Domestic Violence in Men's and Women's Magazines: Women Are Guilty of Choosing the Wrong Men, Men Are Not Guilty of Hitting Women

By Nettleton, Pamela Hill | Women's Studies in Communication, Summer 2011 | Go to article overview

Domestic Violence in Men's and Women's Magazines: Women Are Guilty of Choosing the Wrong Men, Men Are Not Guilty of Hitting Women


Nettleton, Pamela Hill, Women's Studies in Communication


Men's and women's magazine discourse on domestic violence characterizes women as guilty of choosing the wrong men but does not hold men responsibleJor hitting women. Using qualitative narrative analysis on 10 leading titles over 10 years, I find an ongoing tolerance for and celebration of domestic violence in men's magazines and an enduring expectation in women's that women bear responsibility for both genders. No magazines discuss patriarchal cultural structures that enable violence against women.

Keywords domestic violence, feminist media studies, masculinity, men's magazines, violence against women, women's magazines

Often, the most dangerous man in a woman's life is the one who says he loves her. In the United States, if a woman is beaten, raped, or murdered, it will likely be by her husband or boyfriend. Popular magazines are an important source of public information about relationships and relationship violence, yet the discourse around domestic violence is unbalanced: women's magazines hold women responsible for the violence men do, and men's magazines sidestep male responsibility and make light of physical violence at home. Neither type of magazine takes on the patriarchal cultural structures that support and enable the existence of violence against women. This study examines this issue in an analysis of domestic violence narratives in 10 popular men's and women's magazines from 1998 to 2008.

What This Study Does

Scholarly exploration of how popular magazines portray domestic violence exists but is limited, and there is even less investigation of domestic violence representations among magazines aimed specifically at men. In a qualitative narrative analysis of both men's and women's magazines over a recent 10-year period, I examine domestic violence coverage aimed at men and at women. I situate this work within the body of feminist media studies of violence against women and within the cultural studies perspective of Stuart Hall's theories of representation and of the power of the absent representation (1975, 1988, 1992). I identify four central themes of domestic violence representation:

1. Women are responsible for preventing the violence of men and men cannot help themselves.

2. Domestic violence is terrifying to women and amusing to men.

3. Statistics are distorted to implicate men and overlook the violence of women.

4. The only way to prevent domestic violence is to separate victims from abusers (and it is the victim's responsibility to do this).

I also identify four key absences narratives that do not appear in magazine discourse:

1. No magazines hold men responsible for their violence.

2. None suggests that men should take active roles in reducing domestic violence.

3. No narratives represent victims as innocent of the violence done to them.

4. No connection is drawn or discussed between patriarchal social structures and the existence of domestic violence.

This work relies particularly upon two earlier studies by sociologist Nancy Berns. Berns made separate studies of women's (1999) and then men's (2001) magazines from earlier time periods--1970 through 1997 and 1970 through 1999, respectively--and more will be said about her findings (1999, 2001, 2004). My study differs from those of Berns in that I include both men's and women's magazines in the same study, comparing their messages, and my 10-year sample of texts begins in the year that Berns's surveys conclude.

My study addresses these research questions:

1. How does men's magazine coverage of domestic violence differ from women's magazine coverage?

2. How does that coverage characterize culpability and cause?

3. What characterizations and representations are absent, and what might those absences mean?

Before turning to the analysis, I begin by outlining the problem of domestic violence, reviewing some of the previous literature on the topic, and identifying the theoretical frame that guides this study. …

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