In the article of theoretical debates on violence against women in Canada, a set of theoretical perspectives are presented to give a better understanding for diverse views on violence. I will be unpacking the important concepts in this article to analyze how they apply and work in our daily lives on an individual and societal level. Violence is a multi-faceted complex problem that cannot be linked to single factor. The individual and societal aspects of violence are interconnected which is a reason for the range of theories presented. The theories I will be covering on the individual level will be psychological process theories, developmental attachment, and feminist theory on the societal, which will be focusing on explaining broader structural influences.
There is much debate on the theory of violence as many sociologists work on breaking down what leads to what is perceived as violence in society. The article describes different types of violence, one being between partners. Often times partner violence is described to be committed by young males who may be unemployed or have a low economic status that may abuse alcohol or drugs. Their emotional abuse on their female partners is understood to be a result of their family or community values and ideologies that equate masculinity with desirable values such as dominance, toughness and honour. Heise (1998) developed this ecological framework by four concentric circles; 1. personal history, 2. Microsystem, 3. Exosystem, and 4. Macrosystem. The four factors help understand an individual’s life in different aspects where they may have witnessed violence, drug or alcohol abuse, low SES, and or masculinity linked to aggression and dominance due to gender roles. By using this framework, the article digs into the individual level theories sociologists have discovered to conceptualize the problems resulting from these factors. The article poses three major individual level theories; social learning theory, gender role theory, and developmental attachment theory. Firstly, social learning theory at a deeper glance attempts to explain the elements of violence through the influence of observation in an individual’s experience through rewards and reinforcements. Social learning theory is observed to have intergenerational transmissions of violence, meaning the influential people who have demonstrated violence in an individual’s primary social ties has a significant impact on that individual carrying on violent behavior onto the next generation. Sociologists’ Galles and Straus reinforce this idea, arguing that the structure of a “family” is the ideal grounds for violence to occur and learned through the social learning theory. However, this can be challenged because it does not take gender, or agency into account and generalizes that all men will become violent if they witness violence.
Along with this, gender role theory has a been used to explain behavior dating back to the 1960s and 1970s, where feminist concerns about sex and gender were sources of inequality. Due to the perception that sex and gender are seen as binary, gender roles have reflected male dominated ideologies and understandings for behavior. Both men and women have understandings of appropriate behavior for their genders making stereotypes valid. Feminists challenged this by arguing that if fathers participated in child rearing roles and society increased opportunities for women to enter male dominated professions it would result in equality. However, has not been the case. The gender role theory explains rape to be considered as a logical outcome of power differentials stemming from male and female socialization. Rather than rape being perceived as deviant, it is stated to be “a function of overconforming to socially proscribed gender roles” (Russell,1984:117). I believe this idea has been argued to be inevitable and natural which can be related to Durkheim’s structural functionalist perspective on socialization. Holding victims accountable for their own rape experiences because they have no agency. They attempt to argue that if they gain agency becoming free to participate equally in societal aspects, inequalities of gender violence will be eliminated. Yet, this is seen as being socially deterministic and exaggerating of differences among men and women. Connell and Newton criticize It for completely ignores class differences, race and ethnicity, sexual orientation, and culture playing a factor in the outcome of rape (Connell, 2002:77; Newton, 2002:185).
The deepest individual level theory that I believe is experienced every day is the Developmental Theory. This theory is so critical in that it applies to the modern day more than those before it. The influence of media, internet, and messages sent across to children during early socialization is what endorses violence and the degrading of women. The global population is exposed to a culture that glorifies violent behavior and distorted perceptions of male and female gender roles. On the individual level it sees two types of people, the victim, and the victimizer. Those who are victims are often maltreated, exposed to violence at home, and eventually accept and expect violence or abuse eventually leading to characteristics of sensitivity towards interpersonal relationships, sexists and violent expectations, and rigid beliefs on gender roles in their adult life (Johnson and Dawson, 2011). Creating a perpetuating cycle for the next generation. Feminist theory on the other hand, opposes such outcomes on a societal level. They also concur with developmental theories influencing factors of violence except they add the intersections of race, class, and gender hierarchies that have been manifested in broad structural forms. The reason I agree with this theory the most is that it argues the term “essentialized” femininity and masculinity, a concept used to explain that certain attributes are ascribed to men and women both. In other words, these influences of violence should be looked at across all genders because they have an impact on all individuals. They also include concepts of critical race theory being simultaneously central to violence as other theories are.
I believe this article has presented strong points in conceptualizing violence in different settings and levels. The authors have provided a range of theories that can be used to better understand domestic abuse and violence in various ways. The major theories I pulled from this article have all resonated with me the most, yet they still feel outdated in contemporary society. Many of the scenarios and ideas expressed in Johnson and Dawson’s article are what we previously have seen in history and still see today, however in recent years there has been recognition of cultural and religious influences on violence between partners. Johnson and Dawson’s article is presented strongly when it takes into account the waves of new ideas flooding into society from foreign regions holding different cultural or religious beliefs that use what we may perceive as violent to discipline. However, it lacks information on new technological advances of the 21st century having a vital role in violence demonstrated online among men and women. The rising use of social media and the internet has become increasingly popular with new concepts of cyberbullying which are also acts of violence. Times have changed and so has the law; new legislation will allow the “right to ask” and the “right to know” with Bill 17 in Alberta. Victims or potential victims can now have “Clare’s law” to be able to ask for and know about an individual’s past history of domestic abuse for their own protection. (Bill 17, 2019). I believe this can have significant impacts in increasing recidivism and becoming another reason for male individuals to accept their role or identity associated with violent behavior. At the same time, it can be useful in preventing potential victims as it is indented to do and can become a statement for other men in society to keep a clean record.
- Johnson, H. and Dawson, M. (2011). Theoretical Debates. Violence Against Women in Canada: Research and Policy Perspectives (pp. 13-36),
- Bill 17, Disclosure to Protect Against Domestic Violence (Clare’s Law) Act, 1st Sess, 30th Legislature (2019).