask Pat Robertson for relationship advice.

Lest you think I’m being unfair to Pat, watch that video again and notice that he never seriously answers the question. He makes multiple jokes about converting to Islam and moving to Saudi Arabia where domestic violence is more socially acceptable, he engages in long, pointless speculation about the woman’s character, and he mutters something about “psychological counseling”. He also said:

I don’t think we condone wife-beating these days but something has got to be done.

The only sensible thing said in that video was by the woman sitting next to Pat, who said they needed a third-party involved. But never was the obvious course of marriage counseling seriously discussed, and divorce was dismissed out of hand. Best would be for her to submit, but otherwise these two just have to suffer each other.

Hell, you could interpret the implications there as suggesting that abuse is authority.

Pat idea of marriage is a pretty sick thing, when you think about it.

The good news is that it’s getting better. Not too many years ago the advice would probably have been a clear message of violence. That’s been pushed outside of the Overton window now, at least in this society. Even among the most authoritarian patriarchs few will openly advocate domestic violence, at least in public.

We have more resources for things like this now, especially with the internet’s outstanding power to inform. We can pass around links to things like Planned Parenthood, the National Domestic Violence Hotline, and the Marjaree Mason Center. We can network to try to help people. It’s still not good, but it’s getting better.

I suppose to some people it’s getting worse.

Sometimes I wonder of patriarchy and authoritarianism are simply two aspects of the same thing. There’s clearly a relationship between them. It’s probably not a healthy relationship.

About Leo Tarvi

Mostly fictional.

Posted on September 19, 2012, in Daily Post and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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