Saturday, May 13, 2006

Chats with mom: On wife-beaters, menstuff, and the vocabulary of love and anger

My mother is never a boring conversationalist. She's been an educator for thirty years, and I remember her earliest jobs: teaching in the jail and juvenile detention center. Back in about 1975, she actually had a classroom at the jail. She'd furnished it in antiques and an oriental rug, if you can believe it (she collects things.) Today when I was speaking with her, thanking her for being my mother she told me something which I found kind of interesting. Wife-beaters, she said, have no vocabulary for gradiations of irritation. Isn't that interesting? She said the people who beat their wives will go from normal to white-hot anger, with nothing in between. They have no words for the subtleties of emotion in between. Naming something, she maintains, is necessary to understanding it. I was intrigued by this and tried to Google for it only to discover that "wife beaters" are apparently a slang term for some hip-hop thing that Keven ... um, Federline? (is that how you spell it?) does something with. Sigh. Since it was clear that the first 500 responses would include hip-hop info, I kept searching. I finally started looking at Anger Management and found some interesting sites. In particular, there's a site out there called Menstuff. You would think (if you were a Northern Californian) that they just sold, um... gel for chest hair and drums to use on the beach, but apparently they're much broader. Check 'em out. Here's their intro page. Menstuff was started in Berkeley in 1985. They have some very interesting perspectives on things.

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