Power Struggles

In Lee Maracle’s “Laundry Basket” the main character Marla and her husband seem to have a power struggle within their marriage. She uses the term “decision maker” (Maracle 49), to describe who had the power in the relationship. She says “things had been magical for both of them in those first few years” as “she had done her household duties with enthusiasm, actually believing that her obligations as wife were her source of joy” (Maracle 49). This is clearly the way her husband wants and expects her to act in their marriage, as he is happy with his wife when she was acting this way and “had left most of the household decision making up to her for those years” (Maracle 49). However he starts “putting the back of his hand across her face,” when “she had stepped out of the bounds of orthodoxy” (Maracle 49), and became interested in things other than her wifely duties. At this point in their marriage, the power obviously shifted, assuming Marla had any real power in the marriage in the beginning anyway. Which, I would argue she didn’t, but only had the illusion of having the power that her husband allowed her to have, because he trusted her at that point to make the ‘right’ decisions. It is obvious that at this point in their marriage Marla, understandably, begins to become unhappy in her marriage. She felt once she freed herself from the marriage, that she was “freeing herself of domination” (Maracle 47). Her husband becomes more controlling and abusive, which Marla unhappily puts up with for too long. She feels “pathetic because she had lived with it for so long” (Maracle 48).

Domestic abuse is a very serious issue, which unfortunately still occurs in many cultures today. In Marla’s case, she married a white man, who perhaps expected to be able to control her and hold the power in their relationship because of his belief that his race was dominant and superior than her race in the first place. Men who abuse their partners obviously have power issues, and need to feel powerful and dominant over their partners. They have ways of manipulating their partners and making them believe that they need to stay in the relationships because they are not good enough to leave, or because their partner needs them to stay, and that they will change.  The 2002 movie Enough, starring Jennifer Lopez is a very inspiring, but sad movie about a woman who finds herself stuck in an abusive relationship. She runs from her husband, but finally has had enough and realizes that she needs to fight back and show her husband that he cannot beat her, both physically and mentally. The following is the scene in the movie where she has found out that he has continued to cheat on her, and he hits her for the first time during an argument. It is clear the way in which he controls her, and manipulates her into believing that it will change, and it is her behaviour that controls whether she will be hit or not, and not his. The power dynamic is also here in this situation, as he says he makes the money so he makes the rules. She can’t leave him because she doesn’t have any money and money is power.

A site called “Futures Without Violence” has many statistics about domestic violence and about domestic violence which targets indigenous women specifically. This site says that in 2008 it was reported that “nearly one in four women in the United States reports experiencing violence by a current or former spouse or boyfriend at some point in her life,” and that in 2007 it was estimated that “on average more than three women a day are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends in the United States.” When it comes to specifically indigenous women the site reports that “American Indian and Alaska Native women experience the highest rates of intimate partner violence.”


The site has a specific link to information specifically for indigenous women since their rates of domestic violence are so high, and this site states that it is very common that the violent perpetrator is not of indigenous descent, but very commonly is a white man.

“According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, US Department of Justice, Office of

Justice Programs at least 70% of the violent victimizations experienced by American

Indians are committed by persons not of the same race— a substantially higher rate

of interracial violence than experienced by white or black victims.”

“About one-quarter of all cases of family violence (violence involving spouses)

against American Indians involve a non-Indian perpetrator, a rate of inter-racial

violence five times the rate of inter-racial violence involving other racial groups.”

“A larger percent of victimization against American Indian and Alaskan Native women

are committed by white offenders compared to American Indian and Alaska Native


This is incredibly prevalent to Lee Maracle’s “Laundry Basket” story, as the man in the story is white, and the woman is indigenous. The theory that he expected to be able to abuse and control his wife because she was of indigenous decent and he believed he was superior to her as a white man is supported by the statistic that the majority of the violence directed towards indigenous women is by a different race.

Some more disturbing statistics about violence towards indigenous women are:

“American Indian women residing on Indian reservations suffer domestic violence

and physical assault at rates far exceeding women of other ethnicities.”

“A 2004 Department of Justice report estimates these assault rates to be

as much as 50% higher than the next most victimized demographic.”

“National annual incidence rates and lifetime prevalence rates for physical assaults

are also higher for American Indian and Alaskan Native women compared to other



It is very sad to see that this is going on in a world that is supposed to be so modern and open to other races and to interracial relationships. Marla in Lee Maracle’s “Laundry Basket” overcomes these statistics however, and ends her marriage before she becomes a part of the statistic about murdered wives. If you watch the following youtube video of the movie Enough, at 1:48:30 there is a part in which the police officer calls Jennifer Lopez’s character “one of the lucky ones.” You can see the confusion in her face, as she has just gone through the most horrific experience of her life. Marla, like Jennifer Lopez’s character in Enough, is “one of the lucky ones.” To call the situation they were in, and what they had to do to get out of it ‘lucky’ is disturbing, but true compared to what their end situation could have been, had it gotten to that level.

I would strongly recommend watching the whole movie as well, since it is all on youtube, and is really a good movie. 🙂

Works Cited:

“The Facts on Violence Against American Indian/Alaskan Native Women,” Futures Without Violence. Web. 19. July. 2012.



“The Facts on Domestic, Dating, and Sexual Violence,” Futures Without Violence. Web. 19. July. 2012.



Maracle, Lee. “Laundry Basket.” First Wives Club. Maracle, Lee. Penticton, BC: Theytus Books, 2010. 47-56. Print.


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