Family violence and the middle class

31 Jan


Family ViolenceI’ve just read yet another white, middle-class journalist, female this time, assert that there are forces other than misogyny and gender inequality that are accountable for family violence, and that this type of violence is perpetrated in predominantly low-income families. This view is also held by Miranda Devine.

I wrote about this last year when Martin Mackenzie-Murray made the same claims in The Saturday Paper, and Mark Latham also claimed that current opinion on family violence had been hijacked by feminists who wrongly hold that the problem is rooted in patriarchal notions of male entitlement and domination that result in gender inequality. According to both men, domestic violence predominantly occurs in low-income families, including indigenous families.

What all these commentators fail to grasp is that while poverty, unemployment, alcohol, drug use and any number of disparate justifications can be found to *explain* male violence against intimate partners and children, all of these factors are the symptoms, and not the cause. A violent male believes that he is entitled to harm his partner and children. Whether he is poor, unemployed, drunk, sober or stoned, or middle-class, he first believes he is entitled to act out his dissatisfactions on the bodies and minds of his family.

I’m at a loss to understand why some journalists are so anxious to deny that family violence occurs in middle-class families. The assumption they make is that because domestic violence isn’t as evident or as frequently reported by middle-class women, it can’t be happening. This is ridiculously disingenuous, and bordering on the ignorant. Data about domestic violence comes from samples to which researchers have access. Women who report family violence to police are more likely to be from a low-income demographic, and/or living in poverty. Middle-class women have far more options available to them to either hide the abuse, or escape it. They are far less likely to end up in a system to which researchers have access.

There is no reason at all to assume that middle-class men have less of a sense of entitlement than men in the so-called “welfare classes,” to use Ms Devine’s phrase. For example, middle-class men sexually abuse children: educated priests, teachers, judges, entertainers, business men, coaches, there are abusers in every profession, as we know from the Royal Commission into Institutional Child Abuse. Middle class-men rape women. Middle-class men murder women. Are we to assume, for some reason I can’t for the life of me fathom, that middle-class men, while capable of every other kind of violence against women refrain from attacking their families, leaving that particular expression of entitlement and domination to their lower-class bros?

There is no “typical” female victim of domestic violence. There is no “typical” male perpetrator of domestic violence. All that is required is that a man believe he is entitled to abuse his partner and/or children, and this sense of entitlement crosses all classes.

It might be more comfortable to think of family violence as an us and them problem: it’s only the “welfare classes” and indigenous families, not people like us. While the middle-classes readily acknowledge gender inequality expressed in the imbalance of women on boards, in unequal pay, in the lack of female CEOs, in child care services that keep us out of the workforce, in sexual harassment in the workplace and so on, for some reason it is assumed that male entitlement and domination will not manifest in middle-class family life: that expression of patriarchal culture is apparently reserved only for the disadvantaged.

Well, no, it isn’t. And the questions we need to ask are: a) why is there a current push to persuade us otherwise, and b) what effect does the denial of middle-class family violence have on our so far futile efforts to reduce/end all domestic violence?



17 Responses to “Family violence and the middle class”

  1. Hawkpeter January 31, 2016 at 9:07 pm #


    I think there are abusive people, and triggers that set them off. Not abusive triggers that set off people who are never abusive.

    Money troubles just happen to be one of the more common triggers for an abusive person, but if someone isn’t properly socialised then it doesn’t matter how much money they have or don’t have. Some sort of stress trigger will set them off eventually.

    With an abusive person, if they’re not getting their way with something then someone that they see as being of less value is going to pay a price for it.

    It is a dangerous mistake for our society to keep making, overlooking the more fundamental issue at play here. Too many are looking at the environment after the abusive person has already developed instead of looking at the causes for abusive people developing in the first place.


    Liked by 2 people

  2. Gina January 31, 2016 at 9:17 pm #

    Why is it that there is always someone that tries to justify why someone behaves violently? Why are violent perpetrators often times excused?

    When someone uses violence against another person, they do it because they are insecure and because they feel entitled. They want to believe that they are the authority over another, and when the use physical, emotional and spiritual violence to ‘have it their way’ it just proves their weakness and their inability to be responsible human beings.

    There are never any excuses!

    Violence should never be justified, nor excused. No one has the right to inflict harm on another person. Ever!

    Good post!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. doug quixote January 31, 2016 at 10:15 pm #

    They are in denial.

    However, one suspects that a little less outright violence occurs in middle class environments; physical violence is a last resort and the better educated and more intelligent have other resources to use first – verbal, financial, collateral attacks are more available to most middle class people of either sex.

    Males are more likely to resort to violence; they are larger and more muscled, and the result of initiating violence would not generally be satisfactory for a woman.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Galavanting Gran January 31, 2016 at 10:35 pm #

    This is an important question. I know anecdotally about violence in white middle class families, rape in marriage but these were never reported.
    This is perpetuated in the comments by members of the community when a man kills his family, comments such as’He was a upstanding member of the community”, ‘He was a loving family man, he just cracked’ etc
    Last week the SMH in a report of a young man who stabbed his parents while on ice , the headline read ‘ex King’s School student’ as if we would expect such behaviour from another, less advantaged section of society.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jennifer Wilson February 1, 2016 at 7:05 am #

      Yes, Galavanting, middle-class violence is so often framed as unusual, & explained by sudden mental collapse, instead of economic and social inferiority. I don’t think either attitude helps to address the problem.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. rhyllmcmaster February 1, 2016 at 12:39 am #

    Gina suggests that no one has the right to inflict harm on another person. Malcolm Turnbull and his government ministers and Bill Shorten and his colleagues obviously don’t see that what they’re doing to asylum seekers is the equivalent of domestic violence.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Marilyn February 1, 2016 at 3:14 am #

      What they do is legalised torture, domestic violence is not legal. As a victim as a child and falling into the trap when I grew up I married a brutal man who beat me and I left after one hit,

      I taught my daughter and grand daughter not to get involved in anyone who would be violent, sadly they both did- I know very rich and upper class abusers, very poor and lower class abusers and everyone in between.

      All the wankers who bloviate clearly are not victims and don’t have a clue what they are wanking on about and they drive me insane.

      My father was an abuser on every level, he beat and battered our mother for 19 years and threw her out before he killed her, she wanted to go back for the next 20 years

      4 months after he died we both raised a glass to his death.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Jennifer Wilson February 1, 2016 at 7:09 am #

        They seem to be in denial of what happens in their own class, preferring to distance themselves and make it a problem of the lower classes. I thought we’d gone past this crap, but there’s obviously a few regressives out there.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Jennifer Wilson February 1, 2016 at 7:07 am #

      Rhyll, agree, they don’t, because they regard asylum seekers as the lowest of the low & so outside of their responsibility to treat people humanely.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. davechaffeyhippie February 1, 2016 at 9:02 am #

    As mentioned, the narratives that are fabricated around middle and upper class violence are disturbing. This year I’ve been a witness to this in my own family: protect the perpetrator and blame the victim, regardless of the evidence. Weirdly, the main protector in my family is doing this much more than the perpetrator, maybe due to their insistence on keeping up appearances at all costs. Maintaining the family reputation taken too far leads to extremist thinking and demonises those who won’t play along with the fantasy. We don’t play along and consequently receive less ‘love’.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jennifer Wilson February 1, 2016 at 10:21 am #

      Yes, that encapsulates a whole attitude to MC violence: protect the family at all costs & shut up.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. doug quixote February 1, 2016 at 12:02 pm #

    Further to dave’s point, I’ve observed clients who have suffered domestic violence. Some are wealthy by most standards but their wealth hinges upon the breadwinner, sometimes violent, stressed at times but generally equable. The women in that position will often put up with the violence and the poor behaviour, to keep the family together and to maintain the standard of living. If the breadwinner goes to gaol it all falls apart.

    Outsiders may well be able to see the trainwreck approaching, but those involved . . .

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Caroline February 1, 2016 at 4:34 pm #

    The sooner that woman shuts her mouth or loses her platform the better. Her ignorance is breathtaking on so many matters. It concerns me that people believe her tripe. Thank you for your common sense and compassionate writing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jennifer Wilson February 1, 2016 at 7:41 pm #

      Thanks Caroline.
      I don’t think that’s going to happen anytime soon, though.


  9. familytreedet October 20, 2016 at 3:47 am #

    It is very important to clearly draw the distinction between the symptom and the cause of issues. I do not think most people know the difference. This organization has a history of helping women in crisis. Come check us out.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. K Pollock February 16, 2019 at 2:29 pm #

    I’m another middle class, middle age woman who has searched the entire system, a perpetual loop, for help & support… Why is so hard to believe that an articulate, well presented woman of reasonable intelligence would not have experienced the atrocities of DV. The comments I’ve received from professionals who profess to have experience in DV matters are shocking.
    Apparently: “I appear as a tall poppy to be cut down; you’re at the bottom of the pile; you should’ve known what DV is; you shouldn’t be thinking of your safety and security — only your golden years…” and more…
    I fall into a void, not cracks in a system. I’ve been quoted statistics to excuse abuse. This is a huge problem.


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