Saturday, October 1, 2011

Domestic Violence or Patriarchal Violence?

Violence against women is an issue. As the 1 is 2 many White House campaign states, one in five young women will be a victim of sexual assault while they are in college. One in nine girls will be forced to have sex. One in ten will be hurt on purpose by someone they are dating. Also, as Adrien Wing noted during her September 27th talk entitled the The "Arab Fall": The Future of Women's Rights, different forms of violence committed against women include external forms, such as those committed by the State, and internal, violence committed by one's family and in the home. In response to serious concerns of violence against women, the feminist movement sought and continues to seek, to raise awareness of domestic violence.

When people think of domestic violence, more often than not they think of scenarios like Tina Turner & Ike, The Color Purple, or Sleeping With The Enemy, women being assaulted by men. We must do our best to remember though that domestic violence is not so narrow. It includes violence committed by partners in same-sex relationships, and, as the 2009 film Precious reminds us, parents against their children. bell hooks is correct in urging the use of a different term to describe domestic violence: patriarchal violence.

hooks states that “patriarchal violence in the home is based on the belief that it is acceptable for a more powerful individual to control others through various forms of coercive force.” bell hooks, Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics 61 (South End Press 2000). Here, violence is not limited to adults of the opposite sex. It includes violence committed against same-sex partners and adult violence against children.

Precious serves as a harrowing reminder that violence in homes is not limited to adult relationships or even males against children. Female adults can be equally aggressive and violent as their male counterparts. Was this overlooked by the feminist movement? Was the movement not concerned with violence committed by adult women against children, or in same-sex relationships? Was violence against children infrequent during the feminist movement?

Interesting to note is that a nationwide study conducted in 1965-69 found that 30 percent of abused children lived in female-headed households, just like Precious. David G. Gil, Violence Against Children, 33 Journal of Marriage and Family 637, 640. Furthermore, "data on family structure suggests an association between physical abuse of children and deviance from normative family structures, which seems especially strong for non-white children." Id. It is not clear what "normative family structure" means, although I suspect it means a nuclear family. However we define it, though, it appears that in the mid to late sixties, children of color, like Precious, were victims of violence in the home more often than Caucasian children. Of great concern to me is how these statistics have changed in the past forty-six years with the increased feminization of poverty, which has lead to a greater number of female-headed households that deviate from the "normative family structure."

By the time this study was published, second-wave feminism had taken a hold of the United States. With this information available, why is it that the campaign against domestic violence was a fight against men abusing women? As bell hooks states, "emphasizing male violence against women in a manner which implies that it is more horrendous than all other forms of patriarchal violence does not serve to further the interests of [the] feminist movement. It obscures the reality that much patriarchal violence is directed at children by sexist women and men." hooks at 62. hooks suggests that women are portrayed as the only victims of violence in a zealous effort by reformist feminists to bring focus to the violence against women. Id. Although the importance of raising awareness of violence against women is important, I agree with hooks when she argues that if violence perpetuated by women is placed on the equal footing with violence by men, it "will be harder for the public to dismiss attention given [to] patriarchal violence by seeing it as an anti-male agenda." Id. at 63.

If, as hooks states, "feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression," then ending violence in the home, no matter who the perpetrator is, is essential to the feminist agenda. Id. at viii. Precious should prompt us, especially us feminists, to fight the urge to continue conceptualizing domestic violence as simply male violence against women.

1 comment:

AMS said...


You bring up a very valid point. While we can--and should--acknowledge that the most common form of domestic violence is that of a male partner against a female partner, other types of partnerships exist, females can be abusers, and other people, like children, share homes with abusers.

Elder abuse is also an important category to include in any discussion of domestic violence. According to the National Center on Elder Abuse (), it is estimated that more than one in ten elders experience some sort of abuse. Yet, fewer than one in five elders report the abuse. These senior members of our community face neglect, abandonment, and exploitation (through fraud and theft) in addition to physical, sexual, and emotional abuse.

Whether or not people identify as feminists, it is imperative for the safety of our communities, the health of our children, the well-being of our elders, and the sweetness of our partnerships to come together to solve these issues. This is especially important knowing that those who have experienced abuse are highly prone to depression, numbness, fear, and self-inflicted abuses like drinking. (See ). Furthermore, those who witness abuse--especially children--are more likely to abuse others. Thus, unraveling the cycle of violence is just as important for the present as it is for the future of our society, and recognizing the diversity of abusers and the abused is an important first step in understanding the breadth of the task at hand.