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DOI: 10.1177/0921374011430566
2011 23: 147 Cultural Dynamics
Pilar Rodriguez Martinez
Rape and Domestic Abuse in USA (1970-1985)
Feminism and Violence: The Hegemonic Second Wave's Encounter with
 
 
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Cultural Dynamics
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DOI: 10.1177/0921374011430566
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Feminism and Violence:
The Hegemonic Second
Wave’s Encounter with
Rape and Domestic Abuse
in USA (1970-1985)
Pilar Rodriguez Martinez
Universidad de Almería, Spain
Abstract
This article, focused on violence against women, is a response to hegemonic feminists of the
Second Wave in the USA (1970–85). Initially, this violence was explained by the biological
difference between men and women, a difference ultimately used as a basis for the origin of the
patriarchal system. And the use of violence against women came to be associated with the social
and sexual control of women by men in patriarchal societies. As a result, hegemonic feminists of
the Second Wave assert the following about domestic violence: 1) it is associated with biological
differences between men and women, a difference which is fundamental to patriarchal systems; 2)
it is unilateral, that is, only men commit acts of violence against women, and it affects all women
irrespective of age, social class, education, or national origin; and 3) it is an expression of power
that men hold over women in patriarchal societies. Here I will focus specifically on the cases of
rape and domestic violence to show how these general theories have been applied in practice.
Keywords
domestic abuse, rape, Second Wave Hegemonic Feminism, violence against women
In this article I analyze hegemonic feminist theories about violence against women in the
United States during the 1970s and early 1980s proposed by authors who almost all were
white and middle class. As Becky Thompson has stated, this hegemonic feminism
. . . ‘is white led, marginalizes the activism and world views of women of color, focuses mainly
on the United States, and treats sexism as the ultimate oppression. Hegemonic feminism
deemphasizes or ignores a class and race analysis, generally sees equality with men as the goal
of feminism, and has an individual rights-bases, rather than justice-based vision of social
change.’ (Thompson, 2002: 337)
Corresponding author:
Pilar Rodriguez Martinez, Departamento de Historia, Geografia e Historia del Arte, Universidad de Almeria,
La Cañada de San Urbano, s/n o4120 Almeria (Spain)
Email: pilarr@ual.es
430566CDY23310.1177/0921374011430566Rodriguez MartinezCultural Dynamics
2011
Article
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148 Cultural Dynamics 23(3)
Of course, hegemonic feminist theories are not the only perspectives that the women
maintained at that time. However, hegemonic feminists contributed towards silencing
and excluding the proposals of authors such as Audre Lorde, Adrienne Rich, Barbara
Smith, Cherríe Moraga, and Gloria Anzaldúa. Their proposals are not useful in under-
standing the multiple violence that women suffer in social peripheries (blacks, poor,
aged, lesbians, disabled, prostitutes, migrants, from the third world, and so on).
The hegemonic feminist theories about violence against women I will review have
been influential, not only in the United States, but all around the world. In this sense,
maybe it is true that there ‘is probably no area of study in which feminist scholarship has
been more important’ (Yllo, 1988: 28). An example of the importance of this power is the
currently accepted institutional definition of violence against women which comes from
the declaration of the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in
1995. The conference established that the
. . . ‘term ‘violence against women’ means any act of gender-based violence that results in, or
is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including
threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or
private life.’
Like the hegemonic feminist theories I will focus on in this article, this definition gives
the idea that: 1) there exists violence against women that is gender-based, and 2) this
can be separated from other forms of violence. Hegemonic feminist theories from the
1970s and early 1980s give the theoretical basis that supports these ideas since they
focus the analysis of violence against women only on gender oppression (Sandoval,
2000: 58–81).
Therefore, in what follows, I review and critically analyze the concept of patriarchal
violence that hegemonic feminists of the 1970s set forth. I have deliberately chosen to
develop a reading of these approaches that decodes and reveals its contradictions, look-
ing at how they interact with academic approaches of the time. Hegemonic feminists do
not talk to women in the feminist movement (even if they talk about them), nor highlight
their contradictions or emphasize the problems they face in their daily struggles against
rape or abuse. Hegemonic feminists seek to establish a true knowledge about rape and
domestic violence, which demands to be recognized in the academy, and heard in deci-
sion-making forums. I will try to demonstrate in this article that these narratives that
seem not to worry about politics of location in fact lead to a negation of the agency of
women. This is because, at the end, there is no place for women who resist—or use—
violence: all women become victims. And, of course, there is no place for men who
contest—or even suffer—violence: all men will be seen as abusers. And finally, there is
no place to analyze any other kinds of violence (derived from the state or other social
divisions) since the premise is that all violence that women suffer is patriarchal.
The concept of violence against women presented by hegemonic feminists of the
Second Wave follows from the differences between sex and gender established in their
general theories of patriarchy. I begin by analyzing these concepts. Next I focus on how
these general concepts apply to cases of rape and domestic violence. I conclude by sum-
marizing the shortcomings of these ideas on violence against women. In order to stand
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Rodriguez Martinez 149
against the rape and domestic abuse that women, and to a lesser degree men, suffer, we
need more than just feminist theory, because violence, although detestable, does not
necessarily follow from an excess of power.
On Violence and Patriarchy
The hegemonic Second Wave of feminism initiated women’s studies by trying to develop
a theory about patriarchy that would allow them to understand, in a broader way, the
function of a universal social system characterized by relations between men and women
in which inequality, domination, subordination, and exploitation are common.
1
To do
this, it was necessary to differentiate between biological sex (male, female) and gender
(masculine, feminine). They emphasized the importance of gender because they consid-
ered that the inequality among men and women had social causes and consequences.
They didn’t downplay the biological differences between the sexes but took them for
granted. We’ll begin our analysis by focusing on their concepts about these biological
differences as they relate to the use and abuse of violence between men and women.
Current feminist perspectives on the debate about violence against women are indebted
to these theories.
In hegemonic feminist writings from the Second Wave (Brownmiller, 1975; Griffin,
1971; Millett, 1971; Mitchell, 1971), especially among those who call themselves radi-
cals,
2
we find two arguments concerning the use of violence. First, there are those who
assume, or argue, that men’s greater capacity for violence is deeply intertwined with the
origin and nature of patriarchy.
3
Second, there is the argument that violence is a method
of control that men use to maintain their domination.
Concerning violence as a masculine characteristic, the authors waiver between assign-
ing credibility to the differing biological capacity for violence in men and women, and
supposing that this capacity, even though it currently exists, is irrelevant given the
advances in modern technology. Susan Brownmiller and Juliet Mitchell are among the
authors who believe that, because of men’s superior physical strength, there exists a dif-
fering capacity between the sexes to act violently. For Susan Brownmiller, this superior
physical strength accounts for the origins of the patriarchal social structure. She states
that by ‘anatomical fiat, the inescapable construction of their genital organs, the human
male was a natural predator and the human female served as his natural prey’ (Brownmiller,
1975: 6). Brownmiller argues that the anatomical difference between the sexes, leading
to the superior physical strength of men, allows them to use violence to capture and rape
women, thus explaining the rise of patriarchy.
4
Mitchell also believes that the inferior
physical strength of women is historically related to their inferior capacity to commit
violence. As a corollary, the origins of patriarchy can be explained by the greater capac-
ity of men to fight (Mitchell, 1971: 103).
These assumptions are clearly problematic. To begin with, they don’t distinguish
between anatomy and behavior. Second, they assume that the conduct of men is a byprod-
uct of their anatomy, such that if men seem to be more violent than women it is because
of their superior physical strength. In addition, this would mean that all men have greater
physical strength relative to all women and can potentially display the same violent
social conduct toward them. In the same vein, all women are potentially victims of male
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150 Cultural Dynamics 23(3)
violence. Hence we come to the generalization that all people of the same sex have the
same conduct. It is no wonder that these theories were quickly criticized among the femi-
nist ranks. Julia and Herman Schwendinger note that
‘Brownmiller’s theory, despite its feminist themes, relies heavily for its credibility on traditional
sex stereotyping. Paradoxically, such stereotyping originates in sexist ideologies, propounded
by late nineteenth century male psychologists, sociologists, and anthropologists, who
caricatured both sexes. In these ideologies, men are depicted as natural predators, and all
women, by nature and at heart, are either dangerous creatures or willing subjects.’ (Schwendinger
and Schwendinger, 1983: 83–4)
In this way, essentialism and generalization thwart feminist critique because any result-
ing analysis will only lead us back to the premise of patriarchy.
Kate Millett and Susan Griffin present the second version of masculine supremacy in
connection to violence. They think that there currently exists a difference between the
uses of violence by the sexes. However, this difference can be explained by disparate
socializations, that is to say, by culture, and that it can be reduced given the current
development of technology. In fact, as Griffin points out, not all cultures construct femi-
nine and masculine identity in the same way. Western culture ‘expects aggression from
the male and passivity from the female’ (Griffin, 1971: 2), but this is not true for every
culture. Millett explains that it is impossible to know what accounts for the biological
difference in current circumstances (Millett, 1971: 50). From her point of view, the use
of force by men in patriarchal societies is diffuse and generalized. Women don’t
use physical violence, not because they have inferior physical capacity (they could use
weapons, for example), but because women are not socialized or trained to use violence
(Millett, 1971: 69).
5
This second argument introduces culture as an explanation. Anatomy ceases to have
importance, but violent conduct by men is seen to be a de facto reality in current circum-
stances. The difference from the first explanation is that it is now affirmed that supposed
acts of violence are the result of culture. Beyond that, it is maintained that all men are
potentially violent and that all women are submissive. This does not explain why some
men are more violent than others. And it is taken for granted that women never use vio-
lence in any form.
Previously I indicated that the concept of violence, proposed by the hegemonic femi-
nists of the Second Wave, also alluded to the methods of patriarchal control. In this case
they assert that men consciously use violence with a purpose: to intimidate and scare
women. According to Brownmiller, ‘From prehistoric times to the present, I believe, rape
has played a critical function. It is nothing more or less than a conscious process of
intimidation by which all men keep all women in a state of fear’ (1975: 5). This argument
about social control was criticized by socialist feminists who argue that, since rape has
been condemned in the majority of societies,
6
we can’t conclude that this is precisely
how men control women; that much socioeconomic organization promotes nonexploita-
tive sexual relations; and that the masculine superiority that underscores a war of the
sexes in which men are strong and women are weak and impotent is a myth (Schwendinger
and Schwendinger, 1983: 125, 126, and 128).
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Rodriguez Martinez 151
Millett’s argument, while not as extreme as Brownmiller’s, is similar in many respects.
She asserts that violence is used in patriarchy as an instrument of control in emergency
situations and as a form of intimidation (Millett, 1971: 68).
7
That is to say, the use of
violence should be considered an exception and it can’t be stated that male domination
over women in patriarchy has its roots in this. Violence may be an instrument, among
others, that men use to dominate women but it is not the most frequently used. Compared
to other authors, only Millett has alluded to though not fully developed the contradiction
that, if patriarchy is inherently violent, it cannot be an exception but the rule. To think
that violence is used in rare cases requires admitting that patriarchy is a system of domi-
nation that is not necessarily violent.
Millett’s ideas are found at the beginning of the second chapter of Sexual Politics.
Here, there is a footnote referencing an interesting article by Hannah Arendt on the con-
cept of violence (Arendt, 1969). Even if Hannah Arendt seemed to ignore the ‘private
realm’ of rape and domestic abuse as form of violence that demanded an explanation, in
Speculations on Violence, she explains that the concept of violence is opposed to that of
power, and that power, not violence, constitutes the essence of government. Violence,
from her point of view, is instrumental and needs justification. Power requires legiti-
macy, not justification. Violence, on the other hand, can be considered rational depend-
ing on how effective it is, in other words, to the extent to which it permits one to reach
one’s ends. Arendt also differentiates between terror and violence. Terror consists in the
form of government that comes into being when violence, taking full control, has
destroyed power without abdicating it. As power diminishes, an open invitation to vio-
lence results, even if only because those who held power were seduced by the temptation
to substitute it with violence. If we apply Arendt’s theory to the analysis on violence in
patriarchy, it would only be possible to talk about the instrumental use that men make of
violence in specific situations. Stating that patriarchy is based on violence would lead
one to propose that it is not characterized by an imbalance in power between men and
women, rather by terror.
Millett refers to this article noting that Arendt ‘has observed that government is upheld
by power supported either through consent or imposed through violence’ (Millett, 1971:
46). She goes on to explain, using the following basic concepts, why we live in societies
where patriarchy is dominant: the unequal status of men and women in the political
arena, the differentiation of roles in society, and the influence of sexual stereotypes on
the formation of one’s personality, become the three ideological pillars by which the
domination of men over women is maintained.
Arendt and Millett’s arguments about violence are overlooked in subsequent feminist
analyses. What prevails is an analysis whose basis remains only the biological differences
between the sexes. Perhaps the Marxist feminist Roberta Hamilton was correct when she
stated that the ‘feminist analysis has located the source of female subordination and male
domination in these biological differences between the sexes’ such that it ‘has been able
to account for the differences in life chances between men and women, but has fallen short
of a credible explanation of the differences among women’ (Hamilton, 1978: 12–13).
Perhaps, or, as I will argue, these theories do not quite explain the differences in women’s
uses of violence. Neither do they help us understand the inequality between men and
women that persists in our societies and is not principally manifested in violent ways.
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152 Cultural Dynamics 23(3)
In any case, their analysis of rape and domestic abuse assume that these forms of
violence affect all women, that men exclusively use violence, and that the violence
affects all women, across the socioeconomic spectrum, equally. By presenting the use
of violence as a manifestation of power, the possibility of analyzing power in social
relationships, including clearly unequal societies where men don’t use violence, is
lost.
The Hegemonic Second Wave’s Analysis of Rape
The white feminist movements during the 1970s were involved in the definition
8
and
public denunciation on rape while at the same time academics theorized about such vio-
lence (Brownmiller, 1975; Connell and Wilson, 1974; Coote and Gill, 1975; Free, 1980;
Griffin, 1971; Schechter, 1982; Schwendinger and Schwendinger, 1978; Smart and
Smart, 1978; Women’s Crisis Center, 1973). Within feminist movements, communica-
tion between women who had been raped was fundamental in raising consciousness in a
process of radicalization and rebellion, while public opinion in the 1970s, excused men
and placed the responsibility directly on the women who had suffered attacks.
9
In general, hegemonic feminists consider violence an instrument of power and coer-
cion that men use in patriarchal societies: ‘Violence signifies crossing a boundary in
which violation and degradation, previously unacceptable in a long relationship, are now
used as a tool of power and coercion’ (Schechter, 1982: 17). Within this logic, it doesn’t
follow that violence, especially rape, is an instrument that men use sparingly with a spe-
cific end in mind. Contrarily, it is believed that the power of men in patriarchal societies
is expressed specifically by means of rape. According to the New York Radical Feminists
Manifesto, ‘the act of rape is the logical expression of the essential relationship now
existing between men and women’ (Connell and Wilson, 1974: p. xvi). That is to say, the
patriarchal social system is essentially characterized by the use of violence on the part of
men against women. Moreover, it is believed that the use of violence expresses power
and that rape expresses the essence of patriarchal relationships.
The hegemonic and white feminist theories that explain rape maintain that patriarchy
is intrinsically violent. Men are socialized to be aggressive and women to be submissive,
and rape is used by men as a mechanism of control over all women. The objective of rape
is to defend the interests of men. And, as Schwendinger and Schwendinger highlight,
violence has only this goal.
‘Most of the widely circulated and book-length explanations of rape identified with the
women’s movement assume that men subjugate women simply to serve their own interests. In
the most extreme expressions of this feminist standpoint, words like ‘capitalism,’ ‘socialism,’
imperialism,’ racism,’ ‘family,’ and ‘state,’ merely signify male domination. All of these social
relationships are reportedly created to further male privilege’. (Schwendinger and Schwendinger,
1983: 77)
Basically, the philosophy behind these theories is that of a singular and total war between
the sexes in which men assault women in order to dominate them. And any other social
divisions are based, also, in the social division between men and women.
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Rodriguez Martinez 153
In such analyses, the weight of socialization and culture in maintaining social inequality
between men and women gives way to a focus on violence. It is as if violence is synony-
mous with all types of power so that, where power exists, violence will be perpetrated.
Griffin, for example, notes that in ‘the spectrum of male behavior, rape, the perfect combi-
nation of sex and violence, is the penultimate act’ (Griffin, 1971: 3). This mish-mash of sex
and violence has to do with the predominant masculine role in western culture. It is expected
that men take the initiative in sexual relationships with women and male aggressiveness is
also valued. Rape then becomes the quintessential stereotype of male masculinity. It is
noteworthy that, according to this theory, the use of violence is unilateral in that it is only
used by men and it expresses the essence of masculinity. This does not allow for the pos-
sibility that men would use violence against women in non-patriarchal relationships.
As a consequence, it is not possible to eliminate this kind of violence, nor any other
kind, until the elimination of patriarchy. This is because rape is
. . . not an isolated act that can be rooted out from patriarchy without ending patriarchy itself.
The same men and power structure who victimize women are engaged in the act of raping
Vietnam, raping Black people, and the very earth we live upon. Rape is a classic act of
domination where, in the words of Kate Millett, the ‘emotions of hatred, contempt, and the
desire to break or violate personality,’ take place. This breaking of the personality characterizes
modern life itself. No simple reforms can eliminate rape. As the symbolic expression of the
White make hierarchy, rape is the quintessential act of our civilization, one which … is in
danger of humping itself to death. (Griffin, 1971: 8)
The connection between sex and violence comes up again and again. Coote and Gill note
that like
. . . the battering of women in the home, rape is primarily a social problem, rooted in centuries
of male predominance and in the links our society has fostered between property, sex, and
violence. As violence increases generally, so does rape (although in this country, rape has
increased less rapidly than the overall rate of violent crime). The problem cannot be tackled
effectively unless changes are made in the social conditions that encourage violence and keep
women in an inferior position.(Coote and Gill, 1975: 3)
Using the same logic that described violence as an instrument of patriarchal control,
in the analysis of rape it is argued that there are consequences not only for the woman
that has been raped but for all women:
. . . ‘the threat of rape is used to deny women employment. (In California, the Berkeley Public
Library, until pushed by the Federal Employment Practices Commission, refused to hire female
shelvers because of perverted men in the stacks). The fear of rape keeps women off the streets
at night. Keeps women at home. Keeps women passive and modest for fear that they be thought
provocative.’ (Griffin, 1971: 8)
Along those same lines, Smart and Smart assert that rape constitutes a form of social
control in that it obligates all women to stay in their place, thereby limiting their conduct
because
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154 Cultural Dynamics 23(3)
. . . it is not rape itself which constitutes a form of social control but the internalization by
women, through continual socialization, of the possibility of rape. This implicit threat of rape
is conveyed in terms of certain prescriptions which are placed upon the behavior of girls and
women, and through the common sense understandings which ‘naturalize’ gender appropriate
forms of behavior. Both the implicit threat of rape, couched in terms of prevalent social
stereotypes, and the conventionally accepted ways to avoid such an experience, being in some
places rather than others, doing some things but not others, adopting only specific attitudes,
etc., are conveyed, and continually reinforced along with a whole range of cultural values
concerning female (and male) sexuality. (Smart and Smart 1978: 100)
If we revisit some of the data used by these researchers, we can see that their argu-
ments don’t correspond with the data that they used. And as more information is accumu-
lated about incidences of rape and the characteristics of both perpetrators and victims,
there is even less support.
In the 1970s, rape was a social problem that grew dramatically in American society.
10

The question of why, at the beginning of the 1970s, the number of rapes began to increase
even as feminist groups began to publicly denounce them, is not easily answered. It
could be that the public outcry and the increased social awareness of this problem moved
women to dare to report such occasions where before they would have remained quiet,
11

but the data that emerged in later studies suggests that isn’t the case. At least in the
United States, in 1995–6, the likelihood of having been raped diminished as the popula-
tion aged, while at the same time the age of new victims declined.
12
Thus, it is possible
that in the 1970s the number of rapes actually grew. Hypotheses are needed to explain
why such an increase in violence took place and why it was increasingly directed at
younger women. And why is it that in societies where laws progressively protect victims,
and condemn rapists, that rape has simultaneously increased?
Also it is evident that not all women were raped nor were all men rapists. And in any
case, the occurrence of rape cannot have influenced all groups of women and men in the
same way. In the early 1970s, much of the data we have now weren’t available and the
authors were not able to offer a comprehensive picture of the extent of rape in society. In
the United States, data from the National Violence Against Women Survey in 1995–6
show that 17.6 percent of women and 3 percent of men older than 18 years of age had
been raped at least once during their lifetime. Although more women than men suffer
rape, it is not possible to say that women are the only victims.
13
And, in fact, feminist writers in the 1970s had information regarding the ethnicity of
rapists and their victims. According to Brownmiller, blacks were over-represented in FBI
reports as they made up almost half of the aggressors that were on record with the police,
while the black population in American society didn’t exceed 11 percent. Amir’s study,
14

frequently cited by feminists, also arrives at the same conclusion and, moreover, finds
that the rate of black victims of rape was twelve times higher than that of white victims.
15

However, these data do not move Brownmiller to find an explanation for this striking
disproportionality. She affirms that
. . . the similarities between the types of oppression suffered by blacks and women, and heaped
upon black women, are more impressive than the antagonisms between us. As I have stated
elsewhere, the rapist performs a myrmidon function for all men by keeping all women in a thrall
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Rodriguez Martinez 155
of anxiety and fear. Rape is to women as lynching was to blacks: the ultimate physical threat by
which all men keep all women in a state of psychological intimidation. (Brownmiller, 1975: 281)
Brownmiller’s data, however, pointed to significant differences in the racial profile of
rapists, differences which demanded an explanation she didn’t offer. In fact, as a black
woman said, ‘When many white feminists think of black women, they too often think of
faceless masses of welfare mothers and rape victims to flesh out their statistical studies
of woman’s plight’. (Hull et al., 1982: 10).
It might be that the FBI data showing a big difference in the race of the perpetrator and
victim of rape doesn’t accurately represent reality.
16
Recent studies point to the probabil-
ity of black women having been raped sometime during their lifetime as not being sig-
nificantly different from that of white and Hispanic women.
17
However, Native American
women suffer a significantly higher percentage of rape.
18
Hence, it is clear that now the
proportion of rape does not vary much between the black and white communities. But
the question then arises as to why FBI data showed such a marked difference in the
1970s. What was happening in American society then that led to a higher rate of rape
among black women than among white women? Similarly, why do Native American
women experience a higher rate of rape in the 21st century?
In any case, and irrespective of the data that were available in the 1970s, the image of
female rape victims which prevailed in the print media was very stereotypical. Smart and
Smart, referring to a case in Britain, conclude that
. . . very few victims of the rapes reported in the press are non-white. As yet it is impossible to
say whether this is, or is not, an accurate representation of the reality of rape in the UK.
Certainly, given Amir’s (1971) findings in the USA that black women are more frequently the
victims of rape than white women, we ought to be mindful of the impression created, by the
absence of reports, that black women are rarely the victims of rape attacks or sexual assaults.
We could here be within the territory of what Brownmiller refers to as the ‘male sexual fantasy,’
that is to say that one of the criteria for selecting a rape case for report in the newspaper is
‘attractiveness’ of the victim. This of course has meant, in terms of prevailing cultural values,
some combination of the following: young, tall, attractive, blonde, brunette, and white. (Smart
and Smart, 1978: 100)
These stereotypes applied also to verdicts involving rape. In one study of 124 forcible
rape cases adjudicated by the courts of a Midwestern city in USA in 1970, 1973, and
1975, Free comes to the conclusion, using multiple regression analysis, that,
‘Assaults on black women, women who allegedly engaged in past misconduct, women assaulted
outside their homes, women who did not report the incident promptly, and women who were
prior acquaintances or relatives of the defendant were less likely to result in convictions.
Likewise, assaults involving more than one defendant, fewer witnesses, little physical injury to
the victim, and a defendant with no criminal history were less likely to result in convictions’
(Free, 1980: 848)
So data from the 1970s on the characteristics of female rape victims didn’t correspond
to the cases that were reported by the press which were stereotypes that seemed to influ-
ence the outcome of rape cases. Given the large disproportionality among the actual
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156 Cultural Dynamics 23(3)
ethnicity of victims, the image of raped women in the popular media, and their treatment
at the hands of the judiciary, there is no reason to believe that all women were equally
socialized to fear rape. In fact, as one can read in Amir’s study, not all of them responded
in the same way to being raped.
The analysis revealed that in over half of the rapes the victims displayed only submissive
behaviour; in 173 (or 27 percent) victims resisted the offender, and in 116 (or 18 percent)
victims put up a strong fight against their attackers. In both intra- and interracial rapes, Negro
and White victims displayed the same proportion of either one of these forms of behaviour. The
highest proportion of the instances of submissive behaviour were the cases in which the victim
was White and the offender Negro … the younger the age, the more submissive was the victim;
the most submissive victims were those aged 10–14 years. (Amir, 1971: 343)
Even though it is difficult to imagine the submissive conduct that Amir refers to, it is true
that his analysis reflects situations in which women resort to violence in order to defend
themselves against their attackers. And it might be that not only violence is used for
defence.
The Consequences of the Theories of Domestic Violence
In the United States, women of the feminist movement—and the feminist social scien-
tists who came after them—started to theorize about domestic violence in the mid-1970s
and early 1980s.
19
And, of course, the movement was not only of white middle class
women; the participation of the blacks and chicanas in the feminist movement against
domestic violence is unambiguous.
20
Social scientists who focused on the family
21
had
already published, during that time, some theories that tried to explain domestic violence.
22

One of the most cited studies is Gelles’s The Violent Home, which defined violence as an
illegitimate use of force (Gelles, 1974: 14). Here, he comes to the conclusion that the
domestic violence that men use against women is not an isolated phenomenon, but there
are various types that exist. This allowed him to speak about various dimensions of vio-
lence. Gelles differentiates between cases in which violence can be considered as an end
in itself, in which case it can be classified as self expression, in contrast to where rape
was used instrumentally. Second, aspects connected to the social acceptability of domes-
tic violence should be taken into account so that both legitimate and illegitimate violence
could be spoken about. And finally, the extent to which victims provoked or actively took
part in the violent act must be taken into account (Gelles, 1987: 85–6).
The opinions of sociologists who specialized in the study of the family are varied.
They never considered theories produced by hegemonic feminists as relevant because
they studied ‘wife abuse as a family issue while feminists regard it as a gender issue’
(Yllo, 1988: 40).
23
Nevertheless, like feminists, they point to the definition of domestic
violence as abuse in the family structure. Abuse in the family is understood as the abuse
of power, and it hinges on a relationship in which a person who has more power takes
advantage of another person who has less. Additionally, family sociologists shared the
hegemonic feminist idea that women did not sexually attack men. As Anderson notes,
Finkelhor
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Rodriguez Martinez 157
. . . attributed women’s lack of sexual aggression to a number of factors. He believed that men
engage in more sexually deviant behavior because of incomplete and faulty biological
development, because some men become hostile toward women as they reject their symbiotic
relationships with their mothers in order to develop appropriate masculinity, and because men
make and enforce social rules, in part through sexual dominance, control and violence toward
women. Finkelhor also argued that because women are inferior in strength and because men
must play the active role in intercourse, women are basically incapable of raping men.
(Anderson 1998: 80)
In contrast to the hegemonic feminists, Finkelhor considered that the use of violence
is a response to the perception of a lack of power. According to him, child and wife
abuse both
. . . seem to be acts carried out by abusers to compensate for their perceived lack of or loss of
power. In the cases of spouse abuse and the sexual abuse of children, this attempt to compensate
is often bound up in a sense of powerlessness, particularly with regard to masculine ideals in our
society. … However, the abuse may not always be instrumental (i.e., intended to restore power):
it may also be expressive. Abuse can be a way of venting anger against another family member
who is seems in some way as responsible for that loss of power. Or it can be a way of trying to
regain control by using coercion or exploitation as the resource for having one’s will carried out.
In either case, the abuse is a response to perceived power deficit’ (Finkelhor, 1983: 19)
In contrast to sociologists, hegemonic feminists interpret domestic violence in the same
way they do rape: as an expression of excessive power and not as a weakness.
I have already stated that hegemonic feminists began the fight against domestic vio-
lence,
24
and its study, a few years after their work against rape,
25
and they present their
findings as contributions that oppose other studies on the family that were being carried
out by other social scientists (cf. Bograd, 1988; Dobash and Dobash, 1979; Martin, 1976:
78; Saunders, 1988; Schechter, 1982; Walker, 1977, 1979; Yllo, 1988). Additionally, the
first studies on domestic violence used the analyses of rape as a reference as this came to
constitute the standard of analysis of violence that women in patriarchal societies suffer.
Walker expresses the context well when she explains how she began the study of domes-
tic violence:
When I became interested in studying battered women’s problems in early 1975, no other
psychologists were doing similar research. Several sociologists, such as Murray Straus, Richard
Gelles, and Susan Steinmetz, were documenting some of the social causes of violence in the
family. Feminists like Susan Bronmiller were studying the history of rape as a means for men
to control women. (Walker, 1979: p. xi)
The hegemonic feminist analysis, as Michele Bograd notes, springs from this question:
. . . all feminist researchers, clinicians, and activists address a primary question: ‘Why do men
beat their wives?’ This specific question directs attention to the physical violence occurring in
heterosexual relationships that are structured in certain ways within the institution of marriage
or partnership as it is currently culturally defined and socially sustained on material and
ideological levels’. (Bograd, 1988: 13)
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158 Cultural Dynamics 23(3)
Or, as Saunders points out, a ‘key element of feminist theories of woman abuse is that
men use physical violence to maintain male dominance in the family. Women as indi-
viduals and as a class are regarded as the primary victims’ (Saunders, 1988: 90).
‘Why do men beat their wives?’ isn’t only a question about the underlying cause of
violence in relationships between men and women; it also makes a series of assumptions.
It takes for granted that men use domestic violence, without specifying if all men, or the
majority of men, or only some men use it. Nor is the context specified. Men, it is asserted,
use violence because they have power in a patriarchal society. On the other hand, women
are identified as wives and as victims of this violence. It is argued, in summary, that
domestic violence is homogeneous and uni-directional because men, and only men, use
it to control ‘their wives’. ‘Their wives’ would be, in essence, non-violent human beings.
For this reason, Saunders noted that women are individuals or a class of individuals
characterized precisely as victims. Yllo and Straus maintain the same opinion:
The feminist analysis of wife beating is, at heart, a critique of patriarchy. The central argument
is that the brutalization of an individual wife by an individual husband is not an individual or
‘family’ problem. It is simply one manifestation of the system of male domination of women
that has existed historically and cross-culturally. Societal tolerance of wife beating is a reflection
of patriarchal norms that, more generally, support male dominance in marriage. Traditional
marriage, in turn, is a central element of patriarchal society. (Yllo and Straus, 1990: 384)
To explain the origins of this violence, they turn to arguments similar to those used by
Brownmiller. Del Martin builds on Brownmiller’s argument:
Wife beating is not a new phenomenon. It has been going on for thousands of years. Frederick
Engels placed its beginning with the emergence of the first monogamous pairing relationship
and the patriarchal, social, and economic system. Prior to the pairing marriage, women, as the
only discernible parents, were held in high esteem among the clans. The new arrangement came
about because women sought protection from what Susan Brownmiller called ‘open season on
rape,’ and because men wanted to authenticate and guarantee their identity and rights as fathers.
But the cost to women for their husbands’ ‘protection’ came high. The new ‘father right’
brought about the complete subjugation of one sex by the other. (Martin, 1978: 5)
Criticism of this theory, therefore, can be expressed in the same terms used to critique the
analysis of rape.
According to those hegemonic feminists, domestic violence is considered a brutal
expression of patriarchy that is found in the family institution. Thus, in the family
. . . the position of women and men as wives and husbands has been historically structured as a
hierarchy in which men possessed and controlled women. There were numerous legal, political,
economic and ideological supports for a husband’s authority over his wife which included the
approval of his use of physical force against her. (Dobash and Dobash, 1979: p. ix)
Even though it is true that in many Western countries, legislative systems do not condone
domestic violence, ‘men who assault their wives are actually living up to cultural pre-
scriptions that are cherished in Western society—aggressiveness, male dominance, and
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Rodriguez Martinez 159
female subordination—and they are using physical force as a means to enforce that dom-
inance’ (Dobash and Dobash, 1979: 24). While identifying the social order as a violent
patriarchy, Dobash and Dobash can’t satisfactorily explain why legal changes in patriar-
chal societies have come about. Who changes the laws on violence and how, if the same
cultural descriptions that legitimize violence exist, can the laws be changed?
26
According to these theories, the patriarchal family is the social institution towards
which all criticism must be directed because marriage constitutes ‘the institutional source
and setting in which the violence is initiated and carried out’ (Martin, 1978: 3). As
Dobash and Dobash put it,
. . . the essence of the patriarchal family and of the hierarchical relationship between husband
and wife has not been eliminated. It continues to be the foundation of male supremacy and of
the subordination of women in society and in marriage; thus, it forms the foundation of wife
beating. (1979: 45)
This is where Mitchell’s affirmation is clearly pertinent; she stated that the family ‘does
more than occupy the woman: it produces her. It is in the family that the psychology of
men and women is founded’ (Mitchell, 1971: 151).
Similar to the analysis of rape, these theories maintain that domestic violence is used
as a form of coercion and social control over all women. Domestic violence constitutes
of tool of power and coercion used by husbands that goes beyond the violent act itself.
‘Battering is far more than a single event, even for the woman who is hit once because it
teaches a profound lesson about who controls a relationship and how that control will be
exercised’ (Schechter, 1982: 17). Or, as Del Martin notes when referring to the words of
Donald Morlan, ‘separating out “battering men” from so-called “normal men” is to dis-
regard the fact that virtually all men are angry at women and that a batterer is acting out
an extreme of what most men feel, at least part of the time’ (Martin, 1978: 13).
In these analyses, domestic violence is thought to be at the center of an all-out war of
the sexes, in which all men are potentially aggressors and all women are potentially vic-
tims. As a consequence, it is claimed that more domestic violence is produced in socie-
ties where patriarchy is stronger, that is, where antagonisms between men and women
are stronger. When fewer acts of domestic violence are committed, we will be closer to
an equal society. It is possible to reach this conclusion because hegemonic feminists use
the concept of violence in a very abstract way that doesn’t take into consideration the
context in which violence occurs. Being preoccupied with generating knowledge in
order to facilitate the aims of the feminist movement, they didn’t focus their efforts on
the minor details which could, if closely examined, have compromised their theories.
Thus, the causes of violence are implicit in the assumptions of the theory that affirms that
domestic violence is practiced by all groups in all social contexts. Del Martin, for exam-
ple, states that the ‘practice of wife beating crosses all boundaries of economic class,
race, national origin, or educational background. It happens in the ghetto, in working-
class neighborhood, in middle-class homes, and in the wealthiest counties of our Nation’
(1978: 4). And that, ‘Husband/assailants and wife/victims are merely the actors in the
script that society has written for them’ (1978: 11). All that remains is to translate this
theory into practice to end domestic violence.
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160 Cultural Dynamics 23(3)
As we did in the case of rape, the next question to consider is the one that deals with the
kind of data that the feminists have used to support their claims. In the 1970s there were
data about homicides, police involvement, women who sought refuge in battered women’s
shelters, and even those accepted into treatment programs for abusers. However, the data
which received the most attention were those gathered by Straus et al. in the National
Family Violence Survey of 1975. The poll was based on the Conflict Tactics Scale, and
included a nationally representative sample of 2143 family members, which allowed, for
the first time, data collection on incidences of violence in American families.
What did Straus aim to measure with his Conflict Tactics Scale? As he himself
explains, the poll’s design originates with the idea that in families, as in society, each
member tries to live according to his own personal agenda which invariably differs from
that of others and thus produces conflicts of interest (Straus, 1979). These conflicts of
interest can be resolved using violence, even when it could be avoided. Therefore, the
Conflict Tactics Scales measure three specific ways of responding to family conflicts:
1. The use of rational discussion, argument, and reasoning---an intellectual approach to the
dispute, which for purposes of this instrument is called the ‘Reasoning’ scale. 2. The use of
verbal and nonverbal acts which symbolically hurt the other, or the use of threats to hurt the
other, which, for purposes of this instrument, are included in the ‘Verbal Aggression’ 3. The use
of physical force against another person as a means of resolving the conflict, which is called the
‘Violence’ scale. (Straus, 1979: 77)
Straus explains that this instrument does not supply any information about the resolution,
or lack thereof, of conflicts. Thus we will not know why these conflicts exist among men
and women, nor the result obtained when violence is used as a way of dealing with such
conflicts.
The results of this survey were presented for the first time in 1978 in an article that
Straus published in the journal Victimology (Straus, 1978: 442–58). In this article, Straus
begins by recognizing that ‘“wife beating” is a political rather than a scientific term’
(Straus, 1978: 444), but this doesn’t stop him from creating a Wife Beating Index. This
index is composed of positive responses to the existence of conflict and the frequency in
which men and women, in their conflicts, turned to one of the following acts in the last
year: kicking, biting, or hitting with the fist, hitting or trying to hit with something, beat-
ing up, threatening with a knife or gun, and using a knife or gun. The reason for choosing
these items is that all of them carry a high risk of inflicting physical wounds to the victim.
The results from the data are that
. . . for all violent acts during the survey year, there is only a slightly higher incidence for
husbands than for wives (12.1 percent versus 11.6 percent). In addition, those wives who were
violent, tended to engage in such acts somewhat more frequently than did the husbands as
shown by the median of 3.0 times in the year compared to 2.5 times for the husbands. Moreover
. . . the data on severe violence suggests that the wives were more violent even in this traditional
sense of the word violence. (Straus, 1978: 448).
Said a different way, the result of this study indicated that 1.8 million American women
(3.8%) had been the object of violent attacks by their husbands during the year before the
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survey. However, almost 2 million men (4.6%) reported having been the object of violent
attacks by their wives or partners.
It is clear that the design of the survey had nothing to do with hegemonic feminist
theories. The survey started out suggesting that family conflicts have to do with specific
disagreements about specific questions, for example: what television channel are we
going to watch at 8:00 p.m.? Or how are we going to use our money: save it or go on
vacation? (Straus, 1979: 76). In this way, the survey allowed for counting the number of
individual acts of violence committed by husbands and wives, without taking into con-
sideration the gravity of the wounds or the reasons why violence was used. The terms
‘physical force’, ‘abuse’, and ‘batters’ are clearly different and conflating them is prob-
lematic. By creating the Wife Beating Index in this way, Straus is making assumptions
about who is powerful in the family. He is suggesting that the use of violence positively
corresponds with the power of the attacker.
This survey was challenged not only by hegemonic feminists but also by conservatives
(Strauss, 1990: 11). There was a similar response to Steinmetz’s article ‘The Battered
Husband Syndrome’ (1978: 499–509) in which she points to the percentage of battered
husbands found in five different investigations (quantitative and qualitative) in order to
‘increase our awareness of the pervasiveness of all forms of family violence’ (Steinmetz,
1978: 507). As Gelles summarizes in 1980, ‘This piece of data, as reported by Steinmetz
(1978) in her article on “battered husbands” set off a major controversy in the study of
family violence in the seventies. … As the decade closed, the investigators were still
attempting to clarify and interpret the data on violence towards men’ (Gelles, 1980: 877).
Feminist critics of this survey pursued a two-pronged approach. On one hand, they
criticized the methodology of the survey, and on the other, the interpretations that the
authors came to. Concerning methodology, feminists emphasized that qualitative analy-
ses, more than quantitative, contributed to a validation of women’s experiences, and,
moreover, that feminist analyses should be a defence of women (Bograd, 1988: 15; Yllo,
1988: 28–50). The survey was criticized as invalid because it only recorded data from a
list of acts, apart from motives, reasons, and consequences.
In my judgement, it is clear that Straus and his colleagues overinterpreted the data.
Precisely because they did not take care to review feminist theories, their definition of
battered men and women has little to do with that which Walker gives us:
A battered woman is a woman who is repeatedly subjected to any forceful physical or
psychological behavior by a man in order to coerce her to do something he wants her to do
without any concern for her rights. Battered women include wives or women in any form of
intimate relationships with men. Furthermore, in order to be classified as a battered woman, the
couple must go through the battering cycle at least twice. Any woman may find herself in an
abusive relationship with a man once. If it occurs a second time, and she remains in the situation,
she is defined as a battered woman. (Walker, 1979: p. xv)
Contra Strauss, in my opinion this definition shouldn’t have been discredit as political.
From my point of view, it was more precise—and therefore more academic—than that
which would correspond to one of the items from the Wife Beating Index which would
include women who, during the last year, had experienced one of these actions at the
hands of their partner: kicking, being biting, or hitting with the fist, being hit or almost
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162 Cultural Dynamics 23(3)
being hit with something, being beat up, being threatened with a knife or gun, or having
a knife/gun used against them. Walker presented her definition after having collected 120
detailed, real-life accounts of battered women, and after having heard parts of another
300. As many men and women thought—and continue to think—about domestic vio-
lence, she knew that this phenomenon isn’t only about the isolated use of violence, but it
refers to a inter-related series of violence—physical and psychological—that, in addition
to physical wounds, has numerous other effects.
Hegemonic feminists criticized more than just the definition of the battered woman—
or man—included in the survey. Since they had argued that domestic violence was an
expression of the patriarchy, they couldn’t accept the fact that women could also use
violence in their relationships with men. As a consequence, they argued that violence by
women could not be classified in the same way as that by men because they used vio-
lence in self-defence. Del Martin, for example, claimed that the
. . . findings showed a high rate of violence for wives, but the data did not indicate what proportion
of violent acts committed by wives were in self-defense. Husbands showed a higher rate for the most
dangerous and injurious forms of violence (beating or using a knife or gun) and for the repetitiveness
of their brutal acts. Wives reportedly resort to violence mostly as a protective reaction––in self-
defense or out of fear. Fighting back, they say, often results in even more severe beatings. Lenore
Walker, who has isolated a ‘three-phase cycle’ theory of marital violence, says that many wives,
when they recognize the inevitability of an acute incident, may deliberately provoke it in order to get
it over with and move on to the ‘calm, loving respite’ stage that follows. (1978: 4)
Or just as Dobash and Dobash did, they insisted on separating types of family violence
according to who the aggressor was so that it
. . . is, of course, possible for all family members (male or female, adult or child) to use various
forms of physical force against each other. Parents, children, spouses, and siblings have all been
known to hit, beat, or kill one another and examples can be cited of every possible form and
degree of physical force being used between every possible combination of relatives. These
incidents, however, do not occur with the same frequency or severity between all family
members and they do not have the same meaning in the wider society or to the individuals
involved. Violence against wives must therefore be studied in its own right and solutions to this
problem can be found only if they are based upon an understanding of this issue’s complexities
and subtleties. (Dobash and Dobash, 1979: 9)
Even though the design of the survey did not permit adequate data collection, the
result that the use of violence was not the exclusive domain of men dealt a blow to those
hegemonic feminist theories. According to Yllo,
Straus et al. were surprised by these results and have spent many years explaining that they did
not consider the context of the violent acts; that most of the women’s violence was certainly in
self-defense; that they did not measure the consequences of the acts, which surely resulted in
greater injury to the women; and so on. Though they have stated that wife abuse, not husband
abuse, is the pressing problem, the damage was done. Those few simple numbers and the notion
of the ‘battered husband syndrome’ (Steinmentz, 1978) have been a powerful influence on
policymakers and the public. (Yllo, 1988: 41)
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Certainly it is possible that the results of Straus et al., and the arguments of Steinmentz,
had that effect.
The damage done to the hegemonic feminist theories was great. Given that they had
argued that violence was synonymous with power, the demonstration that women used
violence as much as men meant that, in some way, they too had power. And if among
American couples women attacked men as much as men attacked women, this meant that
American society was equal and that feminism wasn’t necessary. However, hegemonic
feminists did not take note of these contradictions to reformulate their theories. The defi-
nition of violence against women in the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing
in 1995 expresses how this view has come to be accepted and institutionalized.
Conclusion
After discussing theories that were developed by feminists on violence that women in the
United States suffered, I will now present what we have learned in the course of this lit-
erature review. First, I highlighted the fact that the violence that people use in social
relationships cannot be inferred from physical qualities. The difference that feminists
established between the social and biological sex of men and women did not only contain
anatomical attributes but also included inferences about social conduct of people based
on their anatomy. The result of those inferences corresponded exactly to the social ste-
reotypes of who would use violence. The theory that patriarchy is inherently violent and
that men are the only ones that use violence is not logical. I also stated that to theorize
that all men are violent implies, at the other extreme, that all women are victims. Hence
the capacity of women to fight violently and the capacity of men to change are denied.
Also, we have highlighted the reductionism of this view since it equates violence with
patriarchy. These essentialist assumptions are problematic because they thwart the
advance of knowledge about the use of violence among men and women.
One could argue that it is only possible to make this kind of criticism in the 21st cen-
tury, that the feminists of the 1970s did not have the resources that allowed them to
develop it. However, I don’t think that this is the case. The Third Wave authors have a
complete different perspective on violence, one that is concerned with social disorgani-
zation and marginalization (Richie, 2002). In fact, Angela Davis has emphasized the
state’s apparatus of violence (Davis, 1985). The Combahee River Collective highlighted
the history of rape of black women by white men as a weapon of political repression
(Combahee River Collective Statement, 1982). Another example showing that not all
women during the 1970s considered women to be mere victims comes from Erin Pizzey,
the founder of the first shelter for battered women in London. When asked what the
women who came to the shelter had experienced, she replied:
Nobody says, ‘Tut, tut, you poor victim.’ We have a long, continued discussion about who you
are, why you got into such a mess, what you feel about yourself. A third of the women are
violent, from violent homes, and they often don’t recognize they’re violent until they come into
a group situation where the whole group will say, ‘You’re really an aggressive, violent woman;
you are a provoker. You seek violence. Look what you’re doing now.’ It’s a very painful process
for some women because they have to come to terms with themselves. We might get a woman
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164 Cultural Dynamics 23(3)
who’s had three violent relationships. So you have to say to her, ‘Look, once could possibly be
a mistake, even twice, but three times is simply careless. What are you going to do about it?’
(Pizzey, 1979: 103)
Pizzey’s words allude to the fact that hegemonic feminist theories don’t capture the dis-
cussion of women directly involved in the resolution of specific social problems. In fact,
Pizzey does not consider herself a feminist. This would suggest that some effort is
required to understand to what degree hegemonic feminist theory supplanted, repre-
sented, or incited the voices of women who experienced the problems that theorists tried
to analyze.
Second, I demonstrated that the use of violence is neither homogeneous nor unilateral,
as suggested by the data on rape and domestic violence. In other words, not all men were
rapists or batterers, neither were all women victims. The data used regarding rape and
abuse demonstrate that only some men use this type of violence and that in the 1970s
violence was associated with other social variables. Furthermore, the data suggest that
women also used violence in their relationships with men.
Clearly, it is not possible to conflate every act of violence with a situation of domestic
abuse. In this respect, the feminist critique of family sociologists, and especially of the
National Family Violence Survey, is pertinent. This survey was not designed to look for
information on situations of domestic violence in which the abuse was a not one-time
event, but repeated. It looks for only physical, not psychological abuse. Finally, the sur-
vey didn’t ask about the effects of domestic violence, especially any long-term ones
which manifest themselves in the professional and social life of the abused. Straus and
Steinmetz interpreted the data that they had gathered about violent conduct as if this
conduct were specifically linked to situations of domestic violence. It is possible that
American women used violence as much as men in their relationships, but it is even more
probable that they suffered abuse to a greater degree than men. The unequal social situa-
tion in the favour of men means that, in comparison to men, women are more vulnerable
and enjoy fewer social resources. However, this should not lead us to believe that women
are always to be seen as more vulnerable. Other social divisions like race, social class,
occupation, age, sexual orientation, etc. will have an impact in the specific social situa-
tions where violent acts are observed. The fact that women can also mistreat men shows
precisely that violence is not only practiced when social norms permit it, neither is it only
used by the powerful. The violence of the oppressed, the subordinated, and the exploited
will find other ways of manifesting itself; social groups lacking power are not character-
ized precisely by being non-violent. This leads us to suggest that the condemnation of the
use of violence among couples cannot be realized only from a feminist perspective.
Finally, the violence that men use against women cannot be considered as being syn-
onymous with power. I have suggested, developing the theories of Hannah Arendt, that
perhaps those concepts should be considered in opposition. The violence that a rapist or an
abuser uses against his/her victims cannot be an expression of power because this would
also mean that we live in a state of terror in which violence has taken complete control and
has destroyed power. The existence of violence is possible precisely to the extent that the
social consensus around it exists. Consequently, it is not possible to legitimize the use of
violence in modern societies, even though public opinion does not condemn the aggressor.
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Rodriguez Martinez 165
According to Arendt, violence can be effective but never legitimate. As a result, feminist
theories should not focus on violence but on the cause of the violence as ‘[e]verything
depends upon the power behind the violence’ (Arendt, 1969).
Acknowledgements
This paper was written during my stay as a researcher at the Institute for Research on Women and
Gender of the University of Michigan. I’d like to thank the researchers at this Institute, as well as
Silvia Pedraza, for providing me with a peaceful and stimulating work environment. I am indebted
to Kristin and Aaron Taylor for the first translation and to Huzefa Khalil for reviewing the transla-
tion and the text carefully. I’d also like to thank the Consejeria de Ciencia e Investigaction de la
Junta de Andalucía for their economic support which enabled me to complete this research project.
This paper is a first draft of a series of theoretical discussions about the concept of violence against
women. It is developed as part of a larger research project that I direct and that is entitled ‘Violence
against Women in Native Populations and Immigrants in Southeast Spain: A Comparative
Analysis’, in the Centro de Estudios para las Migraciones y las Relaciones Interculturales (SEIE-
UAL). I would also like to thank the anonymous reviewers for helping me to develop my argument
and contribution.
Notes
1. Since the beginning, this hegemonic feminism can be contrasted with the theoretical
approaches that, since the 1960s, try to ‘understand the nature of sexual violence as it relates
to racial, class, and governmental violence and power’ (Davis, 1985: 22), or ‘find it difficult
to separate race from class from sex oppression because in our lives they are most often
experienced simultaneously’ (Combahee River Collective, 1982: 16), or try to understand
‘how a place on the map is also a place in history within witch as a woman, a Jew, a lesbian,
a feminist I am created and trying to create’ (Rich, 1986: 212). These feminists thought that,
‘white women focus upon their oppression as women and ignore differences on race, sexual
preference, class, and age. There is a pretense to homogeneity of experience covered by the
word sisterhood that does not in fact exist’ (Lorde, 1995: 285). They gave a different defini-
tion of feminism, such as the following from Barbara Smith:
The reason racism is a feminist issue is easily explained by the inherent definition of feminism.
Feminism is the political theory and practice to free all women: women of color, working-
class women, poor women, physically challenged women, lesbians, old women, as well as
white economically privileged heterosexual women. Anything less than this is not feminism,
but merely female self- aggrandizement. (In Moraga and Anzaldúa, 1983: 61)
2. We can say that, ‘Radical feminists argued that women and men needed to be recast in politi-
cal terms, and that gender rather than class was the primary contradiction’ (Echols, 1989: 3).
For the appropriation of the term ‘radical’ from the white feminist movement, see Thompson
(2002: 344–5).
3. In the words of the Marxist feminist Juliet Mitchell:
‘What we need is a theory that is at once large enough and yet is capable of being specific. We
have to see why women have always been oppressed, and how they are oppressed now, and
how differently elsewhere (...) Women are exploited at work, and relegated to the home: the
two positions compounds their oppression (Mitchell, 1971: 99).
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166 Cultural Dynamics 23(3)
From the radical point of view of Kate Millett:
. . . if one takes patriarchal government to be the institution whereby that half of the populace
which is female is controlled by that half which is male, the principles of patriarchy appear to
be twofold: male shall dominate female, elder male shall dominate younger. (Millett, 1971: 46)
4. ‘It seems eminently sensible to hypothesize that man’s violent capture and rape of the female
led first to the establishment of a rudimentary mate-protectorate ant them sometimes later to
the full-blown male solidification of power, the patriarchy’ (Brownmiller, 1975: 7–8).
5. She notes that:
Excepting a social license to physical abuse among certain class and ethnic groups, force is
diffuse and generalized in most contemporary patriarchies. Significantly, force itself is restricted
to the male who alone is psychologically and technically equipped to perpetrate physical violence.
Where differences in physical strength have become immaterial through the use of arms, the
female is rendered innocuous by her socialization. Before assault she is almost universally
defenseless both by her physical and emotional training. Needless to say, this has the most far-
reaching effects on the social and psychological behaviour of both sexes. (Millett, 1971: 69)
Millet does not explain which ethnic groups and classes she is talking about, and what this
social license consist in.
6. They don’t refer to the marital rape that, at this time, was not illegal in the USA. It is interest-
ing to follow how the concept of rape has evolved and its connections with marriage and race.
7. ‘Just as under other total ideologies (racism and colonialism are somewhat analogous in this
respect) control in patriarchal society would be imperfect, even inoperable, unless it had the
rule of force to rely upon, both in emergencies and as an ever-present instrument of intimida-
tion’ (Millett, 1971: 68).
8. The following are some of the definitions of rape that were used in the 1970s: ‘The American
Heritage Dictionary definition: “The crime of forcing a female to submit to sexual intercourse.”
The legal definition: “Carnal knowledge through the use of force or the threat of force”.––FBI
Uniform Crime Reports.’ (Horos, 1974: 79). The Women’s Crisis Center considered ‘rape to be
any form of genital contact which a woman has not initiated or explicitly agreed to, and which
is thus imposed on her by a man using deception, social black mail, threat or physical violence’
(1973: 1). According to Brownmiller if ‘a woman chooses not to have intercourse with a specific
man and the man chooses to proceed against her will, that is a criminal act of rape’ (1975: 8). In the
National Violence Against Women Survey, rape was defined as an event that occurred without the
victim’s consent that involved the use or threat of force in vaginal, anal, or oral intercourse. This
definition closely resembles that used in the National Women’s Study (NWS). However, unlike
NWS, NVAWS includes both attempted and completed rape (Gonzales et al., 2006: 3).
9. As Connell and Wilson explain:
In New York in 1971 women who had been raped ‘spoke out’ about it to tell other women
their experiences. They did so to counter the myths that (1) women cannot be raped against
their will, (2) women really want to be raped, and (3) women make false accusations. These
myths are not only sustained by the popular media, not to mention the pornographic media,
but by the academic and professional establishment as well. … Speaking-out about rape is an
attempt to destroy the power of the ‘top dogs’ to place the blame on women for crimes
committed solely by men’ (Connell and Wilson, 1974: 27).
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Rodriguez Martinez 167
10. Even though she doesn’t have her own data, Brownmiller highlights that
In 1973 the FBI reported 51,000 ‘founded’ cases of forcible rape and attempted rape across
the United States, a rise, if noted, of 10 percent over the previous year and a rise of 62 percent
over a five-year period. Its figures did not include statutory rape offences. . . . Who, then, are
the police-blotter rapists who form the raw material for the Uniform Crime Reports analysis?
Sixty-one percent are under the age of 25; the largest concentration of offenders is in the
16-to-24-year age range. According to the FBI, 47 percent are black and 51 percent are white,
and ‘all other races comprised the remainder’. (1975: 190–1)
Smart and Smart point out that ‘[b]etween 1969 and 1975 there has been an increase of 20 per
cent in the number of rapes known to the police in England and Wales’ (1978: 89).
11. This option must have been complicated for women because in the trial ‘the man will be
judged guilty or not guilty of rape; she will be judged to be a good woman or a whore’
(Women’s Crisis Center, 1973: 12).
12. According to the data from the National Violence Against Women Survey, in 1995–6, the
estimated numbers of persons aged 18 and older raped in the previous 12 months in USA were
302,091 women and 92,748 men, 0.3 and 0.1% of the women and men population (Gonzales
et al., 2006: 7).
Lifetime rape prevalence varied significantly by age group for women but not for men. About
one-fifth of the women who were ages 18–29 (22.4 percent), 30–39 (21.8 percent), and 40–49
(21.2 percent) at the time of the survey said they were raped at some time in their life,
compared with 16.6 percent of the women who were ages 50–59 and 6.9 percent who were
age 60 and older. Thus, 1 in 5 women who were 18–49 years old at the time of the survey had
been raped, compared with 1 in 6 women who were ages 50–59 and 1 in 15 women who were
age 60 and older. The relatively low rape prevalence for women ages 50–59 and 60 and older
is especially noteworthy given that women in these age groups were at risk for a longer time
than younger women. (Gonzales et al., 2006: 17)
In addition, rape occurs earlier and earlier in a person’s lifetime, Specifically, 14.5 percent of
the women who were 18 to 29 years old at the time of the survey said they were raped before
their 18th birthday, compared with 11.8 percent of the women who were 30 to 39, 8.5 percent
who were 40 to 59, 7 percent who were 50 to 59, and 2.6 percent who were age 60 or older.
The difference in the rate of early rape victimization for women is statistically significant
between all age groups except between women ages 40 to 49 and 50 to 59. (Gonzales et al.,
2006: 18–19)
13. As Tjaden and Thoennes note,
Although rape is a gender-neutral crime, the NVAWS findings indicate that most rape victims
are women and most rapists are men. They also show that victim–perpetrator relationship
patterns varied across the lifespan for women but not for men. Women who were raped as
children (before age 12) tended to be victimized by relatives; as adolescents (between ages 12
and 17) women tended to be raped by intimate partners and acquaintances; and as adults (after
their 18th birthday) women tended to be raped by intimate partners. In comparison, male
victims tended to be raped by acquaintances regardless of their age at the time of victimization.’
(Tjaden and Thoennes, 2006: 1)
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168 Cultural Dynamics 23(3)
14. Amir’s study is based on police records of 646 rape cases that occurred in Philadelphia in the
years 1958 and 1960. ‘The patterns which emerged were derived from information about the
646 victims and 1,292 offenders who were involved in 370 cases of single rape, 105 of pair
rape, and 171 of group rape’ (Amir, 1971: 334). The analysis was done with the chi-square test
of significance. Amir’s study revealed that a significant association existed between age and
forcible rape, the age group 15–19 years having the highest rates among offenders and among
victims. Both offenders and victims were unmarried. Also, ‘In the majority of cases (82 percent)
offenders and victims lived in the same area, while in 68 percent a neighborhood triangle was
observed, that is, offenders lived in the vicinity of victim and offense’ (1971: 339). He noticed
that ‘90 percent of the offenders of both races belonged to the lowest part of the occupational
scale: from skilled workers down to the retirees and unemployed’. For Amir, ‘Violence, espe-
cially in its extreme forms, was found to be significantly associated with Negro intraratial events
and with cases in which the offender was Negro and the victim White’ (1971: 342).
15. A significant association was found between forcible rape and the race of both victims and
offenders. Negroes exceed whites both among victims and offenders, in absolute numbers as
well as in terms of their proportion in the general population. Negroes have four times their
expected numbers of victims, and the proportion of Negro offenders was four times greater
than their proportion in the general population of Philadelphia. … when specific rates by age
and sex were calculated on the basis of the ‘potential’ population of each race, it was found
that the rates for the Negro women who were rape victims (on the basis of total Negro female
population) is almost twelve times higher than that of the White women who were victims (on
the basis of White female population). (Amir, 1971: 337)
16. So
. . . the recipients of sexist treatment are not equally distributed. Today, women who conform
to a stereotyped image of the middle-class or upper-class ‘good woman’ type are usually well-
treated by police. They also represent a smaller number of the official rape population. Other
women who do not conform––who are poor, third world, lesbians, hippies or prostitutes––are
generally derogated and considered non-rapable. Yet they comprise the majority of the official
rapes even though their numerical strength is reduced by police and prosecutorial discretion
and by defense ‘sexual smear’ tactics. (Schwendinger and Schwendinger, 1978: 111)
17. In fact, in 2006
. . . [t]he survey also found that Hispanic white women had significantly lower lifetime rape
prevalence rates than mixed-race women. However, the difference in rape prevalence was not
statistically significant between Hispanic White women and non-Hispanic white women. This
finding contradicts conclusions from previous studies that compared sexual assault prevalence
among mostly Mexican-American women and non-Hispanic white women. The study also
found no statistically significant difference among non-Hispanic white women, African-
American women, or mixed-race women––17.9 percent of non-Hispanic white women, 18.8
percent of African-American women, and 24.4 percent of mixed-race women were raped at
some time in their lives.’(Gonzales et al., 2006: 14)
18. ‘American Indian/Alaska Native women were significantly more likely than women from
other backgrounds to have been raped at some time in their lifetime, except for Asian/Pacific
Islander women (of which too few victims were interviewed to reliably estimate rape preva-
lence or conduct statistical test) ‘ (Gonzales et al., 2006: 13).
19. Dobash and Dobash note that in 1971, the year in which Erin Pizzey built the first shelter
for battered women in London, ‘almost no one had heard of battered women’. At a British
Women’s Liberation Conference that took place in Edinburgh the same year, ‘a special ses-
sion on the issue of battered wives was attended by only 20 women’ but after this year
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Rodriguez Martinez 169
. . . ‘there was an explosion of activity. Groups were forming all over England, Scotland, and
Wales, and they were usually struggling against great odds in order to open their own refuge.
The House of Commons appointed a Select Committe on Violence in Marriage in, 1974,
which began to take evidence on violence against wives and children. Legislation in this area
was son proposed. Similar activity began on the Continent, in Australia, and in North
America.’ (Dobash and Dobash, 1979: 2–3)
As Del Martin points out, in 1975, the National Organization for Women proclaimed that
marital violence was a matter of utmost importance.
20. As Angela Davis notes (1985: 2):
Women of color have been active in the anti-violence movement since its beginnings. The
first national organization addressing domestic violence was founded in 1978 when the
United States Civil Rights Commission Consultation on Battered Women led to the founding
of the National Coalition against Domestic Violence. In 1980, the Washington, D.C. Rape
Crisis Center sponsored the First National Conference on Third World Women and Violence.
The following year a Women of Color Task Force was created within the National Coalition
Against Domestic Violence. To make some historical connections, it is significant that the
U.S. Third World Women’s Caucus formed that same year within the National Women Studies
Association, and the groundbreaking book This Bridge Called My Back was first published.
21. As David Finkelhor (1988: 17) explains, the Family Violence Research Laboratory and
Family Research Program at the University of New Hampshire began in 1962, with the stud-
ies of Henry Kempe’s ‘Battered Child Syndrome.’ However, it gained strength in the 1970s
with publications such as Gil’s Violence Against Children: Physical Abuse in the United
States (1970) and Violence in the Family, by Steinmetz and Straus (1974).
22. Certainly in the USA, by 1974, scientists had a wide range of theories used to try to explain
domestic violence.
A social control or a resource theory of family violence … argues that violence is a resource
which can be used to achieve desired ends. It tends to be used when other resources (such as
money, respect, love, shared goals) are lacking or found to be insufficient. … There are, of
course, other theories or explanations for the near universality of violence in the family …
these include conflict theory, which emphasized violence as a means of bringing about social
change and thus maintaining the viability of a social unit or institution; cultural theory, which
emphasized the approval of violence in the value system of the society and the social norms
which indicate when and under what circumstances violence is to be used; and general
systems theory, which emphasized the cybernetic or control mechanism which regulate the
level of violence in the family system and the goal-seeking properties of the family. In
addition … psychopathology theory, which argues that violence between family members,
occurs because of abnormal psychological characteristics of a family member. (Steinmetz and
Straus, 1974: 25)
23. Finkelhor recognizes that ‘the concern about battered women has grown primarily out of
the women’s movement (Martin, 1976). Workers in this field are volunteers, and funding is
shoestring and community-based’ (Finkelhor, 1983: 24).
24. Del Martin (1978: 3) describes marital violence
. . . as ‘an act carried out with the intention of, or perceived intention of, physically injuring
one’s spouse.’ The act can include slapping, hitting, punching, kicking, throwing things,
beating, using a weapon, choking, pushing, shoving, biting, grabbing, etc. And the cast of
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170 Cultural Dynamics 23(3)
characters includes men and women who live together in an intimate relationship, whether or
not they are legally married.
25 As women of the feminist movement note:
Between 1974 and 1980, projects to help battered women suddenly appeared in hundreds of
towns and rural areas. With the forceful declaration, ‘We will not be beaten,’ women organized
across the country. By 1982 the words ‘battered women’s movement’ had come to symbolize
the conglomeration of organizations serving abused women and their children. Embodied in
over 300 shelters, 48 state coalitions of service providers, a national grassroots organization,
and a multitude of social and legal reforms, the battered women’s movement grey
astronomically, transforming public consciousness and women’s lives. (Schechter, 1982: 1)
26. In the 1970s, these social scientists knew that in the USA and Great Britain, legislative
changes that prohibited abuse had been enacted (see Martin, 1978: 6; Dobash and Dobash,
1979: 64–74).
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Biographical note
Pilar Rodriguez Martinez is currently a professor of Sociology in the Department of
Historia, Geografia e Historia del at the University of Almeria (Spain). She has a PhD in
Sociology and her research focuses on Sociology of Gender and Migration. She has been
a visiting scholar in the University of Michigan in 2010 and 2011, in the Institute for
Research on Women and Gender and in the Institute for Social Research.
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