Female Masochism and the Enforced Restriction of Choice

  • Elizabeth A. Waites


It is not recorded that Adam beat his wife; on the question of her subjugation to him, however, the Bible is explicit. It is also clear in the biblical account that this subjection, rather than being a consequence of Eve’s natural inferiorty, was an imposed punishment. Eve, the first human being who chose to disobey authority, was brought low; from the day she disobeyed, her right to choose was severely restricted. Historically, the story of the Fall has prvided both a model and a rationale for the subjugation and scapegoating of women in Western culture. Until modern times, it was unnecessary to postulate that women are inherently masochistic in order to explain their suffering. The explanation that they are inherently bad sufficed. “Bad” furthermore seems to have been closely associated with the activity and aggression of women. Far from assuming that females are basically passive or that they naturally turn their aggression inward, our ancestors were careful to provide real and often insurmountable restraints. Although Westerners did not go so far as the Chinese who permanently restricted female locomotion by means of footbinding, the corsets and chastity belts they devised illustrate the degree of physical restraint that was acceptable. And West met East in the sanction accorded wife-beating as a form of physical and psychological control. The right of chastisement, as it was called, was recognized by law as well as custom not only in England, but in the United States as late as the 19th century (Eisenberg and Micklow, 1974). Even subsequent to technical repudiation of the legal right, wife-beating has continued to be tolerated by professionals and public alike to the extent that laws expressly forbidding it have been and continue to be inconsistently enforced.


Abuse Woman Abusive Behavior Economic Deprivation Social Approval Abuse Spouse 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Bonaparte, M. 1951. Female Sexuality. Paris: Presse Universitaire de France. Quoted in J. Chasseguet-Smirgel, Female Sexuality. Ann Arbor, Michigan: University of Michigan Press, 1970.Google Scholar
  2. Brandwein, R. A., Brown, C. A., and Fox, E. M. 1974. Women and Children Last: The Social Situation of Divorced Mothers and Their Families. Journal of Marriage and the Family, August: 498–514.Google Scholar
  3. Citizens’ Advisory Council on the Status of Women. n. d. Recognition of Economic Contribution of Homemakers and Protection of Children in Divorce Law and Practice. Washington DC: Department of Labor.Google Scholar
  4. Deutsch, H. 1930. The significance of Masochism in the Mental Life of Women. International Journal of Psychoanalysis 11: 48–60.Google Scholar
  5. Eisenberg, S. E., and Micklow, P. L. 1974. The Assaulted Wife: Catch 22 Revisited. Ann Arbor, Michigan.Google Scholar
  6. Freud, S. 1905. Instincts and their Vicissitudes. In The Collected Papers of Sigmund Freud. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  7. Freud, S. 1919. A Child is Being Beaten. In The Collected Papers of Sigmund Freud. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  8. Freud, S. 1924. The Economic Problem in Masochism. In The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, edited by James Strachy. London: Hogarth Press.Google Scholar
  9. Homey, K. 1967. Feminine Psychology, edited by Harold Kelman, New York: Norton.Google Scholar
  10. Kahneman, D., and Tversky, A. 1977. Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision Making under Risk. Technical Report PTR, Decision Research.Google Scholar
  11. Klein, M. 1975. Envy and Gratitude and Other Works: 1946–1963. New York: Delta.Google Scholar
  12. Lampi de Groot, J. 1933. Contribution to the Problem of Femininity. Psychoanalytic Quarterly2: 489–518.Google Scholar
  13. Laws, J. L. 1976. Work Aspiration of Women: False Leads and New Starts. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, Vol. 1, Spring: 33–49.Google Scholar
  14. Maier, N. R. F. 1949. Frustration: The Study of Behavior without a Goal. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press (paperback edition 1961 ).Google Scholar
  15. Millett, K. 1971. Sexual Politics. New York: Avon.Google Scholar
  16. Reich, W. 1949. Character Analysis. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.Google Scholar
  17. Schuyler, M. 1976. Battered Wives: An Emerging Social Problem. Social Work, November: 488–491.Google Scholar
  18. Sheehy, G. 1976. Passages. New York: E. P. Dutton.Google Scholar
  19. Tooley, K. M. 1976. Anti-Social Behavior and Social Alienation Post-Divorce: “The Man of the House” and His Mother. Journal of Orthopsychiatry, Vol. 46, 1, January.Google Scholar
  20. U.S. Senate Committee on Finance. 1975. Child Support Data and Materials: Background Information Prepared by the Staff. Washington DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Visage Press Inc. 1978

Authors and Affiliations

  • Elizabeth A. Waites

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations