Inverting Assumptions: Domestic Abuse Without 'Male Power'?

UoM administered thesis: Phd

  • Authors:
  • Stephanie Alger


AbstractInverting Assumptions: Domestic Abuse Without 'Male Power'? A thesis submitted to The University of Manchester for the degree of PhD, by Stephanie Alger, 2016.Over the last two decades male victims of domestic abuse have received much media and political attention. A polarised debate emerged. At one pole there are those campaigning for the rights of 'battered' men to be acknowledged, believing gender to be irrelevant in the aetiology of domestic abuse. At the other pole there are feminists, maintaining that gender is relevant, as domestic abuse is an expression of patriarchy and therefore overwhelmingly perpetrated by men against women. Through a consideration of both male victims' and female perpetrators' accounts this research considers the relevance of gender and power, in abusive relationships, where it is the man who is the victim. With a view to establishing whether there is domestic violence without 'male power', the thesis asks: In what ways are abused men's and female perpetrators' accounts shaped by gender? And what is the relationship between masculinity/femininity and abuse for abused men and female perpetrators? Adopting the Free Association Narrative Interview method (FANI) I interviewed ten men presenting as victims and ten women presenting as perpetrators, accessed via support services and probation referral centres. Both psycho-discursive and psychosocial analysis was carried out on the interview data.Psycho-discursive analysis revealed how the men re-configured what would otherwise be emasculating disclosures of victimisation, as self-sacrificing heroism. The women's accounts were constrained by the limited ways that women's aggression is spoken about. Placing their perpetration firmly within the context of their own victimisation, they 'struggled' to recount their experiences in ways that did not contravene expectations of womanhood. Psychosocial analysis allowed for the exploration of individuals' defences, revealing closely guarded fears, anxieties, insecurities, motivations, and desires. Underscoring men's accounts of self-sacrifice and heroism and women's constrained accounts of aggression were guarded vulnerabilities. However, such complexity was lost in the gender specific ways that male victims and female perpetrators positioned themselves within the 'story' of domestic abuse. Ultimately, the patterned configurations of power illuminated cannot adequately be explained by the concept of patriarchy, but instead the multiple ways that gender is intersected with other structural hierarchies, as well as individual biography, to create context specific configurations of power. It is argued that that policymakers, service providers, academics and academic commentators alike must transcend the polarised debate. Only through an understanding no longer founded on oversimplifications, can we embrace the complexity of abusive relationships and in turn establish support that appropriately meets the needs of the male victims and the female perpetrators. This does not mean abandoning analyses of the role of gender and power in domestic abuse, but recognising the complex ways in which they present themselves in both the enactment of violence and in its telling in the aftermath of conflict.


Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Award date31 Dec 2016