HUSBANDS who keep their wives downtrodden could face prison under new plans set out by the Government today. Theresa May, the Home Secretary, published proposals for a new offence of “domestic abuse” designed to criminalise men who bully, cause psychological harm or deny money to their partners.If humiliating a partner or keeping them away from their friends is to be a criminal offense, I suspect considerably more women will be at risk of jail than men. Of course, we all know that despite the fig leaf of the prospective law's theoretical application to both sexes, the devil will be in the enforcement details.
The law would make the worst cases of non-violent “controlling behaviour” a jailable offence. Exact terms of the offence are yet to be defined, but it could involve humiliating, frightening or intimidating a partner, keeping them away from friends or family or restricting their access to money.
Social dominance can be interesting. The other day, I was at a party where one woman was holding a small group of men and women hostage as she moaned on and on about the various travails of her life. I was reluctant to join them, but I liked several of the people who were shooting me "kill me now" looks, so I felt it behooved me to rescue them So, I sat down, and promptly wrestled the conversational dominance away from the woman by turning each statement of hers into a question directed at a different individual.
Before long, everyone was contributing something to the conversation and the former monologuist had fallen silent. Within six minutes of my arrival, she sullenly stomped off, deprived of her audience. In most cases, direct confrontations are not required to establish dominance. It is usually sufficient to undermine whatever tactic the dominant individual is using to maintain his hold over the others. In the case of women, it usually the solipsistic technique of relating every possible subject back to themselves.:
Woman: "It's so hot today!"
Monologuist: "Oh, I know! I was just talking to my grandmother in Sante Fe, and can you believe it, it's hotter here than it is there! I was telling her, it's the middle of August and here I am wearing a sweater. I don't know if you know it, maybe you haven't seen it, it's the blue one I wear sometimes and I knitted it myself--"
Man: "So! I heard Manchester United lost this week--"
Monologuist: "Oh I LOVE soccer! You know, Jimmy, he's my youngest, he starts playing soccer in two weeks, and can you believe it, he doesn't have any shoes! So we were going to go shopping for them at the mall tomorrow, but I heard you can get better prices from the specialty stores. But I need to go to the craft shop, I'm working on a new sweater, you see..."
After three or four abortive attempts at changing the subject, most people just give up and suffer in silence. But the breathless monologuist is very attuned to how other people are submitting to her or not, and so you only have to cut her off and force a topic change three or four times before she'll give up and go in search of easier prey.
There is no need to say "Shut the fuck up, you narcissistic bitch! No one here gives even a quantum of a damn about your fucking sweaters, the present state of little Jimmy's podiatriac wardrobe, or the temperature in Santa fucking Fe!" Although sometimes it is tremendously tempting.