One again, an excerpt from Life at the Bottom,
In the circumstances, it isn’t altogether surprising that I can now tell at a glance — with a fair degree of accuracy — that a man is violent toward his significant other. In truth, the clues are not particularly subtle. A closely-shaven had with many scars on the scalp from collisions with broken bottles or glasses, a broken nose; blue tattoos on the hands, arms, and neck, relaying messages of love hate and challenge; but above all, a facial expression of concentrated malignity, outraged egotism, and feral suspiciousness — all these give the game away. Indeed, I no longer analyze the clues and deuce a conclusion: a man’s propensity to violence is as immediately legible in his face and bearing as any other strongly marked character trait.
All the more surprising is it to me, therefore, that the nurses perceive things differently. They do not see a man’s violence in his face, his gestures, his deportment, and his bodily adornments, even though they have the same experience with the patients as I. They hear the same stories, they see the same signs, but they do not make the same judgements. What more, they never seem to learn; for experience — like chance, in the famous dictum of Louis Pasteur — favors only the mind prepared. And when I guess at a glance that a man is an inveterate wife beater (I use the term”wife” loosely), they are appalled at the harshness of my judgement, even when it proves right once more.
This is not a matter of merely theoretical interest to the nurses, for many of them in their private lives have themselves been the compliant victims of violent men. For example, the lover of one of the senior nurses, and attractive and lively young woman, recently held her at gunpoint and threatened her with death, after having repeatedly blacked her eye during the previous months. I met him once when he cam looking for her in the hospital: he was just the kind of ferocious young egotist to whom I would give a wide berth in the broadest daylight.
Why are the nurses so reluctant to come to the most inescapable conclusions?
Why indeed. Now on to the women patients.
This failure of recognition is almost universal among my violently abused women patients. For the abused women, the failure to perceive in advance the violence of their chosen men serves to absolve them of all responsibility for whatever happens thereafter, allowing them to think of themselves as victims alone, rather than the victims and accomplices they are. Moreover, it licenses them to obey their impulses and whims, allowing them to suppose that sexual attractiveness is the measure of all things and that prudence in the selection a a male companion is neither possible nor desirable.
Often their imprudence would be laughable were it not tragic: many times in my ward I’ve watched liaisons form between abused female patient and abusing male patient within half of an hour of their striking up an aquaintance. By now I can often predict the formation of such a liaison — and predict that it will as certainly end in violence as the sun will rise tomorrow.
At first, of course, my female patients deny that the violence of their men is foreseeable. But when I ask them whether they think I would have recognized it in advance, the great majority — nine out of ten — reply, yes, of course. And when asked how they think I would have done so, they enumerate precisely the factors that would have led me to that conclusion. So their blindness is willful.
And why do these female patients act in this manner? Well, there are many factors, but there is one that bundles a whole bunch into one. And that would be?