Torture: One step over the line

My best friend growing up, Neil Williamson, and I used to get into frays once or twice a year. By “frays” I mean fights. Physical altercations. We were well-matched physically, and these frays would usually end when one of us got the other into a painful, presumably inescapable hold. Then would come the demand: “Say uncle.”

Fighting boys can resist surrender: “Your uncle sucks dicks in hell!”

Neil was so damn stubborn that, on those occasions when I had the upperhand, he’d usually go through a list of other relatives, like “Aunt!” “Sister-in-law!” or “Half-brother!”

But finally, usually, I’d hear the word that magically released him: “Uncle!”

Now there are those who would say that the whole event was torture, as it usually sprung from the simple reluctance of one or the other of us to perform some kind of mundane task or partake in a knuckleheaded challenge; or that torture began at that moment that the demand was made to “Say uncle!” However, in my mind, the emergence of torture into this gritty situation would have begun had the one with the upperhand made an additional demand. For example, “OK, so now spell uncle backwards!”

When one is forced under duress to perform an action and then performs it, torture begins at the moment that any demand is made beyond the original.

War Between the Sexes

I had intended this post mainly to address the differing ways that men and women experience and define torture. So I started with a Google search of “men,” “women,” and “torture.” A paid listing came up at the top of the right-hand column:

Men Tortured – Cheap‎
Great Low Prices!
Get Your Men Tortured

I had expected to confirm the urban legend that women can withstand more pain than men. I also expected to find at least some relevant data related to women’s general superiority over men in language skills. It seems to me that a man who finds himself even close to a verbal battle with a woman has already lost.

A verbal argument introduces the potential for victory, loss, torture, and regret. And the woman may suffer ill effects, too.

A verbal argument introduces the potential for victory, loss, torture, and regret. And the woman may suffer ill effects, too.

First, not every experiment shows that women can withstand more pain than men. One study shows that couples spend 40 minutes a day arguing over household chores and have 135 fights a year. And the topics of these arguments, at least superficially, appear to be ones more likely to be leveled by women against men than the other way around: leaving clothes strewn about, not doing the washing up(?), concealing stains(?), and putting off home improvements.

As for “the fairer sex’s” proclivities (or lack thereof) to torture, it’s been known for over 50 years that, under the right circumstances and with the appropriate encouragement and setting, most people can be encouraged to actively torture others.

How Do You Define Torture?

Apart from the use of torture as a state-sponsored activity or policy, which goes far beyond the purpose of this post, both women and men can experience words and actions as bricks, and torture can be a brick too far. There may be general differences between men and women as to which word or action constitutes a brick, or how hard that brick might be. But when we discuss the existence of arguments between the sexes, we are talking about the mysterious realm of human experience, where the landscape is shifting and subjective.

Both Kate and Petruchio from Taming of the Shrew have every right to contemplate Shakespeare’s remark, and to derive different meanings from it: “There’s small choice in rotten apples.”

Just remember to duck.


About Keith Croes

Nice to meet you. Thanks for dropping by.

Posted on May 25, 2014, in Battle between the sexes, Battle of the Sexes, Cultural observations, Pop culture, Psychology, Relationships and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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