Merging Efforts: The Intersections of Domestic Violence Intervention, Men, and Masculinities
Feminist-focused activism and domestic violence services have grown in tandem, both developing analysis of systemic interventions for abusive men and in men’s role to address violence against women. Research on men and masculinities create a space for enhancing the view of toxic and healthy masculinities; however, analysis of masculinities without specific discussion on topics of intersectionality can avoid directly addressing men's violent behavior. There is a growing need to combine two focal points of work: honoring the foundations of anti-oppression work by encouraging non-abusive men to address their entitlement and disconnect from women, and motivating domestically abusive and violent men to choose respectful behavior that integrates healthy masculinities. Consideration for LGBTQ+ analysis of masculinities and opportunities for combined work are also explored.
Domestic violence intervention work, often focused on cis-male heterosexual offenders, faces challenges from community support and from offenders themselves when media, individuals, and researchers believe that such men are incapable of change. In doing work to end violence in relationships and to reduce toxic masculinities, change agents must believe in the possibility of working toward respect, health, and progress. The process of this change can be explored more concretely through a strong foundation and connection to women’s and gender studies, and domestic violence work needs to continue this connection rather than forgetting or abandoning it.
Male Privilege without Depth: Challenges with Domestic Violence Work
The most identified and well-known domestic violence intervention program, the Domestic Abuse Intervention Program, also known as “the Duluth model” started in 1984 when Ellen Pence and Michael Paymar interviewed female victims of domestic violence and categorized experiences of harm within their “Power and Control Wheel (PCW).” While overall, their approach was designed to involve community involvement, coordination, and systemic review, classroom-style groups of domestic violence offenders focus on using the PCW to educate about their abusive and violent behavior in conjunction with a “control log” activity.
Since the early 2000s, national domestic violence intervention programs such as Emerge and Duluth have attempted to create a broader humanistic approach: Emerge through the use of motivational interviewing approaches and Duluth through a greater focus on their “respect and equality” wheel. Both programs have stressed the need to focus on the change they want to see in abusers, but dissemination of this approach is difficult within agencies and groups that lack coordination and communication with progress and advances outside of their own communities.
Part of the challenge faced by domestic violence intervention has to do with Duluth’s PCW, which identifies a category of control and harm labeled as “male privilege,” which includes examples such as “treating her like a servant,” “making all the big decisions,” “acting like the ‘master of the castle,’” and “being the one to define men’s and women’s roles” (Domestic Abuse Intervention Programs 2014a). While this wedge of the PCW is designed to be a starting point to discuss toxic masculinity and other forms of oppressive and entitled behavior, the challenge becomes that if individual interventionists do not have a nuanced understanding of men and masculinities, or a greater connection to community collaboration as practiced by the Duluth model itself, discussions and interventions can potentially become demotivational, alienating, and dismissive of respectful and healthy masculinities.
The Duluth model, in its work to be more focused on respect and equality, has engaged men by considering “shared responsibility,” but the challenge is that interventionists outside of the Duluth model itself often do not directly address oppressive beliefs and behavior behind toxic masculinities. Suggested items in the “shared responsibility” wedge include “mutually agreeing on a fair distribution of work” and “making family decisions together” (Domestic Abuse Intervention Programs 2014b). Individual group facilitators might be able to have an engaging and thought-provoking discussion about sexism, heterosexism, classism, and other oppressions that become domestically violent, but again the responsibility and skill are totally dependent on that individual interventionist.
The Emerge model engaged in a more “political activist” approach in the 1990s, addressing oppressive language and calling abusers out on attitudes and beliefs that were hurtful. While Emerge lacks a concrete display such as the PCW, there are lesson plans addressing “the effects of domestic violence on women” and “disrespectful/respectful communication.” However, like the Duluth model, Emerge does not have any lessons which directly engage abusers in discussions of healthy and respectful masculinity, although it does have opportunities within discussions on respectful communication, exploring effects of domestic violence on women and children, and a consideration of what counts as abuse and violence.
One of the early domestic violence intervention programs, the Oakland Men’s Project, cofounded by Paul Kivel and Allan Creighton made several efforts to engage men in discussions of toxic and healthy masculinities in the form of the “Act Like a Man Box” and avoided use of terms such as “batterer intervention” instead choosing to call their interventions “Men’s Work.” Their call to engage all men in the work to end violence against women and girls has been mirrored by other organizations and efforts, but that work is often separate from direct interventions.
Domestic violence intervention shares many overlaps with research on men and masculinities, in some ways being a practical extension of that work. However, there is little interaction between the two groups, and to build effective interventions and more directly change toxic masculinities in male domestic violence offenders, this connection needs to be stronger and more direct. Part of the challenge in these connections involves the varied training requirements throughout the nation for domestic violence intervention work. State standards and protocols for programs and individual facilitators vary greatly; Colorado has 150 pages of rules (including detailed evaluation components), while three states have no guidelines whatsoever.
There are several reasons why states have created standards, but many do so through court and legislative rulings requiring that individual abusers receive education, intervention, or counseling as a consequence for domestic violence criminal offenses. This creates a certain quality of care for programs, but since this quality is so different between sites, and monitoring of these standards is often minimal, holding individuals and programs to a standard of analysis is very difficult.
As domestic violence is not a mental health issue, it invites analysis that considers belief systems, values, and meaning and where those interplay with toxic, unhealthy, disrespectful, violent, and abusive behavior. As much of the work has focused on where gender role training fits into those beliefs, there is opportunity for natural overlaps between this research and progress. Getting past the issues behind standards of programs and requirements for practitioners could be an excellent opportunity for future work.
Extrapolation without Depth: Concerns with Men and Masculinities Work
A major source of this distrust can be seen in part as coming from elements of men’s studies that is directly and/or indirectly connected to Men’s Rights Activist (MRA) groups. These groups work to portray men as victims of women, victims of society, and victims of other men. Masculinities studies has opportunities to denounce and work directly against such groups by providing research and discussion that keeps men’s potential for violence in the foreground.
Molly Dragiewicz, a sociologist and noted researcher of MRAs, notes when reviewing “Some Men,” a book about men’s experiences in doing antiviolence work, “Some men interviewed in this chapter raise concerns about the use of antiviolence publicity as window dressing to disguise an underlying lack of commitment to organizational policies to address men’s violence against women and the structures that engender it” (Dragiewicz 2016, p. 312).
But why is it that men are challenged by taking a more direct and visible role in calling out violence as a part of toxic masculinities? Sebastián Molano wrote about some of the challenges faced by men by stating, “Many of the men (including me) working on gender issues are self-taught. We have arrived in the gender landscape as a result of different circumstances but rarely due to an ingrained interest. This is explained, typically, as men enjoying a series of privileges that do not push them to question the status quo” (Molano, 2015).
This mirrors the challenge with domestic violence intervention work, where engaging men in respectful and healthy masculinities reflections or in confronting toxic masculinities does not necessarily have any sort of guidelines, standards, or rules of foundation, training, or engagement. Molano goes on to state, “men who work on gender issues do not tend to have a solid conceptual framework on gender issues, vis-à-vis women. This affects their credibility but most importantly, it is exposed when men who are working on these issues try to build bridges of collaboration with women’s organizations.”
Men and Masculinities studies need collaborations with feminist organizations and need the analysis of gender through the lens of privilege and power men hold over women. The expansion of that lens to consider the intersectionality of other oppressions needs to be continued.
Research on intersectional oppression and the perceptions of invisibility experienced by marginalized individuals can provide guidance in understanding how women’s experiences are easily overlooked by men. In exploring social invisibility, Pérez and Passini found that the more areas of privilege that individuals held, the easier it was to overlook or avoid people without privilege. Their research focused on multiple layers of identity, including gender and sexism, and their conclusion was that, “participants avoid visual interaction with people belonging to social minorities, presumably in order to prevent them from seeing themselves through the eyes with which the minority would see them” (Pérez & Passini 2012, p. 873).
Since 2017, when #MeToo gained international attention and sparked an increase in awareness and validation for women who are sexually and physically victimized by men, the invisibility has been waning, particularly as Sandra M. Gilbert notes:
Thousands and thousands of victims are cafeteria workers, file clerks, undergraduate and graduate students, ambitious young paralegals and overworked line cooks, electricians and rookie cops, junior high school students, and even, God help us, younger girls, sometimes even kindergartners. The labyrinth is the quotidian workplace—the winding corridors of the school or the office, where sexual aggression all too often accompanies power. (American Scholar 2018, p. 18)With this rise of visibility, masculinities studies has an opportunity to join with domestic violence researchers in assessing appropriate responses to offenders, discussing the impacts of men’s violence on women and children, and overall working to provide avenues for repair.
Unfortunately, with the arrival of Donald Trump as President of the United States of America, the landscape of masculinities in overall US culture may have serious shifts toward attitudes of entitlement and traditional gender roles, embracing foundations of toxic masculinity that are fundamental aspects of MRA belief systems. This creates a need to be intentional in having conversations with MRA individuals and groups to find methods of analyzing toxic masculinities and to possibly learn more about shifting beliefs toward healthy and respectful alternatives.
As a part of working toward respectful and healthy shifts, Men and Masculinities (and domestic violence) studies need to be cautious to remember how gender intersects with other categories of oppression, otherwise it can potentially lead to other forms of invisibility within the work. Chris Beasley notes ,“specifically naming violence as ‘the problem of men’, with regard to violence in communities which face racist marginalisation, is not straightforward. The strategy may be viewed as not so much as ensuring men are rendered responsible but as potentially eliding histories of racism/colonialism, thereby ensuring that dominant white cultures are not associated with responsibility” (Beasley 2015, p. 574).
A focus on toxic masculinities still needs to be balanced with understanding healthy and respectful masculinities, and while there have been several attempts to be more positive about men, careful balance is critical. Englar-Carlson names the challenge of working within that balance:
For many individuals, the idea of empowering men or identifying strengths may seem foreign or downright antithetical to someone who is working to reduce male power, privilege, and sexism. A central concern could be that advocating for a positive psychology of men, or positive masculinity, may gloss over the dark side of masculinity and may be associated with supporting patriarchal structures. (Englar-Carlson & Kiselica 2013, p. 401)Englar-Carlson offers an example of maintaining both the sense of the toxic and the sense of the healthy:
Loyalty is commonly identified among men as a desirable trait because it can strengthen relationships, build trust, and show support of others. However, when used in a rigid manner, loyalty has the potential to reinforce traditional positions of male privilege (e.g., protecting other men at the expense of truth and justice) and mask independent thinking. It is the ability to be flexible in the enactment of male strengths and knowing when it is adaptive that is critical. (Englar-Carlson & Kiselica 2013, p. 402)Being flexible is crucial in understanding the ways behavior, gender role training, and even violence itself can be potentially toxic and destructive, but also where it may be healthy or embody a context wherein the violence is protective to self or others. Research and writing needs to be careful to nuance approaches and make sure both sides are considered.
Cautions and Differences: Masculinities Work and Sexuality
Research on asexuality is scarce, and testing instruments on sexuality often ignore or minimize asexual spectrums of sexual identity and sexual orientation (Hinderliter 2009); although there has been some work on developing scales to measure asexuality more recently, relying on open-ended questioning (Yule, Brotto, & Gorzalka 2015). Initially, sexuality research looked at a spectrum from heterosexual to homosexual and categorized any other sexuality as the “X category” (Kinsey, Pomeroy, & Martin 1948). In more recent times, considerations of sexual orientation as something distinctly separate from romantic orientation have been discussed and expanded within asexual communities.
Asexuality sites fiercely debate aspects of sexuality needing to include “romantic orientation” as being separate from “sexual orientation” and the need to differentiate between the two and acknowledge space and presence of those individuals who may not be interested in sexual activity but are romantically and socially attracted to others (Amy/amygdala 2013).
This concept, as a view of sexuality that is inclusive not just of the “big three” sexual orientations, but other concepts behind an individual’s identity needs to be more explored within masculinities as well as the domestic violence community.
One major reason for this need is the probability of male domestic violence offenders having a characteristic of being heterosexually oriented to a female partner, but not being interested in a romantic/social connection to women. This complicated combination of identities can explain some levels of toxic masculinities that have not been fully explored.
Another challenging aspect of masculinities work that focuses on gay and bisexual males is the often-overlooked aspect of sexism among these men. Authors at various LGBTQ+ organizations and media have noted some of these issues, one stating, “The topic of misogyny among gay men is a difficult one to broach. In my experience, men either simply refuse to believe the phenomenon exists, or the conversation is quickly derailed” (Faye 2015).
This is not to say that the study of masculinities within the LGBTQ+ community are demonstrating sexism in their work; however, inclusion of forms of oppression beyond heterosexism and homophobia is still necessary in masculinities research, even from within an LGBTQ+ focus.
Emerge has been working with domestic violence offenders within the LGBTQ+ community since the mid-1990s. Culturally specific LGBTQ groups for perpetrators has influenced their work with heterosexual male perpetrators, leading to greater understanding of oppression dynamics and guiding more nuanced interventions while offering a broader ability to inform and work with victims and survivors.
Much of the challenge in both domestic violence intervention and masculinities research is in seeing sexuality in binary terms, both within orientation, but also within making decisions to explore the “most common” sexual preferences and excluding (or being invisible to) how all human sexuality informs work with men.
Domestic violence continues to evolve within the LGBTQ+ community due to work by experts in the field of intervention as well as within agencies that provide advocacy and support for victims and survivors. Some of these nonbinary sexualities, as they are still being explored and understood, need to also be given support and advocacy for victimization, and perpetrators need to be held accountable for change. To avoid stifling progress, we need to start expanding our understanding and research, and we must become as aware of what we leave out as of what include in our work.
Moving Forward and Conclusions
We find ourselves in a new stage of development within this field. Where we can become inclusive of nonbinary sexuality and romantic connections. Where we can consider what it means to be balanced within concepts of toxic and healthy masculinities. Where we can confront male apologists and call out misogyny at the same time we can build awareness of the invisibilities we can easily fall prey to.
Tal Peretz lists five reasons to study Men and Masculinities that support this ongoing evolution:
- Making Men and Masculinities the focus of research helps to keep men’s hurtful behavior visible;
- Gender, as an intersectional matrix of domination, informs our knowledge of other forms of oppression;
- Disrupting the perception that men’s experiences are “natural” illuminates the possibility of change;
- Research suggests momentum toward egalitarian patterns comes from a focus on masculinities; and
- Investigating masculinities offers valuable information for feminist projects. (Peretz 2016)
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.
The author(s) received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.
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I welcome comments on the post on this site. Attacks toward the writer, other commenters, or oppressive language will not be tolerated. This blog acknowledges that most domestic violence is male toward female, but that LGBT+ domestic violence is very real, and that female to male violence is a different context than other forms of domestic violence (and as such needs to be discussed much differently).