Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Domestic Violence in the 50's

I have been wanting to talk about domestic violence The NSPCC have recently published a study exploring the types of support given to children, young people and their mothers living with domestic violence in London. I tried to generate some discussion about personal experience of domestic violence on my Facebook page. To date I have received no responses. The interest was there. The request was RT'd but zilch response. This reflects in my opinion the secretive nature of this insidious practice.

Let me tell you about my experience. I grew up in the 50's in a working class family. I'm not sure how prevalent domestic violence was then. It was called a bust up or a row in our family. It was Dad being difficult after he'd had a drink? It was the boys defending Mam who was in fact probably in little danger? My Dad usually came off the worst because, not only was he attacked by my brothers but he was ostracised by everyone afterwards for causing the row? I can remember being witness to these commonplace conflagrations on a regular basis. I wasn't considered harmed by these incidents it was part of life. It was normal. 

Was I affected by them. Well of course I must have been. Though I wasn't aware of being affected at the time. I can remember being about 6 years old. I would have stayed on my own in the house perhaps for 2 or 3 hours until my 16 year old brother returned from his night out. It wouldn't have been late there we're no nightclubs then. We would then perhaps be listening to the radio when the others returned home and then metaphorically speaking 'the fat was in the fire'. I remember one time standing on a chair in the corner of the room screaming in terror but don't remember what the outcome was. It could have been that my Mam would announce she was leaving. She'd perhaps take me round to the next door neighbours to stay. Goodness know what they thought. They probably thought the same as we did that my Dad was a drunken shit. Then Mam would walk around Sheffield City Centre until the early hours. The following morning I would be redeemed like a parcel from a pawnshop and my father would be ignored until it was time for him to return to the pub. After which peace would reign until the next time. 

I remember being told that this had gone on for years in fact it had started happening after she gave birth to my eldest brother who was 16 years older than me. That her escape had been putting the baby in the pram and walking the night. When I think of that  in context of today it seems horrendous. Now she would be deemed in danger outside whereas then she saw it as safety and freedom. I don't know if my father hit her then. He seemed to lose his temper out of frustration. I can only tell you that my mother seemed to have the locus of power. It was a little like a Sons & Lovers situation. Yes he was scary but he was scary because he shouted and I was told about all his shortcomings. Whereas Mam was strong, she had the answers, she was there to make things right and she did some of the time. 

I know there are much worse incidents of domestic violence than I experienced where real physical and emotional injury occurs. I thought I'd share how violence was minimised and normalised in the then average working class family.

I have just read this out to OH who queried me publishing it. He 'would keep it in the family as they say'. How many bells does that ring? Keep the secret. To tell is disloyal. I wonder how many have been injured by that particular edict!


  1. Yes, we're all watching and reading and keeping schtum.(Is that how you spell it? not sure). The shame one feels when one is the target of violence, bullying - whatever it's called in its many guises whether inside the home or out - is the shame of having somehow not been strong enough to prevent it happening. The shame that one had 'weak' or 'unpopular' or 'boring' or 'clever' (as in too clever by half) written all over you. That because one didn't fit into someone else's preconceived idea of how one should be or behave, one somehow deserved to be the subject of other peoples' attack, ridicule, ostracisation. Whatever. Turning it all into fiction is a popular way of off-loading while also turning the other cheek. I have no answers as to why people can be so cruel to others. Now I perceive it as a weakness in them, but the shame is not so easy to rationalise. It's a lot easier to be kind than cruel, but many people still seem to choose too be cruel rather than kind.

  2. I came from a family where there was no violence into a family with violence - my dad was one of the most placid men I ever knew - what a wake up!
    Yes it does affect the kids, eldest two left home as early as they could, the youngest knew how to "keep the peace" I finally left when he got married and I'd managed to re-build my self confidence.
    I never admitted it to my parents or friends - nor even to the kids, but obviously most of them guessed and my eldest son was the one who housed me for the first 6 months until I got my own place.

  3. I fear for some it's easier to be cruel than kind because that's what they've been brought up with. I believe the more we share the experience by whatever means and that includes fiction the better. I understand my OH's desire for privacy but abuse flourishes in privacy. Thank you for commenting.

  4. It is not easy to talk about painful experience so I really appreciate you doing so Pat. You are a courageous woman!

  5. Thanks for replying. I'm curious (and always have been) why some people react by perpetuating cruel behaviour and attitudes, while others go the other way and try to promote understanding and behave with kindness and compassion to others, in spite of, or maybe because of their own experience at the hands of violence or bullying behaviour. Perhaps you can shed some light on this?

  6. wow that's another blog post at least. There's been so much written on the subject. In my opinion the one's who continue the abuse do so because their emotions around their trauma is still held inside, and because they are unable to find a useful release they continue to blame someone else and so strike out. Of course someone who doesn't go onto become an abuser hasn't necessarily dealt with their abuse. They can continue in victomhood or they may just dissociate. There isn't a simple answer!

  7. I too lived with domestic violence – I was married to a bully for 17 years – and the worse thing was my two daughters got to see the nasty side of their father – that still haunts me to this day. We ( the girls and I ) hid it well – to the outside world we were the “perfect” family. We had the materials things, nice house, holidays and the girls had all of the material things that he would buy – but one thing he never gave them was his time or love. For me I could cope with that – but it broke my heart the way he treated them.  He had an affair and moved out – that for the 3 of us was the start of the rest of our lives – we actually lived without fear for the first time and when he can back a few months later asking if I would have him back for the first time in my life I stood up for him and said NO. That for me was the best thing I ever did – I felt in control for the first time in 17 years.  Domestic violence is a terrible thing – and often happens right under peoples noses – I always say no one knows what goes on behind closed doors.

  8. Thanks for Sharing Sheila your story and every story told gives hope to someone else x

  9. Thanks for raising such an important issue Babs and for sharing your experiences.

    Far too many people hide what really goes on behind closed doors - often because of the social shame and because, as you say, it is normalised. For me, that's the scariest thing...

    Having lived in a family where violence was the norm (both physical and emotional), the damage it wreaked manifested itself in all sorts of ways. The emotional scars last far longer than the physical ones do - often for years and years.

    There are so many grey areas with this issue as the 'victim' is often castegated for 'letting it happen' or for 'not fighting back.' What some don't realise is how living with violence can render one utterly powerless. And yet, you learn to accept a different lifestyle; you learn to find your own way of surviving - which in itself shows inner strength. You just don't realise it at the time...

    Everyone who's responded to your post are remarkable people - survivors. It's reassuring to know that others not only speak out about their experiences, but find ways to survive them.


  10. thanks Nikki for your pertinent comments and your wisdom and remember you are one of those remarkable people x

  11. I find it all very difficult to talk about.  I don't know whether it's shame, guilt, blame or lack of  confidence - maybe a mixture of all of them. 
    It does become the norm while you are living it.  I know I felt very lost and honestly couldn't see a way out of it and I didn't really believe I deserved a way out, so I just took every day as it came, dealing with whatever happened and moved on.  I also became a very good liar to cover up what was happening. 
    I find it difficult to look back now, just over 2 years later, to imagine living like that, so i can understand other people outside of the situation not understanding it.  When you're in the middle of it though, it's difficult to see things for what they really are.
    It's too easy to feel guilty (for putting my son/family through it), shame (for not being stronger back then) or to blame myself (It must have been something I said/did/didn't do) or to just play down how bad things were '(All couples argue, no relationship is perfect') or to just distort how things are ('It's nice he cares so much to get so jealous'.)

  12. I grew up with my mother's repeated declaration that if only she had money she'd leave my father - she never did.  You made the choice to save yourself and your son. Well done!