For this reason, feminists often suggest that all men are implicated in allowing domestic violence to occur and that the more powerful men in society (e.g. judges and politicians) are most involved in covering for such violence.
The feminist Gloria Steinem once wrote along these lines that,
Patriarchy requires violence or the subliminal threat of violence in order to maintain itself ... The most dangerous situation for a woman is not an unknown man in the street, or even the enemy in wartime, but a husband or lover in the isolation of their own home.
Swedish feminist Gudrun Schyman is even more to the point in telling us who she blames:
It’s every man and in every class of society.
In 1994 the Keating Government in Australia even unveiled a National Strategy on Violence against Women based on this patriarchy theory. The spokeswoman for the strategy, Kate Gilmore, blamed all men by denying that “men that are violent are different from every other man in the country.” She went so far as to write that,
You can see the tyrants, the invaders, the imperialists, in the fathers, the husbands, the stepfathers, the boyfriends, the grandfathers, and it’s that study of tyranny in the home ... that will take us to the point where we can secure change.
The conservative view on domestic violence could hardly be more different. Conservatives recognise, as a powerful motivating factor in men, an instinct to protect and provide for their wives and family. Therefore, men who bash their partners are, in the conservative view, breaking with a masculine code of protecting women from physical harm, rather than seeking to enforce a patriarchy.
In other words, men who are domestically violent are flouting traditional masculine norms, rather than following them.
So is it the feminist or conservative view which is more correct? Some recent research has once again cast doubt on the feminist approach to domestic violence.
One study, conducted by researchers from three American universities, and based on interviews with 1,635 couples, was recently published in the Journal of Family Psychology.
The study found that men had inflicted severe violence on their female partners in 3.63% of the couples, but that women had inflicted severe violence on their male partners in 7.52% of the couples. So women were twice as likely to be severely violent as the men.
As the researchers themselves concluded:
As expected from previous research with this and other community samples (Archer, 2000), differences were observed in the rates of male and female partner violence, with female violence occurring more frequently.
These research findings fit the conservative view, that men are likely to restrain themselves from acting violently toward women, rather than the feminist one, that men commit violence against women to uphold male dominance.
An even more detailed study was published in May of this year. The study looked at partner violence in university students across 32 different countries. Over 13,000 students participated in the study.
This research found that across all 32 countries, severe violence had occurred in 10.8% of relationships. However, of these violent relationships, only 15.7% involved male-only violence against women (i.e. roughly 1.5% of all relationships). In 29.4% of cases, there was female-only violence against men, and in 54.8% of cases both the male and female were violent.
So again, female-only violence against men is roughly twice as common as male-only violence against women.
Why were the women violent toward their male partners? According to the study “the most usual motivations for violence by women are coercion, anger, and punishing misbehavior by their partner.”
So domestic violence has other causes than the “social construction of masculinity” or “patriarchal domination”. This is clear from the fact that women are even more likely than men to initiate domestic violence. It ought to be clear, also, from other research which has found that domestic violence, like all violence, occurs much more commonly amongst the young, and that factors like ethnicity and alcohol abuse also strongly affect the incidence of domestic violence.
Hat tip: Carey Roberts