Nancy Berns__Degendering the Problem and Gendering the Blame__Political Discourse on Women and Violence

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Degendering the Problem and Gendering the Blame: Political Discourse on Women and Violence Author(s): Nancy Berns Source: Gender and Society, Vol. 15, No. 2 (Apr., 2001), pp. 262-281 Published by: Sage Publications, Inc. Stable URL: Accessed: 13/09/2010 17:12 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unless you have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and you may use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use. Please contact the publisher regarding any further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained at Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printed page of such transmission. JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact [email protected]

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DEGENDERING THE PROBLEM AND GENDERING THE BLAME Political Discourse on Womenand Violence NANCYBERNS Drake University

Thisarticle describespolitical discourseon domesticviolence thatobscuresmen's violencewhile placing the burdenof responsibilityon women.Thisperspective, which the author calls patriarchalresistance, challenges afeminist constructionof theproblem.Usinga qualitativeanalysis of men'sandpolitical magazines, the author describes two main discursivestrategies used in the resistance discourse: degenderingtheproblemand genderingthe blame. Thesestrategiesplay a central role in resistingany attemptsto situate social problemswithina patriarchalframework.It is argued that this is a political countermovementto thefeminist constructionsof domestic violence as opposed to a serious concern about women's violence and male victims. Threemajor implicationsthis resistancediscourse has are the normalizationof intimateviolence, the diversionof attentionfrom men's responsibilityand cultural and structuralfactors thatfoster violence, and the distortionof women'sviolence.

It is time to pay attentionto those who say they get PlayboyandPenthouse"forthe articles."Althoughbest knownfor theirnudepictures,bothof these popularmen's magazines contain political commentarythat reaches millions of readers-more thanthose of obviously political magazineslike the conservativeNational Review and its liberalcounterpartTheNew Republic.Despite differencesin packaging,all of these magazinesareremarkablysimilarwhen it comes to the problemof domestic violence. They reframedomesticviolence in a way thatobscuresmen's violence while placing the burdenof responsibilityon women.This perspective,which I call patriarchalresistance,can also be foundin books, talkshows, the Internet,political debate,classrooms,courtrooms,andeverydayconversation.On the basis of a case study of one medium-political and men's magazines-I describe the two main discursive strategies of this perspective-degendering the problem of domestic

AUTHOR'SNOTE:I wouldlike to thankDavid Schweingruber,JohnLie,NormDenzin,MadonnaHarrington Meyer, Jackie Litt, Hal Pepinsky,and Ann Herda-Rappfor their helpful comments on this research. Thanksalso to the anonymousreviewersat Gender& Society. REPRINTREQUESTS:Nancy Berns, 120 HowardHall, Departmentof Sociology, Drake University, Des Moines, IA 50311; e-mail: [email protected] GENDER& SOCIETY, Vol.15No. 2, April2001 262-281 ? 2001SociologistsforWomenin Society 262



violence and gendering the blame-and discuss their implications for the fight againstdomestic violence. The discourseanalyzedin this articleis an exampleof whatFaludi(1991, xviii) describesas a "backlash"to the feministmovement:"apowerfulcounter-assaulton women's rights,a backlash,an attemptto retractthe handfulof small andhard-won victories that the feminist movement did manage to win for women."Numerous social issues have been framedwithin a backlashdiscourse,includingthe "liberation" of violent women offenders,women's fear of success, infertility,the breakdown of the family, delinquentyouth, and tension and conflict between spouses (Chesney-Lind 1999; Faludi 1991; Mednick 1989; Staggenborg 1998; Wood 1999). Accordingto the backlashdiscourse,these problemsareactuallya resultof the women's movement. Attackson the battered-womenmovement'sconstructionof domestic violence arenot new.The movementinitiallyconstructedthe problemas a resultof a cultural and structuralsystem of genderdiscrimination-a patriarchalsystem thatincludes other forms of violence and discriminationagainst women (Gordon 1988; Pleck 1987). Political oppositionto the battered-womenmovementintensifiedin the late 1970s because of its attemptsto demystify the patriarchalunderpinningsof violence againstwomen. Local communitiesand governmentagencies were not comfortablewith the political argumentthatwife beating was a result of a patriarchal society (Dobash and Dobash 1992; Gordon1988; Pleck 1987). To secure funding for sheltersandotherservicesfor victims,manysheltersandbattered-womenactivists de-emphasized their feminist politics. Clinical language, psychotherapeutic intervention,and professional social workersthat focused almost exclusively on victims' personalneeds took overmanyof the shelters.Attentionwas divertedfrom the abusersandfromculturalandstructuralfactorsthatfostereddomesticviolence. The dominantfocus on victims, not abusers,was quite differentfrom the earlier child abuse movement, as illustratedby congressionalhearings. "In the hearings aboutchild abuse, witnesses triedto explain why parentsabusedtheirchildren;in the hearingsaboutwife abuse,expertsgavereasonswhy batteredwomen were willing to be beaten"(Pleck 1987, 195). Motivationsandcharacteristicsof wife abusers were not discussed. Analyzingpopularrepresentationsof social problemsis importantbecauseindividuals draw on these sources when constructingtheir understandingsof issues such as violence against women. The media are perhapsthe most dominantand most frequently used resources for understandingsocial issues (Gamson 1992; Kellner1995). The mediaculture"helpsshapeeverydaylife, influencinghow people thinkandbehave,how they see themselvesandotherpeople, andhow they constructtheir identities"(Kellner 1995, 2). Newspapercolumns, magazine articles, films, made-for-TVmovies, television specialreports,andtalkshows areall public arenas where images of domestic violence are constructed,debated, and reproduced.Fromthese resources,individualsconstructtheirown conceptionsof whatis normal and acceptable. These conceptions, what Cicourel (1968) calls "backgroundexpectancies,"govern all social interaction.The backgroundexpectancies


GENDER & SOCIETY / April 2001

enable individuals"to searchfor 'valid' explanationsof 'whathappened'andjustify decisions" (Cicourel 1968, 53). Numerousstudies illustratehow media representationsandpopularculturedistortimages of social issues such as crimeandviolence (e.g., Beckett and Sasson 2000; Best 1999; Brownstein2000; Ferrell and Websdale 1999; Fishmanand Cavender1998; Jenkins 1994; Potterand Kappeler 1996). Because individualsuse the mediato makesense of social problems,it is importantto understandhow these media constructimages of an issue. The construction of a problemis importantbecauseit locates notjust the cause of a problembutalso its solution (Best 1995). Although there are often competing perspectiveson the same problem, one particularperspectiveoften gains dominance in a discourse. Foucault(1979) arguesthatthe power to controlknowledge allows one to control the dominantdiscourse on issues-thus silencing alternativeperspectives.Several studies of discourse and social problems,includingdomestic violence, have demonstratedthis claim (e.g., Beckett 1996; Cicourel 1968; Foucault 1979; Loseke 1992). This case studyis partof a largerprojecton domestic violence in popularmedia andpopulardiscourse.I focus on politicalandmen's magazineshere becausetheir perspective.Aftera description coverageis dominatedby the patriarchal-resistance of my method and sources, I addressthreemainpoints. First,I illustratehow these magazines resist the battered-womenmovement's constructionof domestic violence by employing two main discursivestrategies:degenderingthe problemand gendering the blame. Second, I argue that this perspectiveis a political countermovementto feministconstructionsof domesticviolence, not anexpressionof serious concern about women's violence and male victims. Third, I lay out several implicationsthis patriarchalresistancediscoursehas on the fight againstdomestic violence.

METHOD AND SOURCES Although qualitativeresearchincludes a wide varietyof concepts and methods (Denzin andLincoln 1994), I base my interpretiveapproachon criticaltheory.Critical theory works for the empowermentof oppressedindividuals;confrontsinjustice; andis transformative,political, andemancipatoryin nature(Giddens 1993). It is taking the sociological imaginationseriously-shifting from local and discrete instances of phenomenato their broadersocial context (Kincheloe and McLaren 1994). In this qualitative analysis, I investigate how magazine articles portray domestic violence. In particular,I focus on whereresponsibilityis assigned for the causes andsolutionsfor the problem.The articlesplace responsibilityexplicitly,by making claims about causes and solutions, or implicitly,by including some facts about a case while excluding others. This studyanalyzedarticlesthatfocus on domesticviolence publishedin magazines categorizedas "political"or "men's"between 1970 and 1999. The political



magazines (with numberof articles) are National Review (9), The New Republic (5), andReason (2). The men's magazinesare Gentlemen'sQuarterly(1), Esquire (2), Men's Journal (1), New Man (2), Penthouse(10), and Playboy (4). I do not addressherearticlespublishedin TheNation andTheProgressive,two progressive political magazines thattypically use a feminist frameworkin their articles about domestic violence. For this study,domestic violence is definedas physical, sexual, and/orpsychological abusethatoccurs betweentwo adultsin an intimaterelationshipregardless of maritalstatusor sexual orientation.1Althoughchildrenare certainlyvictims of domestic violence, I did notincludearticlesthatfocusedexclusively on child abuse. The time frameof 1970-99 covers articlesintroducedafterthe rise of the batteredwomen movement.Until the late 1970s, the mediaused the termdomesticviolence to refer to riots and terrorism(Tierney 1982). Even after the early 1970s, articles were listed undertopics such as quarrelingand conjugal violence so I conducted broadsearcheson two periodicalindexes,the Reader'sGuideto PeriodicalsIndex and Access. Additionalarticles were found in some magazines not listed in these indexesthroughissue-by-issueexaminationsof these magazinesand/orcorrespondence with the magazine'seditors. In this article, I describe a patriarchal-resistance perspective.Of the articles in this study, 81 percentuse this perspectivein theirportrayalof domestic violence. The overwhelmingmajorityof the men's andpoliticalarticleson domesticviolence appearedin the 1990s. Only one article was publishedin the 1970s, which was a story in Esquire on domestic violence duringthe Christmasseason. Five articles were publishedin the mid-1980s:one in Playboy,one in NationalReview,andthree in Penthouse.The remainingarticles, 82 percent,were published in the 1990s. I argue that most men's and political magazines were not interestedin publishing articles on domestic violence duringthe 1970s and early 1980s when the public's discovery of the problemwas still relativelynew. However,when battered-women advocatesbeganmakingsignificantprogressin gainingmediaattentionandchanging legislation to help victims of abuse, the men's and political magazines responded.Therefore,most of the articlesappearin the 1990s. Also, in particular, the 0. J. Simpson and Nicole Brown Simpson, and the Lorena and John Bobbitt cases duringthe mid-1990s inspiredmany of the articlesin these magazines. DEGENDERING THE PROBLEM Feminist constructionsof domestic violence emphasizethe role of gender and power in abusiverelationships,includingthe fact thatthe overwhelmingmajority of victims are women. The first major strategyof the patriarchal-resistancediscourse is to reframethe problemas "humanviolence."By removing gender from the framing of the problem, this perspectiveunderminesthe role of gender and powerin abusiverelationships.Thisdiscursivestrategy,whichI referto as degendering the problem,plays a centralrole in resistinganyattemptsto situatesocial problems


GENDER & SOCIETY / April 2001

within a patriarchalframework.Domestic violence is not the only formof violence that is degendered by critics of feminist constructions.Typical cases of men's everydayviolence againstintimatesand acquaintances,includingrapeand incest, are obscuredin the media by sensationalizingless common "strangerabuse"and "sick rapists"(Caringella-MacDonald1998; Meyers 1997; Smart 1989; Soothill and Walby 1991; Websdale 1999). "Mediaportrayalsof rape are in these ways hegemonic, buttressingthe patriarchythatundergirdsstructuralinequalityandsexism and the rampantrapethatthese engender"(Caringella-MacDonald1998, 63). In the case of domestic violence, where strangersare obviously not involved, humanviolence takes the place of "strangerdanger"as a rhetoricaltool for diverting attentionfrom men's everydayviolence. The theme of humanviolence is commonin men's andpoliticalmagazines.For example, Domesticviolenceis neithera malenora femaleissue-it's simplya humanissue. (Penthouse,Brott 1993, 40)

Domesticviolenceis neithersolely a men'snora women'sissue. Bothsexes are involvedinprovoking andcausinginjurytoeachother.(Penthouse, Siller1996,22) It is noteithertheman'sfaultor Domesticviolenceis notaneither-orphenomenon. thewoman's.Itis aboth-and 1994,45) problem.(Playboy,ShervenandSniechowski Although these articles often give examples of female violence to supportthe human violence argument,they rely mostly on official statistics and sociological studies to defend their argument-especially Gelles's and Straus's research on domestic violence. In her articlefor TheNew Republic,KatherineDunn (1994, 16) accuses the media and "advocacygroups"of abusingdomestic violence statistics because they state thatwomen are the majorityof abuse victims. She claims: "We are not being told the truthaboutdomesticviolence. Forstarters,it is nowherenear as extensive as the mediais claiming."She arguesthatthese statisticsarewrongand cites studies such as StrausandGelles (1995) thatgive differentnumbers.She uses this researchto arguethatmen and women are equally violent: StrausandGellesaretwoof themanyresearchers whohavefounddomesticviolence distributed equallybetweenthe sexes.In abouthalfthe casesof mutualbattering, womenweretheinstigators-theoneswhoslapped,sluggedorswungweaponsfirst. (Dunn1994,16) The same strategy and sources illustratedin Dunn's New Republic article are repeated in Playboy, Penthouse, and National Review. In Playboy's "Women are

Responsible, Too,"JudithShervenandJames Sniechowski(1994, 45) cite several studiesthatshow women andmen areequallyviolent. They begin the list of studies with the wordfacts:



Half of spousal murdersare committedby wives, a statisticthathas been stable over time. The findingsof the 1985 NationalFamily Violence Survey ... revealedthatwomen and men physically abuse each otherin roughlyequal numbers. While 1.8 million women annuallysufferedone or more assaultsfrom a husbandor boyfriend, slightly more than 2 million men were assaultedby a wife or girlfriend, accordingto a 1985 study on U.S. family violence publishedin the Journalof Marriage and the Family. Social Work:Journalof theNationalAssociationof Social Workersfoundin 1986 that among teenagerswho date, girls were violent more frequentlythanboys. Mothersabuse theirchildrenat a rate approachingtwice thatof fathers. Two years later in 1996, Sidney Siller repeats this list of facts, with a few minor changes, in his Penthouse column. Other authors use Gelles's and Straus's research on domestic violence along with other studies to arguethatwomen are as violent as men. The same surveythatfoundthata womanis beatenevery 15 seconds also foundthata man is batteredevery 14 seconds. This researchindicates that 54 per cent of all "severe"domestic violence is committed by women. (National Review, McElroy 1995, 74) Arguing that men and women are equally violent is the most significant and frequent strategy used for degendering the problem. Therefore, it is important to point out how their use of sociological research is distorted. This perspective ignores criticisms of Gelles's and Straus's research, Gelles's (1997) and Straus's (1993) own warnings about the misinterpretations and misuses of their research, and other research that contradicts the sexual-symmetry perspective. Critics of Gelles's and Straus's research attack the argument that men and women are equally harmed by physical violence in marriages. They argue that Gelles and Straus failed to look at the amount of women's violence that was in self-defense and at the extent of injuries for men and women (Saunders 1988). Perhaps in response to these criticisms, Straus and Gelles have acknowledged that the results from their study can be misleading because the Conflict Tactics Scales used to gather the data did not measure the purpose of the violence or the injuries resulting from assaults (Gelles 1997; Straus 1993). Gelles (1997, 93) criticizes those who take the data on battered men out of context: Unfortunately,almostall of those who tryto makethe case thatthereareas manybatteredmen as batteredwomen tend to omit or reduceto a parentheticalphrasethe fact thatno matterhow muchviolence thereis or who initiatesthe violence, women areas much as 10 times more likely than men to be injuredin acts of domestic violence. Thus, althoughthe data... show similarratesof hitting,when injuryis considered, maritalviolence is primarilya problemof victimized women.


GENDER & SOCIETY / April 2001

Even though Strausand Gelles (1995) maintainthat women may be violent in the home, they agreethatwomen sustainmorephysicalinjury,lose moretime from work, and require more medical care. Furthermore,Gelles's, Straus's, and Steinmetz's survey data focus on counting acts of violence and do not consider otherstrategiesof controland intimidationsuch as psychological, sexual, and verbal abuse and the use of threatsagainstchildren,relatives,and pets. The sex-symmetry perspective also relies heavily on Steinmetz's (1977a, 1977b, 1978) articles abouta "batteredhusbandsyndrome."Her articlesreceived media coveragein the late 1970s andreoccurringmediacoveragein the late 1980s and the 1990s as fuel for the backlash against the battered-womenmovement. Steinmetz(1977a) claimed thather studyindicatedthat250,000 husbandsare batteredby theirwives each year.Criticschallenge Steinmetz'sfigureof 250,000 battered husbands because she found no battered husbands-but four battered wives-in her study of 57 couples (Pagelow 1984; Straton1997). Steinmetzcomparedthe results of her study to police reportsof 26 cases in which two of the victims were husbands.On the basis of this comparison,she arguedthatonly 1 out of 270 cases of abuse is reported.Therefore,since there were two police reportsof husbandabuse,therecould havebeen 540 incidentsof husbandbattering.She generalized from this numberto 250,000-a numberthatthen exploded to 12 million in the media (Jones 1980; Pagelow 1984; Straton1997). The argumentthatmen andwomen areequallyviolent in the home ignores contradictoryresearchthatindicates thatthe majorityof victims are women (Dobash et al. 1992). Researchanalysesof police reports,courtrecords,crimevictimization surveys, and other surveys reveal that the overwhelmingmajorityof victims are women (e.g., Berk et al. 1983; Brush 1990; Dobash and Dobash 1979; Gaquin 1977-78; Schwartz 1987). Dobash and Dobash's (1998) recent researchindicates thatmen underestimatethe perpetrationof theirown violence, while women overestimate their own violence and its consequences. They conclude that empirical andtheoreticalapproachesto domesticviolence musttakeinto accountthe fact that men and women interprettheirvictimizationandtheirperpetrationof violence differentlyand thatan understandingof domestic violence must be locatedwithinthe broadercontext of otherintimidationand controlstrategiesand the genderedcontext in which they occur. Anotherstrategyemployed by magazinesusing the patriarchal-resistance strategy is to have female authorswrite manyof the humanviolence articles.Women's voices have been used before to resist feminist constructionsof social problems (Ussher 1997). When KatherineRoiphe (1993) introducedher argumentagainst date rape, newspapers,magazines, and variousinterest groups used her voice to fuel their own criticisms of the antirapemovement.Although Playboy and Penthouse relied mostly on male authors,TheNew Republic,NationalReview,andReason used female authors in key articles. In 1992, The New Republic used Jean Elshtain to challenge the battered-womansyndromedefense in her article "Battered Reason."Elshtain argues that the feminist movement is playing the victim


card and abusing the justice system. Dunn (1994) employed most of the patriarchal-resistancestrategiesin her New Republicarticletitled "TruthAbuse."In the same year, CathyYoungwrote a strikinglysimilararticlefor the National Review titled "AbusedStatistics."Youngalso publisheda majorarticlein 1998 for Reason that attacks the battered-womenmovement. In 1995, the National Review used WendyMcElroy to write about"TheUnfairSex."McElroy(1995, 74) attacksthe women's movementfor "pushingimages of women as victims and men as beasts" and "usingthe issues of domestic violence andrapeto create a new jurisprudence thatassesses guilt andimposes punishmentbasedon gender."McElroyarguesthat the battered-womenmovementabuses the justice system and unfairlyprosecutes men. Using women's voices is criticalfor legitimatingthis perspective.By having bothmen andwomen advocatingthis frame,the issue of genderis furtherremoved from the discourse.

GENDERING THE BLAME perspectiveframes domestic violence as a Although the patriarchal-resistance humanissue and arguesthatwomen andmen areequally violent, when it comes to discussing responsibilityfor ending abuse, the focus is the culpabilityof women. Thus, although violence is degendered,blame is gendered. Previous studies on media constructions of violence against women provide other examples of gendered blame. For instance, popularwomen's magazines frame domestic violence in a way thatnormalizesthe victim's responsibilitywhile ignoringthe role of the abuserandof society (Berns 1999). Similarresistanceoccursin othermediaand cultures. A mainstreamAustraliannewspaperused "strategiesof recuperation" when reportingon men's violence againstwomen (Howe 1999). By using editorial disclaimers,the articleminimizedmen's responsibilityanddistancedits own view fromfeminists.The effect of these editorialstrategieswas to position its critiqueof men's violence againstwomen within"hegemonicnarrativesof genderrelationsin which women acquiesce in domestic violence, feminists vilify men, and men as a group are much-malignedand not to be held accountablefor the behavior of a small, aberrant minority" (Howe 1999, 153). The four main strategies for gendering the blame are (1) highlighting women who are abusers, (2) holding female victims responsiblefor theirrole in their own victimization,(3) critiquing the social tolerancefor women's violence butnot for men's violence, and(4) blaming battered-womenadvocates. "WomenAre Responsible,Too":Womenas Victimsand Abusers One of the mainthemesthatthe men's andpoliticalmagazinearticlesput forthis thatwomen are not as innocentas they are usually portrayed-and men are not as evil. A quote from Penthouseillustratesthis theme:


GENDER & SOCIETY / April 2001

In the fight against domestic violence, men are almost always presumedguilty. The image of the batteredwomanis a firmone in the Americanmind.The printandelectronic media portraymen as brutalperpetratorsof domestic violence, while at the same time depicting women as sympathetic,innocent victims. (Siller 1996, 22) In his March 1996 column, Asa Baber uses the 0. J. and Nicole Simpson case as an example of this innocence versus evil campaign: The cant from the feminist community has been: Men alone are vile abusers;the women they bully are blameless prisoners.ThroughoutO.J. and Nicole's marriage (and aftertheirdivorce),he was nothingbut a cad andbrute,while she was an angel. Complex human interactions?There were none. It is time for us to challenge this superficialanalysis. (Playboy, Baber 1996, 33) Articles using this theme challenge women's innocence by employing the first two gendering strategies: highlighting women who are abusers (and arguing that they are at least as violent as men) and holding female victims responsible for their role in their own victimization. Although the argument that women are as violent as men relies heavily on sociological statistics and research as described above, some articles include examples to illustrate female violence against men. Brott points out that not all men are physically stronger than women as the stereotype would have it. He uses the following example to illustrate the physical abuse women can exert: But not all men are bigger than their wives. On one occasion, Stanley,whose wife weighed more than200 pounds,locked himself in his car to keep her from attacking him. She managedto get in anyway.Once inside she shoved him face down into the passengerseat andjumped on him, puttingher knees in his back. He reachedfor the cellular phone to call for help, but she wrestledit away from him andhit him several times on the side of the head with it. (Penthouse,Brott 1993, 32) In her New Republic article, Dunn gives examples of female violence that failed to trigger a national discussion of how dangerous female abusers can be. Here is one of those examples: Let us note that on February22, MariaMontalvo,a registerednurse in New Jersey, punishedherhusbandfor moving out aftershe hadassaultedhim. She drovetheirtwo preschoolchildrento herhusband'sparents'house, wherehe was staying,andparked the car out front. She then doused the toddlers with gasoline and set them on fire. (1994, 16) Asa Baber, the writer of Playboy's "Men" column, often discusses his own victimization as an example of female violence: I lived with a woman who physically abusedme. It didn't startout thatway. Like all romances,it beganoptimistically,butsomethingsoured,andherresponseto whatshe soon considered my unacceptable presence was to go on the attack. She raged,



slapped,kicked,scratched,hit. Once, I woke up with a knife in the mattressbeside me. (Playboy,Baber 1986, 29)

This perspectivearguesthatthere are as many male victims as female victims because of the mutual violence between men and women. However, the female abusersare highlightedin all these articleswhile the male abusersare practically ignored.And interestingly,althoughthe authorsseem to believe thatmen arejust as likely to be victims, they arerarelydiscussed. The articlesfocus on women's violence but not on the needs of male victims. When the authorsturntheirattentionto victims, it is in the contextof female victims andtheirrole in the abuse.The female victims are criticized in these articles for not leaving because they may actually enjoy the relationshiptoo much, denying their own role in the "danceof mutual destructiveness"andnot protectingotherpeople. Furthermore,articlesin TheNew Republic and National Review downplay both the severity and extent of female victimization. StantonPeele suggests thatbatteredwomen do not leave a relationshipbecause they like the "intensityof their spouses' feelings." Quite often, the abuse victims and the men they kill seem to have been involved in consensual relationships,from which the women derivedbasic emotional gratification.The womenrefusedto leave the relationshipswhengiven a realopportunityto do so because they welcomed the intensity of their spouses' feelings. (Reason, Peele 1991, 40)

A 1988NationalRevieweditorialused the case of HeddaNussbaum,Joel Steinberg, andLisa Steinbergto arguethatHeddastayedin the abusiverelationshipbecauseshe was a masochist.She is then blamedin partfor the tortureof her daughterLisa. If a masochistsubmitsto inhumanabuse,thatis perhapshis (or her)business.But the momenta thirdpartyis involved,we passbeyondthe realmof differentstrokesfor differentfolks. Miss Nussbaum,at the very least, acquiescedin the prolongedtortureof Lisa Steinberg.As an adult (however disturbed),she bears a portionof the blame. Whateverdeals the legal system may have made with her cannot expunge her own moral culpability.(Lisa Steinberg'storturers1988, 19)

ShervenandSniechowskido nothave such explicitreasonsfor why women stay, butthey clearlystatethatvictimsmustbe heldresponsiblefor theirrole in the abuse. Althoughthey give the obligatorynod to men's responsibility,the mainpoint of the storyis told in the title-"Women Are Responsible,Too"and illustratedin the following quote: "If women are not expectedto thinkand act for themselves,if their self-esteem is in shamblesand their dependencyis characterizedas feminine, the faultcannotbe laidatthefeet of men"(Playboy,ShervenandSniechowski1994,45) Although these two articles are two years apartand are written by different authors,both describe domestic violence as a dance thatneeds two people.


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Boththemaleandthefemaleareboundintheirdanceof mutualdestructiveness andin theirincapacityforintimacyandappreciation of differences. Theyneedeachotherto andlovelessness,andso, personalandcollectivedramasof victimization perpetuate neithercanleave.(Playboy,ShervenandSniechowski1994,45) regrettably, Thepathologyof anyabusiverelationship includesa victimwhois deeplyinfatuated withthe process.Thatis partof the sickness,andit's one of thereasonsthe victim findsit so difficultto disengagefromthedance.Thisis onetruthaboutdomesticviolencethatwe do notwantto hear:It takestwoto tango.Domesticabuseis a dance, sometimesadanceof death,andittakestwopeopletodoit.(Playboy,Baber1996,33) Baber applies this idea to the 0. J. and Nicole Simpson case by using attorney Melanie Lomax's quote: "Nicole was involved in this dance with O. J. Simpson. She has to bearher shareof the responsibility."He warnshis readersthatsome people will be offended by that statementand "will dismiss it as a classic example of blaming the victim. But her words are accurate"(Baber 1996, 33). Baber himself was the victim in a violent relationshipand reportsthat until he acceptedthe fact thathe was partiallyresponsiblefor the violence, he couldn't get out. UntilI acceptedthefactthatI wasa playerandpartof theprocessof domesticviolence,I wasparalyzed.Therewassomethingperverselyintriguingaboutmy situation.As if I werehypnotized ordrugged,I enteredintoa dailyritualwithmyabuser. ButI wasunwillingtotakeresponsibility formypartinit.Afterall,shewastheoneon theattack.Shewastheaggressorandpotentialkiller.I neverhither,nevergotphysical, so I assumedthatI hadvirtueon my side.It wasa tremendously self-righteous position,andit feltgood.(Playboy,Baber1996,33) Baber(1996, 33) says thatwhetheryou area manor a womanin an abusiverelationship, "pleaseget the hell out now. If you do not, it's a decision you will have to live-or die-with." AlthoughBaberuses his own experienceas a victim, the primary focus of the article is on women's responsibility. GenderingSocialResponsibility Some of the blame-genderingarticlesincludemanyof the same culturalthemes used by the battered-womenmovementitself: sexism, culturalacceptanceof violence, public awareness, and education. However, the perspective toward these themes is dramaticallydifferent.Sexism relates not to feminist concerns such as objectificationof women butto "malebashing."Concernaboutculturalacceptance of violence is limitedto acceptanceof female violence againstmen. This is the third strategyfor genderingblame for domestic violence: critiquingthe social tolerance for women's violence but not for men's violence. Many articles discuss why society does not hold women responsible for their violence. One theoryput forthsays thatthereare two sets of rules concerningviolence. Brott supportsthis idea:



When it comes to domestic violence, society seems to have one set of rules for men and another for women. Perhaps it's because we have been socialized to view women's violence as somehow less "real"(and consequentlymore acceptable)than men's violence. (Penthouse,Brott 1993, 34) Brott argues that our society teaches girls that it is OK to be physically violent and that people applaud women striking back. Womenare subtlyencouragedto be moreviolent. Dr. Strausfoundthat"alargenumber of girls have been told by their mothers, 'If he gets fresh, slap him."'Images of women kicking, punching, and slapping men with complete impunity are not only widespreadin movies, TV, andbooks, butthe viewer's or reader'sreactionis usually, "Good for her."(Penthouse,Brott 1993, 34) On the other hand, men are told to "never hit a girl" and if they are hit to "take it like a man." Brott argues that this type of socialization leads male victims of abuse to not protect themselves. Because of how men are socialized, they are reluctant to report being victims of abuse. "Men are trained not to ask for help, and a man's not being able to solve his own problems is seen as a sign of weakness" (Brott 1993, 32). Brott gives an example of how male victims are treated when they do come forward: Take Skip, who participatedin a program on domestic violence aired on the short-livedJesse Jacksonshow in 1991. Skip relatedhow his wife repeatedlyhit him and attackedhim with knives and scissors. The audience'sreactionwas exactly what male victims who go public fear most-laughter and constant,derisive snickering. Even when they areseverelyinjured,men will go to greatlengthsto avoidtelling anyone what they've been through.(Penthouse,Brott 1993, 32) Most of the articles suggest that to stop domestic violence, society must acknowledge and hold female abusers accountable. In the following quote, women are singled out as needing to be held responsible: The women's movementclaims thatits goal is equalrightsfor women.Women,therefore, should shareresponsibilityfor theirbehaviorandtheircontributionto domestic violence. Only the truthwill stop the epidemicof violence thatis destroyingourfamilies and our nation. (Playboy,Shervenand Sniechowski 1994, 45) This perspective is right in that female violence should be taken seriously. However, it should not be used only as a strategy to obscure male violence. These men's and political magazines continue to ignore the male abuser and the cultural and structural context that tolerates male violence. They point out the cultural context that tolerates female violence without providing a similar analysis for the tolerance of male violence.


GENDER & SOCIETY / April 2001

Advocates BlamingBattered-Women The fourthmain strategyfor genderingthe blame is blaming battered-women advocates. These advocates are accused of spreadingmyths and false statistics, abusingthejustice systemanddiscriminatingagainstmen,promotinga male-bashing campaignandfailing to acceptequalresponsibilityfor stoppingwomen'sviolence. In a Penthousearticle,Siller (1986, 26) arguesthatsocial institutions-inspired by feminists-are unfairlyaccusingmen of being the sole perpetratorsof domestic violence and ignoringthe men who are victims: "Pigeonholingmen as aggressive, animalistic,andbrutish,these feminist-inspiredcabalsbroadlyandunjustlyaccuse men of being the sole perpetratorsof domestic violence."Ten years later,Wendy McElroy (1995, 74) broadensSiller's argumentby accusing "radicalfeminists"of using domestic violence andrapeto createa "newjurisprudencethatassesses guilt and imposes punishmentbased on gender."McElroy claims thatmen's rights are being violated in this fight againstrape and domestic violence: of treatingmenas a separateand Thissortof injusticeis theinevitableconsequence whosharethesamehumanity aswomen. class,ratherthanasindividuals antagonistic Menarenot monsters.Theyareourfathers,brothers,sons,husbands,andlovers. Theyshouldnot be madeto standbeforea legalsystemthatpresumestheirguilt. (National Review,McElroy 1995, 88)

Battered-womenadvocatesare accused of abusingjustice by playing the "victim card."In an articlein TheNew Republic,Elshtain(1992, 25) pointsout that"As Nietzsche himself observed,the flip side of an urgeto dominateis an urgeto submit and then to construe victimizationas a claim to privilege."She arguesthat in the "social world of the radical feminists"batteredwomen are constantlydefined as "victimized, deformed, and mutilated."By portrayingherself as a victim, she "seeks to attainpower throughdepictionsof her victimization." sheremains Thevoiceof thevictimgainsnotonlyprivilegebuthegemony-provided a victim,incapable,helpless,demeaned.Thiscanbe partandparcelof an explicit powerplay.Orit mayserveas one featureof a strategyof exculpation-evasionof fora situationor outcome.(TheNewRepublic,Elshtain1992,25) responsibility One point often discussed in these magazines is that radical women's groups actively oppose the spreadingof anyinformationregardingfemale violence against men. McElroy (1995, 74) says that "in the currentclimate of hysteria,those who questionthe conventionalwisdom aredenouncedas enemies of women."Feminists are accused of threateningresearchersandotherswho speakon behalf of male victims. The most common example emergingin these magazinesinvolves Suzanne Steinmetz, who has researchedbatteredhusbands. These magazines arguethatnot only are the radicalwomen's groupsopposing any information regarding female violence against men but are also actively encouraging a campaign of male-bashing. "Andin general the battered-women



campaignis powerfully fueled by the radicalfeminist presumptionthat all sex is violence, andall men arebrutes.Call in the exorcists"(NationalReview,Killing the enemy 1991, 13). In 1994--during the 0. J. Simpsonsaga-Baber focuses on public attitudes and domestic violence with a specific look at male bashing. "The Simpson-Goldmanmurdershavehighlightedmorethanone epidemic.Male-bashing is a nationaldisease, andthe folks who perpetrateit have it down to a well-funded, well-practicedscience" (Playboy,Baber 1994, 36). Baber gives his readers six suggestions for facing the "currentcampaign of shame"being lodged againstmen. Here are three of those suggestions: (2) Wheneveryou heardomesticviolencedescribedas solely a maleproblem, remember thatwomenarenotimmuneto violence.Statisticsshowthatwomenand in thehome. menareequallycapableof brutality (3) Althoughthefemaleof thespeciesis labeledas morepeacefulandnurturing thanthemale,remember thatmothersabusetheirchildrenata ratealmostdoublethat of fathers. (5) As longas we believethatmenaloneneedcounselingin domesticviolence cases,we will be dealingwithonlyhalftheproblem.Thestereotypeof the abusive husbandandtheabusedwifeoftenfallsapartunderexamination. Itshouldberequired andthewifegetcounselingafterdomesticviolencecombylawthatboththehusband plaints.(Baber1994,36) In this article,Baberdoes notreallygive suggestionsfor solving domesticviolence. Rather,he targetsthe male bashingas the problemandofferssuggestionsfor resisting the message thatmen are the majorityof abusers. Siller (1996, 22) offers an alternativeto this male bashing. He calls for more emphasisto be placed on "thevalue andimportanceof fatherhoodandthe presence of a man in the home."Furthermore,he says that "reducingand eliminating the crimeof domesticviolence is too importantfor ournationalleadersto lay the entire blame at the feet of men." Feminists are blamed for not doing enough to stop women's violence. Therefore,it is concludedthatthey arenot takingresponsibility for stoppingdomestic violence. Finally, some articles attackthe battered-womenmovement for downplaying the extent and severity of female victims' injuries.Very often the authorscharge feminist advocateswith abusingstatisticsregardingfemale victims. The statistics given by advocacygroupsareoften describedas lies andmyths. "Likehydraheads or spreadingkudzu,the false statisticskeepproliferating"(Young1994, 43). Young goes even furtherby arguingthatthe violence itself is not as bad as you may think. Youngcites Gelles's and Straus'sresearchthatestimatedabout 1.8 million American women sufferedat least one incident of severe violence each year. However, Young (1994) points out that"only7 per cent of them requiredmedical care."She also points out that a study publishedin the Archivesof InternalMedicine found that "48 per cent of 'severemaritalaggression'by husbandscaused no injury,and 31 per cent caused only a 'superficialbruise"'(Young 1994, 44). Youngconcludes her articlewith a sarcasticquestionfor the battered-womenmovement."Whynot


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just say that 5 out of 4 women are batteredby men, and be done with it?"(Young 1994, 46). DISCUSSION TakingWomen'sViolence(andMaleVictims)Seriously Many of the articles using the patriarchal-resistanceperspective make valid points. Women'sviolence should be takenseriously,andmale victims of domestic violence deserve supportand protection.But these concernsare mostly a camouflage for what is primarilya political countermovementto the feminist constructions of domestic violence. If magazine publishersand editors were interestedin reportingon the seriousness of women's violence and the need to help male victims, the contentand framingof the problemwould be very differentfrom the articles describedabove. A 1998 articlein New Man gives insight into what this perspective may look like if abusedmen were the centerof the concernas opposed to the political opposition to the battered-womenmovement. AfterNew Man publishedits cover storyon abusivehusbands(Abraham1998), the editorsclaimed to have been "inundatedwithlettersfromanonymoushusbands begging the magazine to tell the other side of the story"(Thomas 1999). In their March/April1999 issue, New Manpublished"TheHusbandAbusers."This article claimed that 15 percentof domestic violence victims are men. One of the biggest differences between the New Man article and articles using the patriarchalresistanceperspectiveis thatit focuses on the question:"Whatcan a man do when his wife is abusive?"As opposed to just blamingwomen for the bulk of domestic violence, this article tries to help male victims. Although male victims are given advice at an individual level, culturalsolutions are also addressed,including the need for churchesto take a more proactiveposition on the problemof all spousal abuse. It is significantto point out thatthe types of abuse the articleclaims husbands face aremainlyhumiliation,verbalandemotionalabuse,and "deliberatewithholding of sex."Althoughphysical violence was discussed,most of the examples were of verbalabuse.The articlepoints out that"abuseagainstwomen tends to be more severe thanthat againstmen" (Thomas 1999, 57). And the authorclaims thatmen representonly 15 percentof all domesticviolence victims.The articlealso differentiates between types of women's violence: Themostcommongroupingarewomenwhouseviolenceas a formof self-defense; thesecondgroupconsistsof womenwhohavethemselvesbeenabusedandarefinally thethirdgrouparewomenwhoarestronger thantheirspousesorwhoarethe reacting; Thisgroupis thesmallest.(Thomas1999,58) physicalaggressors." "primary I do not want to downplay the problemsof emotional and verbalabuse. However, it is significant to note that the one magazine that claimed to have done a


serious investigationof husbandabuse found that verbal abuse was the biggest problemfor male victims. This is a far cry from the equality of physical violence thatthe majorityof men's andpolitical magazines argue.Perhaps,if otherauthors relied less on questionable statistics from one source and more on doing a thorough investigationof women's violence, a more complete picturewould emerge. But again,I do not thinkthatis the goal of these articles.Providingpoliticalopposition to the battered-womenmovementappearsto be the drivingforce. The Perils of Degendering the Problem and Gendering the Blame

The patriarchal-resistance perspectivehas threemajorimplicationsfor the fight againstdomestic violence: (1) the normalizationof intimateviolence, (2) the diversion of attentionfrom men's responsibilityand the culturaland structuralfactors that foster violence, and (3) the distortionof women's violence. The normalizationof intimateviolence is one of the more devastatingconsequencesof degenderingthe problem.Arguingthatmen andwomen areequallyviolent implies thatthe problemis humannatureor normalbehaviorbetween people without any considerationof genderrole socializationor culturalattitudestoward women. And, significantly,this perspectiveignores the researchthat continues to find thatmost victims andthe most seriouslyinjuredarewomen. Certainlyvictims who aremale need to be helped and women's violence needs to be takenseriously. However, targetingwomen's violence should not be done only as a strategy to obscure men's violence. Portrayingdomestic violence as a problem that affects men and women equally will jeopardizefundingfor programsthathelp victims of domestic violence and misguide programsand resourcesdirectedat prevention. Degendering the problem while gendering the blame diverts attention away from men's responsibility and the cultural and structuralfactors that oppress women and foster violence. This countersany attemptsto situatesocial problems within a patriarchalframework.SusanCaringella-MacDonald(1998) arguesthatit is easier to sell sensationalizedstories of rapecases in which the rapistsare "sick" ratherthan writing aboutmale power and everydaysexism. Likewise, portraying men's violence against women as rareor "only human"obscures the patriarchal attitudesand social structurethat underliethe problem.Of great concern is that these men's and political magazinesdo point out the culturalcontextthattolerates female violence withoutprovidinga similaranalysisfor the toleranceof male violence. Even though the violence is seen as "equal opportunity,"this perspective helps men avoidresponsibilityfor stoppingthe abuse.PaulKivel (1992) arguesthat "counterattackand competing victimization"are tactics that men use to avoid responsibility.In the nationaldebate aboutgender,men are claiming thatthey are mistreated,cannotspeakwithoutbeing attacked,and arethe victims of male bashing. "Thosewith power have many resourcesfor having their view of reality prevail, and they have a lot at stake in maintainingthe statusquo" (Kivel 1992, 104). He warnsthatwe mustbe awareof thesetacticsandbe readyto counterthem."Ifwe


GENDER & SOCIETY / April 2001

keep oureyes clearlyon the powerandthe violence, we can see thatthese tacticsare transparentfor what they are, attemptsto preventplacing responsibilityon those who commit and benefit from acts of violence" (Kivel 1992, 104). Certainlywomen's violence needs to be takenseriously,butin a way thatmoves researchandpublic debateon violence forward,not backward.Renzetti(1999, 45) pointsout that"despiteall we do notknowaboutintimateviolence, we do knowthat it is gendered."The fact thatwomen aresometimesviolentgives us no reasonto dismiss the importanceof genderin understandingthe problem.The public debateon women's violence is intensifying.Currently,perspectivesreflectingthe patriarchal resistancedescribedin this study are leading this debate (see also Renzetti 1999; Schwartzand DeKeseredy 1993). How a problemis framedaffects public opinion. The dominant frame currentlyportraysmen's and women's violence as equal. Moreresearchon women's violence is neededto help answerquestionsandprovide a rich context for understandingthe violence. This additionalresearchis neededto counterthe distortedimages of women's violence that are portrayedin the men's and political magazines. CONCLUSION The overwhelming majorityof articles in the men's and political magazines framedomestic violence in a way thatobscuresmen's violence andplaces the burden of responsibilityon women. Womenare held responsibleas abusers,victims, andadvocates.By degenderingthe problemandgenderingthe blame,this perspective underminesany attemptto situatedomesticviolence withina patriarchalexplanation.The roles of genderandpowerareignored.The dominantperspectivein the men's and political magazinesrepresentsa politicalcountermovementto the feminist constructionsof domestic violence, not a reflection of serious concern about women's violence and male victims. Three majorimplicationsof this resistance discourse for the fight againstdomestic violence are the normalizationof intimate violence, the diversion of attention from men's responsibility and cultural and structuralfactors that foster violence, and the distortionof women's violence. Ignoring roles of abusers and culturaland structuralfactors is not limited to men's andpoliticalmagazines.An earlieranalysisof women'smagazinearticleson domestic violence shows thatthe victim is the one held most responsiblefor ending the abuse (Berns 1999). Counseling and advising the victim to leave the relationship are the most common solutions in populardiscourse.Womenare told to find solutions to this social problem within themselves: "Changeyour personality." "Increaseyour self-esteem.""Takecontrol of your life." "Refuseto be a victim." "Youhave the powerto end the abuse."The dominantfocus on victims' needs, syndromes, stories, and responsibilityobscuresthe root causes of domestic violence. People may be shockedby the explicit blameput on the victims in manymen's and political magazinearticles.However,most women's magazinearticlesdo the same



thing by telling "it happenedto me" storiesthatimplicitly place the responsibility on victims for solving the problemof domestic violence. Holdingvictimsresponsibleas illustratedin popularmagazinesis a commontheme in otherdiscourses.Similarstrategiesas describedin the patriarchal-resistance perspective are found in classrooms,Webpages, newspapers,TV shows, andpopular books. Counterattacks,competing victimization,and de-emphasizinggender are strategies that are used to divert attention from the everyday violence against women. A more informeddebate,whetherin the media, classrooms,or academic journals,is needed to uncoverthe political strategiesused to veil issues of gender andpower,andto counterthe distortedimages of men's andwomen's violence that currentlydominatepopulardiscourse. NOTE 1. How to label the problemcontinues to be debated (e.g., Jones 1994; Meyers 1997). The term domestic violence is criticized for not identifyingthe roles of victim and offender.Similarterms criticized for this obfuscationinclude domestic dispute,family violence, conjugal violence, spouse abuse, partner abuse, and maritalaggression. Othercommonly used terms, such as batteredwomen, abused women, wife abuse, and wife beating, identify the victim but obscurethe offender.Termssuch as wife abuse andspouse abuse arecriticizedfor ignoringabuseoutsideof marriage.Manyfeminists and advocates use the termbatteredwomen,butit impliesthata woman'smainidentityis thatof a helpless victim. I use the term domestic violence in this study to more accuratelyreflect the language used in the discourse I analyzed.

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Nancy Berns,a visitingassistantprofessorin the Departmentof Sociology at Drake University, studies images of domesticviolence in the popular media and discourse and the effect of these imageson public opinionandsocial policy. She receivedherPh.D.from the Universityof Illinois at Urbana-Champaignin 1999.

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