Sociology 213 Term Paper Capitalism and Patriarchy’s Effect on Battered Women’s Syndrome and Abuse Introduction Domestic violence has existed for centuries and is still prevalent in present day society (Flowers, 1996: 131). Domestic violence generally involves violence towards women and children (Sev’er, 2007: 235). This generally includes physical, sexual, verbal, and emotional violence directed towards a spouse, girlfriend, wife, or partner (DeKeseredy, 2005: 234). One of the debates surrounding domestic violence is the legitimacy of battered women’s syndrome.
There are arguments over whether or not battered woman’s syndrome is a justifiable defence or just an excuse (Fumento, 1996: 158). The aim of this paper is to justify the legitimacy of Battered Women’s Syndrome, or BWS for short. I will look at the history of violence to better understand the credibility of BWS as well as why it is discredited. I will analyze how the patriarchal capitalist society we live in affects the views regarding BWS and abuse. The purpose of this section is to understand how the patriarchal capitalist society attempts to protect male status by discrediting the validity of spousal abuse and BWS.
Definition and History Battered women’s syndrome results from a pattern of abuse from a partner (Barnett & LaViolette, 1996: 158). Spousal abuse has had a long history, and has grown since the middle ages (Flowers, 1996: 131). Social scientist Friedrich Engels noted that spousal abuse began “with the emergence of the first monogamous pairing relationship which replaced group marriage and the extended family of early promiscuous societies” (Flowers, 1996: 131). Violence towards wives has been around since the middle Ages, and came to North America with the settlers (Hagin, 2009).
Law at one point permitted the Rule of Thumb. The Rule of Thumb stated, “A husband was permitted to beat his wife so long as his weaponry was not bigger than his thumb” (Flowers, 1996: 131). A man was allowed to beat his wife without any guilt as long as that rule was followed. This law was because women were not considered people, but chattle, something that could be owned (Hagin, 2009). Domestic violence remained a private issue for many more decades. It was seen as an unfortunate but required part of household life.
The man was seen as the lord of his home, the master, and commander of everything that went on in the home (Hagin, 2009). As a result, police and doctors refrained from getting involved in domestic violence situations (Feinberg, 2002:34). Men needed to discharge their emotions and unfortunately, women and children were often in the crosshairs of this abuse (Sev’er, 2007, 235). This violence was not seen as serious to the men who committed it, but often comical and unimportant. It was seen as completely normal, women and children were a male’s property, and could be subjected to anything he pleased (Hagin, 2009).
The amount of victims of abuse has to be estimated due to the tendency not to report incidences (Sev’er, 2007: 242). A huge factor in the recognition of domestic violence as a social problem, not a private issue was the recognition of women as people (Hagin, 2009). In 1929, women obtained the right to vote across Canada. Women were now allowed a voice in the political world; and they could express their concerns. Women began to realize there oppression, and that what was being done to them was wrong (Feinberg, 2002: 31). They began to fight for their rights as human beings, as they could now legally do so.
Furthermore, the many feminist movements of the 1960’s and 1970’s were huge factors in the recognition of wife abuse and the damage that it causes (Hagin, 2009). The feminist movements allowed women to connect with each other, and spread the ideas they had believed in, that the legal domination over women in the home was against their rights and refused them equality (Feinberg, 2002:31). Clare Dalton (as cited in Feinberg, 2002: 31) stated that, “Our latest campaign against domestic violence grew directly out of the movement.
For the first time, women were getting together, talking about their experiences, and discovering the great prevalence of welfare reform, homelessness, immigration, employment, gun control, and many other areas of concern. They are working with all sorts of organization to step up education and reform” A Closer Look at BWS Upon looking at the history of spousal abuse, I believe it is clear that Battered Women’s Syndrome is a real problem. Battered Woman Syndrome states that women kill their partners out of belief that it is their only escape from potentially fatal abuse from their partners (Barnett &
LaViolette, 1996: 158). Women fear that they cannot leave their husbands for fear of death, and must resort to murder to gain freedom (Barnett & LaViolette, 1996: 158). There is some debate as to whether or not BWS is justifiable in court (Barnett & LaViolette, 1996: 158). The argument is that BWS is legitimate and is an extension of self-defence (Barnett & LaViolette, 1996: 158). Women come to understand that the only way they can survive is to fight back with violence, sometimes fatal. There is a tendency for people to focus on the victim of abuse, generally the woman (Flowers, 1996:132).
Instead of focusing on the abuser, questioning why he abuses her, our society focuses on the victim (Flowers, 1996: 131). Our society focuses on why the victim stays with her abuser instead of understanding why this abuse takes place (Feinberg, 2002: 32). If a woman is subjected to that kind of abuse, then she should leave the relationship instead of resolving to murder. However, there are much more complicated reasons why women often do not leave abusive relationships (Flowers, 1997: 134). One of those reasons is fear (Flowers, 1997: 134). Women fear that they will face even more abuse and humiliation if they leave their partner.
They also fear that others will discover the painful truth and that she will be alone. A further reason women stay with their abusive partner is finances (Flowers, 1997: 134). More often than not, women do not have the financial ability to get by without their husbands. Statistics show that families with women as the primary provider make the least amount of money yearly (Jiwani, 1997). Women are afraid of losing money, their home, and quality of living. Thirdly, abused women are concerned about their children (Flowers, 1997: 134). They do not want their children to lose their father or the economic stability the family provides.
Fourthly, the women in abusive relationships are concerned about the shame and humiliation they will face if people discover their troublesome relationship (Flowers, 1997: 134). An additional rationale for staying in an abusive relationship is guilt (Flowers, 1997: 134). Some women feel the abuse was their fault, or that the abuser is dependent on them. A final reason is that some women believe that this abuse is a normal part of any relationship, and do not have a reason to be concerned (Flowers, 1997: 134). This belief is frequently founded in childhood (Flowers, 1997: 134).
Lenore Walker (as cited in Flowers, 1996: 134) also developed a theory as to why women remain in abusive relationships. She believes there is a three-part cycle of building strain, abusive episode, and loving remorse (Flowers, 1996: 134). The first stage is building strain and involves non-threatening incidents in which the female is able to deal with the occurrence and calm down her partner (Flowers, 1996: 134). The next phase is the abusive episode (Flowers, 1997: 134). It involves the “uncontrollable discharge of the tensions that have been built up during stage one” (Flowers, 1996: 134).
This includes physical and verbal violence, and can result in harm, sometimes serious or fatal. The final stage is loving remorse (Flowers, 1996: 134). This stage involves the abuser to feel instant remorse for his actions (Flowers, 1996: 134). He shows affection and care; ultimately making the victim feel loved (Flowers, 1996: 134). She also feels like the abuser will change and will not hurt her again (Flowers, 1996: 134). This phase often keeps the victim tied into the relationship, although the cycle will inevitably begin again (Flowers, 1996: 134).
Some claim that using BWS is an excuse for women to commit murder and get away with it (Fumento, 1996: 162). There are cases in which women seemed to be in no real danger, killed their husbands, and were acquitted due to BWS (Barnett & LaViolette, 1996: 158). Cathy Young (as cited in Fumento, 1996: 163) stated that, “It’s an interesting sort of reasoning because it assumes the woman is so passive she can’t leave a relationship, but she’s not too passive to kill. ” There is also the argument that BWS is biased and unfair to men in the same situation (Fumento, 1996:164).
A study showed that 13 percent of women accused of murdering their husbands were acquitted while only 1. 4 percent of men accused of killing their wives were acquitted (Fumento, 1996:164). Convicted women were much more likely to receive probation instead of jail time as compared to men (Fumento, 1996:164). The bias is very evident when jail time is sentenced; women convicted of murder faced an average of six years in jail, as compared to an average of seventeen for convicted husband (Fumento, 1996: 164). I believe it is arguable that this data is misleading.
It should be noted that although data suggests men and women are equally the victims (DeKeseredy, 2005:237), the reasons for abuse differ. Women’s violence to men often results out of self-defence while men’s violence is used to exert control (DeKeseredy, 2005:237). Some questions that were raised in an attempt to discredit BWS are “why did she stay” and “What did she do to provoke him? ”(Feinberg, 2002: 32). There is a misguided belief that the victim is the one to blame in domestic violence situations, versus looking at the reasons why her partner hit her.
In 1964, in a study called The Wife Beaters Wife, clinicians “identified the women as ‘frigid’ or ‘indecisive’ and went on to treat the women so they would stop ‘provoking’ their husbands” (Feinberg, 2002: 32). The belief is that she somehow deserved the abuse, and it stems from the prior belief that women are inferior and property to men. Patriarchal Capitalist Society’s Effect I believe the argument can be made that BWS being delegitimized is a result of our patriarchal capitalist society. In a capitalist society, the male is the breadwinner and therefore have the economic power in the relationship (Hagin, 2009).
Engels argued that the introduction of owning property led to the inferior status of women (Hagin, 2009). Since men could only own land, male heirs were required, necessitating control over women and their sexuality (Hagin, 2009). This led to women’s dependence on men, as well as their place in the private sphere (Hagin, 2009). Socialist feminists furthered this idea (Hagin, 2009). They stated women’s working in the private sphere further oppresses them, as domestic labour is unpaid and not valued (Hagin, 2009). Men mostly do the work that adds value, further leading to men’s dominance over women (Hagin, 2009).
In addition, women’s domestic labour is vital to the survival of capitalism, accounting for roughly 200 billion per year according to the last survey (Hagin, 2009). It can be argued that BWS is discredited in an attempt to maintain the male dominance over women and capitalism. Feminist groups, notably radical feminists, have long pushed for spousal abuse to be a public issue (Hagin, 2009). They believe that the home is the most dangerous place for a woman to be, as male dominance is demonstrated through violence (Hagin, 2009: URC). Socialist and Radical Feminists fighting for women’s rights can affect male dominance.
If women continue to acquire more rights, and unearth the negative sides of patriarchy, it could harm patriarchy and capitalism. Therefore, the argument could be made that policies put in place attempt to discredit BWS and abuse and blame the victim to protect patriarchy and capitalism. According to Mills Sociological Imagination, blaming the victim ignores the fact that it is a social problem (Hagin, 2009). Instead of looking at society as the problem, blame can be placed on the woman, making it an individual problem and saving face for patriarchal dominance.
An example of the policies put in place to discredit BWS is legal definitions of violence (DeKeseredy, 2005: 231). Government and politicians concur that narrow legal definitions should be used is assault cases (DeKeseredy, 2005: 231). Member of Parliament Roger Galloway (as cited in DeKeseredy, 2005: 238) suggested that some studies are skewed, as the definition of abuse is too broad. However, using narrow definitions has implications on the recognition of issues like Battered Women’s Syndrome and spousal abuse (DeKeseredy, 2005: 233).
The first problems being that narrow definitions furthers the problem of failing to report abuse, as the narrow definitions do not include all instances of abuse (DeKeseredy, 2005: 234). A further problem is that basis for polices only focus on large statistics, therefore violence against women is not viewed as significant because the numbers are lower from the narrow definitions (DeKeseredy, 2005: 233). Finally, these narrow definitions divide abuse based on perceived gravity (DeKeseredy, 2005: 233).
For example, the law could view a particular incident as unimportant, but it could have been very devastating to the victim. A final not is that one author summarized that some politicians see violence as a private issue, and do not recognize that men are the sole deliverers of violence (DeKeseredy, 2005: 238). I believe the implementation of these policies is another attempt to protect the male dominated society as well as capitalism. If statistics show that violence against women is not as significant, it will reinforce the idea that it is not a societal problem, but a private one.
Feminists found that the home is “gendered and a ‘tactic of coercive control’ used to maintain male power and domination over wives and children” (Yllo, 1993; Jasinksi, 2001; as cited in DeKeseredy, 2005: 238). By effectively labelling BWS is unimportant, women will not gain more rights against men and will remain in this situation of subordination. In addition, I believe that BWS is discredited in an attempt to protect the traditional nuclear family. By recognizing that violence in the home affects women so traumatically it leads to murder, shows that the “proper” nuclear family style may not be the best form.
Conclusion Spousal abuse and BWS are serious problems in our society. The capitalist society we live in supports the male domination over women, as attempts to maintain it. BWS is discredited in order to help promote patriarchy and keep capitalism thriving. Policies in place use narrow definitions that effectively reduce the significance of spousal abuse, and are arguably in place to keep this abuse a private issue. Stopping the issue from becoming a larger social problem will ensure that the nuclear family under capitalism and patriarchy is not the source of terrible abuse and subsequent killings.
Socialist and Radical feminists argue that the source of women’s oppression stems from capitalist patriarchy and the family unit respectively. They pushed for women’s rights to be heard, and are arguably silenced by the policies put in place today. The society we live in prefers this social problem to remain a private issue. Works Cited Barnett, O. W. , & LaViolette, A. D. “Battered Woman Syndrome is a legitimate defence. ” Violence: Opposing Viewpoints. Ed. Scott Barbour and Karin L. Swisher. San Diego: Greenhaven Press Inc. , 1996. 158-161. DeKeseredy, Walter S. “Patterns of Family Violence. Families Changing Trends in Canada. Ed. Maureen Baker. Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson Ltd. 2005. 229-257. Feinberg, C. “Hitting Home: Domestic Violence is the Issue That Embarrasses Traditionalists. ” The American Prospect. (8 Apr. 2002) 30-34. Retrieved November 11th, 2009, from Expanded Academic ASAP Database. Flowers, R. B. “Domestic Violence Against Women is a Serious Problem. ” Violence: Opposing Viewpoints. Ed. Scott Barbour and Karin L. Swisher. San Diego: Greenhaven Press Inc. , 1996. 130-136. Fumento, M. “Battered Women’s Syndrome is Not A: Legitimate Defence. ” Violence: Opposing Viewpoints.
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