Critically evaluate the main explanations of violence against women

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The primary aim of this essay is to analyze different theories and interpretations concerning violence against women, with a specific focus on investigating the historical context of domestic violence. The essay will emphasize how perspectives and approaches towards this problem have evolved throughout time.

There have been multiple academic theories proposed to explain domestic violence. However, it is crucial to recognize that women who undergo this violence can belong to different age groups, backgrounds, and ethnic communities. The primary forms of abuse are physical and sexual, typically taking place within the household. Nevertheless, detecting such violence proves difficult as women frequently postpone seeking assistance for various reasons.

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The economic necessity greatly affects the reluctance to seek assistance for domestic violence. Regardless of the reason, it is important to remember that domestic violence significantly reduces a woman’s self-confidence. The insufficient support from official services makes it more understandable why women remain in abusive relationships. Throughout history, violence against women at home has consistently been an issue. Women have often been viewed as belongings owned by their husbands instead of being treated as equals.

The traditional role of women throughout history has been to ensure their husbands’ satisfaction and meet their domestic and sexual desires. This form of patriarchal control, known as “chastisement,” was widely accepted and seen as necessary for maintaining social order (Dobash; Dobash 1980). Additionally, in 1915, a London Police Magistrate ruled that a husband could legally physically harm his nagging wife, as long as the instrument used was no thicker than a man’s thumb (Young 1976 cited in Dobash; Dobash 1980: 74). Both society and the legal system supported men’s right to privacy, offering limited protection for women who faced abuse from their partners.

Married women have historically experienced extensive domestic violence, an ongoing issue that remains unaddressed. However, the Women’s Liberation Movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s played a crucial part in instigating significant changes to combat this type of violence. This period saw women uniting and raising awareness about matters related to domestic, interpersonal, and sexual violence.

The first Women’s Aid Federation was established in 1974 by women to offer shelters specifically for women and their siblings. Initially, there were 40 refuge groups, but the number increased to over one hundred by 1977 (WAFE 2001). However, at that time, it was challenging for women who suffered from domestic violence to receive legal protection unless they were going through a divorce. Additionally, being homeless due to domestic violence did not qualify as a valid justification.

The Women’s Aid Federation’s ongoing efforts to alter the legal system led to the enactment of the initial Domestic Violence Act in 1976. This act granted married or cohabiting women the ability to obtain a court order to prevent further violence and exclude their abusive partners from the shared residence (Womensaid. org. uk 2001:3). Furthermore, within a year, domestic violence was explicitly incorporated into legislation addressing homelessness.

According to the referenced source, victims of abuse who were women and children were categorized as having ‘priority need,’ which meant that local authorities were responsible for finding them alternative housing. However, the police’s perspective and actions regarding domestic violence have been slower to evolve. They used to see domestic violence as a private issue occurring within the family. Some argue that the police deliberately refrained from making arrests in domestic violence cases (Hilton 1993; Bourlet 1990).

However, in 1990, the Home Office Circular recommended that the police should intervene in cases of domestic violence. As a result, the Greater Manchester Police established a force-wide policy and created specific Domestic Violence Officer positions within the Family support Units. The monitoring of policy and legislation by Women’s Aid has also played a role in shaping laws such as the Housing Act and Family law Act of 1996 (WAFE 2001). Today, domestic violence is no longer a silenced issue, and violence against women is now a public concern. Tierney summarized this shift by stating that wife beating has gained attention from the media and government not due to an increase in frequency or public concern, but because of the efforts of a social movement in the 1970s to support battered women (Cited in; Barnett 1993:86). Nevertheless, although it is no longer legally recognized for men to beat their wives in Western countries, there remains widespread resistance among perpetrators to acknowledge domestic violence as a ‘public’ problem.

According to WAFE 2001, domestic violence exists in all societies irrespective of class, race, culture, or religion. This encompasses both heterosexual and homosexual relationships involving wives, husbands, or partners. As Freeman 1979 and Gelles 1987 state, there is no distinct profile for an abuser or their actions. However, it seems that men from working class backgrounds tend to display more abusive behavior towards their partners.

There is ongoing debate regarding whether the daily stress and frustration caused by unemployment can contribute to this unacceptable behavior (Ibid). Nonetheless, some contend that these justifications are simply excuses employed to deflect blame from men onto societal issues. This once again diminishes the gravity of the problem and its underlying causes, leaving women in potentially perilous situations with limited avenues for resolution. Domestic violence can manifest in various ways.

Domestic violence encompasses various forms, encompassing emotional abuse and physical attacks. Emotional abuse involves shouting, blackmailing, isolating from loved ones, and belittling comments. In contrast, physical attacks range from gentle pushes to more severe acts such as kicking, rape, and even death.

According to Barron et al (1992), domestic violence includes threats, intimidation, manipulation, isolating women from financial resources or the outside world, confinement, deprivation of food, and exploiting her children to induce fear or compliance. This type of abuse also involves consistent criticism and demeaning remarks.

The combination of physical assaults or threats with emotional attacks creates fear and financial dependency for victims. It also limits their options and makes leaving an abusive relationship challenging. Examples include statements like “if you leave me, I’ll kill you” or “you’re not taking the children”.

In addition, there are multiple reasons for the occurrence of domestic violence within a relationship. These factors encompass individual aspects that can result in violent conduct, as well as circumstances and various elements that contribute to an abusive situation or character. Dr. Leonore Walker, a respected authority on domestic violence, has made significant contributions to both psychology and the battered women’s movement. Her analysis is rooted in feminist research which extensively explores the psychological effects on women.

She uses the idea of ‘learned helplessness’ as a framework and suggests the cycle theory of violence, consisting of three phases starting with the ‘tension phase’. In this phase, the woman tries to please her partner to avoid abuse. The second phase is called the ‘explosion phase’, where the actual abuse occurs. At this stage, the abuser has control over deciding when the violence will stop.

According to Walker, the third phase in the cycle of abuse is known as the “contrition phase,” during which the abuser shows remorse and affection. The woman hopes to prolong this phase in order to avoid experiencing the other phases. Walker argues that over time, the woman becomes complicit in her own abuse and must become aware of the pattern in order to break free from the cycle (as cited in Whalen, 1996: 63/69). In contrast, Gondolf (1998) criticizes Walker’s theories as being victim-blaming (Whalen, 1996: 62).

Another explanation for the causes of domestic violence can be seen through family violence where events and behaviors that occur within the family situation happen unnoticed by the community. The family exists in the private sphere, where actions of abuse and deviant behavior go unnoticed, ignored, and accepted as ‘normal’ family or social behaviors. This acceptance is supported by phrases like ‘A man’s house is his castle’. It can be argued that this is a result of a patriarchal society where men predominantly govern and make decisions institutionally and culturally. Consequently, this reflects on the norms and values of society that women must strive to adhere to. As a result, instances of abuse become the accepted ‘norm’ throughout society.

According to feminists, the mistreatment of a wife by her husband is not only a domestic matter but also a reflection of male power that has existed across different societies and time periods (Yllo, 1983, as cited in Dallos & McLaughlin, 1998). From childhood to adulthood, society consistently highlights the differences between genders.

We adhere to and are judged according to conventional gender expectations, which are established at birth and reinforced by various influences such as education, media, surroundings, and society in general. Gender denotes the societal presumptions imposed on individuals based on their biological sex. It is a social concept that encompasses society’s convictions regarding suitable conduct, attributes, and responsibilities for both males and females” (Haywood 1989:157).

During early childhood, girls are socialized to embrace feminine qualities, submissive attitudes, and a caring nature, while boys are encouraged to embody dominant traits, strength, and aggression. These gender expectations are frequently observed in the activities children participate in. For instance, boys often engage in activities such as playing as soldiers or climbing trees that align with traditional masculine stereotypes.

Contrary to popular belief, young girls are given toys like baby dolls and prams to familiarize them with their future role as mothers and caregivers. This ongoing reinforcement of traditional gender roles contributes to the perception that men possess power and authority. It is important to recognize that this gender ideology is not only upheld by families but also by society in general, often through problematic media portrayals that separate genders. Throughout history, the media has consistently depicted motherhood, domestic life, and relationships as the main focus for young girls and women (Haywood 1989).

The media often objectifies women, depicting them as sexual objects and undermining their value. This can lead to men behaving inappropriately towards women. It is important to recognize that this abuse does not have a singular cause but arises from different factors and beliefs. To understand this phenomenon, we must analyze various situations and viewpoints.

Unfortunately, many of the presumed causes of domestic violence are false ideas created by societal beliefs and structure. These misconceptions have been formed to safeguard society and its institutions by concealing a very serious problem. “The myths serve as a defensive mechanism, protecting the family, which is an important social institution” (Freeman 1979:134). Additionally, women who find themselves in these situations unknowingly perpetuate the myth of provocation by often blaming themselves for an attack, as they can comprehend why their genuine requests for provisions for children and other aspects of daily life could trigger such a reaction.

The misconception that victims of abusive attacks provoke their attackers is often fueled by a misunderstanding. Many times, these victims are simply seeking financial support for basic necessities such as food and clothing for their children. They may also fail to prepare meals on time or refuse to engage in sexual activities. This misconception leads people to believe that women contribute to the violence, thereby justifying men’s actions and disregarding the intentional nature of violence (Jukes, 1990:3). However, it is important to acknowledge that no one deserves any form of physical or mental abuse. Additionally, the myth that domestic violence only occurs in lower-class or troubled families follows a similar pattern of misinformation. The truth is that domestic violence exists across all levels of society and culture, regardless of social class or status.

Despite variations, the distribution is still a distribution. However, individuals in lower status groups are commonly perceived as the main perpetrators. They attribute their behavior to unemployment, frustration, and limited resources. Additionally, Strauss’ research reinforces this claim by indicating that social class influences attitudes towards violence because violence is prevalent in areas inhabited by lower classes where it becomes essential for self-defense.

Strauss (cited in Freeman 1979:134) argues that the blue collar group does not support violence any more than the middle class, but they see it as an unavoidable but disliked part of life. This indicates that lower classes might adapt to violence as a way to compete and survive, rather than being innately more violent than other societal members. On the other hand, violence may be less apparent among the middle classes because it would bring shame and hinder their goal of maintaining a higher social status. Moreover, research on violence within the middle class is limited.

The true extent of violence occurring in the middle class is not easily understood, unlike the lower class. Middle class individuals usually have better financial resources and often avoid seeking help from friends, family, or the resources available to working class members. As a result, they tend to hide violence from others. Peterson discussed this matter in 1980, stating that stress and poverty alone are not enough to explain violence. This is because many poor families are unaffected, and violence and stress can be found across all social classes (Hearn 1998:30).

According to Stanko, prosperity does not provide protection against domestic violence. Although poverty-related stress may play a role, there is no substantial distinction between social classes in terms of this issue. It is important to note that neither victims nor abusers are predetermined in these cases.

The danger faced by women is increased because of the misconceptions surrounding rape and domestic violence. Different opinions exist regarding domestic violence, with some attributing violent acts by abusers to mental illness or substance abuse. However, it is crucial to acknowledge that while alcohol often contributes to domestic violence incidents, it is not the only factor behind the abuse. Regardless of how intoxicated they are, abusers can still exhibit violent behavior.

Drinking is often seen as a result of abuse rather than its root cause, as suggested by Barnett (1993), although this viewpoint may only apply to a minority of abusive men. Another widely held belief is the cycle of violence theory, which suggests that individuals who continue to harm their spouses or partners might have been influenced by violent role models. These men may carry unresolved conflicts with their parents, leading them to redirect their anger and aggression towards their wives and girlfriends.

Dobash and Dobash argue that unmet childhood needs can result in adult violence, as stated by Dallos & McLaughlin (1993:17). Nonetheless, it is also possible to contend that men from non-violent households may still exhibit violent behaviors.

The problem with these explanations is that they lack credibility when considering broader evidence. 8 Furthermore, Smith (1989) suggests that the pathological discourse view offers an exceptionalist explanation for a universal issue (Cited in: Kelly & Radford, 1996:183). In conclusion, the concept of pathological explanations and other perceived causes lacks credibility as they seek to attribute the problem to a single exceptional explanation. In reality, domestic abuse is a complex issue deeply ingrained in culture and society. Additionally, given the prevalence of domestic abuse in our society, it can be argued that patriarchy continues to create the conditions and relationships that lead men to resort to violence against their partners.

The moral order currently reinforces patriarchal domination through force, making it challenging for women to resist all types of control and domination. Additionally, the lack of support from police and judicial systems sustains this multidimensional issue. Historically, the police and courts’ handling of domestic violence has faced criticism, illustrating the presence of the public-private sphere ideology.

The police have contributed to maintaining the belief that a man’s home is his castle by not responding directly to disputes and treating them as non-criminal matters. Another issue with the police’s response to domestic violence is relying on stereotypical ideologies when prosecuting perpetrators. However, there have been some policy changes to address this problem, and domestic violence is now recognized as a criminal offense. In London, more than 40 jurisdictions had already established special units to monitor domestic violence by 1991, following Home Office guidelines from July 1990 recommending the establishment of such units in all police forces (Radford, cited in Kelly 1996:74)…

In a study conducted by Cretney& Davis (1995), it was discovered that instead of immediately arresting and charging individuals, officers often used a strategy of time delay to assess a woman’s commitment to prosecution. This approach resulted in a decrease in filed charges, which not only reduced paperwork but also minimized the likelihood of retractions by women or complaints of false arrest by men involved. Despite living in a supposedly egalitarian society that condemns domestic violence, certain public institutions still allow its persistence. As a result, women have developed distrust and encountered negative experiences with law enforcement and other establishments, leading them to believe that there is no reliable source for protecting themselves and their families (WAFE 2001).

Law enforcement’s response can contribute to women staying in abusive relationships, but there are multiple obstacles preventing them from leaving. One significant barrier is their financial reliance on a partner.

Many women with young children are unable to find employment due to their childcare responsibilities, causing them to fall into poverty. Additionally, when women experience abuse, their children often become involved, making it more difficult for them to leave abusive relationships. Unfortunately, the lack of statistical data on domestic violence makes it challenging for us to understand the choices women make about staying or leaving violent partnerships.

According to statistics, partner abuse is a significant issue for women. In the 1992 British Crime Survey, it was revealed that 11% of women who cohabitated with their partners experienced domestic violence. Furthermore, a survey conducted in 1996 found that 60% of victims were subjected to abuse by their current partners and 21% by their former partners (Pilcher 2000). Among these incidents, around two-thirds necessitated medical attention due to being physically assaulted through punching or kicking, while approximately 3% required hospital treatment (ibid).

According to Pilcher (2000), women accounted for 70% of the reported domestic violence incidents in 1997. This data comes from a total of 835,000 cases. Despite flaws in the criminal statistics data, the British Crime Survey is an important source for information. It’s worth noting that these statistics only represent reported cases of domestic violence, indicating that the true extent of the problem is underestimated. In conclusion, it’s clear that factors beyond societal misconceptions contribute to domestic violence and it’s a complex issue with no single explanation for all instances of domestic assault. Consequently, those responsible for committing abuse cannot shift blame onto their victims or make false accusations.

It can be argued that the patriarchal structures within families and societal ideals surrounding marriage and parenthood contribute to a situation where signs of dysfunction are overlooked or even empower men to control their female partners and children. This patriarchal nature of society also plays a significant role in perpetuating the causes of domestic violence mentioned earlier, making it the main root of the problem. Additionally, men across all levels of society have commonly shifted blame away from themselves for crimes against women. Instead, they often attribute violent acts to factors like alcohol, provocation, or frustration, thereby deflecting responsibility onto the victim’s behavior or societal issues.

There is an urgent need for a comprehensive restructuring and education of family lessons on gender roles, as well as the elimination of all forms of violence within the home. This is crucial in order to decrease the impact and normalcy of violence. Only then can we strive to eliminate the patriarchal ideology that permeates society and embrace a more equal approach to society and gender relations. Our aim is for a society where women’s movements are unrestricted, their actions are not limited, and men no longer have complete control over all aspects of society. We must no longer accept their violent dominance as their inherent entitlement. Until these changes are implemented, the struggle against male dominance, power, and violence faced by numerous women in our society will persist.

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