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Gender and Domestic Violence
Discussions of domestic violence almost always implicate modern gender norms because of the assumption that gender norms overtly and subtly promote the idea of violence against women. First, social roles about masculinity mean that, almost across cultures, it is the male role to protect and provide for the family, which includes an element of control over female family members. Next, there is the notion that some societies or social subgroups may normalize domestic violence, which does not appear to be true. Instead, gender norms suggesting that women have less relative worth than men promote domestic violence, and exist across most modern cultures. Therefore, addressing areas of basic gender inequality should help reduce the rate of intimate partner violence. Increasing access to education, not only for females but also for their male partners, has been linked with a reduction in domestic violence. Reducing the age gap between female and male partners is linked to a reduction in risk to younger female partners. Likewise, closing the wage gap between men and women should help reduce rates of violence. While all of the above information is critical, it is also important to realize that domestic violence occurs on multiple levels, and, while it may be largely a gendered problem in society as a whole, there are male victims, and a gendered approach to violence often leaves them without adequate resources. As a result, gender must always be considered in any discussion of domestic violence, whether macro or micro, so that the impact of gender norms on individual behavior and societal norms can be fully understood.
While most societies do not have gender norms that overtly promote violence against women, but actually suggest that the positive aspects of maleness suggest that it is the male role to protect women from harm, rather than harming them, they do have norms that facilitate the social aspects of domestic violence. There are three main components to the idea of positive masculinity. First, males exercise sexual domination over women in order to effectuate procreation. Second, men practice protection over women and children. Third, men are responsible for providing financially for their families (Kersten 1996). On the surface, all three of these gender norms seems as if they would promote unity and be helpful in the small family setting. For example, a father exercising sexual control over an adolescent daughter would ensure that she remains sexually inactive until she is matched with a male mate capable of protection and provision. However, that attitude of male control of female sexuality promotes rape culture ideals. Furthermore, the notion that men exercise protection over women and children also implies property and ownership, both of which have been implicated as high-risk factors for lethal violence in domestic violence scenarios where female victims are leaving male abusers. In addition, the notion that men should provide for their families ignores the reality in many cultures where women are the heads of households and creates a situation where women may be financially dependent upon men. Therefore, these overarching cultural ideals of masculinity impact domestic violence rates, even though they do not overtly promote, and may actually seem to discourage, violence against women.
It is important to understand that pro-domestic violence beliefs in society are rarely overt. While, many people believe that some cultures have normalized domestic violence that is generally not the case. While this may be true in extremist sub-cultures within the broader culture at large, the reality is that even in communities with high rates of domestic violence, domestic violence is not considered a normative behavior (Fanslow et al. 2010). What is normative in many of those societies, however, is an attitude that is permissive of the idea of a culture of violence towards women. Cultural attitudes that degrade women may encourage domestic violence, even in cultures where domestic violence is not, itself, considered a normative behavior. This apparent duality reflects a disconnect between cultural norms and reality and suggests that the overall attitude towards women in a society is better able to predict the rates of violence against women in that society than the specific attitude towards domestic violence.
One of the primary gender questions surrounding domestic violence is whether domestic violence is a gendered societal problem or merely a private problem linked to dysfunctional home circumstances. The feminist perspective is that domestic violence is, indeed, a gender-based problem. In fact, the idea of female victimization and the development of domestic violence as a specific crime are crucial elements in the feminist approach to criminology. After all, in order for domestic violence to be seen as criminal behavior, it first has to be defined as deviant behavior, and then labeled so deviant that it is criminal. However, this focus on domestic violence does not only case women as victims; it also impacts how men are seen under the law. "The focus on the 'private' harms perpetrated within the home in domestic violence, and physical and sexual abuse of children, alter the gender ratio adversely for men since they are largely, though not exclusively, the offenders in such crimes" (Heidensohn & Gelthorpe YEAR).
The feminist perspective finds support in practical evidence reaped from work with domestic violence victims. For most people who have worked in domestic violence, the disparate impact of male violence on women and children makes it clear that domestic violence is not simply about family dynamics, but a way of expressing cultural norms and expectations in the family unit. The cultural message is that women and children have less worth than adult males, which makes it acceptable, in many ways, for males to abuse females. Moreover, surrounding society helps perpetuate this culture by creating conditions that help prevent victims from leaving. However, this notion has been challenged by some recent studies suggesting that women may actually perpetrate violence against their male partners at higher rates than men perpetrate violence against their female partners (Cui et al. 2013). The problem with such a survey is that it assumes that male and female violence are equal and that they share the same motivations. From that perspective, an increase in self-reports of female violence in intimate relationships suggests that women may feel greater empowerment in heterosexual relationships than they did previously, which would account for greater levels of violence by women in those relationships. However, Kristin Anderson asks a good question, "Are people who feel more empowered in their relationships more likely to use violence against their partners than those who feel less empowered?" (2013).
Perhaps one of the primary ways that gender norms can impact life expectations is through access to education. It should come as no surprise, then, that limiting a woman's access to education increases the likelihood that she will be a victim of domestic violence. Even more interesting is that this impact appears to be a relative one. In other words, when primary education is the norm for males and females, then completion of primary education does not have an impact where it reduces domestic violence. However, when primary education is not a societal norm, then completion of primary education can reduce the likelihood of intimate partner violence. Moreover, generally, the higher the educational levels of both a woman and her partner, the less the likelihood of intimate partner violence (Abramsky et al. 2011).
Additionally, cultural expectations suggest that older-male younger-female relationship dyads are normative, while older-female/younger-male relationship dyads are not normative. This means that it is not unusual to find younger females with older male partners. One way this gender expectation impacts domestic violence is by impacting the power structure in relationships. For example, adolescent girls who are in intimate relationships with older male partners face greater sexual health risks than adolescent girls in relationships with adolescent male partners. Most notably, these girls were less likely to consistently use condoms in their sexual interactions (Volpe et al. 2013). Not only would this expose the girls to greater risk of disease, but also increase their chances of unwanted pregnancy. Unwanted pregnancies impact domestic violence.
One way that gender impacts domestic violence is because financial abuse is oftentimes a component of domestic violence. When women are more dependent upon male partners for financial support, they may be less likely to leave a violent situation because of a fear that they are unable to be self-supporting. Likewise, it may be possible that the expectations that men be the breadwinners not only gives them relatively more power in a relationship, but also puts more pressure upon them. This combination of stressors may lead to higher levels of violence. Many people would assume the natural conclusion of the link between finances and domestic violence to be greater violence among those who are impoverished. However, it is important to remember the idea of relative disparity and how that would influence perceptions of power in different income groups. Anna Aizer posited that when the gender wage gap decreases, a woman's household bargaining power increases, which leads to a reduction in domestic violence.…[continue]
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