Domestic violence and the bourgeoisie

23 Aug

Domestic Violence Silence


In the last few weeks two rather disparate male journalists, Martin McKenzie-Murray in The Saturday Paper and Mark Latham, late of the Australian Financial Review, have observed that the current orthodox position on domestic violence against women and children holds that domestic violence can affect any woman, in any demographic, and is not socioeconomically determined.

Both men contest that position, arguing instead that women living in poverty are disproportionately vulnerable to domestic attacks, and that current opinion is based on the erroneous belief that patriarchal notions of male domination, entitlement and privilege (otherwise known as rape culture) are the cause of violence against women.

Personally, I don’t subscribe to the concept of so-called rape culture as the sole cause of violence against women, but neither do I agree that violence against women is predominantly determined by socioeconomic conditions.

What I find interesting is that two white middle class males have within weeks of each other put forward the argument that middle class women are significantly less subject to domestic violence perpetrated by intimate partners than are less affluent women. It’s interesting because feminists have spent the last few decades struggling to expose middle class violence, and it has been a far more difficult exposure than one might at first imagine.

Both Latham and McKenzie-Murray point to statistics to support their view, however, neither explores the possibility that domestic violence is quite likely underreported by middle class women. Without even trying, I can think of a wealth of examples of women and children living middle class lives, all of whom have endured or are enduring violence perpetrated by intimate partners and who have not, and will not, report the crime to police.

The middle class life has long been associated with denial and repression, and a pathological dedication to privacy, all of which are designed to build a wall of silence intended to keep things in the family. The common prescription is to refrain from airing dirty family linen in public. To transgress these bourgeois norms is to commit a social crime that is not readily forgiven or forgotten by peers. If you doubt me, reflect how only very recently have we begun to hold institutions and public figures to account for decades of sexual transgressions against children, and how so many offenders got away with it because it was wicked of them to say bad things about that good kind man. Why, even our Prime Minister appears in court to provide character references for paedophile priests!

It’s perfectly possible to account for domestic violence as both a socioeconomic issue, and a product of male privilege and entitlement. There is also, as McKenzie-Murray points out, the criminological aspect of domestic violence, which acknowledges the individual pathologies of perpetrators. Surely, if we are to have any chance at all of halting this epidemic we have to address all possible contributing factors?

I am uncertain why this argument that ostensibly pits the middle class woman against the less affluent in terms of their comparative rates of suffering, has suddenly emerged. I don’t think it’s a good sign. For far too long domestic violence was framed as an us and them problem: consigned to the poor, to Indigenous communities, far removed from the middle class whom, it was unquestioningly assumed, did not behave like that.

What we ought to be doing is making it easier for middle class women to come out of the closet about our experiences of family violence, not advocating a caste system of suffering based on socioeconomic factors. Domestic violence and violence against women is not an us and them situation, however comforting that delusion might be to some. It’s alarming to note the beginnings of a swing back to that delusion, after so many years of feminist efforts to escape it.

In the interests of fairness I disclose that I grew up in a professional family whose male head, a doctor, perpetrated unspeakable violence on its members.


23 Responses to “Domestic violence and the bourgeoisie”

  1. Forrest Gumpp (@ForrestGumpp) August 23, 2015 at 3:13 pm #

    I’d like to widen the scope of your second-last paragraph recommendation to the making of it easier across the board to come out about domestic abuse. Not denying or seeking to minimize the significance of the violence, but identifying it as in some cases a sort of end-game of domestic abuse, one in which by reason of relative strength and propensity for physical confrontation women suffer (seemingly) disproportionately.

    I suspect that significant under-reporting of domestic abuse short of violence is also occurring. Indeed, is there even any structure for such reporting or compilation of statistics?

    When you come to that sub-class of domestic abuse short of physical violence perperpetrated by women against men, I suggest there is an even greater dearth of relevant information due to the entrenched societal expectations whereby men rarely discuss, let alone admit, such occurrences.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jennifer Wilson August 24, 2015 at 6:37 am #

      Yes, I agree with you. The definition of violence has been broadened to include emotional and mental. I think the victim has to feel intimidated for it to be treated as violence.


  2. Anonymous August 23, 2015 at 4:39 pm #

    I was surprised when I read The Saturday Paper article, and concluded, as you did, under-reporting, and the resources of both the middle-class perpetrator and victim, to hide the crime. If you are in dire economic circumstances, surely, there is more stress which may result in an increased rate of abuse of all kinds, including substance abuse. However, there is arguably also less to lose.
    In that respect, society has not come far. To maintain appearances still seams of paramount importance to those that can afford it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jennifer Wilson August 24, 2015 at 6:36 am #

      I also suspect that the middle class has more opportunities to hide. When you’re in poverty you are possibly more in the public gaze


  3. Marilyn August 23, 2015 at 7:02 pm #

    My parents considered themselves middle class as the owners of small business and my mothers parents were quite wealthy farmers. They both committed unspeakable crimes against me and my sisters.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jennifer Wilson August 24, 2015 at 6:34 am #

      And you work tirelessly for other people, so it stopped with you, Marilyn.


  4. Nick August 23, 2015 at 11:00 pm #

    Well said, Jennifer.

    It has a lot to do with perception. If nobody else on your street ever has the police show up on their doorstep, do you really want them showing up on yours? That happens a couple of times, and suddenly the neighbours start finding reasons why their kids can’t play with yours…

    Liked by 1 person

  5. russell August 24, 2015 at 12:22 pm #

    Even In The Best of Homes – Jocelyn Scutt.

    In the late 80s I ceased calling it domestic violence and started referring to it as home violence. When asked why by the ladies of the local CoSS, I said because it attempts to contain behind four walls. Hidden. Poories have ‘less to lose’. For the ‘middle class’ losing face and community standing is terrifying, let alone an assets split up. To save face and standing in the community presentation is everything. Charming Hyde in public and gruesome Jekyll at home. Coerced silence allows it. Control of face saving is everything for the bloke. A broken face for the woman. Though she must take days off work and stay at home, to ‘hide the shame’. Even in the best of homes.

    It’s his tory repeating…

    Liked by 1 person

    • russell August 24, 2015 at 1:11 pm #

      Even in the Best of Homes – Violence in the Family
      Jocelynne Scutt
      First published by Penguin Books Australia 1983
      Copyright (c) Jocelynne A Scutt, 1983
      ISBN 0 14 022511 0

      Liked by 1 person

    • Jennifer Wilson August 25, 2015 at 12:39 pm #

      Street angel, house devil, yes. I also think the middle class have more ways to disguise their violence than the less affluent. It seems to me to be poor means you come into the public gaze far more easily than the middle class.


  6. samjandwich August 24, 2015 at 12:44 pm #

    I thought this line was really interesting: “The middle class life has long been associated with denial and repression, and a pathological dedication to privacy”

    Maybe in this context it could be said that privacy is a form of luxury, in the sense that it is something that everybody wants regardless of their socio-economic situation, but whose availability is proportional to how well-off you are. But as with many luxuries it has perverse consequences on both an individual and whole-of-society level when over-indulged.

    It does seem quite arguable that both Mark Latham and the other fella have the wrong end of the stick here, but I see it as symptomatic of the fact that we still haven’t really arrived at a compelling explanation for why domestic violence happens. I think people who aren’t violent have great difficulty understanding what would prompt someone to be violent, and rile at the suggestion that there might be some sort of systematic explanation which may suggest that anyone could become violent if given the opportunity, hence their tendency to reject such explanations. Fair enough.

    I haven’t been following the Victorian Royal Commission into DV… but it seems to me that probably the most effective mechanism for understanding what goes on is to hear first-hand accounts from both victims and perpetrators, and to use that as the raw data for a rigorous analysis.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jennifer Wilson August 25, 2015 at 12:37 pm #

      I agree with you Sam, that there are people who deny the possibility that violence is possible in anyone under the “right” circumstances or with the “right” triggers. This troubles me and I think holds us back from addressing violence of all kinds. It is something others do, not good people like us and so on.

      Liked by 1 person

      • samjandwich August 25, 2015 at 11:43 pm #

        Hmmm, it may be the case that the vast majority of us are capable of violence if chain-pulled in the right way, but I’m still not sure that’s really the issue.

        One theory I’ve been working on recently is that violence (and that includes non-physical, eg verbal abuse, internet trolls etc) is employed by people whose sense of self is particularly vulnerable to outside influences… and who need to go to inappropriate lengths to maintain it lest the basis for their existence becomes invalidated.

        I’ll spare you my relatively cursory experiences with domestic violence, but one analogy that I do think is quite useful is that of road rage – which as a Sydney-sider I’m relatively often exposed to. What I’ve noticed is that the minority of people who road rage are those who put a large amount of store into the implications of interactions on the road for their relative status. Most people will brush off someone changing lanes a little too closely in front of them as a minor annoyance or a likely lapse of attention on the part of the other driver. Road ragers however see it as a deliberate or implicit sleight against their entitlement to a bit of free space -and if such a thing happens to them they will engage in what could easily be described as an exchange of symbolic violence – horn-tooting, gesturing etc. What I’ve noticed though is that if the road ragers are allowed the “last word” ie the final toot or opportunity for sticking up their middle finger, then they always seem to go away satisfied – and this is strikingly similar to the pattern of domestic violence interactions – “they only hit until you cry, after that you don’t ask why”. ie what I think what going on is that these people use violence as a way to ensure to themselves that they won’t have to question their own sense of self vis-a-vis others … and it has to be said that most road ragers seem to be young and/or emotionally immature blokes, as evidenced by their stikingly common habits of wearing wrap-around sunglasses, owning Audis or Subarus, an driving around with their fog lights on – hence the empirically arguable and laboriously refutable position that interpersonal violence is an effect of patriarchy.

        And I acknowledge that that last para sounds a bit flippant given the subject matter, but at 11.43pm it’s the best I can do I’m afraid. What do you think?


  7. hudsongodfrey August 27, 2015 at 1:02 am #

    It seems to me like most of what could be said about the conflicted nature of middle class modern society when it comes to the roles of women might to the finely tuned mind of an educated man set their condition apart from women in any other community. So why doesn’t their treatment do likewise?

    I might grant some part of a point to anyone making generalisations on behalf of societies who from time to time have lived more or less harmoniously, but sadly my feeling is that if no amount of sophistication has spared us domestic violence then it doesn’t take a genius to figure that they’re looking in the wrong places for solutions to this. But then, when does a man ever look for himself to be the enemy?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jennifer Wilson August 28, 2015 at 6:41 am #

      Ah, that last sentence….when does anyone of us, male or female, imagine ourselves to be the enemy?


  8. doug quixote August 27, 2015 at 11:01 pm #

    We all have the potential for violence. The Id is not far beneath the surface.

    But I thought Latham was really attacking the feminist occupation of the high ground. He gets support from Christina Hoff Sommers:

    “Here are young women with more opportunities, more liberties than almost any women in history and at that moment we tell them they’re short-changed silenced victims of a patriarchy?”

    “It’s defeatist and demoralising.”

    “Apparently, dissident ideas now count as a psychological attack from which they [young feminists] demand protection. It’s a perversion of feminism. It’s turning feminism into what I call fainting couch feminism.”

    Strong stuff.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jennifer Wilson August 28, 2015 at 6:38 am #

      Hello, DQ. I heard extracts of the MWF session with Jonathan Green and Mark Latham. I though, Latham is a man with a good mind but he seems intent on conducting a war with inner demons he doesn’t recognise as such, but projects onto the outer world. His manner renders him impossible to speak with and listen to. This is sad – he’s probably quite brilliant but held back by inner conflicts.
      That’s my superficial analysis anyway.
      I hear Bob is rallying – what good news.


      • doug quixote August 28, 2015 at 12:30 pm #

        Yes, I’m cautiously optimistic about Bob. We need all our living treasures to stay living and contributing.

        Latham is yet another loose cannon. The media love them.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. stefrozitis August 30, 2015 at 12:54 pm #

    Reblogged this on shecallsme and commented:
    This is from another blog that I often find worth reading. I really think this needs to be said

    Liked by 1 person


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