Heroes of their Own Lives: The Politics and History of Family Violence," by Linda Gordon. Specifically, it will contain a book review of the book. Linda Gordon's book discusses the history of family violence in Boston Massachusetts from 1880 through 1960. It is a topic not often discussed, and the history of family violence in its many forms may be even more disturbing than the existence of this violence in our modern families.
HEROES OF THEIR OWN LIVES
The author's clear purpose in writing this compelling and disturbing book was to chronicle the history of family violence in Boston from 1880-1960. She wrote the book because the topic of family violence has become so much more prevalent in our society, and as it has increased, so has public awareness of the problems. Gordon notices "family violence had had virtually no history; that most who discussed it - experts, journalists, friends - assumed they were discussing a new problem" (Gordon 2). Thus, Gordon, who had no background in the topic, set out to write a volume that would not only look into modern family violence, but also look back at family violence in history, setting the record straight. She also notes, "The central argument of this book is that family violence has been historically and politically constructed" (Gordon 3).
Gordon proves her argument in a variety of ways. She notes that child abuse was not considered a problem until the 1870s, (Gordon 27), and even then, the issue did not focus on abuse at the hands of family members. She maintains that history and political thought have redefined how we look at family violence, and this is one reason it began to get more attention in the 1960s and 1970s. Early child protection did not protect children from their violent family members; it protected children from poverty and exploitation by employers. As one reviewer notes,
In cities such as New York and Boston, "child savers" collected poor children and sent them out to work on Midwest farms. In some cases, the children were actually auctioned off to farmers. Reformers did not bother to investigate conditions in these homes, even though many farm families were obviously seeking cheap labor (Coontz 132).
To begin to prove her argument, Gordon illustrates just how family violence protection and investigation has changed throughout the years, as this example clearly illustrates. How family violence was viewed politically also greatly changed the way it was viewed in society, as other researchers have noted.
Such concepts and popular images deeply affected what was viewed as normal behavior. Women were responsible for making happy homes. As a consequence, contact with a helping professional made the battered woman feel even more isolated and blameworthy for her own and her children's fate (Weitzman 44).
Family violence was somehow viewed as the woman's fault, so it was not recognized, and certainly, the batterers were not treated. However, Gordon does not touch this issue until far more than the halfway point in the book. Battering and spousal abuse takes a backstage to child abuse and incest, yet, spousal abuse seems to be the more prevalent topic heard about in today's news.
The author used many different sources for her research, but she relied heavily on social worker records. Because she did not want to rely on cases that were still currently open (at the time of the book's writing), she did not conduct research into cases newer than 1960. She uses studies and records from social work agencies for much of her background and research in the topic, which is unusual, because these records are often overlooked when writing about social issues. She also interviewed hundreds of victims of family violence in completing her book, and utilized court records of cases related to family violence and abuse.
Gordon not only used some unusual records for some of her research, she also completely dissolves some of the myths about family violence, especially where female victims are concerned. She notes early in the book,
Although the outcomes of family violence are not predictable, nevertheless virtually all of it is conditioned in some way by sexual equality. This does not mean that the women in these struggles were always or even usually 'better' - kindler,…