The Return Of “Should Wives Be Spanked?”

Almost six years ago (ye gods, just how long have I been at this?) I posted the cover of a pulpy magazine asking the cover story question: “Should wives be spanked? Men always ask.”

Well, good things come to those who wait. We’ve been waiting all this time, and now, finally, Darwination from Darwination Scans has posted a beautiful set of high-resolution scans from that magazine (Sensation, November 1939). In fact, he’s even got a link for downloading the entire magazine in .cbr (Comic Book Reader) format.

First, the cover (still shown here in radically reduced size, but this time when you click it, you can get a big version):

should wives be spanked magazine cover 1939

Inside, there’s another spanking illustration by the cover artist, one Charles Overman:

illustration for a wife spanking article from 1939

The cover article itself proved interesting enough to transcribe (this is the value added I’m adding to Darwination’s scans), with juicy details about the spanking habits of actor John Barrymore and how he got in trouble with his wife for spanking her too vigorously during a scene:

Should Wives Be Spanked?
By Lawrence Gould
Well Known Consulting Psychologist

If you are the average husband, there have been times when you’ve itched to give your wife a good, old-fashioned spanking. The chances are, everything considered, that you never actually did it, but I’ll guarantee you’ve wondered whether it would not have been a good idea. In some ways, it might, BUT–

Women — as I realize I am not the first man to note — are a funny proposition, though thanks to psychology, they are not quite as mysterious as they once were.

“I think Fred’s the nicest man I know”, said an attractive girl to me the other day. “We’re thoroughly congenial, and have marvelous times going out together, but I simply could not marry him. I can’t stand the way he lets me push him around.”

Being a psychologist, I skipped the obvious question: “What makes you push him around, then?” For my young friend was just showing one more facet of the age-old contradiction in the feminine mind which has probably done more than anything else to make a woman’s mental processes seem incomprehensible to the bewildered male.

You see, no matter what else she may want, the average girl wants to make sure the man she marries is essentially stronger than she is. The need is based equally on the atmosphere she was brought up in, and her own, originally childish wish for “somebody to depend on.” But the only way a girl can be sure of a man’s strength is to test it, which she generally does by finding out just how much she can get away with. Paradoxically, the less she succeeds, the harder she tries; and yet if she really succeeds, she loses all interest in the man who has been proved a weakling.

Naturally, girls have different ideas of what constitutes a strong man, but few of them have entirely out-grown the feeling that sheer physical superiority — demonstrable by force if necessary — lies at the bottom of it. And while the law does not permit this superiority to take the form of violence, as it once did ( the old common law allowed a man to beat his wive provided he used a stick “no bigger than his thumb”), there are few women for whom the idea of violence does not have at least a little fascination.

John Barrymore has his foibles, and there are four women, anyhow — the four wives who have sued him for divorce — who have sworn that he is pretty hard to live with. But so far as making a hit with the fair sex goes, not many men can match his record. And John never has made any secret of his readiness to “treat ’em rough” when necessary. In fact, the immediate occasion for the break-up of his latest marriage was the spanking he gave Elaine Barrie in the last performance of the play, “My Dear Children,” in which they appeared together.

True, the spanking was ostensibly part of the business of the play — Barrymore, in the role of his wife’s stage father, was called on to use the oldest of all forms of discipline upon her — but this time he acted so over-convincingly that it was said Elaine had to choose her chair with caution for several days afterward. Not was this the first time he had “laid a hand” — or anyway, a foot — on her: she testified in a previous divorce suit that he had a way of kicking her under the table, even when they had guests, if she said or did things that annoyed him. Yet that evidently did not destroy his attraction for her, since she withdrew the suit and remained married to him for another two years.

actor john barrymore spanking actress doris dudly

Of course Barrymore is the soul of light-heartedness and normality, and never could be accused of being cruel for cruelty’s sake, but psychology has developed its own terms for those persons who derive a thrill from practicing or suffering violence, especially in love-making.

Those who have an urge to hurt the objects of their passion are called “sadists”, from a famous Frenchman, the Marquis de Sade; while those who (believe it or not!) derive the most intense pleasure from being hurt are called “masochists,” after a character in a morbid German novel. And though either of these types of abnormality is relatively rare in its extreme form, traces of them are found in most people. Most women, especially, show signs of some degree of masochism, sometimes in the rather obscure form of what is called a “martyr complex,” and sometimes in direct sensuous enjoyment of roughness or ruthlessness from the man they love.

“Jimmy” Cagney is another actor who found women are thrilled by rough treatment — it was a scene in which he threw a grapefruit at his wife at the breakfast table that made him the idol of the feminine move-goers, and inaugerated a new screen fashion. Though in fact, the fashion was not so new as they called it; before Cagney there was the original “Sheik,” Rudolph Valentino, whose subtly sadistic role, though acted by a man, was the creation of a woman author and reflected the innermost yearnings of millions of feminine hearts.

But where did this yearning come from?

Like most of our mental secrets, it goes back to childhood — to those first impressions of life which have such a powerful effect upon our mental processes forever after. As is now known, many, and perhaps most children learn a great deal about the so-called facts of life in their earliest years than their parents imagine. They pick up the information, partly from observing animals (this is true particularly of farm children) and partly from watching their fathers and mothers at times when they are supposed to be asleep, or “too young to take notice”. A lot of these observations seem to be forgotten as the children grow up, but that does not wipe out the impressions they created.

In particular, the average child’s impression of adult love-making is that it is an attack upon the female, in which the male is both ruthless, and apparently furious. Thus a girl — without the least idea why — may feel after she has grown up that a man who never “gets rough” or loses his temper is not a real man. Most girls, of course, would deny any such feeling, but the fascination of the caveman for most members of their sex proves its existence beyond question.

Some months ago I discussed the dangers of hypnotism with a world-famous psychiatrist, and he pointed out one danger which most people never thought of. “It is quite true,” he agreed, that even in the hypnotic trance a person will do nothing that is contrary to his essential nature, but, at least in her unconscious mind, the average woman has a wish to be ravished which an unprincipled man could easily take advantage of.” And while in most women this wish is so deeply buried they never know it exists, it often reveals its presence by the craving to be “mastered” — by violence, if necessary — by the man whom they love.

Certainly the converse impulse exists in men, and essentially for the same reason; but with us Americans it generally has been smothered more or less effectually by the years of “petticoat government” to which we are subjected, both in school and at home. At heart, most of us are too much in awe of our wives to be capable of showing violence toward them except under the stress of such overwhelming rage that we are likely to go to far with it. And the situation is still further complicated by the fact that theoretically the American woman is too busy trying to prove her equality with men to admit her masochistic yearnings — except in her choice of movie heros.

On the whole, then, while a lot of wives would probably be happier if their husbands gave them an occasional spanking, a psychologist can hardly recommend the practice. Except in the course of something like a psychoanalysis, the primitive feelings of both men and women are best left in the dark corners of the mind in which civilized life has confined them. As a modern husband, your best plan is probably to make your wife feel that you would not be afraid to spank her if you felt that she deserved it, but love her too much and are too chivalrous to do it except under extreme provocation. A hint of ruthlessness in love-making is another matter; the man who is too weak or too timid to achieve that will both disappoint his wife and frustrate part of his own manhood.

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  1. z commented on November 19th, 2009:

    I enjoyed reading about the old actors and what they did. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Interested commented on June 14th, 2010:

    Reasonably good writeup, but – sadly – becomes problematic because of obvious factual errors. One, in particular, is the naive, oft-repeated, and completely-discredited feminist claim that “the old common law allowed a man to beat his wive provided he used a stick ‘no bigger than his thumb’.” Even Wikipedia knows better.

  3. RC commented on April 9th, 2014:

    It is unclear whether the “rule of thumb” has a basis in history or not. If it has been completely discredited, I would be interested in perusing references on this point. mentions this.

    According to the Wikipedia entry for Cyfraith Hywel, in the section “Law of Women”,

    “A woman could only be beaten by her husband for three things: for giving away something which she was not entitled to give away, for being found with another man or for wishing a blemish on her husband’s beard.”

    If true, guys, then if you grow a beard and your wife insists you shave it off, then ancient Welsh law gives you the right to take her over your knee.

  4. HarryS commented on February 24th, 2017:

    My Dad once mentioned (sometime back around 1940) that the law allowed a husband to beat his wife with a stick no larger (in diameter, not length) than his little finger. Her response: “First time’s last time.” She didn’t specify what she would or wouldn’t do.

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