WOMYN'S LIB AND BATTERY IN HUNGARY
By László GÁBRIS
Womyn's Lib is such a momentous issue that one tends to feel awed when faced with the task of writing anything about it. Especially so in Hungary.
The Americans have it easy! Besides having invented Womyn's Lib in the first place, they have amassed, compiled, edited, indexed and cross-referenced a terrific amount of written information on the subject. One can delve into this scribblative cornucopia and come back with items like:
Women speak because they wish to speak, whereas a man speaks only when driven to speech by something outside himself--like, for instance, he can't find any clean socks.
Excellent, excellent! But rather off the point... Let's see another one!
The female woman is one of the greatest institooshuns of which this land can boste.
A lulu, a pearl! Only... it was written in the last century, when Womyn's Lib had not been invented yet. I'd have to come up with something which is more to the point and is more recent!
So I turned to Nők Lapja, which is a women's weekly in Hungary and the most authoritative source of the local vox populi, the people's voice, in matters feminine. Leafing through its 1979 issues a very catchy headline caught my eye in issue #14: "Do You Beat Your Woman?" That's part of a Hungarian proverb (Pénz számolva, asszony verve jó), the American equivalent of which goes like this:
A woman, an asse and a walnut tree, bring the more fruit the more beaten they be.
What followed was a letter by a battered wife and I reproduce it here in full, together with the editorial note appended:
Do You Beat Your Woman?
In my horrible situation I have nobody but you to help me. All I expect is a sympathetic ear! Although I'm 27 and have two children, my crucifixion began just recently.
Ten years ago, when I met my husband, I was an inexperienced young thing. It all started out as a volcano of passion. We fell in each other's arms blind with a love we thought would never end. Has it ended? I still don't know...
As I'm writing these lines, my tears are running down my face onto the paper and I'm not ashamed of crying.
After our wedding my husband continued with his university studies and I found an office job. During the next 8 years my husband made good, he was favored by his bosses who showered distinctions and rewards on him. Then suddenly his boss, who'd backed and coached him, died. His new boss dropped him, buried him alive. Now it's others who get the fat assignments, who travel abroad and get the distinctions and bonuses. At first my husband blamed and cursed him, but then he saw the finality of his plight and turned against me. He's been beating me regularly ever since, 4 or 5 times a week. He slaps me, beats me with umbrellas and wet towels, kicks me around and throws things at me. He batters me in front of the children who cringe under the table or scurry into the bathroom, wide-eyed with horror and shaking with terror. Although they haven't been seriously hurt yet, sometimes they are too slow to get out of harm's way.
Do you think he accuses me of anything? Never! He wouldn't have anything on me anyway. The thing is, I'm the scapegoat at hand for his bottomless frustration. While I'm a skinny woman of low build, he's a 6 foot 5 giant, weighing 210 pounds.
And yet, our love life goes on, despite the hate... It's only... [that] the joy and tenderness has turned into torture and rape. Even his words of endearment have given way to foul language, yes, in bed, too. Not that he's jealous, I've never given him any reason for that! He has this hate in him, and since he can not blow the whole world apart, he uses me as his punching bag.
My friends tell me to get medical reports and sue him. Now, I could produce any number of medical reports, as black eyes and bruises are something I'm not short of. But what good would they be? He might even kill me in his rage! "You're a bird-brain," says one of my best friends. "How can you love a beast like him?" And what's most frightening, there's an older woman who tells me that some men beat their women to show their love for them. "Count your money and beat your woman!" is her favorite proverb. And she believes that!
I'm at a loss to decide what to do. There was a time when I thought that only those women are treated this way who are unfaithful or who have drunkards or churls for husbands. But my husband can't drink--his professional frustrations have given him gastric ulcer--and he's never been jealous. Moreover, he's an educated man, he published several papers in scientific journals in the "good old days," and has mastered two foreign languages.
I'm closing this letter because I expect him to come home any minute now; the children are trembling already. I hope you will print my letter and some women will care to answer it. They migh show me a way out of my terrible predicament.
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We read this letter in utter disbelief. Is it true, or is somebody trying to put us on? Can it happen that men, three decades after the codification of women's rights [in Hungary], still abuse their greater physical strength? Is it a rare exception or a more common phenomenon? Please contribute your thoughts and/or experiences on this matter, and mark your reply "BATTERY."
As expected, this horror story drew a spate of responses which were published in issue #20. Limited space allows me to select just two of them:
IF YOU PUT UP WITH THAT FIRST SLAP ON YOUR FACE...
You sure sound like a woman of mean understanding when you call that brute and coward an educated and intelligent man. Yet, the rest of your letter gives me the impression that you're an educated person yourself. How, then, can you put up with such a life? You're not 72, only 27! You don't have to raise 20 children, only 2! You're not living in the second century, but in the twentieth! Why are you so chicken-hearted then? In today's world can't you make a stand against a screwball of a husband? Why do you put up with assault, battery, and rape? Nobody can do it to you unless you want him to. Do you want him to? Then why do you complain? Believe this from an old woman: you get from life what you deserve. Especially in family matters. If you put up with that first slap on your face, pretty soon you'll have kicks in other parts to put up with.
A woman who had the guts to divorce her husband 50 years ago
WOMEN DO HAVE EQUAL RIGHTS!
Although there's much talk of the lofty idea of equal rights for women, all this talk comes to nothing but lip service, mostly. Why do marriages crumble? Because wives are still looked upon as chattel or even slaves by husbands who, for the most part, take it for granted that it's their wife who should do all the chores around the house, raise the children, and care for the old folks, in addition to having a job. But our marriage is different! I help out in everything and my wife considers herself so emancipated that she always strikes back. If, for example, I sock her because the soup is cold, she doesn't hesitate to conk me with the broomstick and I don't get pissed off even if she breaks it over my head, because reverence for a woman's rights is in my blood. As it happens, once she failed to press my pants in time, so I clobbered her. Being a liberated woman, she didn't sob or anything, just took the kitchen knife and stabbed me clean and hard, giving me 6 weeks in the hospital. Our marriage is good because we both respect each other's equal rights and--I'm not boasting!--we are a perfect match, blow for blow.
A man who knows how to hand it to women.
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These three letters are typical of the attitudes taken by those caring to respond. There were more horror stories, a lot of admonishments, and some good examples. The letters in the latter two categories attest to the well-developed sense of emancipation of the respondents. However, those horror stories indicate that not all is well.
When this discussion took place it was 1979. Now, in 1987, we can look back on a eight years of progress, take stock of the innumerable milestones we've passed, and say with confidence and pride: we've come a long, long way! That's what we can say! Can't we?
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