The recent release of the HBO series Big Little Lies, which plot centres around the domestic violence of a wealthy husband and wife, has been accompanied by a great amount of social commentary. The series highlight domestic violence but does not quiet expose the key root cause. This brief paper analyse how the concept of masculinity constructs the root causes of domestic violence. To support this argument, this paper highlights relevant examples from the show and discusses two major points: (1) the presence of masculinity, and (2) the effects of masculinity on individuals and relationships, particularly on women and children.
Every year, the number of women as victims of domestic violence has not decreased. In fact, it is indicated that about 1 in 3 (35%) of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual violence by their intimate partner (WHO, 2017). When a wife becomes a victim of domestic violence, they tend to believe that their children are not at risk. As portrayed in the series Big Little Lies, one of the characters become a constant victim of domestic violence, Celeste, has been convinced that her abuse has not affected her children. This is however not true, because one of her son has been witnessing their assaults for some time, which leads him to imitating the abuse on his schoolmate and intimidate her out of telling on him. When children watch their parents be abused while growing up, it sends a message that the idea of abuse is a proper way to interact. “Because witnessing domestic violence can terrorize children and significantly disrupt child socialization, many researchers have begun to consider exposure to domestic violence to be a form of psychological maltreatment” (McGee & Wolfe, 1991; Peled & Davis, 1995; Somer & Braunstein, 1999).
After the series aired in 2017, Big Little Lies has gained a lot of supporter. It has received and won numerous of awards, some of them includes 2018 Golden Globe’s “Best Television Limited Series”, and three “Best Performance by an Actress.” Big Little Lies has successfully grab people’s attention with its murder mystery along with its issues upbringing such as masculinity, domestic violence, and female empowerment. It does not become a surprise that most screenplay chooses men as the main character, but this shows’ main characters are filled with A-list Hollywood actresses, which each characters helps each other in getting through life instead of going against each other. This has capture people’s heart because they are sending the message that it is important for women to stand together to make the world a safer place and redefine the use of power and abuse.
Issues on domestic violence have been explored by many researchers, along with its causes and effects. Researchers agree that there are a few factors that could influence men’s violent behaviour towards their intimate partner. One of the factors is closely related to the concept of masculinity. Omar (2011) and Abumere (2013) discusses that masculinity is a concept that includes behaviours, languages, and practices that exists in specific cultural and locations. They also added that the understanding of masculinity is shaped by patriarchy; which is the idea that men are more highly valued than women. Gregory (2001) added that the rules of being masculine can cause males to experience intense shame when they feel like they do not live up to the “masculine” standards, and when this happens, they may lash out to prove their manhood. Umberson (2003) collected data samples from non-violent men and men with a history of violent to uncover what triggers men’s violent behaviour. She found that the act of violence occurs when men could not contain and control their emotions. In addition to this, Gregory (2001) found that the feeling of abandonment, desperation, and shame could also trigger males to get violent towards their female partners.
In examining domestic violence, researchers also talk about batterers’ response on their own violent action. Based on the data from Family Violence Diversion Network from Southwestern United States, Gregory (2001) found that batterers tend to put the blame of their violent actions on female partners by detailing their behaviours and personalities. This leads to females blaming themselves, thinking that they deserve to be abused, and making excuses for their violent partners. Omar (2011), Anderson (2001), and Gregory (2001) agree that violence, aggression, and domination are ways to show that they have the upper hand, and they are more superior to their partner. While female partners become the first-hand victim, children are also at risk. Johnson (1995) found that children are being used to make female partners feel guilty when they’re about to leave the relationship.
From previous researches on masculinity and its relation to domestic abuse against women, researchers have analysed how the idea of masculinity has set to become a vital factor of domestic violence against women. However, very few researchers have discussed and critically analysed the effects of domestic abuse in the series Big Little Lies from the female character Celeste and her children. Under Raewyn Connell’s concept of masculinity, this paper covers two section of analysis. The first part provides a close reading on the literary work and the masculinity conveyed through the character Perry. The second part will then analyse the impact of masculinity on women and children through the female character Celeste and her children. In order to explore this issue, textual analysis research is the methodology that will be used for this research paper.
Connell (1995) define masculinity as follows: “masculinities are “configurations of practice”, this means that men act out masculinity based on shared understanding of how “real men” behave”. According to Connell, masculinity has three elements. First is the social factors an individual come across. Second is the gender relation that allows both men and women to understand the concept of masculine. Third is the impact of these gender relations applied socially. Abumere (2013) build on this definition, stating that masculinity is a concept that includes behaviours, languages, and practices that exists in specific cultural and locations. Through these definitions, it can be briefly concluded that masculinity is neither biologically determined nor ascribed, because it is something that is frequently carried out through actions and interactions with others, and masculinity itself is learned through those interactions.
Masculinity is often defined in relation to its opposite, femininity. The notion of masculinity does not exist in isolation from femininity and vice versa. Masculinities are not solely about men; women also produce the meaning and perform the practice of masculine. Even so, masculinity is about the differences from femininity, differences in power between men and women, which in many society, the female gender is positioned in subordinate position to the male.
There are a few kinds of masculinities studied by researchers, but the most prominent one is Hegemonic masculinity. Connell defines Hegemonic masculinity as “ .. the configuration of gender practice which embodies the currently accepted answer to the problem of legitimacy of patriarchy which guarantees (or is taken guarantee) the dominant position of men and the subordination of women.” Connell speaks of Hegemonic masculinity as not only men relations to women, but also of men in relation to other men. Hegemonic masculinity suggests that society allow masculinity as dominant and superior to femininity, proposing that men have rights to certain roles and positions that disadvantage women. These definitions of masculinity are created and maintained through literature, and this research paper will specifically focus on an American TV series Big Little Lies.
One issue that has gained a lot of attention in film, television, and other forms of popular culture is domestic violence. In Big Little Lies, one of the main characters, Celeste, is known as to have the perfect life– she is beautiful, rich, and married to the perfect husband, Perry. Perry is seen as a loving husband who treats Celeste like a goddess. In an attempt to analyse the character Perry, it is only suitable to use Connell’s concept of masculinity. Like Perry, studies have shown that masculine identities are constructed through acts of violence and the ability to control their partners (Anderson, 2001). Perry’s violent act could be seen since the very first episode. Perry found out about his twin’s classmate, Ziggy and his choking incident on a girl. Perry told Celeste that the twins should stay away from Ziggy, but Celeste called him out as ridiculous because she simply believes Ziggy is not capable of such violence. After being called out, Perry forcefully grab Celeste’s arm.
Perry needs to establish that he is more superior to his wife, and he feels the need that in order to gain status, he can do it by being violent towards her. Perry’s attempt seem to be successful because the next day when they are driving the twins to school, after Perry’s sweet words and apology, Celeste admits that she was wrong and Perry was right about Ziggy. Once they arrive at the school, Perry learns that he does not get to meet the teachers because Celeste has already done it at Orientation day without him. Perry is outraged, accusing Celeste of out casting him. Gregory (2001) stated that the feeling of abandonment and desperation could trigger males to get violent towards their female partners. This could be proven through Perry in a number of scenes, including their counsel session. In his defence, he has a lot of anger because he is afraid of losing Celeste. He feels insecure that his wife has not been happy with him and she could leave him in a heartbeat. In his confession, he admits that he is terrified of Celeste leaving him, thus leading him to get violent at times.
Perry has done a lot of damage to Celeste, either physically, verbally, and psychologically. In between their fights, Perry often sees sensuality when they get violent. In episode two minute 00:12:52, after Perry slaps Celeste and shoving her against the closet, he apologizes and starts to unbutton his pants to have an intercourse. At first Celeste is reluctant to the idea of having an intercourse amidst a fight but Perry holds her down and forces her until she gives in.
They went on for a few minutes then she walks out of the room as soon as they finish. As seen from this scene, it is difficult to determine whether it could be considered consensual or marital rape because she sheds a tear and asking to let go while also engaging in the coitus, and as seen in Figure 1, she unbuttons Perry’s pants without being forced to.