The Secret Trauma: Incest in the Lives of Girls and Women

By Diana E. H. Russell | Go to book overview

24
Mothers of Incest Victims: Two Case Studies

Most children experience their mothers as the all-powerful representative of the adult world. The fact is, however, that her traditional role as the primary nurturer of her and her husband's children is intrinsic to her relatively powerless position both in her family and in society at large. A mother whose work entails caring for home and children earns no money, no health benefits, no insurance, and no pension. Her unpaid labor frees her husband to go out in the world and to obtain work with all these economic rewards and securities. The consequent power disparity between them means that when there is a conflict--for example, if she is distressed by the way her husband is behaving with their daughter--she confronts him from her one-down position, under threat of losing her own and her children's bread and butter. This is the economic reality under which traditional couples live. And even in families where the wife also has paid employment, she rarely earns enough to support her family alone. This is one reason why single mothers are the fastest-growing group of Americans who are living in poverty.

Karl Marx wrote much about the effects of economic disparities on the relationships of people in different social classes, but he overlooked the effects of these disparities on the husband-wife relationship. Unlike workers, many traditional wives live in isolated one-to-one relationships with the person who has power over them. They gain no strength through numbers comparable to hundreds of workers versus a handful of bosses; there are no trade unions for wives. Indeed, women have been socialized to want to live in these circumstances and frequently love the person who has power over them.

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