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Gendering Violence: Masculinity and Power in Men's Accounts of Domestic Violence

NCJ Number
Gender & Society Volume: 15 Issue: 3 Dated: June 2001 Pages: 358-380
Kristin L. Anderson; Debra Umberson
Date Published
June 2001
23 pages
This study examined the construction of gender within men’s accounts of domestic violence, and suggests that violence against female partners is a means by which batterers reproduce a binary framework of gender.
Domestic violence has been suggested as a means by which men construct masculinities. However, few studies have explored the specific practices that domestically violent men use to present themselves as masculine actors. In-depth interviews were conducted with 33 domestically violent heterosexual men. These batterers used diverse strategies to present themselves as nonviolent, capable, and rational men. These strategies include depicting themselves as masculine actors by highlighting their strength, power, and rationality compared with the “irrationality” and vulnerability of female partners. At other times they positioned themselves as vulnerable and powerless when describing the criminal justice system or “controlling” female partners. These shifting positions can be due to the batterers calling on cultural discourses (of unstoppable masculine aggression, of feminine weakness, and of men’s rights) with their performance being shaped by cultural options. Batterers’ performances are also shaped by structural changes in the gender order. Some batterers expressed anger and confusion about a world with “TV for women” and female partners who are “too educated.” The findings suggest that violence represents an effort to reconstruct a contested and unstable masculinity, challenging the notion that violence is an essential or natural expression of masculinity. By gendering violence, these batterers not only performed masculinity but reproduced gender as dominance. Thus, they naturalized a binary and hierarchical gender system. 1 table, 2 appendices, 3 notes, 37 references.