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[After Janie finds Tea Cake messing around with Nunkie:] It wasn’t long before Tea Cake found her…and tried to talk. She cut him short with a blow and they fought from one room to the other, Janie trying to beat him, and Tea Cake kept holding her wrists and wherever he could to keep her from going too far. (15.9)
Even though Janie is justifiably angry with Tea Cake for flirting with Nunkie, she transgresses traditional gender boundaries by daring to hit Tea Cake. Because he loves her, Tea Cake does not retaliate but he still "keeps her from going too far;" in other words, he keeps Janie from engaging in too much of this all-too-masculine violence.
When Mrs. Turner’s brother came and she brought him over to be introduced, Tea Cake had a brainstorm. Before the week was over he had whipped Janie. Not because her behavior justified his jealousy, but it relieved that awful fear inside him. Being able to whip her reassured him in possession. No brutal beating at all. He just slapped her around a bit to show he was boss. (17.1)
In a strange perversion of Joe’s act of beating Janie, Tea Cake strikes her, not to inflict fear, but to reassure himself of possession over her. Read in one way, this makes Tea Cake just as misogynistic as Joe, but read in another light, probably Janie’s way of thinking, his beating is simply an expression of love for her and thus acceptable. This is kind of a freaky and twisted passage by modern standards. It’s strange that the narration makes it seem OK for him to possess her or be the boss of her. What happened to all of that gender equality we thought he symbolized? Anyway, we don’t recommend imitating Tea Cake as you express your affection to your family, significant other, or pets – they won’t appreciate it.
"Tea Cake, you sho is a lucky man," Sop-de-Bottom told him. "Uh person can see every place you hit her [Janie]. Ah bet she never raised her hand tuh hit yuh back, neither. Take some uh dese ol’ rusty black women and dey would fight yuh all night long and next day nobody couldn’t tell you ever hit ‘em. Dat’s de reason Ah done quit beatin’ mah woman. You can’t make no mark on ‘em at all. Lawd! Wouldn’t Ah love tuh whip uh tender woman lak Janie. Ah bet she don’t even holler. She jus’ cries, eh, Tea Cake?" (17.2)
In this extremely disturbing passage, Sop-de-Bottom verbalizes the desire of seemingly all men in the book to beat a beautiful, soft woman. The men receive pleasure out of seeing their women submit to their beatings and hearing them cry. Conversely, they become annoyed if the women behave out of their place and take on "masculine" roles by fighting back or verbally protesting. Also, seeing the marks of violence on their women’s skin gives the men a sense of possession over women that apparently turns them on. And beating the women doesn’t seem to have any purpose other than marking them as conquered, which is why Sop has stopped beating his wife – the marks don’t show on her. Maybe they should try tattoos or something a bit less abusive?