Originally published in Violence
1994, 9, (2), 125 - 140.
A critical review is made of feminist analyses of wife assault
which postulate that patriarchy is a direct cause of wife assault.
Data is reviewed from a variety of studies which indicate that
1) lesbian battering is more frequent than heterosexual battering
2)that no direct relationship exists between power and violence
within couples 3) that no direct relationship exists between structural
patriarchy and wife assault. It is concluded that patriarchy must
interact with psychological variables in order to account for
the great variation in power-violence data. It is suggested that
some forms of psychopathology lead to some men adopting patriarchal
ideology to justify and rationalize their own pathology.
During the late 1970's a number of single factor
explanations for male assaultiveness toward women were proferred.
These included sociobiology, psychiatric disorders and patriarchy
(Dutton, 1988). Dutton (1988) argued that no single factor explanation
for wife assault sufficiently explained the available data and
proposed instead a nested ecological theory examining interactive
effects of the broader culture (macrosystem), the subculture (exosystem),
the family (microsystem) and individual characteristics (ontogeny).
Dutton (1988) argued that psychiatric "explanations"
were not actually explanatory, since they did no more than link
assaultiveness to existing diagnostic categories without etiological
explication. They also frequently overlooked important contextual
factors that contributed to assault causation.
Sociobiological explanations were based on the premise that the
primary motive of men is to maximize their contribution to the
gene pool (e.g., Daly & Wilson, 1988). By extension, male
rage over sexual threat was viewed by sociobiologists as having
"survival value" (Wilson 1975). Dutton (1988) argued
that socially learned notions of anger and violence added explanatory
power to the individual variation in behavioural reponses to sexual
threat. Dutton (1992) extended this argument to show how the source
of rage in intimate relationships was not kinship per se, but
ego identity factors naturally confounded with kinship. In elaborating
the learned aspects of rage behaviors, Dutton was able to account
for individual variation amongst males in response to a common
stimulus. This variation is not explicable via broad sociobiological
The last of the single factor causes of wife assault described
by Dutton (1988) is patriarchy. Since new data have appeared since
Dutton (1988), the focus of this paper is to present these data
with a view to reformulating the role of patriarchy in causing
intimate male violence. The thrust of this argumant is that macrosystem
factors such as patriarchy cannot, in themselves, explain individual
behaviour. They commit what Dohrenwend called the "ecological
fallacy" (Dooley & Catalano (1984).
Feminist Views of Woman Assault
According to Bograd (1988), there are some defining features that
are central to most feminist analyses of the phenomenon of woman
assault. Feminist researchers, clinicians and activists try to
address a primary question: "Why do men beat their wives?".
This question "directs attention to the physical violence
occurring in heterosexual relationships" (p.13) and distinguishes
feminists from others who ask, "What psychopathology leads
to violence?" or "Why are people involved in violent
interactions in families?." Since the phrasing of the question
always directs attention toward something and away from something
else, the causes of "beating of wives" must perforce
reside in "men." As Bograd goes on to write: "feminists
seek to understand why men in general use physical force against
their partners and what functions this serves for a society in
a given historical context" (op. cit. p. 13). Bograd describes
the four dimensions of analysis that are common to feminist perspectives
on wife abuse: the explanatory utility of the constructs of gender
and power, the analysis of the family as a historically situated
social institution, the crucial importance of understanding and
validating women's experiences and the employment of scholarship
From the first of these analytic dimensions, wife assault is seen
to be a systematic form of domination and social control of women
by men. All men can potentially use violence as a powerful means
of subordinating women. Men as a class benefit from how women's
lives are restricted because of their fear of violence. Wife abuse
reinforces women's dependence and enables all men to exert authority
and control. The reality of domination at the societal level is
the most crucial factor contributing to, and maintaining, wife
abuse at the individual level. In other words, the maintenance
of patriarchy and patriarchal institutions is the main contributor
to wife assault. Wife assault is mainly "normal"1. violence
committed, not by madmen who are unlike other men, but by men
who believe that patriarchy is their right, that marriage gives
then unrestricted control over their wife and that violence is
an acceptable means of establishing this control. (Dobash &
Dobash 1988, p.57). The claim from a feminist analytical perspective,
therefore, is twofold: that society is patriarchal and that the
use of violence to maintain male patriarchy is accepted. As Dobash
and Dobash (1979) put it, "Men who assault their wives are
actually living up to cultural prescriptions that are cherished
in Western society--aggressiveness, male dominance and female
subordination--and they are using physical force as a means to
enforce that dominance" (p. 24). This feminist claim indicates
patriarchy as a direct cause of wife assault rather that an inducement
that interacts with other causes. This can be seen from the feminist
distrust of psychological causes of male violence (Goldner, Penn,
Sheinberg & Walker 1990) as potentially "exonerative"
and by the lack of empirical studies of putative interactive causes
conducted within a feminist perspective.
Thus stated, feminist theory renders the notion of therapy for
wife assaulters implausible. If assaultive males are simply carrying
out the prescriptions of the culture it seems pointless to focus
on individuals and expect them to change. Nor is there much point
in trying to alter a pervasive societal phenomenon through therapy
with a small group of highly selected individuals. Indeed, much
feminist anaysis (eg. Bograd 1988) argues that an emphasis on
psychopathology in explaining wife assault is misguided because
wife assault results from "normal psychological and behavioral
patterns of most men" (op. cit. p.17) and that "trait
theories tend to excuse the abusive man through reference to alcohol
abuse or poor childhood histories" (op. cit. p.17) I shall
argue that psychopathology and abusive histories are important
in the background of abusive men but that these factors do not
The result of the feminist analysis of wife assault has been the
acknowledgement of the powerful and complex role of social factors
in creating the context in which violence occurs. As Walker (1989)
points out, feminist analysis puts research findings back into
the context from which they were deracinated by scientific abstraction.
For example, as Rosewater (1987) has shown, MMPI scores on battered
women were typically read out of context and misdiagnosed. Post
hoc scores which indicated anger,anxiety and confusion in response
to battering were misinterpreted as indicating a preexisting "personality
problem" such as paranoia. Similarly, Dutton and Painter
(1981) demonstrated how contextual features of battering formed
paradoxical attachments that made leaving a battering relationship
difficult and lead to erroneous interpretations of battered women
as masochistic. Further, Browne and Williams (1989) demonstrated
how female-perpetrated homicide decreased when criminal justice
system resources became more available to women in abusive relationships,
a pattern that was distinct from male homicide.
Finally, Browne (1992) showed conclusively that the Conflict Tactics
Scale (Straus, 1979) could not be used to compare male and female
violence. Every assessed act on the Conflict Tactics Scale is
different when performed by a man. The reasons have to do with
the greater force of the action, the relative strength of perpetrator
and target, the point of impact of the action and the target's
ability to resist or escape. Browne's persuasive argument shows
the dangers of removing context from the measurement process,
the danger of "equating fender benders with head on collisions".
The inescapable conclusion from Browne's analysis is this: the
Conflict Tactics Scale cannot be used to compare male with female
violence out of context. As the above examples demonstrate, feminist
focus on the context of violence has led to some valuable reassessments
of research findings.
Despite these impressive accomplishments, however, the feminist
approach has been unable to account for other key research findings.
Indeed, close reading of feminist theory and research on the problem
of wife assault reveals what Kuhn (1965) referred to as a paradigm.
Paradigms direct research but also serve to deflect critical analysis
of the paradigms' own central tenets through diverting attention
from contradictory data. A form of "groupthink" (Janis
1982) ensues whereby dissent is stifled by directing attention
from potential contradictory information. I shall argue below
that much information exists that contradicts the notion that
patriarchy is a main effect for wife assault. (That is, that patriarchy
serves as a sufficient cause for male assaultiveness). I shall
also argue that feminist disdain for psychopathological explanations
of wife assault are politically driven, leading to an obfuscation
of our understanding of the phenomenon of male assaultiveness.
I shall conclude that psychopathology and patriarchy interact
to produce abuse but that both are required to fully understand
male abusiveness in intimate relationships.
Direct Tests of Patriarchy
Some direct empirical tests of patriarchal norms on assaultiveness
have been reported in the literature. Yllo and Straus (1990) attempted
a quantitative analysis of the relationship between patriarchy
and wife assault by assessing the latter with the Conflict Tactics
Scale, and the former with (U.S.) state-by-state economic, educational,
political and legal indicators of the structural inequality of
women. A composite Status of Women Index resulted, with Alaska
having the highest status (70) and Louisiana and Alabama the lowest
(28). An ideological component of patriarchy was also assessed:
the degree to which state residents believed that husbands should
be dominant in family decision-making (patriarchal norms).
A curvilinear (U-shaped) relationship was found between structural
indicators and wife assault rates, with the lowest and highest
status of women states having the highest rates of severe wife
assault. Structural indicators and patriarchal norms had a correlation
of near zero. Patriarchal norms were related to wife assault in
that states with the most male-dominant norms had double the wife
assault rate of states with more egalitarian norms.
Yllo and Straus attempt to explain their data by arguing that
in states where the status of women is highest, there is a relationship
between patriarchal norms and wife assault. They view this as
due to an inconsistency between a woman's sociopolitical status
and her "in family" status. This explanation assumes
that the structural changes came initially and that family patriarchal
norms lagged behind, thus generating conflict. However, no independent
evidence to support this temporal relationship is presented.
Another problem with this explanation is that low status states
have high rates of wife assault. The authors attempt to explain
this as due to "greater force being necessary to keep women
'in their place' and because women in these states have fewer
alternatives to violent marriage" (p. 394).
The conclusion of this study is that men will use violence against
women when they can (in low status states) and when they can't
(in high status states). Put somewhat differently, the authors
argue that in low status states, women are more likely to be trapped
in abusive marriages, whereas in high status states, women feel
free to violate the patriarchal norms of marriage. This explanation
is confusing and contradictory. Trapping women in marriage through
lessened opportunity should produce higher violence frequency
scores within couples but not necessarily higher incidence scores.
That is, it accounts for why women could not leave an abusive
marriage but still does not supply a motive for male violence.
The assumption that men will use violence when they can would
lead to the prediction that most men in such social circumstances
would be violent. This assumption is not supported by surveys
which show the majority of males, even in low status states to
be non-violent. e.g. Straus, Gelles & Steinmetz 1980, Schulman
The explanation for high status states is stronger. Here male
violence is generated through a threat to informal patriarchal
norms. The finding that structural inequality and patriarchal
norms are not associated is not explored, although it raises another
problem for patriarchal explanations of wife assault: namely that
macrosystem (cultural) patriarchy is unrelated to microsystem
Smith (1990) also conducted a test of patriarchy by asking 604
Toronto women to guess their male partner's response to a series
of questions about "patriarchal beliefs" and then correlating
these responses with socioeconomic factors and, finally, with
that woman's responses to the Conflict Tactics Scale measure of
"wife assault." Through this method, Smith claimed he
was assessing "patriarchal ideology" and that this measure,
in combination with sociodemographic factors, could predict wife
assault.However, the responses that these women supplied for their
male partners described a very non-patriarchal group, with the
majority disagreeing with the patriarchal statements of the measure
in all cases save one, that "sometimes its important for
a man to show his partner that he's the head of the house."
Of course, using the modifier "sometimes" can usually
increase agreement rates. One conclusion that could be drawn from
Smith's attitudinal data is that the patriarchal structure of
North American society has a weak effect on the "patriarchal
ideology" of most men. Smith does not draw this conclusion.
As Smith puts it, "When all the socioeconomic risk markers
and indexes of patriarchal ideology were combined in a single
model assessing the extent to which these variables predicted
wife beating, the combination of husband's educational attainment,
patriarchal beliefs and patriarchal attitudes parsimoniously explained
20% of the variance in wife beating" (p. 268).
It seems to me that such a claim clearly accentuates the paradigmatic
aspect of current family violence research. A predictive study
using women's CTS self-reports on husband violence by Dutton and
Starzomski (1992) found that brief (16 item) assessments of the
husbands anger and identity problems explained 50% of the variance
in psychological abuse and 20% of wife assault reported by one
sample of battered wives. In other words, some psychological factors
have much greater predictive weight that the attitudinal and sociodemographic
assessments of "patriarchal ideology" reported by Smith
(1990). Only someone working within a paradigm could find the
explanation of 20% of the variance conclusive.
Acceptance of Violence
A survey by Stark and McEvoy (1970) found that 24% of men and
17% of women approved of a man slapping his wife "under appropriate
circumstances". Again, this finding hardly seems to demonstrate
a cultural norm for the use of violence against wives. First of
all, only a minority of men and women approved of a man slapping
his wife under any circumstances. Viewed from another perspective,
the survey result tells us that the majority believe slapping
is never appropriate. Secondly, the wording of the question was
ambiguous. The phrase "appropriate circumstances" loads
the question; we do not know what egregious transgressions may
be conjured up by respondents as necessary before a slap is appropriate.
Finally, the question tells us nothing about the degree of violence
that is acceptable. While 25% of men may approve of slapping a
wife, fewer may approve of punching or kicking a wife and still
fewer may approve of beating or battering a wife.
Also, many men who have been convicted of wife assault do not
generally feel that what they did was acceptable. (Dutton, 1986;
Dutton & Hemphill, 1992). Instead they feel guilty, deny and
minimize the violence, and try to exculpate themselves in the
manner of one whose actions are unacceptable to oneself. The sociological
view of violence as normal would lead us to expect the opposite:
that no guilt and evasion would follow from "normal"
If patriarchy is the main factor contributing to wife assault,
then the majority of men raised in a patriarchal system should
exhibit assaultiveness. However, given the four major surveys
of incidence of wife assault that have been implemented to date,
the vast majority of men are non- assaultive for the duration
of their marriage (Straus, Gelles & Steinmetz, 1980; Schulman,
1979; Straus & Gelles, 1985, Kennedy & Dutton, 1989).
In surveys conducted by female interviewers of female respondents
using strategies to maximize disclosure, only one of eight couples
reported acts from the Severe Violence subscale of the CTS occurring
at any time in their marriage, and only 27.8% reported any kind
of violence (including pushes and slaps) occurring at any time
in their marriage (Straus et al., 1980, p. 43). Furthermore, this
finding does not seem to be related to a desire on the female
respondents' part to image manage. Dutton and Hemphill (1992)
found that women's reports of violence committed against them
were unrelated to social desirability factors (unlike male perpetrators).
This result is hard to explain if one considers patriarchy as
the main cause of wife assault. If social license determines violent
behavior we would expect a majority of men to be violent, but
only a minority actually are. Also, as the violence becomes more
extreme, the size of this minority group of perpetrators shrinks.
The type of actions that might be called "wife beating"
occur in only about 11% of marriages at any time during the marriage.
A clearer picture of the incidence of violence in marriage is
that serious assaults do not occur in 90% of marriages, they occur
once in another 7%, and they occur repeatedly in about 3% (Straus,
Gelles & Steinmetz, 1980; Straus & Gelles, 1985), Kennedy
& Dutton 1989). One is curious to know about those factors
that differentiate the men is these groups.
Power and Violence
Feminist analyses also do not explain why dyadic family power
is non-linearly related to use of violence. Coleman and Straus
(1985) found that there was no main effect of power on violence.
Male-dominant couples were the most violent, but female-dominant
couples were next most violent and violence was mitigated by attitudes
toward power sharing. Hence, couples who agreed to a gender-dominant
arrangement were less violent than those who disagreed. In that
study, a decision-making "final say" measure was made
of power. By this measure, male-dominant couples made up only
9.4% of the total and female-dominant made up 7.5%. The more typical
power arrangements were "divided power" (54%) and "equalitarian"
(29%). The main contributor to marital conflict and violence was
lack of consensus about power sharing. Where the couple agree,
both conflict and violence were low regardless of marital power
arrangement. To a feminist perspective, the notion of a male-dominant
marriage where both parties agree to that power-sharing arrangement
is reprehensible. However, it is not a sufficient cause of violence.
Feminist definitions of power and status are arguably an impediment
to understanding male assaultiveness because these definitions
are restricted to the sociopolitical. Feminist analysts are acutely
aware of the sociopolitical powerlessness of women and have taken
important steps to help remedy this situation. However, what defines
powerlessness for a politicized woman and what defines it for
a non-politicized man are not the same.
For a man, sociopolitical comparisons with women or with a woman
are irrelevant. What is experienced, especially in intimate relationships,
is the power advantage women appear to have in their ability to
introspect, analyze and describe feelings and process. Hence,
assaultive males report feeling powerless in respect to their
intimate partners (Dutton & Strachan, 1987). One is reminded
of Eric Fromm's definition of sadism as the conversion of feelings
of impotence to feelings of omnipotence. While batterers may appear
powerful in terms of their physical or sociopolitical resources,
they are distinctly impotent in terms of their psychic and emotional
resources, even to the point of depending on their female partner
to maintain their sense of identity (Dutton, 1992). I do not suggest
by this that we should excuse or exonerate batterers. To the contrary
I believe in zero tolerance for all forms of abuse. However, to
view their violence simply as a defense of sociopolitical power
is erroneous. Only a minority of batterers are misogynisitic (Dutton
& Browning 1986), and few are violent to non-intimate women;
a much larger group experiences extreme anger about intimacy.
If there is a politic at work, it exists in the microsystem of
The prevalence of violence in homosexual relationships, which
also appear to go through abuse cycles is hard to explain in terms
of men dominating women (see Bologna, Waterman & Dawson, 1987;
Island & Letellier, 1991; Lie & Gentlewarrior, in press).
Bologna et al. (1987) surveyed 70 homosexual male and female college
students about incidence of violence in the most recent relationship.
Lesbian relationships were significantly more violent than gay
relationships (56% vs. 25%). Lie and Gentlewarrior (in press)
surveyed 1,099 lesbians, finding that 52% had been a victim of
violence by their female partner, 52% said they had used violence
against their female partner, and 30% said they had used violence
against a non-violent female partner. Finally, Lie, Schilit, Bush,
Montague and Reyes (1991) reported, in a survey of 350 lesbians,
that rates of verbal, physical and sexual abuse were all significantly
higher in lesbian relationships than in heterosexual relationships:
56.8% had been sexually victimized by a female, 45% had experienced
physical aggression, and 64.5% experienced physical\emotional
aggression. Of this sample of women, 78.2% had been in a prior
relationship with a man. Reports of violence by men were all lower
than reports of violence in prior relationships with women (sexual
victimization, 41.9% (vs 56.8% with women); physical victimization
32.4% (vs. 45%) and emotional victimization 55.1% (vs. 64.5%).
There are two findings that are difficult to accommodate from
a feminist perspective: why violence rates are so high in lesbian
relationships and why they are higher for past relationships with
women than past relationship with men. Walker (1986) has tried
to explain higher rates of violence in lesbian relationships as
being due to equality of size and weight, fewer normative restraints
on fighting back and tacit permission to talk about fighting back.
However, Coleman and Straus (1986) found that power equalization
produced less violence and it does not seem that these women as
a group felt constrained about fighting back. Further, as Lie
et al. point out, Walker's explanation does not account for the
higher levels of combined violence in past relationships. It might
also be argued that lesbians adopt the values of the dominant
patriarchal culture and that a dominance-submissiveness relationship
my exist in lesbian relationship whereby the "functional
male" (i.e. the dominant member) is the abuser. The problem
with this argument is that even in heterosexual relationships,
as Coleman & Straus showed, a variety of power relations exist.
The "functional male" theory maps a stereotype onto
lesbian relationships that has no data support. The Lie et al.
data are difficult to explain in terms of male domination. Homosexual
battering seems more an issue of intimacy-anxiety than of patriarchy.
The data seem to suggest that when partnered with women, women
behave like men, only more so.
The question of why men beat women defines out of existence any
notion of female pathology. The focus is on the male as transgressor,
and feminists have avoided, with good reason, victim-blaming explanations
that locate the causes of male violence in women. Given their
advantages in strength and power, males can avoid physical conflict
with women under all but the most extenuating circumstances. Nevertheless,
those women who did report using violence in intimate relationships,
73.4% said they struck the first blow (Bland & Orn 1986),
women physically abuse children more than men do (Straus et al.,
1980) and that only minor differences exist between male and female
aggression (Frodi, Macaulay & Thome, 1977; Hyde, 1984).
Walker (1989) claims that "women usually use violence as
a reaction to men's violence against them (p. 696). However, in
Bland and Orn's (1986) study, 73.4% of a sample of 616 women said
they were the first to use physical violence. Stets and Straus
(1990) compared couples where the violence pattern was male-severe/female-minor,
with those where this pattern was reversed. They found the female-severe/male-minor
pattern to be significantly more prevalent. For dating couples,
12.5% reported the female-severe pattern and 4.8% reported the
male-severe pattern; 1.2% of cohabiting couples reported the male-severe
pattern compared to 6.1% reporting female-severe; 2.4% of married
couples reported male-severe and 7.1% reported female-severe.
With these data, the use of severe violence by females was not
in reaction to male violence or as a preemptive strike, since
the female partner in each couple reported only minor violence
from her male partner despite using severe violence herself. Similarly,
couples where only the female was violent were significantly more
common (39.4% of dating couples, 26.9% of cohabiting couples,
28.6% of married couples) than couples where only the male was
violent (10.5% of dating couples, 20.7% of cohabiting couples,
23.2% of married couples).
If feminist analysis is correct, we should expect greater violence
directed toward women in more patriarchal cultures. However, this
prediction is not supported. Campbell (1992) reports that "there
is not a simple linear correlation between female status and rates
of wife assault" (p. 19). Female status is not a single variable.
Levinson (1989) found family-related female status (economic,
decision-making, and divorce restrictions) to be more predictive
of wife beating than societal level variables (control of premarital
sexual behavior, place of residence, property inheritance). The
exception to this finding was female economic work groups, whose
presence correlated negatively with wife assault incidence. Campbell
also points out that feminist notions that male sexual jealousy
is an expression of a cultural norm that women are male property
is not supported by cross-cultural studies of jealousy and wife
assault. Except in extreme cases, jealousy varies widely between
cultures and appears unrelated to variations in wife assault incidence.
Questions of psychopathology are routinely ignored by feminist
analysis because such questions might "maintain that violent
acts and violent relationships have a psychology" and "once
again let batterers off the hook" (Goldner, Penn, Sheinber
& Walker, 1990, p. 345) and also because psychopathological
analyses imply that only some men, men who are atypical, generate
violence against women (Bograd, 1988). Nevertheless, there is
strong evidence that the majority of men who are either court-referred
or self-referred for wife assault do have diagnosable psychological
pathology (Saunders, 1992; Hamberger & Hastings, 1986, 1988,
1989; Dutton, 1992). In general, about 80% of both court-referred
and self-referred men in these studies exhibited diagnosable psychopathology,
typically personality disorders. Estimates of personality disorder
in the general population would be more in the 15-20% range (Kernberg,
1977, Zimmerman & Coryell 1989). As violence becomes more
severe and chronic, the likelihood of psychopathology in these
men approaches 100% (Dutton, 1992; Dutton & Hart, 1992a&b;
Hamberger & Hastings, 1988), typically with extreme scores
on borderline personality organization, narcissism, antisocial
behavior and aggressive\sadistic personality.
To say that violent batterers are psychopathological neither "lets
them off the hook" nor exculpates social forces in shaping
their rage. Dutton (1992) has argued that men with severe identity
problems and intense dependency on woman seek out aspects of the
culture to direct and justify abuse. For example, the primitive
defenses of borderline personality organization in males, which
involve splitting "good objects" from "bad objects"
(Mahler, 1971) are reinforced by cultural judgements about female
sexuality. Cultures that divide women into "Madonnas and
whores" provide a sanctioned reinforcement of the object
split in the assaultive borderline male. Cultures that socialize
men and women to expect the woman to be responsible for relationship
outcome provide a rationale for the borderline personality's expectation
that his intimate partner should maintain both his ego integrity
and euphoric affect. Any dysphoric stalemates that occur are then
viewed as her fault. Hence, attachment-derived anger is projected
toward the individual woman partner. Through this view, the personality
pattern contains emotional demands which it directs and justifies
through drawing on the ambient culture.
Hence, patriarchy does not elicit violence against women in any
direct fashion. Rather, it provides the values and attitudes that
personality-disordered men can exploit to justify their abuse
of women. This distinction is an important one: it explains why
the majority of men remain non-violent and how they differ in
at least one essential and non-tautological aspect from violent
Walker (1989) describes a "socialized androcentric need for
power." However, a need for power, in itself, does not predict
violence or even dominance in social relationships. Winter (1973)
and McClelland (1975) have demonstrated how power motivation translates
into a variety of behavioral forms, including stamp collecting
and running for public office. It is only when power needs are
combined with identity diffusion, so that the intimate other becomes
necessary for one's identity integrity, that power needs begin
to focus exclusively on that person. In a culture that isolates
men emotionally and alienates them from their ability to sense
and know their own feelings, dependency on a female who can enable
this to occur will remain essential. Violence does have a psychology
and this psychology is not exculpatory. To refuse to understand
this psychology is to not fully attempt to answer the question
of why men are violent toward women.
Therapy and Policy Implications
Feminist therapists criticize anger-management approaches for
focusing on stress reduction, anger management and coping skills
while not paying enough attention to gender politics (Adams, 1988).
At the same time they criticize insight therapy for focusing on
identity deficits to offer labels instead of explanations and
for not emphasizing male responsibility for violence and control.
I have argued above that patriarchy is another label that doesn't
explain violence. If patriarchy "causes" violence how
can we hold men individually responsible for their violence?
Feminist therapists want to focus on power and control issues
and on misogynisitic attitudes toward women in what they call
resocialization models (Gondolf & Russell 1986, Adams 1988).
The problem with these models is that the relationship between
attitudes and violence is weak (Browning, 1984; Neidig, Freidman
& Williams, 1984, Dutton, 1988). Furthermore, there is a problem
in delivering these models to court-directed men who both resent
female power and who exist in a subculture that may not share
feminist values. Such approaches may develop backlash in clients.
The therapy has to make sense from their perspective while challenging
them and holding them responsible for their violence. My view
is that anger and anxiety provide the psychological substratum
for control. Males try to control the things they fear and intimate
relationships are a source of great fear (Pollack & Gilligan,
1982). Hence, a complete understanding of anger does not only
reflect on outbursts of anger but on chronic resentments and control
of another. It also renders the "case" against "anger
control" treatment for assaultive males artificial. It is
not an issue of "anger versus control" as Gondolf &
Russell (1986) put it; anger and control stem from the same origin;
terror of intimacy.
A complete theory of wife assault must locate a man's violence
in the normal learning environment to which that man has been
exposed and it must be able to differentiate assaultive from non-assaultive
males on the basis of differences in that learning environment.
In order to answer the question "why do men beat their wives?"
one has to answer why do some but not all men beat their wives.
This leads necessarily to psychological explanations in order
to differentiate these men. Hence, while feminist theories provide
important analyses of the social context of wife assault, this
context has to be combined with characteristics of the assaultive
male in order to explain variation in behavior. A complete explanation
for wife assault must also distinguish men who repeatedly and
severely assault their wives from men who do so sporadically and
in a less serious way and from men (the majority) who remain non-violent
throughout their marriages.
The policy implications of such an analysis are important. Imagine
a zero tolerance policy for the type of repeated injurious assaults
that 3% of men commit. Such a policy is probably more attainable
than one that involves the state in every family where pushing,
shoving or dominance behaviors exist. The former could attain
mainstream support while the latter would be viewed as "Big
The ways in which male sex role socialization shape men for violence
are numerous. These include agency, the shaping of experience
and affect for action on the external, which shapes emotion in
the direction of anger, and the consequences of this agency: the
inability to grieve and mourn and the inability to detect internal
states. However, all men vary in the extent to which such socialization
defines their identity.
Feminism and Subjectivism
Some feminist writers (e.g., Keller, 1978; Yllo, 1988) have taken
the position that objective science and the quantitative method
are masculine and have called for a turning away from this particular
epistemology. As Yllo (1988) puts it, "there remains a vague...allegiance
to the positivist notion of objectivity; that the research simply
uncovers 'what is out there. In contrast, many feminist researchers
regard their work as not just being about women, but for women."
(p. 42). Hence the focus of feminist research is on other forms
of inquiry and on the utility of truth (i.e., whose purposes truth
serves). I see a grave danger in such thinking. For one thing,
all forms of ideology have a danger of becoming closed systems,
or paradigms (Kuhn, 1965), where contradictory data are not allowed
to challenge central dogma. A clear example of this phenomenon
was the psychoanalytic refusal to consider the real existence
of sexual abuse of female children as a cause of adult female
pathology (Masson, 1984). It is astounding to read the extremely
insightful paper by Freud on this topic written in 1896 and later
A retreat to subjectivism virtually guarantees that the feminist
paradigm will go unchallenged by the types of empirical disconfirmations
we have presented above. We are at a time when family violence
is being seriously treated by governments and where public consciousness
of the problem is acutely high. Now is the time for consensus
to stop the problem. Consensus requires some shared view of "what
is out there." Retreating to subjective notions of truth
will not serve this need. We have to have objective data against
which we can pit our theories. The alternative is solipsism and
groupthink. Feminism has made great contributions to our understanding
of wife assault. What remains now is to move from simplistic definition
of power and Manichaeistic views of gender toward multiplicative
or interactive models that combine psychological aspects of abusers
with cultural beliefs that lead to a condoning of abuse.
1. It could be argued that from a feminist perspective, violence
will not necessarily be "widespread" but will only occur
when other forms of male control of women have failed. This should
lead to the prediction that when men have large power advantages
in relationships they should not be violent. This predcition is
not supported by empirical examination (see Coleman & Straus
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