Family Violence


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Family Violence

by Prof. 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 individuals.
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 Violent Event

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 punish-ment.” (p.xx)

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 as well.

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 further.

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.


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