Domestic violence is an issue that has had a significant prevalence throughout history. Alternatively called intimate partner violence or domestic abuse, it can devastate people both physically and mentally. As a whole, domestic violence can be identified as a means to control, manipulate and demean a person in a relationship. This type of abuse can present itself in many forms, including verbal, physical, sexual, and psychological. Alternatively, domestic violence can even be economic, aimed at limiting one’s financial independence. Despite popular stereotypes, intimate partner violence can happen to any person, regardless of their standing, identity, status, wealth or age.
Typically, this type of abuse is systematic or prolonged, manifesting as specific behavioral patterns. Statistically speaking, domestic violence against women is considered to be more prevalent, and is more often reported into official statistics. As a result, many women feel trapped in their life circumstances, or are unable to lead happy, fulfilling prosperous lives. The prevalence of domestic violence in society can be understood as a result of bad individual decisions or effects of bad personality, however, it is vital to view the issue from a more broad lens as well. In particular, the significant difference between men and women’s domestic violence statistics can be understood as a product of culture. Many men raised in today’s households cultivate specific ideas of masculinity, relationships, and family life, which lead to them becoming abusive to their partners. It is necessary to combat the hyper-masculine destructive culture of manhood in order to allow more people to live free of abuse. This work seeks to review available literature regarding abuse culture in order to understand its existence as detrimental to both men and women. As part of this work, an overview of published papers and books on the subject of toxic masculine culture, victimization and effects of the public on domestic violence victims was examined.
Domestic violence can be traced back to ancient societies in many different civilizations. Being not only accepted as normal, the practice was encouraged by tradition, as well as government legislation. The earliest recorded law, the Hammurabi’s Code of Laws, considered both women and children to be property of men, meaning that they could be treated as such. Violence, then, could be reasonably and justifiably used in order to control one’s family. Specifically, a man’s wife could be killed for a number of perceived wrongdoings, while general violence was seen as the norm. In other ancient civilizations, like the Roman Empire, men were similarly seen as the head of the household, giving them power to sell, abuse, or even kill their wives. From these examples, and many others, it can be seen that men throughout history almost always held more power, influence or status than women, leading to cases of domestic abuse and regular violence. In more modern societies, domestic violence has largely been deemed illegal, and the government seeks to promote better gender equality. However, the public attitudes, which are partially informed by history and culture, still showcase an alarming perception of domestic abuse. In more traditional and puritanical families, abuse, both physical and emotional, can often be a regular part of life. For some families, physical violence is seen as a way to affirm a man’s power in a household, while women are discouraged from leaving, seeking help, or talking about their circumstances.
In order to better understand the role culture plays in facilitating domestic abuse, it is necessary to consult existing research on the subject. A significant body of works has been created discussing the effects of culture and social conditions on maintaining a culture of domestic abuse. For the purposes of this research, a number of research articles were chosen, discussing the existence of masculine culture of female objectification, a culture of victim silencing, as well as the widespread normalization of abuse in modern society. Articles were chosen according to their relevance to the discussion and their publication date. After selecting the articles and one book, their subject, methodology, results, and implications were examined. The majority of the results can be found in the literature review section.
How Domestic Abuse Affects Victims
Domestic violence has many effects and potential implications for the entire family. Owing to its destructive effects, it is able to inflict debilitating damage to one’s mental and physical wellbeing, as well as their relationship to others. Furthermore, intimate partner abuse influences those not directly affected by it, such as family relatives and children, making its effects even more severe. In this section, specific consequences of domestic abuse and violence will be discussed.
Experiencing abuse has an adverse effect on one’s mental wellness and stability. Continuously being subjected to emotional, physical or sexual harm, being gaslit, manipulated, controlled and lied to is especially likely to facilitate mood disorders victims. Most domestic violence survivors report feelings of stress, anxiety, and/or depression. For people with propensity for mental health issues, domestic abuse can act as a catalyst, bringing forth more severe symptoms (Radell et al., 2021). In the recent years of the COVID-19 pandemic, the mental health threat of domestic abuse has become dramatic, as people spend more time indoors (Sediri et al., 2020, p. xx). For women in abusive households, this means spending more time in high-stress conditions, potentially experiencing abuse. Current research shows that most abuse victims report feeling their mental health deteriorate much heavier than before the pandemic. Mental health struggles remain among the most prevalent negative effects of domestic violence.
Children’s life circumstances, mental conditions, and the ability to develop properly can be affected by domestic abuse, both directly and indirectly. In particular, parents that experience abuse become less capable of supporting their children, promoting good lifestyle habits or encouraging learning. A notable piece of research has found that mothers experiencing abuse can treat their children differently depending on the coping mechanism, and the child’s gender. Mothers that developed violent response to abuse were often more aggressive toward their child (Morgan, 2020). Alternatively, those with depressive or compensating responses were more lax on their approaches (Morgan, 2020). In this consideration, female children were often treated more positively than male ones. Examining this tendency displays some of the severe effects abuse can have on family dynamics, and on childhood development.
Additional discussion should be had on the connection between pregnancy and domestic abuse. In many cases, women subject to intimate partner violence can become pregnant during the course of their relationship, affecting the way an abusive partner treats them. As shown by research, there is a strong correlation between instances of physical violence and unplanned pregnancies, meaning that cases of physical and sexual abuse often result in women becoming pregnant (Al Shidhani et al., 2020). Additionally, the severity of violence against women before the pregnancy and during pregnancy is said to reduce, which opens a discussion about the effect childbearing has on domestic abuse. As a whole, however, unwanted pregnancies, and health complications associated with having a child in an emotionally stressful position become another way abuse negatively impacts women and children.
One of the more rarely discussed facets of domestic violence is economic abuse. In particular, this refers to practices of controlling one’s finances or income, limiting their ability to independently earn a living or establishing a relationship of one-sided financial control, which makes it more difficult for victims to disengage from their abusers. This type of abuse is less prominent in common domestic violence narratives, and is less frequently regarded as part of the consequences of domestic abuse culture. Economic abuse has severe effects on the wellbeing of victims, as shown by a recent study on the topic. Highlighted by authors is that fact that women’s mental wellness significantly decreased in instances of economic abuse (Adams & Beeble, 2019). In addition, the general quality of life for women at those times was reported to be lower, displaying the detrimental effects economic abuse can have on a victim.
Aspects of Domestic Abuse Culture from Both Sides
As mentioned previously, one of the most debilitating aspects of domestic abuse is the culture surrounding it. This issue encompasses both victims and perpetrators, men and women, making it difficult for either to move toward a better relationship structure. For men, this includes an acceptance of misogynistic beliefs, a focus on distorted hyper-masculinity and the social expectations of manhood. As discussed in the book “The Man Box”, men’s socialization can often be detrimental to their interpersonal relationships, growth, and understanding of others (Porter, 2020). In particular, the titular “man box” is a permeating perception of women as something “other”, a prize or property to be acquired, an object of sexual desire or attraction. Much less than an effort to understand the other gender, it instead commodifies it into a form most fit for self-gain, and gives many men the wrong tools for understanding women (Porter, 2020). The hyper masculine male socialization focuses on actively defining itself as non-feminine, a belief ultimately rooted in misogyny. Likewise, it rejects sexual norms or identities beyond the heterosexual one, which is set as a standard of normalcy. Methods of expression that deviate from the “man box” understanding of the male experience are seen as feminine and inferior, drawing discontent. This combination of attitudes and perceptions makes it difficult for men to conceptualize interest in women beyond their role as an object of desire, regard them as worthy of respect, or understand other’s needs beyond their own.
Culture is shaped through many institutions, including businesses and advertisements. The physical aspects of gender expression are brought into the extreme, where a man’s or woman’s appearance has a significant impact on their worth. The fashion industry and business work to transform humans from persons with thoughts, ideas, lives and experiences into an assimilation of a product, reducing people’s purpose to a visually pleasing performance. This trend works further on increasing the current rift between men and women, where the former can comfortably think about the latter as a product. Physical features that are considered attractive are constantly presented as giving value to women, making men view them as bodies more than people. Similarly, the “man box” actively perpetuates the existing gender stereotypes, roles and attributes shared by society (Porter, 2020). This outlook on the world constantly dictates that men are the stronger gender, that their role is to be leaders, commanders, to enact control upon others. The culture surrounding men’s socialization further divides the genders, promoting unnecessary antagonism and disincentives understanding.
For women and victims, many of the cultural problems of abuse stem from an inability to speak about their experiences, leave an abusive situation or receive adequate support. According to modern data, domestic violence is alarmingly widespread in society, while only a small percentage of women are able to talk about their conditions. The present social conditions make it difficult for women to become more vocal, as victims fall under deep scrutiny, often blamed for their condition and demeaned (Gracia, 2004). Aside from the culture of victim-blaming, it is emotionally difficult to open up about one’s problem, and a lack of security or social support can detrimentally affect a person’s capacity to voice their concerns. In many cases, intimate partner violence is known in the local community, but authorities or support groups do not receive information. There is a prevalent view of the topic as being taboo, preventing victims from reviewing the help they need. The researchers of the subject call the present situation in society the “domestic violence iceberg”, signifying a considerable portion of people whose experience go unnoticed (Gracia, 2004). Breaking the silence and enhancing reporting channels seems to be the suitable approach to resolving it. Combining the culture that emboldens men to act with disregard toward women and a culture that silences victims creates an ideal environment to perpetuate domestic abuse.
As a result of this work, it was possible to identify a wide selection of literature regarding the topic of domestic abuse. The subject appears to be researched frequently, showcasing a constant interest in the field, and supplying researchers with a new pool of evidence. Additionally, overviewing the available sources highlighted the variety of potential angles for discussing the subject of abuse, including its effects on different parts of society. There is a large pool of works outlining the material, physical, psychological and social effects of abuse on its victims, which helps to further contextualize the negative consequences brought by its prevalence. In addition, two of chosen pieces of literature were able to discuss the topic of domestic violence in the context of broader social trends, including cultural norms, education, socialization and support systems. Both of them have provided the necessary context into understanding how abuse can be perpetuated and made into a regular part of life.
As a result of this research, two conclusions can be reached. First, domestic abuse exerts overarching power on its victims, negatively affecting their wellbeing on all levels of influence. Psychologically, the presence of domestic violence is likely to lead to conditions such as depression or anxiety, or worsen the existing symptoms of those who suffer from them. In particular, prolonged exposure to domestic abuse is shown to worsen symptoms of depression, and considerably worsen the self-perceived wellness of women. Moving over to a different level of influence, domestic abuse has been shown to lead to the creation of economic dependency, decreasing the quality of life for victims in the instances of domestic abuse. Alternatively, experiences of intimate partner violence are able to influence the family unit as a whole, indirectly affecting children and their behaviors. Domestic abuse victims can often apply detrimental coping mechanisms to their experiences, leading to violent treatment of children, or possess general difficulty in supporting their children.
The second conclusion of this overview is that domestic abuse is underpinned by a tangible cultural framework. A combination of masculine stereotypes and a victim silencing work together to limit the ability of people to live happy, fulfilling lives. Men, increasingly supported by the culture of advertisements and misconstrued perceptions of masculinity, treat women as an object of desire other than a partner or a person. An inability to understand another person as an equal and a lack of consideration leads to men asserting their dominance through various types of violence. The trend is facilitated through education that does not make men connect with women on a spiritual or intellectual level, instead treating them as the other.
On the other side of this discussion is the consideration of women’s inability to combat domestic abuse. In particular, victims of intimate partner violence are shown to have considerable trouble in voicing their own concerns, seeking help or finding pathways towards changing their circumstances. Most of these issues stem from a culture of silence, where domestic abuse remains an inconvenient untold truth of the many. Local communities often become aware of their members’ troubles, but no definitive steps are taken to stop the practices of domestic abuse. As a result of these two cultural trends, domestic abuse continues to be a significant and prevalent problem in the new age, despite existing legal protections and a changing public understanding of the issue.
One of the most important efforts, then, is the work put into combatting domestic abuse and its spread. This can focus on changing the culture, helping victims find their voice and enhancing community support resources. All three approaches are necessary to properly counteract intimate partner violence, replacing it with a culture of support, understanding and respect. For men, this process includes actively questioning their inherent biases, taught beliefs and regressive ideas about masculinity. Finding approaches to expressing manhood without demeaning women, and understanding manliness as not naturally opposed to femininity are key to building better experiences for men. In addition, both educational facilities and community resources should be spent to promote the view of women as more than objects of conquest or sexual desire, aiding men in expanding their perspective. In order to change culture, most of its participants must actively seek out a change in their perception, action and behavior.
For women, this process focuses primarily in finding strength to open up about their experiences in abuse, recognizing abusive situations and leaving them. Feminist movements that amplify the voices of victims, helping them get the courage and strength in telling their story. In addition, it is necessary to form more domestic abuse support groups, create informational resources and enhance the ability of victims to seek out outside support. As a whole, it is vital that social change is made in the effort of combatting intimate partner abuse.
Adams, A. E., & Beeble, M. L. (2019). Intimate partner violence and psychological well-being: Examining the effect of economic abuse on women’s quality of life. Psychology of Violence, 9(5), 517-525.
Al Shidhani, N. A., Al Kendi, A. A., & Al Kiyumi, M. H. (2020). Prevalence, risk factors and effects of domestic violence before and during pregnancy on birth outcomes: An observational study of literate Omani Women. International Journal of Women’s Health, 12, 911-925.
Gracia, E. (2004). Unreported cases of domestic violence against women: Towards an epidemiology of social silence, tolerance, and inhibition. Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, 58(7), 536-537.
Morgan, L. (2020). Maternal experiences of domestic abuse and their effect on the mother’s approach to parenting. Nursing Children and Young People.
Porter, T. (2020). Breaking out of the “Man box”: The next generation of manhood. Skyhorse.
Radell, M. L., Abo Hamza, E. G., Daghustani, W. H., Perveen, A., & Moustafa, A. A. (2021). The impact of different types of abuse on depression. Depression Research and Treatment, 2021, 1-12.
Sediri, S., Zgueb, Y., Ouanes, S., Ouali, U., Bourgou, S., Jomli, R., & Nacef, F. (2020). Women’s mental health: Acute impact of COVID-19 pandemic on domestic violence. Archives of Women’s Mental Health, 23(6), 749-756.