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Language of Battered Women, The

A Rhetorical Analysis of Personal Theologies

Carol L. Winkelmann

Publication Year: 2004

This study of battered women living in a shelter offers a rhetorical analysis of survivors’ personal theologies. Author Carol L. Winkelmann holds that while it is virtually ignored in the domestic violence literature, the Christian heritage of many battered women plays a significant, if complicated, role in their language, thoughts, and lives. The women’s religious faith serves not only to sustain them through periods of profound suffering, but also to develop solidarity with other culturally-different women in the shelter. Designed to assist women to greater independence, the shelter actually functions as a culture of surveillance where women turn to one another and to their faith to cope with the trauma of violence. To heal, the women engage in dialogue that is dense in religious imagery, talking about the relationship of God and the church to suffering and evil. At the same time, these women also acknowledge that organized religion is very much involved in the maintenance of patriarchal marriage and its attendant abuses in their own lives. Together, battered women are sometimes able to construct creative theological responses to the problem of suffering and evil. A mix of religious and secular languages compels them to devise new ways of thinking about their role in family, church, and society.

Published by: State University of New York Press

TItle Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. iii-vii


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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xii

I would like to acknowledge the people who supported and inspired me as I wrote about violence against women. First of all, I wish to honor the women through the ages who have worked to end sexual discrimination and violence against women. More immediately, I acknowledge my profound debt to residents of the Women’s House, a shelter for battered women in the upper South. The women spoke freely to me about painful events and emotions and their deep faith with the hope that their voices would be heard. Their participation is a testimony to their faith and to their activity for social change....

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INTRODUCTION. “I Stand All Amazed”

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pp. 1-13

Hettie was a thirty-seven-year-old white Appalachian woman when I met her in a shelter for battered women. She had married when she was nineteen, had two children, and worked as a waitress in a small town in Tennessee. Hettie was raised in the Holiness tradition...

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Chapter One. “I’ll Be Scared for Everyone in the World”: THE PERVASIVENESS OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE

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pp. 15-26

In ways nearly beyond belief, a woman’s body in the world is frequently a body in pain. Women suffer extensively from violence directed at them by their most intimate partners. Some women suffer in silence. Other women, like Josephine, escape to safety and speak out. Some women’s bodies...

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Chapter Two. "Here We Women Support One Another”: THE WOMEN’S HOUSE AS SHELTER AND SOCIAL ORDER

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pp. 27-52

The first shelter for battered women was opened in the United States in 1973. The first shelters were based on feminist principles of egalitarianism, mutual support, and cooperation. Residents often made the rules about childcare, curfews, and other aspects of daily life. Authority...

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Chapter Three. “Sometimes I Just Want to Give Up”: WOMEN’S ANGUISH, WOMEN’S PAIN

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pp. 53-77

“Pain passes much of its time in utter inhuman silence,” writes David B. Morris.1 Yet, in the shelter, the bodies of women are often the living testimonies of inflicted pain. Many women have black eyes, bruises, and broken limbs. They have knife and gun shot wounds. Their bodies...

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Chapter Four. “I Sit in the Lord’s Way”: THEOLOGICAL CONCEPTS OF SUFFERING

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pp. 79-100

The Women’s House is a place of intense suffering. It is often hidden beneath closed doors or house routines, the banter of women trying to form a community or the sounds of children playing, but the suffering is deep and pervasive. Indeed, suffering is the necessary and sufficient feature for community participation, the raison d’étre of the shelter. One must suffer...

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Chapter Five. “In a Spiritual Way, God Brings Justice”: BATTERED WOMEN AND THE PROBLEM OF EVIL

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pp. 101-119

The suffering of battered women is sometimes staggering, sometimes subtle. Millie served her husband meals, cleaned up after him, and tried not to make him angry. He never hit her. Instead, he took her paycheck, spared her little or no spending money, then left her at home alone for long stretches of time. When he was at home, he routinely...

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Chapter Six. “In the Bible, It Can Be So Harsh!”: SHELTER WOMEN TALK ABOUT RELIGION

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pp. 121-144

Many battered women know that religion is a mechanism of social control. At the Women’s House, they talk about domestic violence and, as they do, they show signs of recognizing that religion is used to sustain it. At the same time, most women are believers. There is no shortfall of faith at the shelter and the women accept suffering as part of their faith...

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Chapter Seven. “Waiting on God Can Be a Hard Thing”: SUFFERING AND THE PHASES OF HEALING

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pp. 145-164

One evening a week, I go to the shelter. The mostly African American and white Appalachian women and I sit down together in a quiet place.1 The women pick a topic, we write, and we talk about what we write. The intensity of human suffering inscribed with their words or, indeed, on their bodies is sometimes staggering. I witness the words of women...

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Chapter Eight. "The Prayer of the Righteous Prevaileth Much”: LANGUAGE CHANGE AND HEALING

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pp. 165-184

A white woman of Appalachian ethnicity, Alice Clare, tells me the horrendous story of ten years of marriage with an abusive partner. How did she survive all those years of hurt and humiliation? How did she survive the slaps, shoves, and beatings? “I was always in prayer,” says Alice Clare....

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Chapter Nine. “If God Were a Woman, It Would Be Wonderful!”: LOCAL THEOLOGY AND SOCIAL CHANGE

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pp. 185-215

In the last chapter I suggested that the language of battered women often initially reflects aspects of redemptive/atonement and suffering God theodicies. The first model proposes that suffering should be endured for the sake of God or others. Thus, in their early conversations, battered women often accept suffering as part of God’s salvific plan. If the...

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CONCLUSION: “Take Me to My Sister’s House”

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pp. 217-232

For battered women, the problem of evil is a concrete problem, not an abstract theological one. They suffer from bruises and broken bones. They suffer from the loss of income, housing, transportation, food, furniture, and clothing. Sometimes they have had to leave behind their children. Battered women suffer from anxiety, fear, anger, loneliness, and depression. Even in the relative safety of the shelter, they often are concerned for their very lives....


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pp. 233-251


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pp. 253-264


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pp. 265-266


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pp. 267-273

E-ISBN-13: 9780791485828
Print-ISBN-13: 9780791459416
Print-ISBN-10: 0791459411

Page Count: 273
Publication Year: 2004

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Abused women -- Religious life -- Appalachian Region, Southern.
  • Language and languages -- Religious aspects -- Christianity.
  • Appalachian Region, Southern -- Religious life and customs.
  • Women's shelters -- Appalachian Region, Southern.
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