Feminist Theory of Domestic Violence


Domestic violence means any kind of violence directed from one partner in a family relationship to another. The purpose of the violence is to exercise control over other partners in the family relationship as well as to put them under undue pressure. Domestic violence can be violence directed at spouses, children, and in some instances siblings. Domestic violence can be psychological, financial as well as emotional. Domestic violence is considered a crime in many countries. Men are mostly the perpetrators of violence while women and children are mostly the victims but some women are also abusers. There are several theories put forward to explain domestic violence and no single theory is adequate to explain domestic violence for example social exchange, feminist, ecological framework, and social learning. This paper will look at the feminist theory to explain why people commit domestic violence.

The feminist theory point of view

The feminist theory explains domestic violence based on the kind of relationships that exist between men and women in society (McCue, 2007). Most of the societies are patriarchal and therefore the men are brought up believing they are superior to women. On the other hand, women are socialized to believe that men are strong and can do whatever they like. This means that there are cultural norms in some societies that support a man who inflicts violence on the women and the children in his family. Consequently, there are little or no sanctions for such kind of violent behavior (Hampton, Jenkins & Gullotta, 1996). For example, in the family law, there is the issue of privacy which does not protect the women adequately. The law states that the family should be allowed to run without the interference of the state. This is both good and bad because it allows the families to operate without interference on the contrary the law leaves the women vulnerable because in case of violence the state may fail to intervene thus leaving the women at the mercy of men (Herring, 2001).

The privileged role a male has in society leads him to believe he has control over society. Therefore such kind of man will use whatever is at his disposal to control those under him even if it means resulting in violence to exercise as well as maintain his authority (McCue, 2007). The women in such societies are undervalued and through the role system, they believe that they are inferior and should be dominated by men. They are exposed to all kinds of violence for instance rape, homicide, sexual harassment, beatings, and so on (Hampton et al, 1996).

The imbalance of power between women and men in society is the major cause of domestic violence. The male dominates over women through economic, physical, and political means. Most women rely on males for financial support. This is because many women had been denied an opportunity to empower themselves economically. Consequently, they were forced to become dependent on their male partners, and thus they had to be submissive to their male breadwinners (Herring, 2001). The males in their lives have total control over them and when they are violated they remain quiet because they are afraid of losing financial support. The women stay in these abusive relationships because they cannot be fed for their children if the relationship was to be destroyed. The men on the other hand know they have an upper hand and therefore can treat the women the way they choose. For example, men will say statements like ‘she is my wife and must do what I tell her,’ ‘I am the head of my family and my word is final.’ On the other hand, the women are also afraid of embarrassment that may result in a divorce and therefore do not press charges against their abused spouses; they calculate the cost that would be involved and conclude it would be very costly for them if their husbands were to go to jail(Engel & Schutt, 2005).

History of domestic violence in families is another cause of domestic violence. When children grow up in violent homes they are more likely to become abusers or victims. This is especially true for a male child who grows up watching his father beat his mother. This kind of child is more likely to abuse his wife in the future because to him this is normal (McCue, 2007). On the other hand, a girl who grows up in such a family thinks it is alright for a woman to be beaten by a man just like she saw her mother taking the beatings in silence. Therefore later in life, when she experiences violence she believes it is the way things are in society. A woman from such a family is more likely to seek out abusive relationships in the future. This kind of upbringing reinforces violence in the families as it becomes a cycle of violence from one generation to the next because people learn through observation and imitation (Herring, 2001; Wolfe & Jaffe, 1999).

Some perpetrators of domestic violence do so due to insecurities and low self-esteem. When one does not feel good about themselves some may result in abuse to make them feel good. Most of the men who abuse women and children do so as it makes them feel that they are in control. This is their way of demanding respect from the weaker members of their families and they will generally blame them for bringing the violence upon themselves. These men may be under stress due to failure of meeting their family’s financial needs. This may make them feel like lesser men and they use violence and intimidation because they are afraid of losing their respect and honor. Violence helps these men maintain their control. Some members of the family may become violent as they need to control and exercise their power. The abusers may have issues like misogyny –antipathy of women- or misandry- antipathy of men, personality disorders.


Domestic violence is a very serious issue because many people die as a result of this kind of violence. Many people do not report cases of domestic violence because they do not want to embarrass those involved. Men are also victims of domestic violence though few report it as it would be very embarrassing for them as society expects a man to dominate against women. On the other hand, domestic violence needs to be tackled either by educating individuals about the negative effects of domestic violence and the society at large. The media should also be involved and should stop helping the perpetuation of domestic violence by conveying content that reinforces gender stereotypes. The cycle of domestic violence needs to be severed once and for all though it will take time. We should remember that Rome was not built in a day.


  1. Engel.R.K. & Schutt, R.K. (2005). The practice of research in social work, California: SAGE.
  2. Hampton, R., Jenkins, P. & Gullotta, T. (1996).Transforming the Culture: Creating Safety and Justice for Women and Girls. Preventing Violence in America, Thousands Oaks, CA: Sage Publication.
  3. Herring, J. (2001). Family law: issues, debates, policy, New York: William Publishing
  4. McCue, L.M. (2007). Domestic Violence: a reference handbook. ABC-CLIO
  5. Wolfe, D.A. & Jaffe, P.G. (1999) Emerging Strategies in the Prevention of Domestic Violence. Journal of Domestic Violence and Children Vol. 9 No. 3
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