A lot of what Karen Straughan and the men’s rights movement put forward as evidence to support their world view has struck me as... bullshitty. I mentioned this on yesterday’s post, and I was a little concerned at how few things she seemed willing to offer citations or sources for. So I decided to look into one of her strangest-sounding claims myself:
One anecdote that MRA activist Karen Straughan frequently points to as “proof” that wife beating was never overlooked or permitted by society is the case of President Teddy Roosevelt and his State of the Union address which advocated for the reinstatement of the whipping post.
A whipping post which had, incidentally, been banned in most States at this point, so Roosevelt was proposing that congress reinstate it — not set it up for the first time. An important distinction.
But here’s an interesting snag: When did Roosevelt actually make this request, and what office did he hold at the time?
Sometimes it’s referred to as Governor Roosevelt’s request, and other times it’s claimed that he put this motion forward as a President.
Karen Straughan often quotes it as a speech made in 1906, other sites claim 1904, and the image above states it was 1899.
To complicate things further, here’s a political cartoon from 1883 that parodies Roosevelt’s proposal to reinstate the whipping post, and which seems to draw a winking conclusion about how the punishment doesn’t seem to fit the crime — given that the wife has an arm in a sling (but is wearing nice clothes) and the man is hunched over with his skin ripped and torn from the whip.
Roosevelt was President from 1901-1909, so a speech made in 1904 and 1906 would have been done while President, an 1899 speech would have been made as a New York Governor, and a speech made in 1883 would have been made as a New York State Assemblyman.
So did Roosevelt repeatedly call for the reinstatement of the whipping post over the course of 23 years? IF he did, and there’s some evidence suggesting this may have been the case, what does it say about society’s attitudes toward domestic violence that a man who held three powerful positions over the course of 23 years — including a position considered to be the most powerful in the country — was still unsuccessful in reinstating the post?
Does that say that the majority of other politicians or voting citizens agreed with him? One source says yes — that the 1904 address (made as President) was warmly received by Congress, and that most people agreed with Roosevelt’s proposal.
So where is the evidence that this led to its full-scale reinstatement? Well, that’s the tricky part: I can’t find any. (Please e-mail me if you can — I’ll be happy to edit this post). You can also see at the above source that plenty of people spoke out against corporal punishment for men, or said that if it was to be administered as a punishment, it should be done in private to avoid the man’s shame and embarrassment. That doesn’t sound like universal accord to me.
And what were Roosevelt’s motivations in bringing it back in the first place?
Well, it turns out it had less to do with women’s rights than it did with Roosevelt’s beliefs as a prohibitionist. You see, he saw alcoholism, poverty, and wife-beating as symptoms of poor moral character, so he thought that if he could put a stop to wife-beating and alcohol, he could eliminate poverty.
This wasn’t about standing up for feeble women, it was about shaming men that he believed chose to “degenerate” lifestyles which included — but was not limited to — domestic abuse.
And again, as far as I can tell he was not successful in reinstating the whipping post. Moreover, one of the prominent figures who opposed Roosevelt’s whipping post was Dr. William F. Waugh who argued that a man beating his mate was natural, and dated back to the caveman era and the animal kingdom at large, so therefore should not be punished as said beatings fall within the bounds of normal human behaviour.
So the use of Roosevelt’s whipping post as “proof” that society never condoned wife beating looks pretty flimsy. What we have instead is a lot of evidence showing that one man opposed wife beating because he felt it was a symptom of degeneracy and poverty, that he unsuccessfully proposed corporal punishment as a remedy for over two decades, and that a well-respected medical figure argued that wife beating wasn’t just acceptable — it was natural.
Sorry, MRAs — you’ll have to do a little more work to convince anyone with this underresearched talking point.