The Violences of Men: How Men Talk about and How Agencies Respond to Men's Violence to Women


Jeff Hearn

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  • Some other Books by Jeff Hearn

    The Sexuality of Organization, co-editor with G. Burrell, D. Sheppard and P. Tancred-Sherriff, Sage Publications, 1989

    Violence and Gender Relations: Theories and Interventions, co-editor with B. Fawcett, B. Featherstone and C. Toft, Sage Publications, 1996

    Men as Managers, Managers as Men: Critical Perspectives on Men, Masculinities and Managements, co-editor with D.L. Collinson, Sage Publications, 1996

    Unspoken Forces: Sexuality, Violence and Organizational Worlds, with W. Parkin, Sage Publications, forthcoming


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    Tables and Figures

    • 3.1 Sources of interviewees 46
    • 4.1 Four models of violence and talk about violence 62
    • 4.2 Behavioural/representational and textual/constructionist approaches 64
    • 9.1 Numbers of agency permissions and agency follow-up contacts by source of referral 164
    • 9.2 Outcomes in criminal justice system by source of referral 165
    • 9.3 Responses of police 166
    • 3.1 The historical context of research 44
    • 7.1 Repudiations, excuses, justifications, confessions 108
    • 7.2 Repudiations, quasi-repudiations, excuses and justifications, confessions, and other composite accounts 109
    • 7.3 Internal/excuse-based account of violence 123
    • 7.4 Interpersonal justification-based account of violence 127


    This is a book about men and men's violence to known women, about how men talk about such violence and how agencies respond to it.

    As such, it is set within the context of social constitutions of men, violence and the relationship between men and violences. Importantly, in the UK and many other societies, there are massive ambivalences that remain around violence and its use. Violence is understood as a major, perhaps even the prime, form of power, and at the same time, violence is considered unfair, inappropriate, wrong-headed, as well as painful, damaging and sometimes illegal. The same people may think or say these two different things at different times, or even at the same time.

    This kind of ambivalence persists in relation to the problem of men's violence to known women. Such violence may be ignored, accepted, condoned, whilst at the same time it may be seen as unfair, inappropriate, wrong-headed, as well as painful, damaging and sometimes illegal. It is a kind of legitimated taboo. It is also sometimes considered shameful, a sign of men's inadequacy, either of losing control of oneself or of not controlling women without the use of violence. In recent years there has been somewhat greater recognition of the inappropriateness of such violence by men - and in that sense the ambivalence has been lessened to some extent.

    Ambivalence is important in other ways. For example, for men to talk about violence may be becoming both easier and more difficult for individual men, and the motivation for men to work against their own violence may also be a source of ambivalence.

    Rather similarly I have experienced grave ambivalence in writing this book - between, on the one hand, a belief that it addresses urgent questions, is worth writing and needs to be finished, and, on the other, the unpleasantness of the task, the topic and the material. I have often been uncertain how to proceed and it has taken me longer than originally planned. Ambivalence, violence and writing are interconnected in complex ways.

    Throughout this book, there are a number of themes that recur - debates on what is meant by violence in the first place; the importance of identifying and naming men's responsibility for violence; the persistent and close connection of violence with power, control and dominance; and, perhaps more surprisingly, real doubts about the notion of cause, at least in any simple terms, in explaining away men's violence to known women. Thus, for example, when I was coming towards the end of the study that is the basis of this book, an ex-student asked, ‘So why are men violent to women?’ As it was their graduation day, I didn't feel inclined to enter into a long analysis of the whys and wherefores, so I simply answered, ‘Because they're men.’ This was short and to the point. Men remain violent to women through social power and control, which, in some cases, is combined with physical size and strength, reinforced by social power and control that reduces intervention against them and that violence.

    This book is a contribution to diminishing that power and control, and that violence of men to women and children.


    This book has grown from research on men who have been violent to known women. The initial research was carried out between 1991 and 1995 with the funding of the Economic and Social Research Council. I am grateful to the Council and its officers for their support. The initial research was based at the Research Unit on Violence, Abuse and Gender Relations, Department of Applied Social Studies, University of Bradford. I am indebted to Jalna Hanmer, then Co-Convenor of the Research Unit, who directed the linked, but separate, project on women who have experienced violence from known men and who has provided invaluable discussions, personal concern and professional guidance; to Linda Arbuckle, the Unit Administrator, who provided indispensable, efficient and effective administrative back-up; to Roger Barford, John Davis, Mike Huett, Phil Raws and David Riley, for conducting interviews and talking through all the various issues that have arisen; to Lynda Gillah for transcription of tapes; and to John Lawler for statistical analysis. I also thank Linda Arbuckle, Valerie Bentley, Lynne Gerrard, Clair Ridley, Marina Sarjeant and Julie Trickey for typing parts of the text.

    I would also like to thank Ann Oakley and Jennie Popay as Coordinators of the ESRC Initiative on the Management of Personal Welfare; the other researchers in the Initiative at London, Salford, Sheffield Hallam and York Universities; Detective Superintendent Gary Haigh, Julie Bedford and officers of the West Yorkshire Police; the West Yorkshire and other Probation Services; HM Prison Service; Leeds and Bradford Metropolitan Councils; Leeds MOVE/Men's Action Network; Leeds Domestic Violence Project; the Worth Project; Leeds Addiction Unit; the Crown Prosecution Service; Manchester, Lancashire, Durham and Cleveland Police Authorities; as well as members of voluntary agencies, doctors, psychiatrists, solicitors and other workers. I would also want to thank the men who agreed to be interviewed as part of this project - that act of thanks itself symbolizes the ambiguities and ambivalences of research into the violences of men.

    The ideas and thinking developed in this book have been previously presented at several British Sociological Association Annual Conferences; the Political Studies Association Annual Conference; UMIST Gender Research Seminar, Manchester; the Universities of Bradford, Manchester, Staffordshire, Leeds, London, Brunei, Cambridge, Helsinki and Tampere; the Institute of Public Policy Research; the ESRC International Conference ‘Welfare: Whose Responsibility?’; ESRC Policy and Implementation Seminars; as well as a number of other policy and academic gatherings and conferences. I am grateful to all those who were present and who commented on those presentations.

    I also wish to thank the other members of the ESRC Research Strategy Seminars on Violence, Abuse and Gender Relations, who provided major support and intellectual stimulation during the period 1991–4: Sylvia Bailey, Jackie Barron, Rebecca Dobash, Russell Dobash, Jalna Hanmer, Owen Heathcote, Marianne Hester, Wendy Hollway, Catherine Itzin, Tony Jefferson, Liz Kelly, Monica McWilliams, Mary Maynard, David Morgan, Russell Murray, Sheila Saunders, Betsy Stanko, Nicole Ward Jouve and Shantu Watt.

    I would also like to thank all the other people who have given me support and assistance over the last few years in the development of this work. They include Thmes Ashraf, Trevor Butt, David Collinson, Margaret Collinson, Celia Davies, John Davis, Gareth Dawkins, Cath Dillon, Barbara Fawcett, Brid Featherstone, Elizabeth Harlow, Amy Hearn, Jay Jacobs, Molly Hearn, Tom Hearn, John Holt, Sajid Hussain, Liisa Husu, David Jackson, Taira Kayani, Ruth Lister, Mary Locking, John MacDonald, Paul McHugh, Bob Matthews, Antonio Melechi, Wendy Parkin, Deidre Quill, Pam Todd, Christine Toft, Hugh Valentine, Sophie Watson and Paula Wilcox.

    The writing of this book took place initially at the University of Bradford and since 1995 in the School of Social Policy, Faculty of Economic and Social Studies, University of Manchester. I am grateful to all my colleagues and students at these two universities for discussions on the issues raised in this book and for their support more generally. Thanks are also essential to the librarians of the Universities of Bradford and Manchester, and of Bradford City Council. I also wish to thank Elina Haavio-Mannila and colleagues at the University of Helsinki, and Elianne Riska and colleagues at Åbo Akademi University for providing convivial working environments for the final completion of the book. I am especially grateful to Karen Phillips of Sage who has given patient support, helpful advice and consistent encouragement throughout the writing. I also thank Justin Dyer for his careful and creative copy-editing, and Jane Evans of Sage for managing the production process.

    There remain the voices of the women who have experienced violence from men, voices that have been silenced and are now, in some cases, less so. Paradoxically, I hope that this research and writing will increase the voices of those and other women, and will contribute to freeing women from men's violences and their threat.

  • Appendix: Summary of Men in Interview Sample



    1. There is now a growing history of these ‘crises’ and questionings of men (for example, Kimmel, 1987), including those that have been developed self-consciously by pro-feminist men (Strauss, 1983; Kimmel and Mosmiller, 1992).

    2. Citing Smith, 1989; Mirrlees-Black, 1994; Mooney, 1994.

    3. This section draws on Hearn, 1996d: 24–27.

    4. The Research Study is ESRC No L2606 25 2003: ‘Violence, Abuse and the Stress-coping Process Project 2’ (Hearn, 1993b).

    5. With two exceptions, these were all men who talked directly of their own violence to known women. These two exceptions were one man who talked of violent fantasies, and another who had been convicted of attempted murder but denied the offence.

    Definitions and Explanations of Men's Violence

    1. This section and the references cited draw heavily upon Kemper's (1990) important study of the interrelation of social structure and testosterone.

    2. A further link is between testosterone, aggression and norepinephrine, which carries nerve impulses across the synaptic gap within the Sympathetic branch of the Autonomic Nervous System (Kemper, 1990).

    3. Citing Straus et al., 1980; Straus and Gelles, 1990.

    4. Citing Monahan, 1981.

    5. Citing Star, 1978; Coleman et a!., 1980; Straus et al., 1980; Rosenbaum and O'Leary, 1981; Fagen et al., 1983; Kalmuss, 1984; Sonkin and Durphy, 1985.

    6. Citing Rosenbaum and O'Leary, 1981; Kalmuss, 1984; Hotaling and Sugarman, 1986.

    7. Citing, Bard and Zacker, 1974; Coleman and Straus, 1983; Van Hasselt et al., 1985; Kantor and Straus, 1987.

    8. The extent to which stress can be separated off from a broader social analysis is discussed in Hanmer et al., 1993. Also see Seymour, 1992, 1998; Williams, 1992, 1998.

    9. One way out of this conundrum is to argue that men and women are much more comparable to each other in their violence, as in much of the work that has derived from the use of the Conflicts Tactics Scale (Straus, 1979). This approach has subsequently been thoroughly critiqued (Dobash and Dobash, 1992; Dobash et al., 1992; Nazroo, 1995).

    10. For discussions of violence and differentiations within patriarchy/patriarchies, see Walby, 1986, 1990; Hearn, 1987, 1992b. These kind of analyses point to the danger of reifying patriarchy. This issue is addressed directly by Poon (1995) (drawing principally on the work of Scott [1990], who in turn draws on the work of Giddens [1979, 1981, 1984]). In her review of conceptual issues in defining male domestic violence, Poon (1995) distinguishes between ‘male domination as a system and the specific patriarchal structures as rules and resources that reproduce the general pattern of male domination’. Such a framework ‘allows conceptual space for differences in social location, such as class, ethnicity’ (Poon, 1995: 250). It is through these rules and resources that gendered subjectivities are produced. This kind of approach has much in common with Messerschmidt (1993), who draws more directly on Connell (1987), as well as Giddens. His particular focus is on the intersection of class, gender and race relations, social structures and social action in the framing of gendered crime, including violence.

    11. Citing Hanmer and Saunders, 1984, 1987, 1993.

    12. The distinction between studies that focus on explanations of men's violence (in general or as a generalized phenomenon) and men's violence to women is itself of interest. The fact that some explanations of men's violence do not attend to its gendered nature is itself a form of gendering. Non-gendering of explanations is itself gendered. Non-gendering is most often accomplished by men. Indeed non-gendering in explanations is one way of those with gender power (usually men) of maintaining or protecting that power, by virtue of diverting attention from their gender power. This process can be individual or collective, conscious or unconscious. For a discussion and application of the gendering of analyses, see Hanmer and Hearn, 1998.

    Studying and Researching Men's Violence to Known Women

    1. For further discussion on these questions, see Morgan, 1981, 1992; Hearn, 1987, 1989, 1994d, 1999; Hearn and Morgan, 1990.

    2. For further discussion of the relationship of subjectivity and objectivity in Critical Studies on Men see Hearn, 1993d, 1994d.

    3. For a further discussion of relevant issues see Hearn 1993d.

    4. A fascinating account of demands for confidentiality in researching rapists is provided by Scully (1990).

    5. The idea of emancipatory communication is developed in Critical Theory (for example, Habermas, 1971; Fay, 1975; Held, 1980). What is not developed, in this tradition, however, is a gendering of such communicative forms. There is also a lack of attention to the link between forms of communicative acts and the emancipation of ‘others’ not directly participating in those acts, but affected by them.

    6. Dunn explores the hazardous nature of qualitative research, specifically in doing research on ‘the meaning of battering to women who had been victims’ (Dunn, 1991: 389).

    Violence and Talking about Violence

    1. A comparison can be made here with the attempt to ‘talk the body’. See Jardine, 1987; Jackson 1990.

    2. For useful discussions of context and the ‘inherent contextuality’ of action, see Knorr, 1979, and Cooper and Fox, 1990, who also emphasize the importance of connectedness, complexity and tacitness (also see Hosking and Fineman, 1990).

    3. See Hearn and Parkin, 1987, 1995; Smith, 1987, 1989, 1990; Benschop and Doorewaard, 1995, 1998.

    4. For other non-gendered discussions of the relation of the material and discursive, see Hunt, 1989; Kaye, 1991; Kalb, 1993; for gendered discussions see Hearn, 1992b, 1993a, 1994c; Hennessy, 1993; Landry and Maclean, 1993.

    The Contexts of Violence

    1. The distinction between strategy and tactics is well developed in military, business and systemic thinking (see, for example, Schiitzenberger, 1954). There has been considerable recent interest in the use of the concept of strategy in sociological analysis (see Crow, 1991; Edwards and Ribbens, 1991; Morgan, 1991).

    2. Citing Scott and Lyman, 1968. For further discussions of the production of accounts of problematic behaviour see Lyman and Scott, 1970; Schonbach, 1980; Antaki, 1981; Semin and Manstead, 1983. Further consideration of alternative accounts is provided in Chapter 7.

    3. All placenames have been disguised, just as all personal names are pseudonyms.

    The Text of Violence: (1) How Men Describe Their Violence

    1. Goading is what is done to animals, especially cattle or oxen when they are urged on by the use of a pointed stick. The term is also used when horses are excessively whipped. The figurative use of goading is ‘to assail or prick as with a goad; to instigate or impel by mental pain or annoyance’.

    2. Harassment is a term that seems to be never used by men when talking about their violence to women they know.

    The Text of Violence: (2) How Men Account for Their Violence

    1. In a particularly interesting study of ‘narrative characters’ in accounts of violence, in this case violence by New Zealand police against anti-apartheid campaigners during the 1981 Springbok tour, Wetherell and Potter (1989) draw on Atkinson and Drew's (1979) work on the management of accusation in courts and on Semin and Manstead's (1983) synthetic typology of excuses and justifications. Wetherell and Potter discuss accounts of justifications of and excuses for the violence of the police. In particular they focus on excuses. They address the way that excuses may or may not draw on the pressure of a self of the speaker in talking about, giving accounts of, and above all giving excuses for, the violence. Also see Hyden, 1994, for a discussion of narrative in interviewing women about violence to them from men, and Richardson, 1990, for a more general examination of narrative and sociology.

    2. The reference to the real self does not imply any question of honesty, merely a reference by the man to authenticities. See Marshall and Wetherell, 1989.

    The Sexual Subtexts of Talk about Violence

    1. This chapter is a development of Hearn, 1994a, 1996a.

    2. Citing Jackson, 1982; Coveney et al., 1984; Hite, 1987; Thompson, 1990.

    3. Citing MacCannell and MacCannell, 1987; Lesko, 1988; Martin, 1989; Bartky, 1990; Bordo, 1990.

    4. Citing Holland et al., 1993.

    5. In some complex and contradictory accounts it may be more accurate to think of there being an anti-narrative - a persistent and ongoing disruption of a cohesive story.

    In and around Agencies

    1. For further details of the responses of Social Services, Probation and men's programmes, see Hearn, 1995, 1998b.

    2. There has been considerable recent interest in the development of improved policy and practice in Probation. See Bum et al., 1990; Cordery and Whitehead, 1992; Jenkins, 1994; Pringle, 1995; Mullender, 1997.

    3. This section draws on material discussed in Hearn, 1994c.

    Moving Away from Violence?

    1. For further discussion of individual and collective change, see Hearn, 1998a.

    2. A more extensive discussion of the ambiguities of men's support for men who have been violent to known women is developed in Hearn, 1998c.

    3. This way of conceptualizing resources, support and coping is a critique of the ‘stress-coping’ paradigm (Titterton, 1989) that has been promoted as a ‘new paradigm’ in the analysis of personal welfare. It moves the emphasis from individual stress and distress to social power, pressure and oppression. Also see note 2:8.

    Key Issues for Theory, Politics, Policy and Practice

    1. For further discussion on this question, see Hearn, 1994d, 1999.

    2. Cited by Hanmer, 1990: 41–42.


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