Stereotypes and intimate partner violence

White Ribbon challenges outdated ideas about masculinity

White Ribbon’s Researcher Dr Kris Taylor writes:

There are pervasive stereotypes around intimate partner violence, one of the most misleading of which is that the majority of men who commit such crimes fall within a specific, and limited demographic: minority men from disadvantaged backgrounds who have regular contact with police. However, recent Australian research published last month challenges these assumptions, showing clearly the ways that intimate partner violence, and its sometimes fatal consequences, span across social strata. The “Pathways to intimate partner homicide” project has shed some new light on the profile of men who kill their female partners. Using data spanning 2007 to 2018 (totalling 199 incidents), the researchers compiled data taken from judges’ sentencing remarks, coronial findings from the National Coronial Information System, as well as information sourced from the National Homicide Monitoring Program.

In their findings, the authors point out that one third of the men who killed their female partners are perceived as “functional and successful in public-facing domains of their life, both prior to and after starting their relationship with the victim”. They describe the ways that men in this group hold consistent employment in well-regarded industries (e.g. small business owners, geologist, real estate agents), are described as upstanding members of their local communities, and had minimal contact with the criminal justice system prior to killing their partner. Most were in long-term relationships with the women that they killed.

However, within this sizable group of offenders, which made up 33% of cases, patterns of control and possessiveness were prevalent. The offender would belittle their partner, restrict their partner’s contact and communication with others, and would accuse their partner of being unfaithful. Prior to the crime, the offenders were described as being jealous, controlling, and emotionally abusive. These behaviours would escalate when offenders felt that they were losing control of the victim, which in turn would lead to extreme forms of lethal violence as a means of establishing ultimate control. Crucially, across all of the 199 incidents analysed, the authors note recurrent themes that appeared to play a role in committing intimate partner homicide: “the emotional, mental and physical health of offenders; traumatic experiences among offenders; pre- and post-migration experiences of victims and offenders; separation; and hegemonic masculinities and traditional gender norms”.

This last point is particularly relevant for the work of White Ribbon. There was consistent evidence that the motivation to kill a female partner was associated with a perceived violation of gendered norms, which in turn challenged the offender’s self-perceived masculinity. Importantly, as the researchers note “adherence to traditional gender norms is more likely when the individual has witnessed and been the target of family violence during their childhood”. And we must understand that these beliefs about masculinity are not only held by these men, but are reinforced through social norms and expectations around masculinity. Worryingly, last year’s Gender Equality survey, run here in Aotearoa New Zealand with 1,250 participants, shows that 18% of participants (and 23% of men) agreed that showing physical or emotional weakness makes a man less of man, and 17% (21% of men) agreed that hitting out is an understandable response for a man when his wife or girlfriend tries to end a relationship.

In our work to end violence against others, we must now work towards challenging both men’s and society’s adherence to rigid beliefs around masculinity. Research consistently shows that men who condone violence and endorse traditional gender norms are more likely to be abusive towards their intimate partners. Moreover, men who witness intimate partner violence as children have been shown to be more likely to endorse rigid masculine stereotypes, and to hold strong views about men’s role in a relationship. And as the findings of the Pathways to intimate partner homicide project suggests, middle-class men with public facing roles, who are seen as upstanding in their communities, and who do not fit a limited stereotype of what an abuser might ‘look like’, are not immune from pervasive beliefs around masculinity that can lead to control, jealousy, violence, and homicide.

Gender Attitudes Survey





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