The Racial Origins of U.S. Domestic Violence Law
The purpose of this project is to examine the origins and functions of domestic violence law in the United States. Scholars who study early domestic violence law typically assume that it was a feminist project, and that its function was therefore to protect women. This assumption makes sense since the first wave of domestic violence legislation occurred between 1870 and 1900, which coincided with First Wave Feminism. Prior to shifting its focus primarily to women’s suffrage, one of first wave feminism’s initial priorities was ending the husband’s legal right of chastisement – or what we now call, domestic violence. But there is a problem with the feminist activism line of argument. The strongholds of first wave feminist conventions, political protest, and mobilization were concentrated in Northern states – with New York and Massachusetts at the epicenter. More to the point, feminist activism was not present in the South until the 20th-century. Neither was there Southern female collective action against domestic violence. Yet, the first state to rescind the legal right of a husband to chastise his wife was Alabama in 1871. A few months later, Massachusetts did the same. But, with the exception of Massachusetts, the states that led the way in criminalizing wife-beating were in the South – precisely the part of the country where first wave feminism was absent. Furthermore, the first court ruling that rescinded a husband’s right to chastise his wife concerned a black family. That case, and the Southern concentration of later cases, led me to question whether feminist activism actually led to the proliferation of domestic violence laws during this first wave of legal reform. This is important because if first wave feminism did not inspire the criminalization of wife-beating, it calls into question whether the function of these laws was actually to protect women. In this project, I therefore ask: What were the social conditions in which anti-wife-beating laws emerged in the 19th-century South? What do these conditions reveal about the primary functions of these laws? My research reveals that, in contrast to the narrative of feminist agitation, Southern wife-beating laws were a postwar white-supremacist response to the legalization of black family formation. They functioned to control black labor and degrade the status of blackness.
The (Felt) Double-Victimization of Male-Batterers
Women’s experiences have been the nucleus of domestic violence literature, discourse, and policy, and have shaped the therapeutic and/or punitive measures that are characteristic of domestic violence prevention – measures that research has shown are largely ineffective in curbing violence. Consequently, we still know relatively little about why men batter, and how they make sense of the negative “batterer” credential that corresponds with their offense. The few studies that explore batterer behavior are primarily psychological, reducing their violence to individual pathology that can be “treated” in therapy. Accordingly, non-psychological studies are characterized by evaluations of the utility, effectiveness, and/or therapeutic techniques of Batterer Intervention Programs, thus missing the sociological roots of batterer behavior. Drawing from in-depth interviews with 15 male batterers, my research shows that these men make sense of the offenses of which they have been accused in different ways, both with regard to the role they attribute to the state in their felt disempowerment and emasculation, and the role they attribute to their female victims. These different meanings are attributable to a number of factors – factors I argue must be addressed to the extent that they are linked to recidivistic risks of battering. The analysis presented in this paper therefore provides a foundation for creating more effective social remedies for battering behavior, and it provides an opportunity to reconsider gender-based theories of interpersonal violence more generally.
Gay Men, Stigma, and Masculinity
Stigma management theory predicts that positive reception by “normals” engenders stigma avowal. However, because researchers are often unable to identify stigmatized individuals who choose to remain hidden in positive contexts, it is a theory based only on those who avow. The current study contributes to stigma management theory by studying cases in which positive reception did not yield stigma avowal. Specifically, after joining a Bay Area black church precisely because of its gay-positivity, gay men in this study overwhelmingly refused to avow their homosexuality to the congregation. The reason, 18 months of ethnographic fieldwork and in-depth interviews revealed, was because they did not want their social identities tainted by stereotypes associated with homosexuality—effeminacy and AIDS—especially when these associations appeared incongruent with their own self-concepts. Positive reception is therefore determined only when the stigma and all of its attendant stereotypes does not conflict with how individuals see themselves.