Jack Wayne on January 25, 2000:
The first part of the lecture, to be presented in
class, concerns the assumption that it is natural for men to dominate women.
Some facts about domestic violence:
“The family, with the exception of the military in times of war and the
police, is society’s most violent institution.” (Gelles p. 35) Domestic
violence is widespread. In US studies approximately 25% of all couples surveyed
reported an incident or incidents of domestic violence. A minimum of 2,000,000
women in the US are severely assaulted each year, and between 21% and 34% of all
women will be assaulted by an intimate male during their adulthood. (APA)
Statistics Canada estimates that 29% of women over the age of 16 have been
sexually or physically assaulted by a marital partner. Assault usually recurs,
once one incident has taken place.
Assault takes the form of "being slapped, punched, kicked, or
thrown…scalded cut, choked smothered or bitten." Beatings occur using
heavy objects; guns and knives are also used. (APA pp. 42-43) Canadian data show
pushing and shoving to be the most common form of abuse (25%), followed by
threats to hit the woman with an object (19%) slapping (15%) and punching (11%).
"Weapons were used by 44% of violent spouses." (Statscan p. 9) Women
with disabilities are about 33% more likely to be targets of abuse.
Although there is abuse during courtship – 32% of college women in a US study
reported some form of aggression from dates or partners - abuse tends to occur
more frequently after the partners have been committed to the relationship, and
early in the marriage or common-law union. In the US, 73% to 85% of abused wives
reported that their husbands were not abusive until after the marriage took
place. In the Canadian study marriages of less than two years had the highest
rates of violence (8% in the year prior to the survey), while marriages over 20
years had the lowest (1%). In Canada, 13% of males in the 18 to 24 age group
were abusive, compared to just 1% of those over 45.
There is a relationship between income categories and abuse. In Canada, the
proportion of abused wives in the lowest socio-economic quartile is double that
of the other categories. Male aggression seems to vary inversely with the
man’s education; 4% of husbands with less than a high school diploma are
abusive, compared with 2% of those with a university degree. There is some
probability, however, that abuse and violence reporting is higher among those in
lower socio-economic groups. (Gelles, p. 34)
Marital rape is another form of assault. In a survey of women 18 years or older
it was found that "14% of ever-married women had been raped by a husband or
ex-husband at least once." (APA p.44) This was twice the number who
reported being assaulted by strangers or non-intimate acquaintances. Moreover,
"the closer the relationship between rapist and victim, the greater the
level of violence in sexual assaults." (p. 45)
About 35% of women reported emotional abuse in the Canadian study. The most
common forms of emotional abuse will be described in class.
Although male violence against women is likely to me more consequential, there
appear to be a great many episodes of women assaulting men. The pattern of
violence is somewhat different, as will be mentioned in class. There seem to be
some cases in which women are provocative, pushing men to violence, as the
description read in class will show. Some researchers have suggested that the
tables are turned among the elderly, where caretakers, usually women, assault
their dependents who are quite often male. (Gelles, p. 33)
Sociological factors associated with family violence will be described in class.
Domestic violence is widespread, and that many aspects of family life contribute
to violence. The articles by Dobash and Dobash are drawn from a British study,
and paint a more extreme picture than exists in communities with which you may
be familiar; nonetheless they demonstrate recognizable tendencies in modern,
working class families.
The perpetrators of violence are disproportionately men.
The portrait of men in the Dobash and Dobash article is that of a category
abusing its authority. In the years that the study was carried out, the
political, social and legal system was supportive of a male-dominated world.
Nonetheless, many of the cases come from police files, and that many men were
arrested and imprisoned for the behaviours described, suggesting that male
hegemony was not complete, even during the era of the family of unequal
If violence against wives were ended would male domination be diminished, in
your view? (Gillian Walker, p. 334)
Dobash and Dobash, Becoming a Wife and The
The following is an outline of the violent event.
1. Violent episodes begin with confrontational
arguments. The arguments have a content. The leading issues in the episodes
studied were (1) sexual jealousy (2) money (wife’s wish for housekeeping
money, or their complaints about husband’s wasting money on drink or
gambling.) (3) wife’s performing her domestic duties.
The content is less important than the central issue in the confrontation, which
is “the relationship between husband and wife.” The relationship involves a
pattern of domination and subordination, to which the wife is expected to
adhere. “Women were re-quired to agree with their husbands and accept their
position of authority regardless of its merit.” (p. 502)
Men expect that their interests come first, because they are men. They believe
that their rights come ahead of those of women. They do not focus on the needs
and concerns of others, particularly when the others are women. Violent men do
not feel that women have the right to make claims on them, and they believe that
claims made by women should be quieted by force.
The reasons for this outcome are rooted in the ideology and social structure
that surrounds and supports the family of unequal individuals. As children,
girls are more closely supervised than boys, are discouraged from indulging in
aggressive play, and are taught to be respectful to father and brothers. They
are encouraged to think of domestic horizons only. “Usually a bright girl must
choose between her intellectual prowess and her heterosexual acceptability or
learn to conceal her intelligence.” (p. 80-1) Women feel that their main goal
in life is to be a wife. Other ambitions are discouraged. Personality traits of
commitment and selflessness are highly valued. The woman’s identity is
predi-cated on the marriage being successful; marriage is the woman’s
responsibility. Divorce is seen as the woman’s failure.
During courtship women tend to decrease their interaction with other friends,
while men did not do so. Women were concerned lest their boyfriends believe that
they were seeing other men, while men were largely unconcerned about their
girlfriend’s opinion on this matter.
Sexual jealousy plays a role in courtship; women feel that a jealous man is
serious about their relationship. In courtship, before there is a commitment,
“displays of jealousy and possessiveness often serve as more powerful evidence
that the relationship is serious than do displays of affection.” (p.83) We
discussed the boundary-maintaining functions of jealousy earlier in the course.
Here this feeling is taken to its extreme.
Women do not see the man’s growing sense of possessiveness as negative. Dobash
and Dobash argue that the increasing possessiveness of a man indicates a
grow-ing “sense of his right to take over the woman, and even …to try to
obliterate …all her re-lationships with anyone other than himself.” (p. 84)
They also find that men want to maintain authority and may become violent if
their accusations are denied.
As wives, women become “isolated in the home, where they are meant to be
sub-ordinate to their husbands and to serve the needs of others.” (p.76) There
is “ the extreme constriction of the woman’s social world.” (p. 87)
Married women spend less time with friends, while married men increase their
evenings out. Men dictate to women who is appropriate for visiting.
Women assume the main responsibility for household work, childcare, and the
emotional lives of their families. Their lack of social life outside the home
means that they are always available for service. Even when they work outside
the household for wages, their husbands restrict their leisure time. Household
tasks done well show subservience to male authority.
Lillian Rubin points out, in Worlds of Pain, (p.85) that jealousy over wife’s
attention to children is a source of anger.
Men “are taught to think of themselves in terms of work, financial
responsibility, independence and individual development.” (p. 77) As children,
men are taught to see themselves “as destined for better things and somehow
superior to girls.” (p. 79) Within marriage their main role is seen to be
financial support of the family; “This is thought to be the only absolute
commitment a husband must make.” (p. 89) Because he is the breadwinner,
“authority, independence, and freedom of movement are seen as appropriate for
the person who ‘represents’ the family in the economic world, and
entertainment is thought to be a necessary release from, and a reward for wage
work.” (P 89)
The superiority of men is seen to be part of the moral order. Being a wife means
that a woman is an “‘appropriate victim’ of violence aimed at ‘putting
her in her place.’” (p. 93)
2. Confrontations might be verbal or non-verbal.
3. Violence is preceded by the man’s perception that his wife is not providing
for his needs in an acceptable way. Violent men feel that their needs should
come first. Their perception of themselves as head of the household is
threatened. Only about 25% to 30% of men are drunk at the time of the attack.
Violent men often view other people as objects to
be exploited in their at-tempts to meet their own needs. They elevate the
fulfillment of their per-sonal desires to the status of ‘natural law’,
operating on the premise that their own welfare is of primary and exclusive
concern to others. (p.xx)
4. Women try to avoid violence through
withdrawal, agreement with husband, or argu-ments that point out the injustice
of husband’s position. These attempts are unsuccessful 70% of the time. Women
seldom respond to violence through force. Usually they remain physically
passive. Men who attack their wives “do not like their wives to resist
5. Violence is usually severely injurious. About 80% of the women studied needed
medi-cal attention at least once. Many women suffered lasting psychological harm
6. Children are often present to witness an attack. They are upset by what they
see. Older children often try to intervene.
7. Attacks occur in front of others, particularly when those others are likely
to be support-ive of the attack or if the husband feels that wife has humiliated
him in front of the others.
8. After the attack men attempt to restrain and confine their wife’s mobility.
Men usually stay home and act as if nothing had happened. They express little or
no remorse, particu-larly after several years of marriage. They often continued
to act aggressively and de-mand services from their wives and/or threaten them
9. Women feel depressed after being beaten. They are also “shocked,
frightened, ashamed, bitter, and angry.” (p.xx) Women often feel responsible
for the attack. They feel ashamed or guilty about the violence, given that the
family is supposed to be man-aged by women.
10. Men deny that the attack has taken place or claim that they were provoked,
thereby blaming the victim. Men might say that they were not responsible because
they had been intoxicated, even if they had little to drink. Campbell’s data
on murder are consistent with this point.
11. Husbands and wives rarely discuss violent episodes, and no effort is made to
change the relationship.
Functions of Violence
Meg Luxton, in More than a Labour of Love (pp.
65-70) provides us with a somewhat more sympathetic view of working class men.
Her focus is on external sources of the urge to commit violence among men, and
women’s roles in tension management. She sees the problem of violence in more
psychological terms, although she sees the ultimate problem originating with
unequal access to monetary income. The findings of her study will be described
in more detail in class.
Rubin’s US study showed that working class women during this period were
grateful if they were spared violence. Praise for a husband would run, “He’s
a steady worker; he doesn’t drink; he doesn’t hit me.” (p.93) There is
clearly a gendered power and control issue in domestic violence, and the threat
of violence keeps women in a subordinate position.
We have discussed the point that in our economy violence tends to be more often
directed at people who are intimates of the perpetrator. Jacquelyn Campbell, in
“If I Can’t Have You No One Can: Power and Control in Homicide of Female
Partners,” shows in her study of femicide in Dayton, Ohio, that in 80% of the
cases the murderer was known to the victim. The murderers tended to be husbands,
boyfriends, former husbands or boyfriends, or casual sex partners. 72% of the
murders occurred at home.
These more extreme cases of violence also show how inequality is maintained.
Campbell’s article on femicide in the US further shows the lesser worth of
women, by demonstrating how little attention was paid to the protection of
women, even after prior incidents of domestic violence and after other violent,
criminal acts had been perpetrated by the man who later murdered. Violence
toward women was considered private; neighbours would not interfere. The threat
of violence appears to hang very heavily over working-class families, acting as
a general control on women’s behaviour, keeping them in an inferior status.
In terms of interpersonal control over a specific woman, Campbell’s data show
that jealousy was cited as a motive in over 64% of the cases. Failure to obey
appears to be another significant precipitating incident. The Dobash2 article
shows the consequence of sex segregated social interaction in Britain; the US
data show how unequal males and females were in terms of legal rights. Men could
plead self-defense, or point to the woman’s involvement with other men as an
acceptable reason for the murder, and a mitigating factor. Women who killed men
were unable to introduce these factors at trial and were very likely to serve
time in jail.
Campbell’s data show that murders tended to be unemployed, or employed at jobs
over which they had little control. Murder often occurred in the context of the
woman’s trying to break off the relationship. A woman is most at risk when she
makes it clear that she is leaving her male partner for good. This appears to
threaten the partner’s sense of ownership.
Murders of women, and particularly black women, tended to be under-reported in
the press, minimizing the human worth of the victims. The attention paid to the
murders varied by race, age, and by assumed “sexual purity” of the victims.
(p.109) Men could defend their actions by claiming that the victim had been
sexually active. Newspaper accounts obscured the men’s activity in words such
as “domestic dispute” or “apparent argument.”
Cameron and Frazer, in “The Murderer as Hero,” another British study, show
how the phenomenon of the sex beast, the serial murderer of women, is used to
reinforce inequality between the sexes. We think of the murderer as a beast,
someone who cannot control himself and his bestial urges. But there is a social
component to the serial murder of women that ties in very securely with what we
discussed last week, the socially constructed idea of normal. The most important
points will be made in class.