What is the relationship between male power and domestic violence?
When discussing the relationship between male power and domestic violence it is first important to distinguish what domestic violence is. The government defines domestic violence as:
‘Any incident of threatening behaviour, violence or abuse (psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional) between adults who are or have been intimate partners or family members, regardless of gender or sexuality.’ (www.domesticviolencelondon.nhs.uk)
While this definition includes the term ‘regardless of gender’, it is useful to the argument to mention that the vast majority of domestic violence is perpetrated by men against women. By viewing the crime and justice statistics on the Scottish government website (www.Scotland.gov.uk), it can be seen that 81% of all domestic violence in 2011/2012 had a male perpetrator and a female victim. Therefore it can be argued that there is a significant relationship between male power, or perceived male dominance, and domestic violence.
Firstly, it is important to look into the aspect of male power and dominance in society before looking at the relationship between male power and domestic violence. Ann Oakley (1974) identifies two main ways in which gender affects a woman’s life chances. The first is that it reduces educational prospects and the second, that it reduces employment prospects. With regards to employment prospects, The Guardian newspaper published a 2011 survey indicating that 73% of female managers still believed that a ‘glass ceiling’ still exists in the workplace. In other words, 73% of female managers asked in the survey, believe that obstacles still exist or women looking for senior management and board level positions. This demonstrates that a male dominance and power still exists in the upper ‘echelons’ of the work place and that an established patriarchy exists. This means that there is a male domination of ‘top jobs’ and oppression against women seeking these same ‘top jobs’.
Macionis and Plummer (2012) identify ‘domestic labour’ as another form of patriarchy. This extends into private home life, gives an example of a typically ‘female’ role and therefore connotes a male dominance and power in the home.
Having mentioned domestic violence and male power separately, it is now crucial to the understanding of why domestic violence occurs, to discuss the significant relationship between male power and domestic violence.
From a feminist viewpoint, with a patriarchal society in mind; whether it is male dominance in the work place or at home, it can be argued that one strategy to keep this patriarchy in place is by using violence or the fear of violence against women. It would be ludicrous to suggest that all men use violence or the fear of violence to maintain a ‘gender hierarchy’ (Macionis & Plummer, 2012). However there is evidence to suggest that at the top level of society, in particular the ‘lawmakers’, there is a level of patriarchy which is in place. For example, as recent as 1991 rape was legal within marriage in England and Wales (Baldock, J. et al. 2007). This example is dangerously close to condoning domestic violence, in this case rape within marriage, and shows and adherence to patriarchal ideology (Saeed Ahmad Watto, 2009.). This may be down to the vast majority of top positions in government being held by men. Following on from this, it could be argued that the fact rape within marriage was legal before 1991, reflects the male dominated legal system as well as the political system. It can also be claimed, and is by feminists, that this male dominance and power is transferred down throughout society and that domestic violence is a result of the patriarchal view of women’s subordination, and is in fact an attempt to maintain the make power and dominance in society by keeping women in fear of violence or actually being abused.
Following on from the point made about how male power is ‘transferred’ down throughout society, John Archer cites Walker (1989) in his book Male Violence:
‘The feminist political agenda analysis has reframed the problem of violence against women as one of misuse of power by men who have been socialized into believing that they have a right to control the women in their lives, even through violent means.’
This summarises the feminist perspective on domestic violence effectively as it suggests that it is an abuse of power by men who have been made to believe that they have a ‘right of dominance’ over women.
Others argue that domestic violence is down to individual problems, rather that social. Reasons such as mental illness or damaging childhood experiences are often given for domestic abuse. This kind of explanation aims to blame the victim of the abuse, often suggesting that they have done something to provoke the abuser. While sometimes individual problems can be the cause, an individualistic approach fails to take into account the matter of male dominance and power which abusers generally seek to assert over their victims.
In addition to the feminist argument relating to the relationship between male power and domestic violence, it can also be argued that male power and patriarchal ideology comes from a religious background where women are seen as inferior to men. In some Christian, Islamic, Mormon and other religious societies, women are seen as inferior to men. This therefore has a direct effect on the position and role of females in the home and in wider society. Subsequently, a valid argument would be that domestic violence would occur more often in a home, or society, that believes women are the property, or are beneath, both intellectually and physically, their male partners. As with the other arguments, this shows a directly significant relationship between male power and domestic violence and ties in with the feminist perspective of a male patriarchal belief that men have the right to control the women in their lives, even if that means through abuse and violence.
To conclude, there is a direct and significant relationship between male power and domestic violence. That is not to say that a patriarchal ideology is the sole reason for domestic violence, as there are other factors such as individual problems which can be to blame for violence in the household as well. However it is a valid argument to suggest that male power and dominance, in the form of a distorted belief that men have a right to control their partners through violence or fear of violence, is a major reason for domestic violence which explains the significance of the relationship with male power.
© Copyright 2016 Stuart Pirie. All rights reserved.