Domestic violence can be defined as, ‘any violence between current and former partners in an intimate relationship wherever and whenever the violence occurs. The violence may include physical, sexual, emotional and financial abuse’ (Home Office 2003: 6). Domestic violence is not a new phenomenon. Experienced still by women today, domestic violence can be dated back to even the 17th and 18th century. We shall explore the different outlooks of domestic violence including psychological, sociological and the feminist perspective. In conjunction, two more concepts seem to deliver a clarification for the progression and endurance of abusive relationships; they are the attachment theory (Dutton, Saunders, Starzomski, & Bartholomew, 1994; Stoney, 1995) and the “metaperspective.” (Goldner, 1998; Goldner, Penn, Sheinberg, & Walker, 1990) Psychological Perspective
The psychological outlook on domestic violence describes both the abuser and the victim to have an array of psychopathologies. Abusive men are believed to experience low self-esteem and lack of impulse control (Hamberger & Hastings, 1988), antisocial tendencies (Hotaling, Straus, & Lincoln, 1989), and the effects of substance abuse (Kantor & Straus, 1987). A study by Rosenbaum et al. (1994) affirmed that head injury is a prominent forecast of spousal abuse. On the other hand, women who were abused were thought to have, masochism (Pleck, 1987), learned helplessness (Gondolf & Fisher, 1988; Walker, 1979), “psychic numbing,” and hyper exaggerated startle responses (Douglas, 1987; Herman, 1992). Ferraro and Johnson (1983) presented a list of reasons, given by abused women, as to why they remain in abusive relationships and some of the reasons clearly reflected the psychological mind frame of the victim.
Four typical rationalizations were identified across the board. They include, denial of injury and of being hurt, attributing the abusers’ behaviour to external factors beyond the abusers control, denial of available practical and emotional options and denial of victimisation and blaming one’s self. Follingstad et al. (1988) attributed the decision to stay in an abusive relationship as an obligation to the “salvation ethic,” in addition to the responsibility to help the abuser secure the sanctity of their marriage. The family systems model (O’Leary, 1993) believes that family systems that are very rigid and seek to maintain a balance are those that the spouses fail to terminate abusive relationships. Sociological Perspectives
Male dominance over women has been acceptable for many years; it was how society was structured. Men were the head of the family, they were expected to work and provide for the family while women on the other hand were to stay home and care for the children. Women, therefore, were inevitably put in a subordinate position of total economic dependence. Gelles and Loseke (1993) argued that, “the structure of the modern family as a social institution has a strong overarching influence on the occurrence of family violence” (p. 31). Therefore, unemployment coupled with lack of education may explain why women stay in abusive relationships as they fear living in poverty. Religious beliefs held by woman have been used to explain why women persist in abusive relationships. Religion promotes the sanctity of marriage and this entails staying faithful and committed to your spouse. Women, who subscribe to this belief, are lead to believe that it is there social responsibility to help the abuser.
Another sociological view looks at the role independent stressors play in fostering domestic violence. Independent stressors include drugs, alcohol, poverty and unemployment. As Chornesky (2000) explains, “Poverty and unemployment are viewed as engendering rage in abusive men, and drugs and alcohol serve as disinhibitors that increase the probability that this rage will be acted out in aggressive behaviour toward women”. However, it is important to note that Chornesky did not imply that domestic violence was more prevalent in poor households. She points out that domestic violence occurs in all social classes and goes on to explain that, “…women who have been relatively comfortable economically may actually have a more difficult time leaving their abusers than may women who have experienced financial deprivation.” (p.485) The Feminist Perspective
Feminist view of domestic violence is sociology based. Chornesky (2000) describes the feminist perspective on domestic violence as, “essentially a sociological-structural one because it seeks to explain partner abuse on the basis of traditional gender-role expectations and the historical imbalance of power between women and men in a patriarchal society.” (p. 4870) Blame for any violence directed towards women is subsequently justly on the male perpetrator and feminists propose that the lack of economic and political power to liberate themselves is the reason why abusive relationships continue.
The attachment argument was the joint work of John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth (Ainsworth & Bowlby, 1991). Bowlby (1988) acknowledged his omission of violence in the family as a whole and spousal abuse in particular. He sort to amend this exclusion by trying to define family violence in terms of emotional bonding and attachments. He believed that for a relationship to become violent, each partner must be “deeply but anxiously attached to each other and had developed a strategy designed to control the other and to keep him or her from departing” (p.95). Bowlby (1988) proposed that a background of childhood neglect and abuse was a common factor shared by women in abusive relationships. This can be said to be the reason for anxious attachment as an adult. Making reference to the work of De Lozier (1982) who discovered that a significant number of women who had experienced abuse by the hand of their own parents and carried forth the abuse to their own children, had “grown up to be perpetually anxious lest husband or boyfriend desert, to regard physical violence as part of the natural order, and to except little or nothing in the way of love or support from any quarter.” (p.117)
Research by O’Hearn and Davis (1997), found that women possessing secure attachment styles were less likely to be victims or to be the abuser than those women with insecure, preoccupied attachment styles. All in all, for the abuse in a relationship to be in a continuum the victim must remain in the relationship. This point is reflected in Stosny (1995) words: “Abusers and victims tragically get stuck in a pendulum of pain, vacillating between emotional motivations to reinstate the attachment bond and anger-driven retaliation for perceived violations against the… bond.” (p.41) The attachment theory therefore suggests that the woman plays a part in the abusive relationship, due to her history, anxious attachment and fear of abandonment.
Metaperspective can be defined as the view that one believes another person to attribute to her or him. Goldner et al. (1990), deemed male violence important as a powerful tool of control. Men could use violence to obtain what they desired but could also be interpreted as an impulsive, expressive act. Citing the work of Rubin (1978, p.180), that stated, “the division of labour by sex can be seen as a taboo against the sameness of men and women which divides the sexes into two mutually exclusive categories and thereby creates gender… far from an expression of a natural difference, exclusive gender identity is suppression of natural similarities.” When gender divisions start to become blurring, humiliation is experienced by the man. The humiliation experienced was used to propose that battering is, “an attempt to reassert gender difference and gender dominance, when his terror of not being different enough from ‘his’ woman threatens to overtake him.” (p.346) In addition, “when a woman does assert her right to her own experience, her own sexuality, her right to be cared for, he may term her hysterical, extravagant, or insatiable.
He may threaten to leave her, thus signalling his social and economic superiority; or he may become violent, thus asserting his physical superiority. She may be confused by his rage because her experience of herself and his view of her are disparate; but she too has been raised in a culture that elevates the male perspective, so she may silence her own mind and submit to his construction of reality even if that means being hit.” (Goldner et al., 1990, p. 349-350) In other words, the socialization of men and women to their gender specific roles by society can be viewed as the rational cause of violence against women though extreme. Self-in-relation theorists’ believe that women’s capability to construct and preserve bonds is what develops their sense of self and their fundamental feminine identity (Gilligan, 1982; Miller, 1976; Miller & Stiver, 1995; Surrey, 1985). Borrowing from their work, Goldner et al. (1990) argues that views on women’s responsibility to maintain family relationships and the family at all costs, is passed down from one generation to another.
Therefore, just as her mother did, a woman begins to evaluate her self-esteem according to her success or failure in forming relationships and connecting (p. 357). It can therefore be said that women experiencing abuse may assume that leaving the abusive relationship is fail and a disregard for her role and therefore opt to preserver. In addition, an abused woman may believe that the termination of the relationship would also lead to losing one’s self. Chornesky (2000) considered this is to be a significant outlook on domestic violence as it is an indication that these women are neither masochists nor helpless dependents. She believed that these women may be looking to assert the feminine ideal of maintaining bonds and caring. In other words, “staying is what gender pride and self-respect demand.” (Goldner et al., 1990, p. 357)
Understanding the role that gender-specific socialization and childhood background play in domestic violence does not mean excusing the violent behaviour. Blaming the victim is also unnecessary for us to understand why some women opt to remain in abusive relationships. Chornesky (2000) believes that, “The effects of gender role socialization are powerful determinants of the experience of both men and women, and in extreme cases, these effects can lead to the development of a paradoxical bond between partners in which abuse and coercion are maintained within a stable relationship that may also involve deep affection and commitment.” (p. 497) Most women in abusive relationships do not want to leave their husband, all they want is for the violence to stop (Horton & Johnson, 1993).