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date: 30 November 2020

Gender, Power, and Powerlessness: A Conceptual Framework for Researching Men’s Victimizationlocked

  • Cassandra A. JonesCassandra A. JonesSchool of Policy Studies, University of Bristol

Summary

Men are the main users of violence at every level of society ranging from the individual to the national; at the same time, they are the primary victims of violence outside of the home. Previous theoretical work on the gender of men has been criticized for pushing to the side men are the primary users of violence by not sufficiently incorporating violence as social practices underpinning men’s power. Violence generally and domestic violence and abuse (DVA) specifically are used as theoretical tools to analyze how theories on the gender of men facilitate understanding men’s experiences of power (e.g., primary user of DVA) and powerlessness (e.g., primary victim of DVA). DVA is utilized as a specific type of violence because it is a global social issue and because of the wealth of empirical studies showing that most men are the primary users, and a small minority experience DVA. Untangling men’s talk of DVA is rarely straightforward, as men who are the primary perpetrator may claim to be the victim, and men who are the primary victim may minimize their DVA experiences.

Gender refers to one set of unequal power relations that structures society. One of the most well-known theories on the gender of men is hegemonic masculinity theory, which drew from feminist and gay scholarship to describe the social process of men’s continual creation and maintenance of power over women and the hierarchy of power among men. In brief, hegemonic masculinity was a set of gendered practices that was understood in a particular cultural context to ensure men’s domination of women. The importance of violence was noted within hegemonic masculinity theory, but the conceptual links between violence and hegemonic masculinity were inconsistent. The hegemony of men theory clarified these ambiguities by shifting the focus from masculinities to men, noting that men—not masculinities—are the primary users of violence. However, not all men will engage in violence. Some may subvert practices of violence. Neither theory sufficiently linked structural understandings of gendered power with individual practices to facilitate exploring the complexities of men’s practices, particularly men’s discursive practices. This limitation is due largely to three factors: (1) the conflation of the hierarchy of power between men and women and the hierarchy of power among men; (2) the lack of engagement with intersectionality; and (3) the lack of engagement with theories explaining the everyday practices of gender.

Included in Walby’s theory of intersectionality are the structuring social systems of gender relations and violence. Adopting these systems provided the theoretical breadth and depth to explain the diversity of men’s engagement with violence within and between each hierarchy of power. Discursive social psychology (DSP) focused on how men used interpretative repertoires in their talk about themselves and others, to get a sense of how men (re)construct and negotiate gendered positions. Integrating DSP with intersectionality facilitated understanding how men in their talk reconstructing their experiences of DVA could use discursive resources to position themselves as men—a position associated with power.

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