Intimate Partner Violence

Gender & Societyin the Classroom: Intimate Partner Violence

Organized by:  Amanda M. Jungels, Postdoctoral Fellow, Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education
Updated by: Linda Gjokaj, Oakland University

The following instructor’s guide contains a review of more than a decades worth of research about domestic and intimate partner violence that has been published in Gender & Society. Discussions of intimate partner violence can occur in many different courses—social policy and social problems, crime and/or violence classes, gender and/or masculinity courses, and classes that focus on sexuality—not to mention courses that are explicitly about intimate violence. While most of the articles reviewed in this guide were published since 2000, some pieces from a special issue of Gender & Society published in 1989 are included because of their continuing relevance today. Included with each citation is a short summary of the article, how it might be used in a course, and a listing of courses in which the article might be used. This guide, ordered chronologically, includes articles that discuss the social and cultural construction of domestic and intimate violence; recent developments in the study of gender and intimate violence; institutional and structural factors that influence domestic violence rates and the experience of domestic violence for victims; how individuals deal with fear and vulnerability surrounding issues of domestic and intimate partner violence; and social and policy responses to intimate partner violence. Most of the articles included in this guide could be used in a large number of courses and in a broad variety of contexts. One final note: as noted by Lee (1989)[1], teaching about violence in the classroom can raise a complex set of issues for teachers and students.  Students may have to confront violence in their own life—either as victims or assailants—and teachers should be cognizant of the issues that discussions of intimate, sexual, or physical violence can raise for students and for themselves. As Lee points out, creating a safe environment in the classroom, offering support and/or resources for students, and approaching discussions of intimate and domestic violence with awareness and care can create empowerment and healing for students who have experienced violence in their lives.

[1] Lee, Janet. 1989. “Our Hearts are Collectively Breaking”: Teaching Survivors of Violence. Gender & Society, 3(4): 541-548.

Rao, Nitya. 2015. Marriage, Violence, and Choice Understanding Dalit Women’s Agency in Rural Tamil Nadu. Gender & Society, 29 (3): pp. 410–433.

Based on research in rural Tamil Nadu, the author examines Dalit women’s narratives in order to show the various concerns and issues they experience with regard to marital choice and violence. Her article, which departs from other studies on violence and marriages on India, highlights agency, voice, and gender relations, mainly to explore how cycle position, family status, work, and educational history shape Madhari women’s agency. The article is based on evidence from one village in Tiruppur district, Tamil Nadu. The narratives in this article come mostly from the qualitative subsample of 20 Madhari households. As one example, and with rich description, Rao demonstrates how, as she states, “agency takes different forms, including compassion for a violent husband or producing middle-class honor through respectable femininity” (p. 427). This is a good article to use with students if, among other reasons, you would like a cross-cultural perspective and a shift in focus by exploring issues of agency and voice when it comes to violence against women.

Luo, Tsun-Yin. 2000. “Marrying My Rapist?!”: The Cultural Trauma among Chinese Rape Survivors. Gender & Society 14(4): 581-597.

In an intriguing social constructionist piece useful for discussing the social and cultural definitions of sexual abuse and/or assault, Luo argues that the experience of rape and abuse trauma hinges upon the social and cultural construction of rape in a given society. Through in-depth interviews with Taiwanese rape survivors, Luo identifies some characteristics of rape trauma that occur in both Taiwanese and Western survivors (i.e., fear/anxiety, self-blame, depression, etc.), as well as some characteristics that appear to be unique to Taiwanese survivors (i.e., shame over loss of virginity, guilt about damaging family honor, consideration of marriage to the assailant, etc.). Luo argues that cultural factors not only shape our understanding of rape and/or sexual abuse, but impacts how survivors experience trauma symptoms and the ways survivors cope with their abuse.

Hollander, Jocelyn A. 2001. Vulnerability and Dangerousness: The Construction of Gender through Conversation about Violence. Gender &Society 15(1): 83-109.

Hollander interrogates how social interactions and reliance on biological explanations of gender reinforce gendered notions of violence; namely, that vulnerability to violence is a core part of our notions of femininity, whereas dangerousness is a core part of our conceptions of masculinity. Using data from focus groups, Hollander argues that our understanding of gender and violence shapes our daily interactions, our presentation of self, and how we move throughout the world; in addition, other social factors (age, race, class etc.) and their relationship to vulnerability or dangerousness are addressed. This article would be useful for instructors to start a discussion about the social construction of gender, vulnerability and dangerousness in students’ lives, and how these issues could be addressed on a societal and individual level.    

Berns, Nancy. 2001. Degendering the Problem and Gendering the Blame: Political Discourse on Women and Violence. Gender & Society 15(2): 262-281.

This is an evocative piece about the media’s role in shaping our understanding of intimate partner violence. Berns argues that many of the representations of domestic/intimate violence “degenders” the issue of intimate partner violence by presenting a “sex symmetry” argument—that women are perpetrators of domestic violence as often as men—while ignoring contradictory evidence and removing gender from discussions of intimate partner violence. In addition, many of these representations of domestic violence engage in victim-blaming; promote the idea that the larger society excuses violence by women; and blame battered women advocates for spreading misinformation. This article would be useful to generate class discussion about the role of media in our society and how the media frames our understanding of social problems/social issues.

Scott, Ellen K., Andrew S. London and Nancy A. Myers. 2002. Dangerous Dependencies: The Intersection of Welfare Reform and Domestic Violence. Gender & Society 16(6): 878-897.

This article will be useful for those who wish to show how policy decisions and institutional changes can impact domestic/intimate violence, and how these changes can have consequences beyond their original intent. The authors argue that moving from the stability of welfare can induce some women to develop other “dangerous dependencies,” including financial and instrumental dependency, on violent partners. The authors critique welfare reform legislation, and ask whether reducing dependence on state support has really increased women’s self-sufficiency and independence.

Menjívar, Cecilia and Olivia Salcido. 2002. Immigrant Women and Domestic Violence: Common Experiences in Different Countries. Gender & Society 16(6): 898-920.

This article would be useful for instructors who wish to help students understand how specific conditions impact the experience of domestic violence, and how governmental policies can also shape experiences of intimate violence. Offering a comparative analysis among women immigrating from a broad range of countries to industrialized countries, Menjívar and Salcido argue that there are many conditions specific to immigrant women that exacerbate their experiences of domestic violence (including limited language skills, complicated immigrant status, isolation from support networks, etc.). Menjívar and Salcido conclude by offering an analysis of how the policies of host countries (both at the national and local level) could exacerbate or alleviate conditions of abuse.

Rothenberg, Bess. 2003. “We Don’t Have Time for Social Change”: Cultural Compromise and the Battered Woman Syndrome. Gender & Society 17(5): 771-787.

After outlining the development and acceptance of “battered woman syndrome” (accomplished largely through the writings and activism of Lenore Walker, who coined the term), Rothenberg presents critiques of battered woman syndrome, included the tendency to present an overly generalized and simplified “ideal” victim (including passivity and “innocence”). These restrictive and narrow concepts of “ideal victimhood” are not reflective of the reality of domestic violence survivors, Rothenberg argues, and they have had implications in the legal, cultural, and social service realms. This article will be useful for instructors who wish to engage students in a discussion about what “counts” as a victim and the cultural construction and understanding of victimhood.

Wesely, Jennifer K. and Emily Gaarder. 2004. The Gendered “Nature” of the Urban Outdoors: Women Negotiating Fear of Violence. Gender & Society 18(5): 645-663.

Wesely and Gaarder describe the complex negotiations that women engage in while participating in outdoor recreation while also maintaining a feeling of safety and security. Women reported that although they greatly enjoyed their outdoor activities, they also experienced objectification and harassment while engaging in outdoor activities. Women moderated these fears and perceived vulnerability by altering their exercise routines and exercising in groups. This piece would be useful to address issues of the social construction of gender, sexuality, and violence; in addition, it would be useful to start class discussion about fears about violence and what could (or should) be done on a societal, institutional, small group, and individual level to increase feelings of security.

Anderson, Kristin L. 2007. Who Gets Out? Gender as Structure and the Dissolution of Violent Heterosexual Relationships. Gender & Society 21(2): 173-201.

Anderson outlines the contemporary debate concerning symmetry in domestic violence rates—that is, whether men and women perpetrate and experience domestic violence at equal rates—and whether the severity and symmetry of violence, economic dependence, and depression affect the divorce rates among couples that have experienced violence. Using a nationally representative sample, Anderson finds that for women who are economically dependent on their partners, their ability to leave the relationship is constrained, especially when the violence they experienced is severe. Surprisingly, men who were financially independent from their abusive female partners were less likely to seek a divorce when the violence was minor/symmetrical. Anderson argues that the social construction of masculinity—in particular the emphasis on being a “provider”—may constrain men’s ability to leave a violent marriage. This article would be useful to instructors who wish to discuss symmetry in intimate partner violence, constraints to leaving violent relationships, and the characteristics of gender as a structure, rather than an individual feature.

Schrock, Douglas P. and Irene Padavic. 2007. Negotiating Hegemonic Masculinity in a Batterer Intervention Program. Gender & Society 21(5): 625-649.

Relying on engaging excerpts from three years of fieldwork, Schrock and Padavic investigate how hegemonic masculinity is produced and reinforced through cooperative and contested interaction. Despite the pro-feminist mission of the batterer intervention program included in the sample, participants did not seem to truly accept responsibility or develop empathy for their victims, nor were their understandings of masculinity and power challenged. By allowing participants to present themselves as the culturally acceptable ideal of hard-working breadwinners, and by encouraging participants to use rationality in their interactions as a way to control both of anger and their victims, the facilitators of the program unwittingly reinforced hegemonic ideals of masculinity and dominance. This article would be useful for those who want to address social change and/or violence intervention programs; in particular, how programs with feminist intentions and missions can fail to live up to these standards.

Durfee, Alesha. 2011. “I’m Not a Victim, She’s An Abuser”: Masculinity, Victimization and Protection Orders. Gender & Society 25(3): 316-334.

Durfee analyzes protection orders filed by male victims of abuse against women partners; this is a unique study because it is the first to analyze accounts of violence perpetrated against men as they navigate their way through an institutional/legal setting. Durfee claims that the narratives men present in their orders of protection are shaped by cultural standards of hegemonic masculinity (e.g., they remain in control of the situation; they resisted the abuse, but are not themselves abusers; they do not state that they are afraid of their partners). This article presents an interesting discussion on the social construction of masculinity, hegemonic masculinity, and cultural constructions of victimhood.

Elizabeth, Vivienne, Nicola Gavey and Julia Tolmie. 2012. “…He’s Just Swapped His Fists for the System”: The Governance of Gender through Custody Law.” Gender & Society 26(2):239-260.

The authors examine custody law across the Western world, arguing that it is based on three widely used principles which serve to disparately position and regulate mothers and fathers in post-separation custody disputes. These principles include theprinciple of durability, or the expectation of continued parenting after separation; of gender neutrality, or the assumption that mothers and fathers are equal in terms of their parenting roles; and of present and future temporality, or that “caring about” children is as important and indistinguishable from “caring for” children. Through their interviews with 21 women living in New Zealand, Elizabeth, Gavey, and Tolmie argue that these principles allow fathers’ needs and desires to dominate discourse about custody and visitation. In addition, these principles create an environment which allows men to use the court and legal system as a mechanism of domination over mothers and children (for example, by preventing women from relocating with children). This article may be of interest to those who wish to examine the way gender roles and hierarchies are created and reproduced in institutional settings, as well as how institutions can be used as a mechanism of control for abusers.

Hlavka, Heather R. 2014. Normalizing Sexual Violence: Young Women Account for Harassment and Abuse. Gender & Society 28(3):337-358.

In this powerful article, Hlavka explores the ways young women construct and explain their experiences of sexual violence at the hands of men and boys. Based on forensic interviews for reported cases of sexual abuse, Hlavka argues that young women often frame their experiences of sexual abuse as “everyday violence.” Men and boys, the girls say, are “naturally” sexually aggressive, and so experiences of objectification, harassment, and abuse are to be expected and are treated as normative. Based on their discussions of being victimized, Hlavka demonstrates that women and girls often regarded themselves as passive sexual objects that experienced sex as something that “happens to them,” and who were allowed agency only to act as the “gatekeepers” of sex. Finally, girls often blamed, labeled, and stigmatized each other when they were victimized, reducing the likelihood that girls would report sexual abuse. This article would be of use in discussions concerning the reproduction of sexual scripts and gender roles regarding sexuality, as well as discussions about cultural constructions of sexual violence and victimhood.

Jakobsen, Hilde. 2014. What’s Gendered about Gender-Based Violence?: An Empirically Grounded Theoretical Exploration from Tanzania. Gender &Society 29(4):1-24.

In this engaging article, Jakobsen addresses an important theoretical issue that is present in much of the research about gender-based violence; that is, “what is gendered about this violence?” (2). Jakobsen relies upon data from focus groups held among a diverse set of Tanzanians who discussed the practice of “wife-beating” and the shared norms that support a practice Jakobsen calls “the good beating.” The author argues that the practice of the “good beating” (which is discussed by focus group members as a practice that is generally supported and encouraged by members of the community) serves to support and reinforce gender inequality; it is also a way of “doing gender” whereby men enact masculinity by controlling their wives through force. In addition, failure to enact hegemonic femininity was often seen as an affront to men’s control and could trigger a “good beating.” Finally, Jakobsen demonstrates that participants believed that one’s sex was the deciding factor in determining how household tasks would be divided, which serves to undermine the argument that gender is not a primary cultural framework in much of Africa. In addition, these divisions had real material and economic consequences for men and women, reinforcing the gender inequality that supports partner violence. This article would be useful for discussions about the gendered nature of violence, as well as how patriarchy creates and reinforces violence against women.