Research – Men and domestic violence: interview L

Interview with L.

Recorded at Fishermens Bend, Port Melbourne, VIC 3207, 11 and 15 May, 1995.

Background: L. is a white skilled worker in his mid-forties, working as an engineering technician in the aeronautical industry. I’d first met him some three years previously when I was working as a contractor on a project at the same site. At the time of the interview he had just remarried, following his divorce some three years earlier; his four children from the previous marriage are now adults.

The discussion was recorded in a fairly quiet environment, with only occasional interruptions from others, but not all text could be identified on the tape. Punctuation symbols such as commas, dashes and ‘…’ marks are used to indicate pauses as well as grammatical flow. Missing sections are shown by ‘//..//’; where the comment could be guessed at, it is similarly enclosed in ‘// //’ marks; comments about context, or relevant actions, are shown in ‘[ ]’ braces.

T: So… your background… you’re an engineering technician, I suppose is the right way to describe it.

L: Yes.

T: And this relationship ended three years ago.

L: Yes, about three years ago…

T: What happened…

L: …formally ended three years ago, yes.

T: So… you would describe it as abusive, but more in a psychological than a physical sense.

L: Yes, much more psychological, there was never any physical abuse.

T: From either you to her or her to you?

L: No, from either side. There was no physical abuse, she never, was never, physically abusive, I would never have dreamed of being physically abusive any more than she would.

T: Right.

L: I had, ah, a young family I brought up – they’re all out and away now – so, you know, it was more… the old-world type of thinking that you didn’t physically abuse because it did affect the family. So there was never any thought of that. I wasn’t brought up that way anyway, you know.

T: What kind of work did your wife do? You said she earned, always earned more than you did.

L: Yeah, for quite a few years she did, I think we’re about on par now, but, ah, she earned more than me for quite some stretch there, she worked her way up through the Department of Social Security, ah, and up to the ASO5 level she is now, I think, you know, which is somewhere about on par with what I’m doing now, but when we were married there was quite a number of years where she was earning a bit more than me. But that didn’t bother me, because being, being, er, a person who sort of, um, believed in, you know, equal work for equal pay, for many years I sort of supported that, so that didn’t really bother me. I think that’s fair enough, that shouldn’t come into a marriage.

T: But her attitude, you said, was rather different, as in, she //..//

L: Her attitude changed over the years. Ah, it’s hard to pick up now whether it would have anything to do with money, I know there were some comments over the years about, as her pay was increasing, that she made, ah, that were, sort of in that direction, that “I’m earning more than you now!”, you know.

T: And you said that she took somewhat the stereotypical ‘male’ position of “I’ve come home from work, you’re going to…”

L: Yes! – that really surprised me. Um… that, er, that really put me back because I was left thinking, “hey, you know, this is what the male is ‘supposed to be like'” – the man is supposed to be in that stereotyped position where he comes home and he says “I’ve had a hard day at the office, dear, get me a cup of tea!” and sits down, reads the paper with his cup of tea and does nothing, you know, for the rest of the night. Well, in my situation that was totally reversed – totally reversed – where she used to come home, and she’d – first thing she would do would be go upstairs and change into her slacks or, er, this, um, ‘slack-suit’ that she had for rolling around the house, and she would then come downstairs, grab her paper, literally order one of the children to make her a cup of tea… and I used to come home earlier than her sometimes, and, er, over, for a few years when the children were younger, I used to come home earlier than her a lot of the time, not because my work finished earlier, it was because it was necessary otherwise the dinner wouldn’t have got put on. Now, I didn’t want my kids eating any time of the day or night, I always was brought up to believe that, you know, dinner was served in the earlier part of the evening, you know, somewhere between five and seven-ish, sort of thing, so I was a little bit traditional like that, and I used to worry about that, but she never did. Ah… so… you know, I used to have to come home and get dinner, and her attitude when, well, I said to her, when I said to her, “well, you can – you know, you could knock off a bit earlier”, oh no, the job’s too important to her, she’s a career-woman, you see. And I said “well, you know, my job’s just as important to me, it’s a money-earner in the family as well as yours”. But there was no discussion on it, and so it sort of continued. Now this sort of situation as far as…

T: How many years back is this happening?

L: Oh, I’m going back to when it started, possibly… fifteen, sixteen years ago?

T: So in nineteen-eighty to eighty-five, that way about.

L: Yes, around fifteen, sixteen years ago it started, the last fifteen years of our marriage. Ah, and she seemed to sort of get more… ah… more like that as time went on. It became the idea was fixed in the head, ah that she was a ‘working woman’, she was a career woman, she was working her way up the ladder. Um… and it never entered her head, I don’t think, that I had a life too! So consequently, to save argument – because it did lead to arguments – arguments, things were said that were never forgotten, ah, by both sides – so I thought, well, this is not worth arguing about, because the family here would be put at risk. So I didn’t argue about it: I shut up.

T: You said “things were said that were never forgotten, by both sides” – can you give me some examples?

L: Well…

T: Remembering that she…

L: …she took… yes, she took the point of view that, ah, she was, a woman, a woman equal in rights to any man, and – it’s fair enough, which I agreed, women are and should be, ah, equal in every way, and that’s the way I, I have always seen it, I have never said to [wry laugh] any woman, “you are less than me”, but what happened was, as time sort of rolled on, it became more of the woman, her position being more important, in her eyes, than what my position in life was, or my position in the family. And…

T: Could you give me some examples? For example, of things that she said?

L: Yes. Ah, one is, um, if you want to get into the most intimate area of making love, er, “it’s my body, I will do with it what I want, therefore you will only make love when I want to. If I don’t feel like it, bad luck!” So, okay…

T: Did the opposite apply, though? As in, if she wanted to and you didn’t, did that apply also?

L: No, that never applied. I was always expected to perform, if you, if you like.

T: So there were quite a number of… were there any… sorry, were there any occasions where you were, as you put it, “expected to perform”, in other words, where she was expecting and you didn’t?

L: …I was expected to cater to her emotion, whether it was sexual or, ah, she might have been just feeling down, I was expected to, to be there, ah, to cater for that, yes. As her husband, as the other half of the partnership, if you like, ah, if she wanted, um, to make love, then she made it quite plain and clear, if I didn’t want to make love, then, ah, the… ah, ramifications of that would possibly… she would just give me the cold shoulder for a couple of days and didn’t talk to me. And I mean, wouldn’t talk to me! At all! Not one word! [wry laugh] – you know. So I soon got the message, ah, this was a sort of psychological forcing, if you like, to bring me back into line. Now as the marriage progressed, that happened, that got…

T: How often did that happen?

L: …that got worse. Hmm?

T: How often did that happen? – with [the] cold shoulder?

L: Whenever she couldn’t get her own way.

T: Which was…?

L: Oh, quite frequently, you know… if I’m talking…

T: Once, twice, ten times in the whole relationship?

L: Oh… I’d say probably half a dozen times a year? For every year of marriage, after the first year of marriage? [laughs] And it gradually increased up to that level, if you understand. Another typical example of how far she went with, um, this ‘women’s liberation’, ah, trip that she was on, ah, she was reading all the different sorts of books that were going around at the time, um, and I said, “look, I, um… I don’t believe that women are second-rate citizens, I have always treated you on a fifty-fifty level, I have always given you consideration, what are you coming back now with this sort of thing onto me for?”. And here sort of typical answer to that there, I remember quite clearly on time, was “you men have had it too good for too long, so therefore we are” – ‘we’ meaning the women, I presumed, of the world – “are going to now make up for it”. Now I said to her, that one particular point in time that I remember very clearly, “look, I… you go out to work, and you work – your nine-to-five job, or your eight-to-five job, you might have a bit of overtime. I go out at six, half-past-five some[times] – half-past-four sometimes, I was on call-out sometimes at half-past-two in the morning, you know? – and I would work the whole day, I would come home at it’d be anywhere between five and seven o’clock at night, and prepare tea”. I said, “I’ve done this, now can’t you see there’s a little, a little bit of an imbalance here?” and then she sort of reverted back to saying “well, um… this is your role, you are the father”. So the point I’m trying to make here is, is that when it suited her, she was the breadwinner too, she was earning her way – and fair enough, she was. But when it didn’t suit her, when she had a point to make, that the contribution I was making didn’t really matter. And…

T: You were supposed to provide it anyway, so…

L: Yes! So she reverted back – in other words, she wanted to have the old way when it suited her, and then then the new, modern, equal, equality-way, when it suited her also. She wanted her cake and she wanted to eat it too. Um… one of the things that happened at that particular point, in conversation, which, which developed into an argument was, that… ah… I put to her, not only was I working sometimes six and seven days a week in contracting and, and overtime and contracting throughout quite a few of those years, to give my family the lifestyle I honestly believed that they, that their father should supply, or parents should supply as best they can, ah… I, I, I approached her when, er, when we were sort of engaged in this sort of conversation, with one point and I said, “well, when I’m not working six or seven days a week contracting or, or working for the boss Saturdays and Sundays on maintenance and all this, um, I was home, and I was working on the house, trying to save money by doing the work on the house myself” – and I did, I worked many years like that, plastering, building, tiling, cementing, the whole bit, I did most of it myself in the house, I completely – over a number of years in different houses that we had together – and her answer to that was, “but you never help me with the housework”. And said, “what do you mean? This is the washing, ironing, making beds and things like that?”, and I said to her – she said “yes, that sort of work” – and I said, “well, first of all, you don’t make beds – the kids make their own. Secondly, you’ve never ironed a shirt or a piece of clothing in your life unless you’ve wanted it yourself, the rule in this household has always been, if you want it, you iron it”, so I said to her, “don’t come that one with me”. I said, “are you telling me that I never help with sort of things like dishes and all that?” – because I was working at the time sometimes till eleven or twelve o’clock at night, by myself, without assistance from anybody in the household, mind you, doing tiling and, wherever I could, plastering and rebuilding and refurbishing this house – and she said, “but you are supposed to, in today’s modern world, be a husband that helps with the housework”. And I said, “well, you’ve never helped me with my work around the house, and I’ve put in a hell of a lot more hours than a few pots and pans and dishes”. I said, “we will gladly swap”.

[brief interruption].

T: Okay, that’s back again.

L: So… the result of that is, I never touched the house then, for six months after that, I was so disillusioned after a number of years – and I’m going back about now probably about thirteen, fourteen years ago – I became so disillusioned with that attitude that I thought, “well, the hell with it, why should I?” But after about five or six months she said “don’t you think you’d better finish off downstairs” [wry laugh] “the plastering” and I said “you want the plastering done, you get yourself a plasterer, you’re working now, you can afford it”. But one thing led to another, and of course it was my family, and it was my home too, so I wound up doing it anyway. Ah, I tried to make an issue or an issue out of it, but it was just not seen – it was ignored, as everything was ignored. Um… my typical attitude after that time became one of complacency, I went quiet – not that I didn’t seethe inside with some of the things that were said and talked about, but – some of the attitudes – but, um…

[interrupted by phone call]

L: Yeah, where were we?

T: You were talking about complacency, and I was wondering whether ‘complacency’ was the right word.

L: Hmm…

T: ‘Complacent’ is where you just sort of sit back and say, “well, nothing’s a problem, no, no issue”, and it doesn’t sound like that.

L: I tried to take… no, I tried to take the attitude of complacency because I tried to tell myself, “really, it didn’t matter”, because we had a home, we had a family, but it did matter, because it was such a one-sided affair. Ah… all my faults were brought out and paraded before me, sometimes in front of the children, by her.

T: Examples?

L: Hmm?

T: Examples?

L: Umm… when she disagreed with me

<<incomplete – tape-transcription machine breakdown

T: So… “anything for a quiet life” means trashing yourself?

L: Yes! Yes… and ‘trash myself’… she did. [wry laugh] Very well, as a matter of fact.

T: Something I wanted to move back to: a while ago you mentioned about… the… I mean, we’ve all seen men who are violent, there’s no question about that…

L: Yes…

T: I mean, we all have. You said, very briefly, that you’d seen plenty of women who were violent too. Could you give me some examples of that?

L: Oh… over the years?

T: Over the years.

L: Over the years I’ve seen, um, ah, women who have, ah, thrown pots, pans, hit over the head when the back was turned with a saucepan or frying pan through sheer anger, I – that was one case – I have seen…

T: What had he done, by the way?

L: Ah, he, er, he – they had an argument. They’d had an argument…

T: …and had he hit her?

L …they’d had an argument…

T: …had he hit her?

L: No. No.

T: Right. So…

L: See, I’d gone home with him, to have a – you know, just to have a – after work it was, we were working a bit of overtime, and then, then on the way home to his place, I gave him a lift home and he invited me in, for a, for a beer, and I said “yeah, fine”, something like that, and we went in there, and the argument started about – I don’t know what it was about, I can’t remember now, to be perfectly honest – and, um, he just said, “I’m not going to argue with you any more, you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about”, and for that he wore a ruddy great [wry laugh] cast-iron sauce[pan], er, frying-pan over his head, you know.

T: He said that, turned round, and she then hit him with the…

L: Oh yeah, yeah!

T: And you saw that happen…?

L: And while she was calling him, um, “some effing miserable bastard” [wry laugh], you know, when she hit him over the head she was calling him all these names, you know…

T: How much… I mean, was it one blow, or several blows?

L: Oh, it was one good blow over the, over the head with this bloody big – sort of like a big cast-iron skillet.

T: Out of interest, what kind of injuries…?

L: Well, it dazed him, it dazed him, and then she sort of appeared to… I mean, I went over to him and I said “are you all right?”, you know, and he said “yeah, mate, I’m fine”, you know, but he was a bit dazed, and then she was all apologetic, ah, to him, and then turned round and said “well, if you hadn’t made me angry I wouldn’t have done it!” [laughs] and I thought “you hypocritical old twerp!” [laughs]

T: Did he go to hospital?

L: Yes, he did… no, he didn’t go to hospital, he went to the doctor’s, just to make sure [wry laugh] he didn’t have any concussion, and he wasn’t seeing too straight [wry laugh].

T: He wasn’t seeing too straight?

L: No, no, his eyes were well out of focus, you know – concussed him.

T: //And//… um, did he say that he’d been hit by a saucepan? Or did he say… how did he explain what the, the injury was?

L: Oh, um… well, I wasn’t there in the doctor’s, but I believe he told the doctor he’d, er, slipped at work and hit his head a couple of hours beforehand, and… I think he was just protecting her, you know, that, that’s basically //what I’d seen//.

T: So, you said…

L: Another time?

T: Another example?

L: Another example… um, another example was, ah, when, when a, er, another fellow I had known in more recent times – I go back about ten, eleven years, eleven or twelve – ten to twelve, oh, years ago – there was somebody I knew who was a very nice, a very nice bloke, he was a sort of a – well on the way to being my friend, you know? – and, ah, his wife didn’t want him to have friends around – why, I don’t know, there must have been some reason, but, you know, he invited me around one night, one night, you know, me and my wife, you know, my first wife, and, er, we went around there, and, um, she insulted him in front of us and punched him in the mouth! – because he hadn’t asked her, bringing these people home, you know.

T: So again, had he hit her first?

L: No. No. He was, he was well and truly what you would call ‘under the thumb’, he was scared shitless //of herself//.

T: So she argued, she yelled at him, and she hit him…

L: …oh yes, she controlled him, she kept control via abuse, and we all knew that, we could see that, I’d seen evidence of it, that was the culminating episode of it. She controlled him by using abuse, ah, the kid – holding the child over him, threatening to leave him, which I could relate to…

T: “Holding the child over him” – what do you mean by that?

L: Threatening to leave him, and take her – take his son with her.

T: Right.

L: He was so petrified that she would go and take his child.

T: So this child was very important to him?

L: Yes. His child was extremely important to him, you know. Um… and she threatened to take him, take the child, take his son, ah, and that’s how she controlled him. And she controlled him…

T: //..//

L: Hmm?

T: Did she do so in the end? Or was it simply a maintained threat?

L: No, in the finish I think, um, he just couldn’t take any more – I’m going on further, I’d say probably, ah, a couple of years down the track, when he just couldn’t take any more of her, and, er, he just left. Er, um, and she attacked him with a knife, //threw that//, attacked him with a carving knife or something, a kitchen[-knife] or a meat-cleaver or some damn thing or another, and he just never went back, he ran out the door [wry laugh] and just never went back. Um… the thing that surprised me, though, is he was going for custody of his child at the time – and not that I blame him, //if// a woman, if his wife was running round with a meat-cleaver [wry laugh] or a carving-knife or something, you’d be pretty worried to be her kid – but as far as a I know he never got custody, and that surprised me, you know.

T: That’s normal, actually.

L: Is it really? Well that’s bloody disgusting…

T: The usual statement is that it’s ‘in the best interests of the child’?

L: …well, I can believe that, because the, the Family Court is, is, in my opinion, very biased today. And they say that they look mainly at the interests of the child, and the children in the home. Well, that’s bullshit. That’s total bullshit, because there are violent women out there, but you don’t, you can’t prove – they don’t want to hear, they’re not going to, you’re not going to prove the woman is violent because ‘traditionally’ it’s the men who were violent – that’s the sort of garbage we’ve been fed, with these stereotypes.

T: So you’ve seen two examples – you’ve actually been present at two examples of women hitting men…

L: Oh yes…

T: …have been present in any examples of men hitting women?

L: Um… [pause] Once. Once. Yup. Um… when… when it was a relative of mine, actually.

T: Oh, of course, you, your father, you said was physically violent to mother, you said.

L: No, this is not my father – my father, er, he, he was an alcoholic. Although I know that’s no excuse, but it does //add to the problem//! [wry laugh] But he was just like that, he was a pig of a man, typical of what they //shit? should// all resent. But, ah, this particular person was a relative of mine, female, she got hit in the mouth by her husband who just lost control. Er, now… I know really basically that there’s no excuse for doing that, losing control, but my God, she’d been into him for two hours, she literally was daring him and calling him ‘gutless’ and ‘not a man’… because…

T: Oh was this one of those “hit me, be a man, hit me’, kind of stuff?

L: Yeah, “what’s the matter with ya? haven’t ya got the guts in front of the relatives?” and all this sort of thing, and…

T: …so this was in front of other people? You were present, you could see what she was doing, for two hours?

L: Yes! Yes! Until he just blew his cool. Now they say – I’ve read some material from feminist groups today saying there is no excuse – well that’s a load of crap! Because the responsibility lay on the man’s shoulders for hitting that woman – just like the responsibility of the women hitting the men lays on their shoulders – but the reason behind it laid square and fair on her shoulders. She was the reason, that she – she literally, in my opinion – I won’t say “brought it on herself”, because that’s a cliche feminists don’t like, I will say she was the reason, that… so, in fact, she was responsible for it, the whole thing.

T: So you would say, in a very literal sense…

L: …foul-mouthed person, she was.

T: …in a very literal sense, she ‘asked for it’.

L: In a very, very literal sense, she literally asked for it.

T: As in, “come on, hit me”?

L: Yes, she said, “what’s the matter? haven’t you got the guts to hit me in front of your relatives?” And she got hit.

T: This is after about two hours?

L: Oh yeah, I’d say a good hour and a half to two hours of, of constant, um – what would you call it? – um, ah… oh, what’s word I’m looking for?

T: Humiliation?

L: Yeah, oh, she humiliated him, yes, she humiliated him…

T: Denigration?

L: Yes, denigration… and she just literally kept it up until he finally just blew his cool and couldn’t take it any more.

T: How… how much did he hit her?

L: Once.

T: Just once?

L: Oh yes.

T: How and where?

L: Fist. Right in the jaw. [laughs] Just like you’d hit a man, man to man. [laughs] Knocked her back over, back over the couch. But it was surprising that, er, that, er – might just add this too, because it is interesting, he was stone-cold sober, she was drunk [wry laugh]. Now it’s usually the drunk man that hits the, hits the wife, he was stone-cold sober. She was literally violently abusing him, you know, until he just couldn’t take it any more. And apparently it wasn’t just that time, you know, it happened quite often before.

T: Did she go to hospital for that?

L: No, she went off to the doctor’s. And then said, “well, you know, if you ever… I got bruises, I got proof, you’ve got nothing”, [wry laugh] sort of thing, you know? That sort of attitude, which I thought was, you know…

T: “I’ve, I’ve got proof that you hit me, you’ve got nothing that I abused you, therefore…”

L: I was asking myself, as I was asking myself the other day, why did we do it to ourselves? Why did we stay? Why do we stay and take that sort of shit? Why did he stay, why did I stay and take that…?

T: In both cases, was [for] the children.

L: Yeah. And guilt. I’m quite convinced today that men, males of today, still have the sense of responsibility that they, they always had, they still have that old-fashioned ethical code within them, if you like, to, for, to live up to your responsibilities. Where women are seen to be breaking out of the old mould, if you like, put it that way, men are still expected to stay in the old mould, and so they are responsible…

T: …’expected’ by whom?

L: By the women of today. To stay in the old mould. They want a bit of both…

[end of tape]

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