The Debate Over Men’s Versus Women’s Family Violence
Michael Flood[Citation: Flood, Michael (2006) The Debate Over Men’s Versus Women’s Family Violence.
AIJA(Australian Institute of Judicial Administration) Family Violence Conference
, Adelaide, 23-24February.]
The debate over men’s versus women’s family violence is increasingly prominent, both in academicscholarship and in popular culture. We have always known that both men and women are capable of using violence, and that both men and women are the victims of violence. At the same time, familyviolence has long been understood to be a problem largely of violence
, against women andchildren. Most men are not violent, and in their intimate and sexual relations with women, most men practise non-violence, consent, and respect. But when women are subjected to violence in familiesand interpersonal relations, their assailant is most likely to be male.However, a very different understanding of family violence is now increasingly visible. Here,domestic or family violence is seen to be gender-equal or gender-neutral. In this paper, I assess thisclaim. I will demonstrate that there is no ‘gender symmetry’ in domestic violence, there are importantdifferences between men’s and women’s typical patterns of victimisation, and while men often are thevictims of violence, they are most at risk from other men. I identify the political agendas associatedwith the claim that family violence is gender-equal, and I offer strategies of response.
A note on terminology
Family violence was first placed on the public agenda through the efforts and activism of thewomen’s movements and feminism. The term ‘family violence’ refers to interpersonal violenceenacted in family settings, and is often used interchangeably with the term ‘domestic violence’.‘Domestic violence’ refers to interpersonal violence enacted in domestic settings, familyrelationships, and intimate relationships, and is most readily applied to violence by a man to his wife,female sexual partner or ex-partner. However, ‘domestic violence’ also can be used to denote violence between same-sex sexual partners, among family members (including siblings and parent-childviolence either way), and by women against male partners. Definitions of ‘domestic violence’ oftencenter on violence between sexual partners or ex-partners, while the phrase ‘family violence’ moreclearly includes violence against children and between family members. However, the usefulness of this phrase is affected by how one understands the term ‘family’ (Macdonald 1998, 10-13).Both terms have further limitations. ‘Domestic’ violence often takes place in non-domestic settings,such as when young women experience dating violence in a boyfriend’s car or other semi-public place. Definitions of ‘domestic violence’, ‘family violence’, or ‘partner violence’ may excludeviolence in relationships where the sexual partners have neither married nor cohabited (Jasinski &Williams 1998, x). Both ‘domestic violence’ and ‘family violence’ are often understood as distinctfrom sexual violence, but sexual coercion is a common element in violence against women by male partners or ex-partners. Some feminists criticize both terms ‘domestic violence’ and ‘family violence’for deflecting attention from the sex of the likely perpetrator (male), likely victim (female), and thegendered character of the violence (Maynard & Winn 1997, 180). Yet the alternative phrase ‘men’sviolence against women’ excludes violence against children or men and by women.Two other terms commonly applied to some or all of these forms of violence are men’s violenceagainst women and intimate violence, while newer terms include relationship violence, partner violence, and gender-based violence. Each term excludes some forms of violence, is accompanied bycertain theoretical and political claims, and is subject to shifting meanings in the context of both1