Marriage In My Lifetime & Yours

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Horrific examples from Wives Legal Rights, by Richard T. Gallen, a Dell Purse Book, 1965.

Wives Legal Rights 1965"The battle for equality was won years ago," some say ~ usually with a dismissive air, like we should just get over it because it's ancient history.

It's not over, and even the things we 'won' are like those 40 acres and mules ~ not here yet.

We may have come a long way, baby; but we're not there yet. In my lifetime I've seen, heard, and read plenty. Sometimes it's laughable ~ until you realize that real people lived this way, causing your heart to ache, your stomach to churn, and your ire to rise.

For examples, we turn to the Dell Purse Book.

The author defines marriage as "an emotional relationship, but it is also a legal arrangement; a valid contract between a man and a woman, granting certain rights to each, demanding certain responsibilities of each."

Here are the wives legal responsibilities:

Wives Rights & Responsibilities, 1965

And the husband's legal responsibilities:

Husbands Responsibilities, 1965

Women are legally required to perform domestic chores and to care for her husband and children; men are required to support, protect and maintain his wife and children ~ but not to care for them. It may sound silly to you. It might even seem so antiquated as to have its own charms. Or maybe it simply doesn't bother you personally. But I not only can't imagine living under such terms, but to be legally bound to them? Unfathomable.

It gets worse. Can a husband legally force his wife to have sexual relations when she doesn't wish to? Yes.

Husbands Can Force Wives To Have Sex, 1965

What The Law Considers Reasonable Forced Sex Demands, 1965

Check the date from this booklet again. That's 1965 ~ within my lifetime, people. It may be within your lifetime too; but even if it's not, I can guarantee that it still affects you.

Even when laws are passed, there's that darn thing called cultural lag. Laws aren't effective the instant they are put onto the books, they have to be upheld and enforced. And who does that? People. It doesn't matter what the institution is, be it Police, Family Court, Business, The Media, it is made up of people. People who ~ even if they are paid to do so ~ do not carry out the letter of the law (in word or intent) unless they accept it. And accepting a law, like any change, takes time.

Case in point: Domestic Violence.

Does A Husband Have A Legal Right To Hit His Wife? 1965

When I was a little girl in the 60's, my maternal aunt was abused by her husband. Often. One time when the police were summoned to their house, they were met at the door by my aunt. She was dressed in the suitable I Love Lucy dress ~ and a black eye.

The police removed their hats, politely stepped inside and accepted her hostess-instilled-skilled request for coffee. They never had any intention of staying long enough to drink the coffee (remember, this was the time of percolated coffee pot, not today's coffee makers); they were just getting the little woman out of the room so the menfolk could talk.

But my aunt was no idiot. She disappeared into the kitchen, started the coffee, and then lingered in the doorway listening to their conversation.

What did she hear?

The first cop commented on my aunt's shiner, in a good old boy tone conveying his appreciation for both my uncle's handiwork and his frustration at having a difficult wife. He was darn near apologizing for disturbing my uncle at his home for such a frivolous thing.

The second cop offered advice, "Don't hit them in the face; hit them in the stomach or other area more easily hidden from nosy neighbors."

And then they left.

There was no Good Cop/Bad Cop; maybe not even two Bad Cops, but rather just two cops who grew up accepting of a man's right to hit a woman ~ or at least a husband's right to hit his wife.

Even with decades of training regarding domestic violence, little has really changed. Police may not dare to advise men how best to conceal abuse, but they still interpret situations and decide what, if any, action to take, tacitly implying such violence and control are OK. For example, when batterers break restraining orders, many police still opt for the good old fashioned menfolk talks rather than making arrests. And when it comes to judges & others in family court, it's a fucking mess.

If educated professionals are still too steeped in the way things once were, operating under antiquated notions of how relationships work if those in business can still discriminate based on perceived gender roles (and this economy, they need not even articulate why they went with another candidate); how then can we expect change to be easy in personal relationships where these issues play out in all their subtleties?

1965 is still lingers.

So do the decades before it.


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