Taming the shrew

Spanking was popular, and routine, in Hollywood romances until the late 1960s

An impressively comprehensive survey by Andrew Heisel and published on Jezebel has unpacked the Hollywood trope of independent women being spanked, and thereby “tamed” by their romantic interest — a theme that proved so popular, by 1963 there were over 280 instances of films that included a spanking scene, often as a prelude to romantic involvement.

While the films themselves tended to claim spanking as an “old-fashioned” tradition, records of spanking as a form of discipline for women are rare before the last century. Whereas in the past it was considered typical, and legal, for men to beat their wives, the idea of spanking women appears to have arisen as a modern response to modern anxieties — Hollywood’s fascination with spanking, in this light, reflected a desire on the part of society to reclaim increasingly liberated women by infantilizing them, and to reassert a man’s right to discipline his spouse through force in a society that no longer legally condoned such practices.

Spanking can, of course, play out erotically, but even in that respect the Hollywood tradition falls short. Rather than promoting sensuality, spanking scenes typically focused on reinforcing the premise that women required physical punishment to behave correctly, and more so, that women secretly desired to be put in their place. It wasn’t so long ago that whether a man could be held legally accountable for spanking a spouse was a question of geography — as one Chicago judge insisted in 1933, “Women may be emancipated but it’s still a man’s prerogative to spank a misbehaving wife.”

Read the full story at Jezebel.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article is independent of and separate from any views of The New York Times.