Domination of women by men has a long history. Early Roman law gave men absolute power over their wives. However, it is not clear if they had the power to put their wives to death. Physical force was their chief means of control. As the Roman Empire declined, men's right to control women continued to be supported by church doctrine.
The "rule of thumb" was born in English common law, which stated that men had the right to beat their wives as long as the weapon they used was "a rod no bigger than their thumb." Early U.S. judicial decisions supported the right of men to beat their wives. The government's hands-off policy and the legal sanction to a husband's right to control the behavior of his wife were the two major impacts of the court rulings. The first wave of feminists in the nineteenth century briefly exposed the existence of wife abuse and made some efforts to criminalize it. This state of affairs continued until the 1970's, when the second wave of feminism exposed the public to the abuse that many women experienced in their own homes. The battered women's movement identified two key concerns: first, to create a society that no longer accepted domestic violence and second, to provide safe, supportive shelter for all women who were abused.
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