Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Gender, Status, and Domestic Violence: An Integration of Feminist and Family Violence Approaches

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Gender, Status, and Domestic Violence: An Integration of Feminist and Family Violence Approaches

Article excerpt

Family violence researchers suggest that sociodemographic indicators of structural inequality influence propensities for domestic assaults. Feminist scholars argue that domestic violence is rooted in gender and power and represents men's active attempts to maintain dominance and control over women. This article integrates both approaches by proposing that elements of structural inequality influence violent behavior differently for women and men. Using self- and partnerreported data from Wave I of the National Survey of Families and Households, this study examines the relationships among sociodemographic characteristics, gender, status (in)compatibility, and domestic assaults. Results indicate that incompatibilities in income and educational status are differentially associated with domestic violence perpetrated by women and men. Discrepancies between self- and partner-reported violence are examined to determine correlates of reporting differences. The findings suggest that future research would benefit from an integration of family violence and feminist approaches.

Key Words: domestic violence, gender, status incompatibility, structure.

Efforts to identify risk factors, correlates, and causes of domestic violence have burgeoned in recent decades. However, sociological scholarship on domestic violence is characterized by substantial controversy, particularly around issues of gender (Gelles, 1993; Johnson, 1995; Yllo, 1993). The heart of the debate centers on the relative importance of patriarchy in the etiology of domestic violence. Feminist sociologists contend that issues of gender and power are the ultimate root of intimate violence (Dobash & Dobash, 1979; Stark & Flitcraft, 1991; Yllo,1993), but sociologists from other substantive traditions (e.g., family sociology) argue that patriarchy is just one variable in a complex constellation of causes (Gelles, 1993; Straus, Gelles, & Steinmetz, 1980).

The theoretical disputes stem, in part, from different methodological approaches to the study of domestic violence (see Johnson, 1995). Drawing primarily on victimization research that demonstrates the severe and repetitive nature of male violence, feminist researchers contend that violence is part of a system of coercive controls through which men maintain societal dominance over women (Dobash & Dobash, 1979; Martin, 1976; Stark & Flitcraft, 1996). Yet sociologists, employing national survey techniques, find strong relationships between domestic violence and age, cohabiting status, unemployment, and socioeconomic status that suggest that other characteristics of the social structure may engender violence (DeKeserdy, 1995; Smith, 1990; Stets, 1991; Straus et al., 1980). These scholars also suggest that the privacy and isolation of modern households in the United States and cultural support for violence facilitate domestic assaults (Gelles & Straus, 1988).

National survey results indicating that women are as likely as men to report engaging in assaults against spouses or partners (Straus & Gelles, 1986) fueled the theoretical and methodological debates. Feminist scholars offer a methodological critique of the use of large-scale surveys to research domestic violence. They argue that these methods ignore the context in which violence occurs and thus the issues of gender and power (Dobash, Dobash, Wilson, & Daly, 1992; Johnson, 1995; Straton, 1994). Additionally, feminists contend that national survey data are biased by underreporting of male violence due to social desirability (Arias & Beach, 1987). Sociologists who focus on sociodemographic and family system explanations and whom Johnson (1995) calls "family violence" researchers claim feminist scholars employ single-variable analyses that concentrate on patriarchy and ignore the impact of factors such as income, unemployment, and age, which may affect the perpetration of domestic assaults by women and men (Gelles, 1993; Gelles & Straus, 1988). …

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