I, like many Americans, have used the term wife beater, without batting an eye. I said it a few weeks ago, however, and the weight of that term sunk in, leaving me feeling awkward and very disrespectful of a serious situation. Wife beater. The beater of a wife. I felt highly uncomfortable.
The first time I heard it was while living in Memphis in the late 90s. I was a cashier at a clothing store, and one of my customers said it to his mom, referring to the tank tops she was buying. “Wife beater?” she asked. I remember how she screwed up her face, and she asked why he would call a tank top such an awful thing. He went on to explain to both of us that every time some redneck was arrested on Cops for beating his wife, he’d have on a white tank top. I found it hilarious. In part, because it was the first time I’d heard someone white say redneck. His mother, however, did not find the term funny at all.
Over the years it has become part of our American lexicon, as a name for all colors and styles of tank tops. But should it have?
As with any of my feelings about anything, I don’t assume to speak for anyone aside from myself. I have decided that I am done using this term. Some may say I’m being overly sensitive. But, I think too many of us aren’t sensitive enough. In fact, we are so desensitized that many of us don’t even consider the things we have become comfortable with. As I type this, and whenever (if ever) you read this, women in America, and around the world, are being beaten, raped, assaulted, and killed by their husbands, spouses and boyfriends. When I say, wife beater, it feels like I’m making light of that. Even condoning it to an extent, by my acceptance and common use of it. Using those words to describe a piece of clothing, instead appreciating the gravity of what they actually mean, is very dismissive, and it’s not a topic I want to be glib about.
I’m sure eyes are rolling. “It’s just a term. It doesn’t mean anything. You’re making a big deal out of nothing.” And I get that. Words, after all, are what we make them. We give them power and energy. My personal energy has changed in regard to these words. I don’t like the vibe that I feel I’m sending out by using them. For me it is no longer acceptable to casually refer to something as a wife beater.
I may have to go into wife beater rehab to stop using the term. I even used it in my first novel because I’m so accustomed to it. I’m not asking, or telling anyone else to stop using it. We all have to do what’s best for us. What’s best for me, and my energy, is a return to calling it a tank top, or an athletic shirt. Wife beater no longer sits well with me, so I will no longer use it.
If you are a victim of domestic violence, want to help someone, or would like more information, please contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7533, for TTY 800-787-3224 or www.thehotline.org. I am not affiliated with this organization, just wanted to share it in case anyone needs it.