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The Wife-Beater is Offensive to Men and Women

08 Jun 2017Other Essays

Gayle Smith’s concern, in her article “The Wife-Beater,” is an overreaction to the stereotypical name of an innocent, popular undershirt. This sleeveless, tank-type undershirt is worn by men and women nationwide, and has been a staple in the wardrobe of many businessmen for decades. It is a comfortable, multi-purpose undergarment that can be worn under a dress shirt and it can also be worn by itself in casual settings. Its beauty and appropriateness are in the eye of the beholder, but the “wife-beater” is arguably unattractive on many of the people who choose to wear it without cover. Ideally, only toned, in-shape men and women would choose to be seen in this revealing garment. Additionally, many would describe the sheer, inexpensive white cotton version as unsophisticated, gaudy and inappropriate in all but the most casual of settings. But, as a pajama top or a car wash rag, it suffices nicely.

To call this simple garment the derogatory label, “wife-beater,” is an odd stretch of imagination and stereotype. It’s very safe to say that the vast majority of people who have ever worn this common, usually inexpensive garment, are not guilty of the serious offense of spousal assault. Mobster Tony Soprano, from the HBO Series, “The Sopranos,” was perhaps the most recent and visible wearer of the “wife-beater.” He usually wore this garment as it was intended, as an undershirt beneath a white dress shirt. Thankfully, even given his high self-esteem and fierce reputation, Tony chose not to be seen wearing this garment without cover in public. His physique did not meet the high standard that this garment requires.

In addition to its fine uses as a pajama top and car wash rag, the “wife-beater” is, ironically, extremely well-suited to adorn toned wet T-shirt contestants. It is indeed a T-shirt, and when wet, the “wife-beater” becomes a see-through top that flatters attractive, in-shape women. Again, only fit and toned people should ever consider wearing it without cover in public. There are probably few things more repulsive than seeing a middle-aged, flabby male (or female) strutting about with nothing on but shorts and a “wife-beater.” Conservatively, 95 percent of human beings are unqualified, physically, to dare be seen in public wearing this revealing, sheer shirt that exposes every torso flaw.

One wonders how the derogatory, even inflammatory name, “wife-beater” was created to describe a harmless, common undershirt. Interestingly, its name can be offensive to both men and women. Men have historically been its primary wearer, but only small minorities of them have ever beaten their wives or girlfriends. Was the name coined by an unfortunate battering victim, or just by a bitter man-hater who ascribes terrible, violent tendencies to the male sex? Some women assume that men are louses, congenitally flawed with hair-trigger tempers, and the disposition, even desire, to lash out at any female who displeases them. Until a man can prove otherwise, naming a shirt worn by some batterers would seem to fit that mindset. So, rational, normal, non-violent men can logically be offended by this silly, stereotypical label.

On the other hand, women also have every right to be offended by naming a shirt after a heinous, dangerous, sometimes deadly act that can leave a battered woman with long-term physical and emotional scars. Per Ms. Smith’s article, “more than 4 million women are victims of severe assaults by boyfriends and husbands each year.” To trivialize millions of women victims with the silly label for this shirt is sad and unfortunate.
The slang term for this undershirt “arose in 1997 from varied sources, including gay and gang subcultures and rap music.” It is a shame to lend credence to gangs or rap music by accepting the derogatory term that they coined.

Gangs tend to be violent, male-oriented groups who victimize innocent people. And, rap music is notorious for demeaning women in many of its songs. At the least, many rap songs paint men as superior and women as subservient. At worst, many of these same songs advocate physical and emotional abuse of girls and women.

Ms. Smith concludes her piece with the question, “So manly equals violent?” This question is stereotypical and cannot be logically answered in the affirmative. Certainly, many men are violent, and they should be exposed and prosecuted if they abuse women or commit other violent crimes. Approximately 150 million females live in the United States currently, and according to the article, about 4 million are abused every year. So, approximately 3% of women are abused each year, according to those statistics. It’s reasonable to assume that many female abuse victims do not report their crimes, but these numbers, even if inflated to some extent, still argue that the vast majority of men do not abuse their female partners. Ms. Smith’s concern is completely justified and valid for female abuse victims. But, to name a common undergarment after a heinous type of male criminal is stereotypical, silly, unfair and offensive to the vast majority of innocent, non-violent men.

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