Many different forms of violence exist with each having adverse effects on its victims. Almost everyone has been exposed to violence whether it has been through the media, walking down the street, or experiencing it personally. The type of violence that so many are exposed to through society is not that of the private sphere, but the public sphere of violence. Society teaches our children that walking alone at night is not safe and not to talk to strangers. Society also tells women not to go out alone and not to dress too revealing or she may get raped.
These are messages that speak of the public dangers that we should be aware of in order to protect ourselves. We learn that home is where you are safe and that family will protect you. This is not always the case. Violence occurs in the family as well. It is a type of violence we have labeled as wife abuse, which is a form a violence that Canadian society has only recently begun to examine. Perhaps a possible explanation for this is that wife abuse may be linked to families and divorce. After all, preserving the nuclear family is something that Canadian society has strived so hard to do.
Many explanations from all areas have emerged about why wife abuse occurs and the costs it has on the family, all of which have contributed to further knowledge of wife abuse. Some explanations have come to conclude that violence is natural or that violence is the husband’s right in order to maintain control over his wife. These types of explanations are detrimental and need to be disregarded. A sociological perspective does not hold faith in these types of examinations. Instead, sociology believes that many factors, such as social learning, attitudes, etc. are what contributed to the causes of wife abuse. This paper will examine and discuss several causes and effects of wife abuse from a sociological perspective. The causes to be examined will be social learning, culture, attitudes, values, economic and political realties and patriarchy. The effects to be examined will be divorce, job loss, relationship with peers, schooling, murder and poverty in relationship to women and children who have been exposed to wife abuse. It will be the intent of this paper to demonstrate that there is no one answer to why wife abuse occurs.
Instead, this paper will show that many factors contribute to wife abuse. The first area to be examined is social learning of violence. Much research into violence supports the idea that violence is learned. People can learn violence in the home or in the public sphere of life. It is the people and ideas that individuals are exposed to daily that has a high influence on our behavior. According to the social learning theory, “people form ideas about how to behave and how to solve problems through observing influential people in their lives”(Johnson, 1996: 2).
From the day of birth we are exposed to many people, whether it is family, peers, or strangers on television, with each contributing to how we perceive ways to behave. Exposure to many people over a life span usually means exposure to violence. Violence “becomes the way in which problems are solved, if the consequences of using violence are perceived as positive, and if the opportunity to learn more peaceful means are infrequent or unavailable” (Johnson, 1996: 2). Perceiving violence as positive in Canadian society may be the case. Violence is plastered all over the media, games and in books to mention a few.
It has been acceptable in Canadian culture for us to spank our children, beat our wives and use violence to express frustration. It is not often that an individual is not exposed to violence. Research has shown that “individuals will copy aggressive behavior they see on television or in movies if it is performed by someone they identify strongly or share common characteristics” with (Johnson, 1996: 2). Children who are continuously exposed to violence through society may become desensitized to violence and view it as natural behavior. Desensitization of violence can also occur from observing it in the family.
Evidence has shown “that men who have been exposed to violence as children, either as witnesses to violence by their fathers or as victims of parental violence, are more likely to be violent toward their wives later in life” (Johnson, 1996: 2). It is apparent through examination of research that violent behavior occurring in the family, is socially learned. In the family is where many people learn most of their morals, values, attitudes, and behavior. Therefore, it can be concluded that witnessing or experiencing violence in the family would largely contribute to people becoming violent themselves.
Being continuously exposed to violence, whether in the home or in society, reinforces husbands to be violent toward their wives. Reinforcement is an important part of the social learning theory. Violence, according to the social learning theory, “will increase in frequency if it produces the desired outcome and if it is not met directly with punishment” (Johnson, 1996: 6). Production of desired outcomes may be power over the wife, control, submission, etc. , all of which many in society view as the husbands right and duty.
After all the husband is supposed to be the head of the household and it is his duty to keep the family in order, right? Wrong. This is a traditional, patriarchal view of men and the family. This view has carried through the centuries and is one example of reinforcement of wife abuse. The social learning theory provides much insight into one of the many causes of wife abuse. However, this theory tends to infer that men learn violent behavior and also have no control over their actions. This implication does not hold true. Men do have control over their actions.
When a man becomes violent toward his wife it is because he chooses to do so. As mentioned earlier, violence is a way for the man to achieve certain goals and to maintain his power over the family and his wife. By taking on this view, responsibility of violence is clearly not the victims nor poverty and socioeconomic status but the man’s. In spite of, studies indicate that low socioeconomic status and poverty are linked to wife abuse. Lupri, Grandin, & Brinkeroff (1994) showed that “individuals in blue collar positions showed higher rates of abuse than their white collar counterparts” (50).
The results showed that men making less than ten thousand dollars a year are 350 percent more likely than those making forty thousand to beat their wives. It therefore can be concluded that low socioeconomic status does increase the possibility for wife abuse to occur. Nevertheless, socioeconomic status cannot be used as the only excuse or reason why men beat their wives. Social learning of violence against women is influential in shaping a person’s behavior but is hardly the only contributor to wife abuse. Another contribution of wife abuse may be roles and norms that society has put in place for people to follow.
It has been assumed that each person in a family has certain roles they are to follow. An example of a traditional role would be the stay home wife who takes care of the home and family. The wife is not to seek employment and should always emotionally support her husband. The husband on the other hand is to be responsible for all of the finances, work outside the home, and be the head of the household. These roles have long since been a well-known tradition for families, but over the years these roles have been challenged and changing.
Women are gaining more independence by paid employment, having more equal rights in all areas of life, and having the right to choose what roles she would like follow. With these changes for women came changes for men and families as a whole. Both husbands and wives now share similar roles, with neither being the head of the family. This caused much resentment toward wives and threatened to take away much of the husband’s power. Thus, many husbands began or increased the usage of violence as a means to regain their control over the family and wives.
A certain theory named the systems theory focuses on how changing of roles can contribute to violence in the family. According to the systems theory “violence is a product of family system and is based on the premise that in each family there is established rules of behavior for each individual member, that each member’s boundaries are defined, and the patterns of interaction have been dominant over time” (McCue, 1995: 10). When a member, such as the wife challenges the traditional roles a “corrective action by another family member occurs . . to establish the member’s own power position and is done through an increase in violent behavior” (McCue, 1995: 10). In other words, violence is a means for the husband to relieve tension and restore family order. This leads to the assumption that husbands and/or men are feeling threatened by women’s new found independence and rights. Thus, many husbands use violence as a means to an end. Overall, the idea that changing and challenging traditional roles of the family leads or contributes to wife abuse is a good basis for an explanation.
However, like the social learning theory, it has been found that more than one explanation of wife abuse can be the answer. Perhaps a large contributor to wife abuse is society’s overall attitudes and beliefs. Canadian society, as mentioned earlier, appears to promote or at least not discourage violence. Violence for centuries has been considered an acceptable means of resolving conflict. The government and world wars are an excellent example of how society supports the usage of violence. The attitudes and beliefs that society holds also help to reinforce wife abuse. Many believe that a marriage license is a license to beat their wives.
It has been discovered that “many believe that under certain circumstances, it is perfectly appropriate for a husband to hit their wife” (Gelles & Straus, 1988: 26). How is it possible for so many to believe it to be appropriate to hit their wife? Perhaps, it is that we as a society have learned that violence is okay or that violence occurring in the home is a private matter not a public one. Maybe people learn that men have the right to dominate over women, children, and society. It is all of the above and much more. Individuals learn these types of attitudes in the family, at school, work, religion, and through the media.
It is “social attitudes that set the stage for violence as an acceptable means of solving problems and self expression” (Gelles et al, 1988: 30). Canadian society is set up so men hold the economic and social power. Therefore, they can hit their wives without the worry of consequences. The way society has been set up is in such a way that men are able to view their wives as property and are able to do as they wish to them. Social policies and the legal system are one area that reinforces such attitudes. In the past, the old rule of thumb was that a husband could beat his wife with a rod no rounder than his thumb.
A man “killing his wife, particularly if she was having relations outside the marriage, was generally excused as a regrettable but understandable consequence of male passion” (Ontario Federation of Labour, 1998: 2). Of course in Canadian modern society, this law has been disregarded. Today’s laws still require changes although efforts to change them have unsuccessful. In 1991, “some members of a federal legislative committee refused to endorse a report on violence against women because the title, “The War Against Women” used language too strong for their sensibilities” (Ontario Federation of Labour, 1998: 2).
It is almost unimaginable to realize that Canadian society is one that still does not completely realize the seriousness of wife abuse. It is hopeful that soon the Canadian government will come to realize that a marriage is not a license to beat your wife. These social policies and laws need to be changed because it is within these “sexist structures and traditions of western society” that wife abuse occurs and is reinforced (Petersen, 1980: 399). A possible way to achieve change to social policies and Canada’s legal system would be to try to change the norms and values that many people in society hold.
As Lupri et al (1994) states “the elimination of wife abuse must involve the basic restructuring of the power relationships between women and men, inside and outside the home” (69). Overall, from examining these possible explanations and contributions to wife abuse a central theme is present. That theme is patriarchy. Patriarchy is male dominance over many or all areas of the private and public spheres of life. It has existed for many centuries and continues to be a never-ending burden for women.
Patriarchy “gives males power and control over women, placing them in inferior, dependent status in the family and society” (Brinkeroff & Lupri, 1988: 408). With the existence of patriarchy come’s an acceptance and support for violence and wife abuse. When a man uses violence against his wife, it is often a way to maintain patriarchal order in the home and in society. Research has painstakingly shown “the legacy of male supremacy and authority have dominated the institutional matrix of the economy, polity, law, and religion, and men as a group have controlled women as a group throughout history” (Brinkeroff et al, 1988: 410).
Thus it can be concluded that power differentials between men and women have long since created an environment for violence against women to occur and to be supported. “Not until women’s roles within the family are no longer restricted to domestic work, child care, and emotional and psychological support” (Kurtz, 1989: 497) will these power differentials between husband and wife lessen or stop completely. Equality in marriages between husband and wife has its problems however. Equality “may increase rather than decrease conflict and violence within the family” (Kalmuss & Straus, 1982: 154).
Therefore clearly eliminating power differentials in marriage will not solve wife abuse, but perhaps it is a step in the right direction for stopping it. Through the examination of research it can be seen that several factors contribute to the causes of wife abuse. No one reason or explanation can account for why wife abuse occurs and how to stop it. Perhaps the combination of the few causes mentioned in this paper and the many more that exist could provide society with a better understanding of wife abuse.
The last issue to be discussed is the effects wife abuse has on the women and children who have been exposed to violence. Research has shown that both women and children suffer many psychological and sociological effects as a result of wife abuse. Some psychological effects of experiencing or witnessing wife abuse, according to Trimmer (1998), are depression, lowered self esteem, anxiousness, nightmares, and anger to mention a few. These effects are a result of the trauma of being beaten by the husband or children witnessing their father beat their mother.
Usually these psychological problems are long term and can affect many areas of the victim’s life, such as work, school, peer relations, etc. It is often that the wives and children will become withdrawn from outside family members and peers. This causes further isolation of women and children and makes it less likely they will receive help. In many cases, women’s jobs become threatened due to continuous days off because of the abuse they have sustained. The wife may begin to lose friends because she may not invite them over in fear of her husband’s potential attacks.
These are all ways in which many wives hide their abuse from others. They hide their abuse for several other reasons as well. It may be because they think he will stop, or they do not want their husband to go to jail, or they fear the reaction they will get from others. Whatever the reason women hide their abuse is not so much the issue, but rather that the abuse occurs and it needs to be dealt with. Unfortunately, abusive husbands are not dealt within time and the end result may tragic, or even murder. Many murders that occur “have been provoked by the decision taken by the woman to leave the relationship” (Conway, 1997: 171).
When a woman does decide to leave the abusive relationship, she and the children are most vulnerable and at risk. There is not enough safety in society for those women and children that leave the abusive relationship. Women often end up staying in an abusive relationship for this reason and many others. Another reason for staying is “women’s continued economic dependence on their husbands” (Kurtz, 1989: 497) Consequently, many women for this reason alone “find that they are trapped in an abusive marriage” because their husbands have financial power (Kalmuss and Straus, 1982: 278).
Another possible explanation as to why so many abused women stay in their marriage may be because of stereotypes, such as failing to be a good wife or divorce is not acceptable or she provoked the abuse thus it is her fault. These are only some possible stereotypes that many women face when deciding to leave her abusive husband. Many in society cannot “imagine that someone could be socially, legally, and materially entrapped in a marriage” (Gelles, 1997: 9).
As stated by Gelles (1997) “wives seem to bear the brunt of considerable victim blaming” and that “battered women are somehow culpable, and their culpability in enforced by their decision not to leave” (9). This is far from true and these types of beliefs help reinforce wife abuse. Gratefully, society is beginning to realize that women and children are in risk of being murdered and that they do suffer adverse effects from wife abuse. Why Canada has only recently begun to realize the damage of wife abuse and violence overall can only be speculated. However, as mentioned before, many abusive relationships end in divorce.
Divorce obstructs the traditional nuclear family from existing which is something Canadian society has worked hard at preserving. Before concluding on the effects of wife abuse discussing the often forgotten victims of wife abuse is important and that is the children. Children who are forced to see their mothers brutally beaten by their fathers create problems in many areas of their lives. Research has shown that children who witness their father beat their mother “have lowered school achievements and tend to have lowered social skills” than those children who have not been exposed to wife abuse (Health Canada, 1998: 2).
Children also become more socially withdrawn for fear of detection of the abuse or because their behavior has become so aggressive that other children will not interact with the child. Studies show that children from violent homes may suffer peer rejection because “they may be afraid or forbidden to bring friends to a potentially violent home; they may change schools frequently; or they may not attend school regularly” (Health and Welfare Canada, 1990:4). It can be concluded that “high rates of instability and change undoubtedly affect the development of solid peer relationships” (Health and Welfare Canada, 1990:4).
Also, children from violent homes are exposed to role models that do not teach them proper pro social behavior and problem skills. Instead they often learn that violence is normal and is a way to deal with frustration. These types of messages do not teach a child peaceful and productive ways to behave and interact socially on a daily basis. Instead these children learn “rigid views of gender roles” and that it is “appropriate for men to be aggressive and domineering” (McCue, 1995: 105).
These children who witness violence are more prone to abuse drugs and alcohol, and also more likely to commit crimes in society. Clearly, violence can be seen as a cycle in which generation to generation learn that violence is appropriate in Canadian society. What is needed are prevention and intervention programs in order to stop the cycle of violence from generation to generation (McCue, 1995: 106). After reviewing literature on wife abuse and its implications it can be seen that much is needed in order to stop the cycle of wife abuse from occurring.
More accurate research and explanations are required so that professionals and society can have a better understanding of wife abuse and violence in general. Violence costs everyone in society. It “reflects and grows from attitudes, values, and economic realities that show disrespect for women and that see women as less important than men” (Health Canada, 1998: 3). Statistics show that it costs billions of dollars each year for health care, shelters, counseling, policing, etc. all for the sake of helping the victims of wife abuse and violence.
Perhaps the billions of dollars spent each year to help the victims and incarcerate the abuser needs to be spent on prevention and understanding of violence in families. Media also needs to stop portraying violence in a glorified manner. Attitudes, values, and morals need to be corrected through education and learning in the home that violence against all human beings is not acceptable in any manner. Once or if this is accomplished, maybe then women will stand a better chance of being viewed as human beings with equal rights and respect from society and its members.