The widely spreading discussions of violence against women and children of today date back to the second-wave feminist movement, or, more accurately, with the battered women’s movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s in the United States, the United Kingdom, India and many other countries. It was one of the earliest organizing focuses for women’s liberation in these countries of the late twentieth century. Despite women’s individual efforts to counter men’s violence, the construction of domestic violence as a social problem did not progress in a linear way. As various researchers have pointed out (Freeman, 1979), its recognition and definition as a social problem has only become publicly evident at times, when there has been a strong feminist movement, enabling collective organization against its occurrence. Thus, violence against women first emerged in the United Kingdom as a concern of the women’s suffrage movement in the mid-nineteenth century
, and for some of the first-wave feminists wife beating was a central issue
. The chiefs among these were Frances Power Cobbe, Matilda Blake and Mabel Sharman Crawford. John Stuart Mill also proved to be an important supporter. In The Subjection of Women
he claimed that “the vilest malefactor has some wretched woman tied to him, against whom he can commit any atrocity except killing her, and, if tolerably cautious, can do that without much danger of the legal penalty” (1869; rpr.1992:151). The explanation for wife abuse and remedies suggested during the first-wave movement were embedded in liberal feminism, where equality with men was seen both to reduce the incidence of assault, and encourage women’s resistance.
In the period after the First World War until the 1970s domestic violence largely faded from the social problems agenda, and this has been attributed to the absence of a strong women’s movement during this period. As Maynard points out:
It should not be imagined…that in the intervening years [between first and second wave feminism] the abuse of women disappeared or abated. Research has shown that it is not so much the incidence of violence, which has changed during the last century, as its perceived significance and visibility (1993:111).
In the late sixties the women’s liberation movement grew rapidly, and gender based violence, including sexual violence and sexuality, has subsequently become a central concept in feminist theory, resulting in over thirty years of feminist criticism and attack on the traditional, heterosexual, and patriarchal family, and the dominant patriarchal ideology in general. In feminist discourse the family gained a meaning of potentially violent and dangerous social institution, characterized by long-standing power imbalances and relations of domination.
With respect to feminist social theory, it should be noted that amongst second-wave feminists there has been a considerable discussion over the meaning of ‘feminism’, and whether any unity between different perspectives can be assumed. Indeed, instead of ‘feminism’, it has been suggested to speak of ‘feminisms’ (Maynard, 1989). However, on a more general level, the feminist social theory has been described as that which “addresses the broad question of how and why women come to be subordinated, and offers analysis of the social and cultural processes through which that subordinated is perpetuated” (Jackson, 1993:3). As for the political project of feminism, Michèlle Barrett pointed out, that “feminism is very hard to conceive without the experiential dimensions of women’s sense of oppression and without a vision of change” (1988:v). With respect to gender based violence against women, there is no unified feminist perspective on the etiology of this subject as well; nonetheless, all ‘feminisms’ and their provided critiques have had a significant impact on disclosing the invisibility of this problem, reducing its ignorance, as well as have impacted the intervention almost all over the world. The global concern about this problem is reflected in recent successful attempts to have violence gainst women formally recognized by the United Nations (UN) as a violation of human rights
Since the end of the sixth decade gender based violence has become one of the most controversial topics in general social sciences discourse as well, as different schools of thought sought to implement their own perspectives on the issue. Despite more than three decades of scholarly work and activism against gender based violence, little consensus has yet been reached on the etiology of the subject. The task of the coherent theory building has been hampered by the narrowness of traditional academic disciplines, and by the tendency of both academics and activists to advance single-factor theories rather than the explanations that reflect the full complexity of the subject. To date the theories of gender based violence have been strongly influenced by either the biases of psychology, sociology, and criminology, or the ideological and political agendas of feminist activism. The issue also has long been skewed toward Western countries and lacked the global concern which preoccupied the field only very recently. The theorists have begun to acknowledge that a complete understanding of male to female intimate violence may require outlining and analyzing factors on multiple levels, including the sensitivity to different social contexts, which shape its social acceptability and meaning (Crowell & Burgess, 1996). The conditions that enable the creation of particular forms of knowledge, support and intervention in different contexts are very diverse. Where basic subsistence is fragile, the national and regional conflict is extensive, or the ruling ideology is authoritarian or militaristic, the disclosure and discussion of the private, gender based concerns, deemed essential elsewhere, are unlikely to happen. In such circumstances, these issues largely remain personal or local histories, and are very rarely documented in public.
In Western societies there are certain trends in how gender based violence emerged onto the public agenda and was responded by the social sciences community in terms of defining the issue and discussing the possible intervention strategies. Multiple theories surrounding the etiology of wife abuse came from a range of disciplines, such as anthropology, psychiatry, sociology, criminology, social work and psychology, and subsequently feature a variety of hypothetical constructs. There are themes within this diverse field of theories, which transcend disciplines and tie seemingly different theories together through shared conceptualizations, metaphors, and definitions of what constructs and mechanisms underlie the subject. These implicit themes can be located within the broader socio-cultural meaning systems or discourses. The discourse here refers to an interrelated system of statements, not necessarily exclusive, which are bound by common meanings and values. These meaning systems construct objects, identities, and social organizations through distinct categorizations, descriptions, and metaphors of what is real (Foucault, 1972).
The five discourses, identified here, as informing and constituting the social scientific discursive field of wife abuse are pathology, expressive tension, instrumental power strategy, social system and learned behavior. In distinguishing between these discourses, this study aims at producing an account of their central constructs and dominant metaphors, the contextual location of each discourse within the broader histories of discursive meanings on which they draw, and which they reflect and reproduce, the subjectivities they engender, and the implications they have for the social world.
Violence as a Pathology
In the first attempts to explain violence against women and children, it was predominantly understood and constructed as being a rare and abnormal phenomenon in the Western context, explained through pathological reasoning of behavior, of which violence against women was considered to be one symptom. The pathologies can be as diverse as biological anomalies, abnormal personality traits, abusive families of origin, and alcoholism on the part of offender as well as violence survivor. The violence against woman as a pathology discourse powerfully informed the contemporary field of gender based violence through psychopathological theories of violence as abnormal behavior and manifestation of mental illness (Dutton, 1988; O’Neill, 1998). The various clinical classifications and diagnoses, used to describe this illness, include depression, passive or aggressive personality disorders, neurosis, psychosis, or alcoholism. The psychodynamic explanations at that time tended to focus on the underlying psychodynamics of violent men’s pure impulse control. Gender based violence, accordingly, was seen as a result of traumatic childhood events or/and ambivalent attachments with significant others (Adams, 1988; Bowlby, 1984). More recent psychological offenders’ profiles suggested that violent man suffered from cognitive, affective, or behavioral deficits in various attributes, such as low self-esteem, an inability to express feelings, a fear of intimacy, an inability to trust in relationship, or poor communication skills (Carden, 1994).
Another factor, referred to as a disease, and which has occupied a prominent place in the gender based violence as pathology discourse, is alcohol factor. Early accounts, which draw on alcohol as a reason of male to female violence, usually render a violent man as being temporarily abnormal (Gelles & Straus, 1979; O’Neill, 1998). Alcoholism as an explanation of violence usually draws, according to O’Neill (1998:460), on “a combination of pathological and expressive tension discursive resources, in which the violent man is considered to be out of control, both through a diminished sense of what is real and through the depressant of frustration tolerance and disinhibition of aggressive drives from within”.
Victim precipitation theories also constituted a part in the very primary stage of theorizing about gender based violence in Western scientific discourse. They propose that violence survivors possess characteristics that trigger their victimization, such as desiring abuse, possessing overbearing and controlling personalities, or/and otherwise engaging in provocative behaviors. The variations of her behavior may include an excessive nagging or/and verbally or emotionally attacking the man to the extent of undue stress upon their partners (Finkelhor, 1980; Goode, 1971; Walker, 1986). The Freudian masochistic model enters here, which implies that some women, to satisfy their unconscious need for suffering and their pleasure in pain, provoke the violent behavior of their partner’s against themselves (Walker, 1986).
The psychological profiles of the offender and violence survivor, presented above, were constructed through clinical classifications and psychiatric diagnoses, based on observations and psychometric testing. The epidemiological studies of small clinical samples later developed into the more extensive studies based on larger and wider samples, including incidence measures, using random sampling techniques, which opened broader field for discussions and discursive resources.
Violence as an Outcome of Expressive Tension
Instrumental and expressive accounts of violence, as significant typologies of aggression, employed within the social sciences in general, constitute further discourses, used within the field of domestic violence. Expressive violence refers to violent acts, which are used as ends in themselves. They are thought to be driven by impulse forces – anger or tension - from within, and usually imply causing threat or pain to the source of distress (Berkowitz, 1983; Gelles & Straus, 1979; Steinmetz, 1986). Instrumental violence, however, refers to violence as a means to an end – to induce another person to carry out some act or refrain from an act- and is presented in the framework of instrumental violence discourse below.
The expressive tension discourse arguments in the field of domestic violence, which was perceived to be expressive of innate aggressive tension, were mainly based on instinct theories of human aggression, such as those of Freud and Lorenz
. The sociologists of family, working within this discourse, developed an argument of a particular social structure of the family to their analysis (Hotaling & Straus, 1980; Farrington, 1980). They have argued that the potential of expressive violence in the family is greater than in any other social group, because family members usually spend much more time interacting to each other than in any other social environment, as well as the scope of interaction and activities is large and diverse. Moreover, any family conflict or stress is much more intense, because of their highly personal nature.
The social structural theorists of violence further revealed that the families of lower socioeconomic status are particularly vulnerable to frustrations, stress and tensions. As O’Neill (1998:462) pointed out, lower socioeconomic groups are structurally predisposed to greater marital conflicts as they “have fewer life chances, frustrations are higher, combined with the greater stresses, associated with poverty and a lack of skills and resources to deal with them effectively”. This discourse, again, positions the offender as being a subject to powerful forces, over which he has a little control. It also failed to explain, why not all socio-economically deprived families are violent, and that the incidence male to female violence is no less a problem in upper social classes as well.
The pathology and inner tension/frustration discourses, which prevailed over the first attempts to explain gender based violence, positions an offender mainly as being a victim of an etiology, which is beyond his power and full responsibility. The following research, documentation of violent cases, and feminist activism in this field had exposed the predominantly gendered nature of violence that crosses the boundaries of class, ethnicity, age, identity, ability, or locality. The explanations of the phenomenon then considerably expanded to locate the problem in a broader analysis of gender politics and the social context in general.
Instrumental Power Strategy
Instrumental violence refers to intentional threat or use of force as a means to an end, or as a strategy, which is beyond the pure releasing of inner tensions. The theorists, who applied the instrumentality dimension in their conception of violence, faced a difficulty and were criticized for using this dichotomy as a single dimension. The problem here is that both expressiveness and instrumentality are not necessarily mutually exclusive. As Gelles (1979: 557) points out, “there will be many situations where an instrumentally focused violent act also contains strong expressive components”. In spite of a big complexity, many violent acts, nevertheless, may be identified as primarily instrumental within a reasonable reliability, and expressive/instrumental dichotomy may, thus, serve as a useful analytical tool to grasp the broader picture of the phenomenon under consideration.
This perspective views offenders as fully conscious, rational, and goal directed human beings, who use violence intentionally as immediate and effective instrument to achieve these goals. As an individual is at the center of his/her intentional motives and actions, they frequently lead to meaningful conflicts between individuals, with violence being one of the means to resolve them. There are several theories, crossing different disciplines, which inform about instrumental power discourse in their formulation of the problem.
The conflict perspective within the sociological tradition assumes the conflict as inevitable part of human interaction. Imbalances and tensions of self-interests are thought to occur between interrelated parts within any social group and system. Family is particularly vulnerable to conflicts, because of the multiple and conflicting interests of family members, also its exclusively private nature, and resistance to public interference. Violence in this system serves as a powerful mode of advancing one’s interests when other modes of conflict management fail
. Similarly, resource theory, as articulated by Goode (1971), assumes that all social systems rest to some degree on force or its threat, and that the members of a system have vested interests in the way the system is organized. He also argues (ibid
.), that the greater resources a person can command, the more force he can muster. Violence is, thus, viewed as an instrument or ultimate resource to maintain or advance one’s interests when other resources, such as little education or low income, are insufficient or lacking. The use of violence is further influenced by societal norms, maintaining its appropriateness as a method of sustaining power.
One of the most controversial theoretical insights within the instrumental violence discourse was proposed by the exchange/social control theory on domestic violence, drawing on concepts from classical economics and behavioral psychology
. It asserts that in intimate interaction partners are engaged in cost-benefit analysis of their exchange relations and expect rewards to be proportional to investments, considering the reciprocity in the light of possible alternatives. As an insight into understanding family violence, it means that if a man can be violent to get his way facing little costs, such as ineffective police intervention, wife’s incapability to leave an abusive partner, silent community, and such, then he is more likely to use violent strategies. Exchange theory particularly stresses the “privatization’” of violence and institutional response to the problem, which implicate potential costs and rewards on the part of offender. One of the major criticisms of this theory is that the lack of reciprocity in the family is much more complex than in other less permanent or less normatively structured groups. Even if reciprocal exchange on the part of offender or violence survivor is not achieved, in many cases the interaction continues, due to the lack of alternatives to gain rewards from. In reaction to the criticism, the continued violent interaction analysis was extended by calling upon the Homan’s concept of “distributive justice” – “justice” in the distribution of outcomes. When this principle is violated, that is “when a person’s activity does not receive the reward he expected or receives punishment he did not expect, he will be angry, and in anger, the results of aggressive behavior are rewarding” (Homans, 1967:35).
The violence as an instrumental power strategy was also highlighted in the psychological accounts of the subject, which had been mostly focused on violence as an individual struggle to deal with negative self-attitudes, arising out of devaluating psychosocial experiences (Kaplan, 1972)
. Violence as a means, in this account, is facilitated by cultural and sub-cultural settings that covertly or overtly encourage aggressive behavior.
The feminist perspective on instrumental use of violence provides the most solid, diverse, and empirically grounded theoretical account, drawing from more than one discursive resource, discussed here. Feminists have extensively criticized the theoretical accounts, presented in this part of the study, for their gender-neutral explanations, thus, omitting and ignoring the essential nature of the problem. Instead of examining primarily the etiology, frequency and severity of violence, feminist researches brought into the field the more complex conception of intimate violence, as well as different qualitative and multi-methodological approaches. Their perspective enabled to capture the subtle and complex nature of the subject and located it into the wider historical, cultural, or institutional context, in which this practice is created, culturally supported and, even encouraged.
Although there are many feminist schools, all of them agree that male to female violence is an explicit manifestation of masculine instrumental power strategy, which serves to create and maintain male dominance, and female subordination in the family, and society in general (Dobash & Dobash, 1992; Yllö & Bograd, 1988; Boasdottir, 1998; Reingardienë, 1997). From the normative social system discourse, feminist position strongly argue that male to female violence cannot be separated from the patriarchal ideology, normative foundations, and institutional arrangements in society, sexist norms, and historical legacy of male dominance, which socialize men, support and legitimate their violent behavior towards women.
In summary, the violence as an instrumental power strategy discourse exposes the variety of theoretical arguments, which cohere around the same, instrumental purpose: to end conflicts of interest, to get one’s way, to increase one’s self-worth or establish a positive identity, as well as to approve normative expectations. Finally, it is a legitimate authoritative device to preserve a masculine power and dominance.
Normative Support of Violence
This discursive position suggests that it is norms and values, surrounding masculinity, femininity, family, and heterosexual relationship within the culture at large, that constitute the problem of gender based violence, and inform about its widespread prevalence. This discursive innovation, which had formally developed within the new disciplines of sociology and anthropology, challenged the biological approaches to individual and collective behavior (O’Neill, 1998). The cultural constructionist movement that pervades the social sciences today positions the violence as a logical extension of the broader cultural norms and social practices. In this discourse the emphasis is placed on how individuals act within the ideological constraints of the social system. The rationality of the system is positioned as a more powerful determinant of violent behavior than the purely instrumental purposes of individual.
The subculture of violence thesis, developed by Wolfgang and Ferracuti (1967), asserts that there are specific sub-cultural groups in the society, which develop norms and values legitimating the use of physical force to a greater extent than it is accepted by the dominant culture. Even though the theorists found the lower socioeconomic group being particularly prone to accept and practice violence, the further investigations approved the existence of discrete, overtly sexist, and violent male peer subcultures independently of the socioeconomic factor (O’Neill, 1998). Later theoretical considerations extended this perspective to incorporate the violent society as a whole, with the violence accepting norms prevailing in every segment of the society. Family norms in many societies permit family member to physically discipline each other, especially for the purposes of child rearing, where such violence is viewed as a “private matter” and exclusively the problem of the family itself. As the distinguishing characteristics within the conventional interpretive scheme of acceptable vs. intolerable violence, Loseke (1992) pointed to the societal consideration of the extremity of violent behavior, resultant actual injury, judgment of the intent of the person using it, and the worthiness of the reason. This violence categorization scheme is much more complicated in domestic violence cases, as they have long been subjected to different moral and judgmental criteria.
Sex-role socialization theory also has a big explanatory value in this discursive context. It highlights the masculine socialization practices that encourage men to be competitive, tough, aggressive, unemotional, and/or objectifying. The appropriate sex role stereotypes as well as men’s perceived right to control and dominate in the family also bears directly on the socialization process. Besides it puts a big emphasis on the homophobic nature of masculine ideology, in which an intimacy or support among men are commonly feared to be viewed as too emotional, thus feminine. Women’s socialization also has a prominent meaning in this discourse. Being taught to be obedient and submissive to their husbands, they are often prone to self-blaming and long term suffering within the violent relationship. This is maintained within and supported by the misogynist cultural traditions that devalue women and often overtly regard them with contempt (Bograd, 1988; Dobash & Dobash, 1979). Pornography, for example, encourages the objectification and violence against women. As Valverde (Valverde quoted by Nikolic-Ristanovic, 2001:284) points out, “whether or not violent, porn actually causes violence, women do feel violated by its imaginary”. The constructions of images of violence against women and female sexuality (prostitution, trafficking in women, sexual crime) intentionally and powerfully work to undermine femininity. Women are mainly presented as sexual objects or simple goods, performing in offering, provocative and helpless positions, those who enjoy to be subordinated and accept coercion, admiring signs of aggressive masculinity in men, and desperate to be used by them, deprived of their human dimension, and are often morally condemned. The emphasis is usually placed on the important bits of female body for the purposes of male sexual gratification - so that a woman is reduced to nothing but her sexual parts. In case of sexual violence, the traditional opposition between men’s uncontrollable sexual needs and women as passive sexual objects, and men’s property in marital union, or as a provoking actor in public spheres is constructed and used further to justify the violence, and blame the victim. Men’s sexuality and aggression are shown as naturally connected. Femininity is, thus, being constructed around the compliance with women’s subordination, and is oriented towards accommodating the interests and desires of men. Women, even when represented in what, on the surface, looks like a purely feminine world (like women’s magazines), are in fact always defined under the male surveillance. As Berry (1995) pointed it out, man is everywhere around, he presses on all sides, he makes everything exist; he is in all eternity the creative absence; the feminine world of women’s magazines and representations - a world without men, but entirely constituted by the gaze of man. In this way, the femininity and the cultural construction of hegemonic masculinity perform as being mutually complementary and powerful enforcers to each other. Together these constructions imply the maintenance of practices that institutionalize men’s dominance over women, including the gendered violence in the private realm (Connell, 1987). The images of femininity and masculinity in media that represent the “natural order” also reflect the gender naturalization, or gender difference essencialism. The effect comes not only from the specialized magazines, but is obvious in the culture as a whole, in daily newspapers, advertisements, or movies on TV.
The brief outline of the above discourse reveals the powerful effect of the normative social system and ideological constraints in society that provide a context, in which gender based violence is constructed and constrained. Because culture exists prior to any individual, “it is the norms and values surrounding violence, masculinity, femininity, family, and heterosexual relationship within the culture at large that constitute the problem and causeof men’s violence toward their partners” (O’Neill, 1998:467). Gender experiences are seen as being grounded in and reflecting the cultural heritage and ideological constraints of any specific historical and social context.
Violence as Learned Behavior
This discourse is mainly based on social-psychological theories of social learning, which account for violent behavior as a learned phenomenon. The diverse social psychological studies analyze the process of learning through experience and exposure to violence, and imitation. Some of them examine how the exposure to violence and experience of it lead to learning of violence-prone norms, while the other focus on learning through viewing violence in an appropriate role model (Bandura, 1977)
. Bandura’s model demonstrates that violent behavior develops through observation and reinforcement. At a behavioral level, he claims, violence becomes more likely response, when non violent responses for dealing with conflicting and stressful situations have not been modelled in a persons learning history, thus, as O’Neill (1998:468) interpreted it, “do not feature as options in the person’s current behavioral repertoire”. Violence also gets a more likely outcome, when it has been rewarded in the past. When applied to violence against women, this theory, more often termed as intergenerational transmission of violence, suggests that violence is learned through socialization practices in the family, which serves as a training ground for violence and provides examples for imitation, and role models (O’Leary, 1988). Besides the family, Bandura (1977) pointed to other two powerful violence- socialization sources: culture/subculture and the media. He argued that the media desensitizes viewers to violence through repeated acts, demonstrates rationalization for committing violent acts, and teaches actual methods of aggression.
Social learning theory was also used to examine how an interaction between victim and offender contributes to the continuance of violence. Leonore Walker (1979) developed a cycle of violence approach, which is based on social learning and reinforcement. She elaborated three stages in man’s violence against his intimate partner, wherein tension builds first, then violence takes place, and, finally, the violence reinforcing phase of repentant, respectful, and loving period ensues that is followed eventually by tension building again. The important point here is that violence in longer terms becomes a recurring behavioral dynamic in intimate partners’ relationship, consequently increasing in frequency and extremity (Follingstad et al
, 1992). Furthermore, Walker (1984) introduced the term of women’s learned helplessness
that results from women’s unsuccessful attempts to control their abusive partners together with abusers’ unpredictable pattern of behavior. It further interferes with the women’s ability to leave the relationship (Jasinsky, 2001).
With its expressive tension release and instrumental motivation instigators, operating within the broader context of cultural values and beliefs, the social learning discourse is very compatible with other discursive positions discussed above, but, nevertheless, is not reducible to them.
The discourses outlined above presents the diversity in conceptualizing the etiology of gender based violence and complexity of the issues, involved in explaining and accounting for this problem in family and society in general. This overview also demonstrates the incompatibility of different accounts of human agency and subjectivity, presupposed in every discourse. In one discourse, an offender is a rational being with his intentional and instrumental purposes, who is fully responsible for his choices of action course. In another account, the perpetrator’s behavior is driven either by his abnormal state of personal well-being or by his inner passions and tensions, which need a release and are difficult to control. Still other discourses construct violent men as relatively passive agents, located within the powerful forces of cultural norms and beliefs, or as being products of their learning experience what, again, places the violent incidents outside an individual responsibility. These multiple contradictory insights expose a solid complexity within the field and open it for sound theoretical debates and controversies.
In recent years, many social scientists working on gender based violence and women activists have come to acknowledge that, although different theoretical positions and discursive accounts offer multiple sound insights into the problem, no one of them, on its own, is fully inclusive and adequate in providing the full complexity of the phenomenon (Gelles & Straus,1979; Dutton, 1988; Farrington, 1980; Fineman & Mykitiuk,1994; Finkelhor et al, 1980; Gelles & Cornell,1990; Bograd, 1992). Rather then working within a single theoretical perspective, however, the theorists have recommended, and the research practice has approved the rationale of bringing an integrated “both/and” position into the analysis of intimate partners’ violence in any social and cultural context.
The feminist perspective on gender based violence provides the most solid and empirically grounded multilevel theoretical account integrating more than one discursive resource discussed above. Gender and power integration into analysis provides the pattern that is understandable only through the contextualization of the phenomenon and its location within the broader context of patriarchal social structure.
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