Someone mentioned in comments yesterday the main thing that struck me about that WashPost story I linked to, about the man who shot and nearly killed his wife, and what happened to the family afterward: He fired a shotgun at his wife in front of their children, and he only spent a few hours behind bars?
The pertinent passage:
In the days after the shooting, Fran was in and out of surgery. And she decided not to press charges. She wanted Ken to get a job and pay child support, she says now, because that would most help the children. “I had six children. I couldn’t work.”
For the attempted murder of his wife, Ken Vessels spent a couple of hours in jail.
This was in 1964. Please remember this when someone brings up the good old days. Today we find it astonishing that such a thing could happen, but speaking as someone who did some reporting on domestic violence when it was taking its turn in the spotlight, I can’t say that I’m entirely surprised. This was Louisville, Ky., after all. And it could have been anywhere.
Every so often I get tired of reading improving fiction, serious newspapers and Gawker, and reach for one of my treasured John D. MacDonald paperbacks. On Sunday, I chose one at random off the high shelf — “A Purple Place for Dying.” Published in 1964, it’s the third of the Travis McGee series. I’ve read the whole string, most more than once, but I always manage to forget enough of the plot(s) in between to make the rereads interesting. MacDonald was a Harvard B-school graduate and is especially good when he’s plotting out business swindles, which appear in a lot of these novels. It’s too bad he died before our contemporary era of high finance; I’m sure he would have had a ball with it.
But what I really like the early McGee series for is its look at women. McGee is a little ahead of his time in many ways. He’s a tender lover and seems to have truly catholic taste in women; I always admire how often his heroines are described as having lumpy noses or stumpy legs or other flaws, but are still sexy. One of the biggest reasons books are abandoned in my house is too-perfect characters, especially in a physical sense. I put John Sandford down forever when he described a central character as having olive skin and pale blue eyes. Pick one, I thought, rolling my eyes. Oh, and she had long legs, too.
But MacDonald was also a writer of his time, and shows it. Women are brought to ecstasy by missionary-position intercourse, period. They don’t menstruate or get pregnant, with one notable exception. They’re married at 18 and washed up by 30 — you know the drill. But in “A Purple Place for Dying” I noted, again, how casually men speak of punishing their women physically, and how no one says anything about it.
An important character in “Purple” is bumped off in the first 20 pages. In the ensuing ones, her husband casually refers to “making steam rise on that cheating tail of hers.” She’s described as “not being able to sit down without whining” after a fight. There’s a reference to “a grade A thrashing, which she deserves.” And so on.
No one says, “Hm, maybe you shouldn’t do that.” It’s just what powerful men do to their women.
“Mad Men” gets criticized a lot, sometimes fairly, sometimes not, but they introduced a new generation to what sexism really was, once upon a time. It wasn’t about getting your bottom pinched. Sometimes it was paddled.
The 38 best local-news captions of all time. Warning: BuzzFeed link.
Speaking of “Mad Men” — look at little Sally Draper, all grown up.
And with that, I’m off to my deep, soft, warm bed.