Conflict Theory - A new way forward

Feminism's effect on DV

Replacing feminist theory

Conflict theorists see society as different groups all competing to achieve a similar goal and believe that it is competition that encourages better outcomes overall (Hungerford 2008). In the initial research around conflict theory, it was thought that the absence of disagreement within management structures related to increased performance; but more recent investigations have concluded that conflict can increase decision quality, financial performance and organizational growth (Jehn 1995). Among the virtues that come with conflict theory are the benefits found when competition is encouraged, including increased choices, innovation, greater efficiency, economic development and growth, stronger democracy by dispersing economic power and greater wellbeing by promoting individual initiative and free association (Stucke 2013 p.166). Evidence suggests that these qualities of conflict theory, if applied to the current DV sector, would see great improvements in the use of financial expenditure from what we have seen exhibited in 2016 by the four previously DV awareness campaigners. Increased competition would also encourage these services to expand their understanding of the sector.

Conflict theory application would allow for the abolition of the groupthink phenomena where unreasonable and inadequate knowledge or assessment can lead to inferior results and poorer interventions, it would likewise open discussions by increasing consideration of criticism and alternate solutions (Jehn 1995 p.260). By removing the monopoly that feminist theory holds over the causes behind DV, a conflict theory lens would see the re-examination of previously discarded studies which have identified more comprehensive explanations of IPV, and this in turn would undoubtedly lead to more inclusive and tailored interventions. Research indicates that effective use of conflict theory can encourage people to develop new ideas and approaches, encourage increased learning and yield higher quality solutions instead of smoothing over or avoiding issues that do not comply with a totalitarian consensus (Jehn 1995 p.260). The benefits of working under a conflict theory model may force the domestic violence sector to begin basing interventions on a more diverse range of evidence and increase the quality of those interventions through the increased scrutiny of conflicting claims.


Under a conflict theory lens, we are able focus on causes that have been overlooked by the Duluth doctrine, reasons such as empathy and miscommunication which have been previously forgotten as issues that can contribute to intimate partner violence. A Harvard study in 2015 identified that men and women who lack empathetic accuracy (EA) are more likely to have relationship issues, this lack of EA can cause tension and misunderstandings within the home and lead to aggression from either party (Cohen 2015 p.705). This study went on to discuss how the lack of empathy toward one’s partner can lead to increased aggression during conflict, as striking out against a loved one is easier if you do not have to imagine how they are feeling (Cohen 2015 p. 707). The study also found a firm link between a man’s inability to accurately identify his partners hostility levels and that this lack of EA could escalate her physical and psychological aggression, or in other words, if she felt like he was not taking her emotions seriously, she would escalate that behaviour until it he understood that she was angry, this was not replicated when the genders were reversed (Cohen 2015 p. 707).


By disregarding feminist theory, we are also able to openly discuss evidence which suggests that substance abuse is closely connected with violence in the home, especially where drugs and alcohol are used as a crutch for people who would not normally exhibit dominant behaviours (Baker 2016 pp 907-908). Adopting conflict theory would allow support services to explore the violence couples experience when under the influence of drugs and alcohol and how this causes impairment of communication skills, where one partner will misconstrue a comment and become angry, which inevitably leads to more drinking and drug abuse, thereby increasing the frequency and severity of each argument in an ever-increasing spiral of violence (Baker 2016 p.912). Discarding the feminist theory lens would also allow for discussions around other consistent, yet controversial findings in studies which factor in both IPV and substance abuse to reveal that both men and women perpetrate at similar rates (Reingle et. al 2013 p.189). Implementing the freedoms that come with conflict theory would allow services to discuss results where drug dependent detainees interviewed by police had more than double the rate of domestic violence in their lives than non-drug detainees (Mouzos & Smith 2007) to be included in talks around prevention strategies.


Domestic violence, when comprehensively examined, shows that social marginalisation and culture must also be considered as contributing factors due to the over representation of intimate partner violence within lower socio-economic groups (Evans 2005 p.38). Indeed, this causal factor is often left ignored, even by feminist theory which echoes the entire premise of personal violence on the dyadic view of power and control (Graham-Kevan 2007 p.214). Data from The NSW Bureau of Statistics and Research reveals that domestic violence rates amongst Indigenous Australian women are six times higher than the national average and male Aboriginals report rates at four times higher than their non-indigenous counterparts (Mitchell 2011 p.13). When comparing the hospitalisation rates of white Australians, we also see these numbers multiply significantly with Aboriginal males requiring medical attention at rates 27 times higher than white men and Aboriginal women at a massive 38 times that of other females (Mitchell 2011 p.14). Alcohol was also found to be contributing factor in 87% of Aboriginal intimate partner deaths as opposed to 44% of non-Aboriginal deaths (Australian Institute of Criminology 2009 p.3). While the Australian Government has recognised the relationship between power inequality and DV within Aboriginal communities and has responded with intervention strategies based on the holistic understandings that poverty plays a significant role in family violence, it refuses to employ these same strategies for non-indigenous peoples (Evans 2005 p.41).


One of the more convincing arguments that can be presented as evidence to contradict the patriarchal narrative of family violence is the significantly higher rates of violence within lesbian relationships; which, when compared to that of their gay male counterparts, show rates of violence to vary immensely depending on sex. These studies show that lesbian relationships report rates of violence of up to 56%, whereas gay men find themselves as victims in only 25% of studied cases (Waldner-Haugrud, Magruder & Vaden Gratch 1997 p.175). A recent meta-analysis also found that the perpetration of violence by a woman is the greatest predictor of her becoming a victim of intimate partner violence herself (Whitaker et. al 2007 p.941), this would seem to be reflected in the aggression rates of lesbian relationships were both partners have a higher capacity for violence. Here again we see room for a conflict theory approach that would see services specialising in gay and lesbian relationships working on more specialised interventions for IPV.


When domestic violence is identified as a human problem rather than a gender problem we may be able to see some reduction in the rates and severity of this crime. One recurring issue that is found throughout western society is the lack of support for male victims and the traumatic experiences these men go through when they try to come forward and seek assistance for their dilemma. These men often find themselves re-victimized by the domestic violence advocates that engage in feminist theory modelling around IPV. These experiences include automatically being assigned the role of the perpetrator and being referred to behaviour change programs, being treated with suspicion and disbelief or being accused of using victim services as another method to inflict control over their female partners (Hines, Brown & Dunning 2007 p.64). This treatment of male victims reduces their desire to come forward and seek assistance out of fear of embarrassment, ridicule and lack of available resources (Drijber, Reijnders & Ceelen 2013 p.175). These men are also reluctant to seek assistance from the police due to shame, fear of not being taken seriously, and a deep belief that the police will not help them due to their gender (Drijber, Reijnders & Ceelen 2013 p.175). This lack of reporting also has significant effect on the statistical data that feminist theory presents to ensure their ongoing dominance in the sector.


Prevention of IPV in relationships has been the final goal of the DV sector since its inception and interventions have usually focused on behaviour change programs which seek to address habits that have formed over a long period of time; but there is also another alternative which engages young people before those habits are formed and may prove a cost effective and beneficial approach to reducing levels of violence in the home (Langhinrichsen-Rohling & Capaldi 2012). This method of reducing domestic violence has been recognised to be most effective when delivered mutually to both sexes, in a way that targets broad risk factors such as peer and family based patterns of learned behaviour (Maalouf & Campello 2014 pp.622 -623), these findings also conclude that women appear to be the most influential partner in a relationship and thus more powerful and agentic than previously assumed (Langhinrichsen-Rohling & Capaldi 2012). This revelation that women can contribute significantly to the reduction of violence in the home reinforce the results of previous studies which conclude that females are as equally aggressive as males inside a relationship (Feibert 2013 p.405, Cohen et. al 2015 p.697). The positive results of this prevention program indicates a need for intervention to be explicitly directed at females as well as males, whilst ensuring the target audience is informed that the probability of personal violence by a woman increases the probability that her partner will respond in kind (Straus 2007 p.227) (Straus 2010 p.351).


Over the preceding pages, evidence has been explored and exposed flaws in the feminist theory approach to DV and shown a comprehensive sample of many alternative provocations for IPV. Possibly the most important revelation revealed is the undeniable fact that violence is not a gendered crime and both males and females are equally capable of contributing fairly to intimate partner violence, therefore both sexes need to be targeted for intervention and education. It has revealed other substitutes to male behaviour change programs that have proven to be effective in reducing violence within the home and exposed the dangers of authoritarian control over the gendered narrative. The domestic violence sector has proven to be outdated in its beliefs and there are concerns that it has been corrupted at the expense of innocent lives. Feminist theories singular focus on patriarchal blame has allowed society to be blinded to many alternatives that would help reduce the number of deaths and traumatic experiences of those effected by this dreadful scourge on intimate relationships. DV is not a simple problem and as such, the solutions cannot be as simple as the current sector implies. For society to see significant improvements it will need to stop ignoring a large proportion of victims and cease focussing on only one method of intervention. The sector needs to be opened to scrutiny, competitive solutions must be sought out and tabled and support services encouraged to create individual and holistic interventions. The feminist theory must be dismantled and removed from all aspects of the domestic violence sector and replaced with a model that encourages original thinking and competition in problem solving. If this fails to happen we will see a continuation of violence by women going unchecked and we will ensure that aggressive women have no option for rehabilitation while their victims continue to be ignored and forgotten by society. By creating opposition between services, conflict theory will inspire a deeper understanding of the problem and will result in more varied and all-inclusive interventions.


Adam Smith B.Soc.Sc


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