If You Chastise Your Wife, Read This
by Jordan Riak

Originally published on 9/16/95 as "An Open Letter to Northbay Healthcare System and the Editors of Wellspring".

On page 9 of Wellspring, Volume 14, Number 3, Fall, 1995, published in Fairfield, California, by North Bay Healthcare System, there appears an article "If You Spank Your Child, Read This."

Ordinarily, I would reproduce the article here as foundation for my criticism. However, a sense of moral obligation to avoid having this open letter inadvertently become a vehicle for spreading a false and dangerous message compels me to exercise a measure of self-censorship.

What I will do instead is transcribe the key points of the article substituting "wife" for "child" and make other minor word substitutions for the sake of consistency. In every other respect, I will adhere to the substance and spirit of the original.

I hope this change of perspective will jolt the reader into a fresh perception of the problem and convey some sense of my outrage. Anyone wanting a copy of the original Wellspring article will have to get it elsewhere.

If You Chastise Your Wife, Read This

Many husbands in our culture use corporal punishment (chastisement) as a form of marital discipline. Excessive corporal punishment of wives is the most common form of spousal abuse.

The American Academy of Family Counselors has established the following guidelines for husbands who choose to corporally punish their wives, to prevent chastisement from becoming spousal abuse.

Only chastise a wife with your hand. Never use a paddle, belt or other object to chastise your wife. Never use your feet, fists or teeth to chastise.

Only chastise on the hands, thighs or buttocks Chastising a wife on the head or face can cause extreme physical and emotional harm.

Only strike once - The purpose of chastisement is to get your wife's attention so you can talk about the behavior and use other methods of correction. Don't chastise your wife to diffuse your anger.

Only chastise your wife in the early years of marriage, before she understands what is expected of her. Women who have been married for three or four years no longer need chastisement on the hands or buttocks to get their attention. By then they are mature enough for husbands to get their attention verbally.

What the unnamed author of "If You Spank Your Child, Read This" has done is to spoon feed child beaters their favorite recipe - official approval of their bad behavior. It is incomprehensible to me why a publication purporting to promote public health would publish such gross, dangerous misinformation - what Dr. Alice Miller has so aptly termed "poisonous pedagogy." While I feel pity for the pathetic child beater operating out of blind impulse and ignorance, the only response I can muster to the savvy, articulate propagandists for spanking who operate from the pedestal of authority is unequivocal condemnation

The spanking article is not the only reprehensible item in the publication. Other articles ooze pandering. For instance, in "Stop - Don't Shake the Baby," Dr. Cooney is quoted as saying, ".... While it's normal to feel angry and frustrated with a crying child...." Who, pray tell, has diagnosed such a response as "normal" besides Dr. Cooney? Is the reader to conclude that a person who feels a strong urge to comfort and soothe a crying child is responding abnormally?

The Wellspring writers seen to be falling over backwards in an effort to placate adults who aggress against children, to reassure them they're really OK, that their behavior is normal, universal, inevitable. If they are genuinely interested in speaking out for victims, they're certainly keeping it to a whisper. What frightens them? What's their hang-up? I cannot claim to know what they're trying to accomplish, but I suspect that it is mainly to put ink on paper attractively, to keep their funders content and their readers lulled.

They should be aware that people who commit crimes against children have the uncanny knack for ferreting out pseudoscientific literature to support their behavior and for steadfastly avoiding any opposing view. They should have anticipated that their how-to-spank article would be clipped, saved and cherished by some, even taped to refrigerator doors, resulting in additional brutalization of defenseless victims.

Finally, I wish to point out that the Wellspring people have compounded moral cowardice with dishonesty. They have attributed their spanking advice to "guidelines" established by the American Academy of Pediatrics. In so doing, they have libeled the Academy. While undoubtedly there exist some ignorant member pediatricians who cling to anachronistic views on childrearing, the Academy neither promulgates nor endorses such "guidelines" as the article claims.

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