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Domestic violence

Cause analysis of domestic violence

---based on the gender inequality perspective

Introduction of the domestic violence as a social problem

1. What is a social problem

According to Charon (2005), a problem can be called a social problem should have four points: the cause of the condition is social; the social condition seriously harms large numbers of people in the society which means that the phenomena is widespread not just confined to a small group of people; the condition harms the continuation of society; and there is widespread agreement that the condition is wrong and must be changed(Charon, 2005.4). Besides, the conflict perspective defines social problems as the social conditions that cause harm to people, especially societal conditions that create poverty and inequality of class and power; the consensus perspective major concerns with too much disorder in society, too little consensus, and few institutions that work well to uphold society; the interactionist perspective highlights how social conditions become social problems through communication or interaction and definition.

2. What is domestic violence

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Domestic violence also known as domestic abuse, spousal abuse, child abuse or intimate partner violence refers to any abusive behaviors occurring between intimate relationship such as same sex, or other sex, married or unmarried couples and children. Domestic violence has many forms including physical aggression, sexual abuse, and emotional abuse, passive or covert abuse and so on. This paper only focuses on men's physical aggression toward women within the family. It is the leading cause of hurt to women and happened between all age ranges, ethnic backgrounds and different financial status.

3. Domestic violence is a social problem

As we all know, family is a primary organization which provides many functions for both the individual and the society such as reproduction of human race, physical care and protection, economic, emotional support and is also viewed as a socialization institution. It reflects the condition of the whole society and can be considered as a miniature of the outer world. Conflict is common within a family, and spousal violence is the second serious type of conflict after child abuse problem in the world. According to the four criterions of defining a social problem, we view domestic violence as a social problem for following reasons. First of all, the cause of the condition is social--- this paper will discuss mainly about the causes of domestic violence based on gender inequality later from several factors popular in the society including the cultural and valued norms, economic condition and social status which are all in the level of the society and not just subject to private problems. Secondly, this problem seriously harms a majority of people as well as the society and is popular within the society. In china, among 270 million families, 30 percent of them have problems of domestic violence and the perpetrators are mainly males with a 90 percent while the victims are above 85 percent of females. Every year, there are 0.1 million families disintegrate because of this issue(沈文捷, 2006). In US, 4 million women have the experience of being assaulted by the men whom they are familiar with and there are almost 70 percent women in South Korea abused by their husbands regularly. According to the statistics provided by Social Welfare Department of Hong Kong, the case numbers of spousal abuse have risen from 1009 in 1998 to 2433 in 2001("社福焦点," 2002). And it is still increasing as in 2007 there are 6404 cases(王鳳儀 & 葉長秀, 2008). All the above evidences demonstrate the popularity of this problem all over the world. Moreover, it is the origin of other problems and has a major impact on the female. The incentive cause of female criminals is partly from domestic violence. That is to say, women who are abused by their husbands for a long period of time may have the inclination to commit crimes like murdering husbands. Also, suicide problem is related to family conflict sometimes. Considering the children fostered among this kind of family environment will have behavioral, psychological problem during their developmental processes. The boys living in a violent family have more chance to abuse females or even commit crimes after they become adults(沈文捷, 2006). In conclusion, family violence not only influences the family members but also increases the criminal rate in the society and may bring about negative impact for the whole population as they live in an unstable environment. Because family is a basic system in the society, every family's development and harmony will affect the whole society. When the conflict is fierce among most of the families, the stability of the society will be undermined and thus the continuation of it will also be broken. As a result there is widespread agreement that the condition is wrong and must be changed. Not only feminists stand for women's right and ask for the equal right and status, people all want to change this situation as we are living in a civil society. Either for our own welfare or for the victims', we should try to address this social problem from the individual level, family level and social policy or legal dimension.

Using theories to describe the origin and nature of domestic violence

Karl Marx said that ‘Philosophers have always tried to interpret the world; the point is to change it'. Sociology is a special discipline which focuses on explaining a social problem by asking what, how and why and provides a structural, logical reference based on evidences to help address it. Before I have briefly described what domestic violence is and provided some data to explain it as a social problem. Then a description of the causes of this problem is necessarily needed because we have to solve the question why this problem exists. The following part is about the theoretical explanation to the nature of domestic violence.

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First of all, a cultural and biological factor is adopted as there is a long history of the patriarchy and physiological differences have major impact on the division work of men and women which later develops into sexual inequality. Secondly, economic factors significantly shape inequality. With the help of Marxist theory, it is possible to relate the origin of domestic violence with the gender inequality based on the society level. Feminists also explain the role of gender inequality on domestic violence problem which is in a more comprehensive way. As an unbalanced relationship exists within one family, males control females by various means to maintain a figure of authority and power. This is the nature and origin of domestic violence. Afterwards, regarding the realistic and complex situation nowadays, there are other reasons to explain why men use physical force to show their control over women.

1. Biological and cultural perspective

The biological explanation lies on the basic genetic, hormonal, or physical differences which cannot be directly related to the reason why men mandate women, because those differences and any behaviors associated with them have to be interpreted more by cultural and social factors(Hurst, 1997a). The biological characteristics of female determine that women have to shoulder the responsibility of having babies and caring for them. And men have more strength and stronger then women, so they can do much work outside the home. Because of the characteristics of body and genes differ between males and females, original division of work exists. There are many idioms describing the different work men and women do. For example, men plow the field and women do weaving; men fetch water and women do gardening. As a result women in the old times may stay at home and have no economic independence while men work outside and support the whole family. As for this situation, males feel that they should have more right than females because they do more. Moreover, people regard men should have the features like masculine and strong while women should be gentle and grace which is also related to the type of jobs they will choose. As a result, even female can do most of the jobs that men do, they will not choose as they think the jobs are not made for them. Always women perform a role that is weak and needs protection, whereas men stand tall and brave. That leads to a subordinated status for women under men's authority which changes into power even control later. Moreover, family is a social institution to socialize women's subordination and submissiveness. And comparatively, men are socialized to be strong and dominant which ensures the consistency of generation transmission and roles' stability.

2. Marxist perspective

Marxists advance that family is a reflection of the society on the fact that women are oppressed by men. As family is a social institution, it helps to serve the whole society. It is functional to capital accumulation and capitalism favors to maintain the family working smoothly as a social system. So the family is very important. How to make the family function well? It may include following aspects. Family as a unit of consumption sustains market demand; It is a support system for social reproduction of labor by tension management; it is as work incentive for labor; women shoulder domestic tasks and it functions as the socialization agent for promoting capitalistic ethic. For capitalism, men are required to work outside and become a breadwinner to support the family. They should meet the society need and work hard both to make a living of family and promote the social consumption with the money earned by daily work. Maintaining a family, both women and men have responsibility although the division is different. For men, they must get out of the house and contribute themselves as labor to serve for the society and family as well. For women, their job is to serve for the men and children who are the potential labor resources for society. In other words, women are viewed as a supporter behind the stage. All they need to do is supporting their husbands and children without complaint. Moreover, capitalists make the job market more broad but specific in each single field. That is to say the division of work becomes specific and one is embedded into one position which makes the work more efficient. Just like the division in the job market, when women and men are set respectively into different positions, therefore an inequality situation has shaped. Because of the contribution men give to society seems more obvious and worthy than women, they have the right to vote and voice in political perspective, they have the chance to social in open occasion while women stay at home, have no right to attend into societal activities. Besides in capitalism society, one has a higher status if he has more material. As women have no choice but to ask for money from their husbands to deal with chores, they do not have their own property. As a result, they maintain a relative lower status to men which may lead to men's control over women and thus the following changes.

3. Feminist perspective

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Vogel acknowledged the division of labor and the inequality that exists between the sexes in capitalist society, but Sacks (1975) noted that in many non-class societies the sexes were also unequal. Sex inequality preceded capitalism and indeed is a form of domination distinct from class inequality. Liberal feminism theory is the major one about gender inequality, which argues that women may claim equality with men on the basis of an essential human capacity for reasoned moral agency, that gender inequality is the result of a patriarchal and sexist patterning of the division of labor, and that gender equality can be produced by transforming the division of labor through the repatterning of key institutions----law, work, family, education and media(Bem & Lipsitz, 1993). Contemporary liberal feminism's explanation of gender inequality turns on the interplay of four factors---- the social construction of gender, the gendered division of labor, the doctrine and practice of public and private spheres, and patriarchal ideology. The term patriarchy has been defined in various ways, but basically it refers to a whole complex of structured interrelationships in which men dominate over women. The root of patriarchy has been tied to the reproductive function of women in society (Chafetz, 1988; Eisenstein & Zillah, 1981; Firestone & Shulamith, 1970; Phelps & Linda, 1981). ‘Where there is society, there is gender, and the gender division of labor is pervasive'(Smith, 1987). Once men dominate in areas outside the family and gain the economic and political resources attendant with those activities, they can use these resources to maintain patriarchy. Women serve the material interests of men by serving not only as sexual partners but also as potential laborers, child bearers, ornaments, and status enhancers(Hurst, 1997b). The sexual division of labor in modern society divides production in terms of both gender and spheres denoted as ‘private' and ‘public'. Women are given primary responsibility for the private sphere, while men are give the public sphere. Women find that their access to public sphere such as education, work, and politics are still limited by discrimination, harassment and marginalization(Benokraitis & Nijole, 1999). In the private sphere, they return home form work to look after children. So women's ability to compete in career and profession is hindered by the demands of the private sphere. Conversely, men's public sphere is demanded by shrinking the private sphere of women's resources of time and energy. All the factors above interplay with each other which eventually bring about the phenomena of gender inequality from feminists perspective.

4. Comparing the two theories

Comparing the two perspectives explaining the gender inequality problem, we find that Marxists focus more on the economic level and may ignore people's perception about the gender. Also, when it is adopted within in a non-class society, its point of views may seem weak. Besides, society develops quickly nowadays; in some level it cannot be suitable to the situation in modern society. For example, women have a better education and gains more competence to fight for their rights. As for feminist theories, it starts in modern time; therefore it is more suitable to this issue nowadays. The theories cover structure, culture, society dimension, so it is relatively comprehensive. However, it also has its limitation as it cannot be specific and it mainly addresses the problem from individual level. As a result, both the two theories should be considered to explain the gender inequality, because they compensate each other and overcome the limitations of the other one either from the spatial dimension or time. Besides, other theories like structural functionalist theories also can be adopted to describe.

5. Explanation about the reason why physical violence is used to reinforce the dominance

One may ask even if men dominate women in the family and they want to control their spousal, why they choose to use physical violence to achieve this goal? According to anomie advanced by Emile Durkheim, the violent behavior is provoked with a feeling of aimlessness which is aroused by certain condition of the society(Giddens, 1993). For example, when men feel that their status in the family is challenged because of their spouse's involvement in the job market and even gain much more money than themselves, they feel being threatened. A feeling of disoriented and anxious comes out and drives them to be irrational. Because family is an organization in which has the most intimate and close relationship, men has no pressure to constraint themselves, afterwards they are inclined to use violent behavior to family members. Moreover, anomie exists when clear standards to guide behavior in a given area of social life lacks. As for a long time, there is no specific criterion in law about men's violence behavior. During the time between 17th century and 19th century in western countries, it was legal that men beat women(肖华锋, 1997). To some extent, wife is a kind of property belonged by the husband. So they take it for granted that they can do anything they want to show their dominance. Even for women, they accept and tolerate this in view of the inferior roles in family and society. Also because of the development of the society and privation of each family, the neighborhood and the linkage to extend family are cut and thus the outer world will care less about the inner side of each family, the relationship become isolated. In conclusion violent behavior is an indifferent way that the most of people in the society accepts, even though they want to change. The last but not the least, behavior is learned by experience or watching the scenes. If a child lived with parents who commonly have violence, it is possible that the child will be aggressive after being adult.

The situation of this problem in Hong Kong

With regard to Hong Kong, the domestic violence problem is also serious and has its own typical features. Generally, there are increasing numbers of domestic violence cases in Hong Kong. The cases rise from 1,009 in 1998 to 6,404 in 2007 in which most victims are from mainland. The shelters for abused women conclude almost 80 percent women born in mainland. In past 20 yeas, the marriages between mainland and Hong Kong people is only 16,451, however, in 2007 it goes up to 26,203. Most of the cases are that male from Hong Kong married female from mainland. In Hong Kong immigrants are not limited to the mainland people; minority people also take 5% of the whole population. They lack skills and get little money. The family organized by them is about 40,000 among which members cannot speak Cantonese(香港社會服務聯會, 2009). Furthermore, the families who have this problem also face poverty. The percentage of receiving funds from CSSA family is 32.9% in 2006 increasing from 23.4% in 2001(王鳳儀 & 葉長秀, 2008).

Hong Kong is a special area which has a traditional values same as China but also assimilates western culture in an early time. According to the data listed above, there are unique factors can be attributed to the problem of domestic violence. First of all, as Hong Kong has a fast pace of life and work, people's stress is much higher then other cities. As I mentioned before, when men encounter trouble in work or things do not meet their standards and expectations, they feel anxiety and may have the impulsion to express the angry to family members especially wives. Also, the economic crisis occurred before had an impact on the family cohesion. The situation is much similar as the one happened in Singapore in 1998 when a financial crisis in Asia burst out. During that time there was increasing number of domestic violence and the rate rose 35%. Because of the crisis, people faced unemployment, decrease in the salary, pressure to maintain the same level of the lives as before and thus made the breadwinner feel disappointed and expressed all the anger toward to wives(雷金星, Feb. 2005). Secondly, the competence of female in Hong Kong is much better than before. As society develops fast, education level advances quickly. When female and male with same education levels live together, men might feel less dominant as before. It is possible nowadays that a woman earns more than a man which makes him look down upon himself but to find a way to oppress the woman's status in the family with fists. Thirdly, Hong Kong has many immigrants mainly from south-east Asia and mainland who have low ability to pursue jobs required advanced skills. Within the family, especially with a Hong Kong husband, they have a relative low status because of their economic dependence or poor background. The husband no doubt has an absolutely dominant situation in the family and once he confronts obstacles outside, the wife at home becomes a punching bag for him to vent the angry. At last, the poverty problem is also related to the violence. Hong Kong has a big discrepancy between the wealthy and the poor. Poor families commonly include members with low education levels which can be inferred that they cannot control their temper very well. As they do not have a good living situation but can see other wealthy people's lives in such a developed city, they may initiate a distort view of themselves and the people around them. Besides, their emotional management ability might not be good, so the physical violence will happen easily. Hong Kong is a complex city which has an origin of traditional Chinese value mixed with a variety cultures from western and other countries. The conflict may highlight much stronger between poor and wealth, different cultures and fast pace as well as stress. This conflict in the society arouses problems within families which turn back demonstrate the changes in society.


In conclusion, domestic violence originates from the problem of gender inequality. As social workers, when meeting the clients who have this trouble, we should provoke the awareness of females about their roles in family and society. The most important thing to do is awaking the public about the negative influence of having sexual discrimination either in job market or in the daily life. As long as the people respect themselves, men respect women; the case of domestic violence will decrease.


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