Idiom for Idiots

With a personal note to Jessica Alba

By Claudia Casillas
Published on LatinoLA: October 18, 2005

Idiom for Idiots

If I hear the term wife-beater again used to describe a piece of garment, I will scream! Am I the only person offended by this ill-conceived dysphemism? What's wrong with tank top or undershirt?

The first time I heard the expression, I got a mental picture of an infuriated madman savagely beating the woman he claims to love. I assumed the classic white tank top came to be called so because of its comfort ability and less restrictive design - the better to swing his arms with. "Ughh!" I thought in disgust, and every time I hear it used my shoulder muscles tighten and my heart races in repulsion. Further to my aggravation, I recently read the following quote by Latina actress Jessica Alba, (who was raised in Pomona, CA and one day be a wife herself): "Most nights I end up wearing a wife beater T-shirt and boxers."Gasp! Why have we permitted the naming of a popular article of clothing after a person who projects physical violence onto a woman, and then endorse it by using casual quotes like this? And by the way, just how did this expression sneak its way into American slang anyway?

I found it fitting to share this investigation during the month of October, which is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

According to, the expression may have been popularized by the reality TV show COPS, because it seems that in the majority of domestic violence scenes, the perpetrators are men in white sleeveless undershirts. Other experts believe alternate possible inspirations may have been Stanley Kowalski (from Tennessee Williams' play A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE) and Ralph Kramden (from TV's THE HONEYMOONERS). Both favored strutting around in the classic undershirt while they were either verbally or physically abusive with their wives.

Whatever the motivation may have been to instate such an insensitive slang term into our everyday language, we must acknowledge that it is offensive and thoughtless. Now please, don't mistake me for a feminist advocate or an anti-violence activist; I assure you I am neither. I'm just a regular citizen who is stunned by the use of a trendy synonym that has the potential to desensitize people to violence against women. That is not a good thing for our Latino communities when you consider the following statistics on intimate partner violence as reported by the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics:

*Violence against women is primarily intimate partner violence
*64.0 percent of the women who reported being raped, physically assaulted, and/or stalked since age 18 were victimized by a current or former husband, cohabiting partner, boyfriend, or date
*Hispanics are at greater risk of violent victimization than are non-Hispanics

Further research by the Immigrant Women's Task Force of the Northern California Coalition for Immigrant Rights revealed that 34% of Latinas surveyed had experienced domestic violence either in their country of origin, in the U.S., or both.

I wonder if Ms. Alba is aware that in the year 2001, a total of 1,514 domestic violence-related calls for assistance were received by the City of Pomona's police department. By comparison, the city of Torrance, which is approximately the same size in square miles and almost parallel in population, received 274 (per the California Department of Justice).

Think: demographics.

Although incidents of domestic violence are not exclusive to Latinos, we cannot hide the fact that it is a prevalent and consistent problem in our communities. We all know someone who is or has been a victim of this crime. And if you think you don't trust me, you probably do. We don't really know how frequently domestic violence occurs, but some estimates suggest that it is as much as 10 times more prevalent than reported by the Bureau of Justice Statistics' nasty little secrets that are kept safe in family closets. Does anyone care?

Personally, I never thought I'd be so moved to research this particular social epidemic and I will neither confirm nor deny if I have been a victim. My only hope is that my readers will think twice before uttering the word "wife-beater" when referring to a piece of clothing.

A PERSONAL NOTE TO JESSICA ALBA: Thanks for signing the poster for my son, Jordan. You did a good deed for a good cause. (I will explain this to LatinoLA readers another time.)

About Claudia Casillas:
Claudia Casillas is a 10-year veteran of the Latino entertainment industry. She owns and operates Chiquita Events, an event production and marketing business. Comments can be sent to

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