Choosing to Abuse: Gender Roles



Stages of Healthy Gay Relationships

Intro To Domestic Violence

Introduction to Gay Male Domestic Violence

Treatment Of Domestic Violence

Treatment Of Domestic Violence

DV Links


Domestic Violence in Gay Couples
History of Abuse

Power Differences




Gender Roles

Mental Illness

Traditional roles of men and women have been complimentary; men were supposed to be breadwinners, and women were supposed to be homemakers. Men were to be "doers" from Mars and women were to be "feelers" from Venus. This type of division, many feminists hold, supports domestic violence by robbing the woman of validation as well as practical economic and social power, and assigning these powers in the form of privilege to the man.

Some still hold the idea that gay and lesbian couples somehow organize their relationship around traditional gender roles, with one playing "the man" or "the butch" and one playing "the woman" or "the femme." There is little if any research to support this (Jablow, 2000; Julien et al, 2003; Blumstein & Schwartz, 1983). This may stem in part from the need to create new complimentary roles in a gay or lesbian couple. Two gay men can not rely on "the woman" to cook and clean for them, but must divide these responsibilities between them. The limited adherence to traditional gender roles may also stem from feminist views that reject the traditional expectations and burdens placed on women. Thus, two lesbians would reject the idea that they needed a man to financially support them, and would instead provide for themselves.

One might wonder how, if feminist models of power differences hold true, gay and lesbian couples rejecting traditional gender roles would be at risk for domestic violence. The answer to this is complex.

On the one hand, while traditional gender roles may be rejected by gay men, gay men may have little to replace the traditional behaviors and attributions they learned from male relatives. Cruz and Firestone (1998) argue that gay men, with their straight peers, still grow up in a culture that incorporates aggression and physical solutions to problems based on their assigned toys and entertainment, sports, jobs, and experiences. Men are still expected to be breadwinners and earn respect through financial earnings. Men are still not taught how to handle vulnerability, emotional doubts, and dependency, and in the case of gay men, how to come to terms with being gay in a straight culture. Potoczniak and colleagues (2003) point out that men are expected to be strong, and fight back to protect themselves. Thus, men can not be abused in some people's thinking. If they are abused, then it is the result of a personal fault or short-coming, since men should be able to protect themselves.

Cruz and Firestone (1998) quote some of their research participants' eloquent explanation of these issues:
  "[I]n a same-sex relationship there's so many other pressures that the straight community does not realize. The ridicule, the discrimination, the bias that we face... [W]hen you're in a relationship with another gay man... you're also having to deal with the emotional baggage that they bring to the relationship, the problems that they've had growing up and coming out..."

"Because men don't know how to deal with each other, they don't know how to talk to each other on a respectful, understanding level. I think one or both parties are unable to communicate..."

"Men are conditioned to be the ones who are in charge of a relationship and the ones who make all the calls. And so when you get two men in a relationship together, they both expect that power..."

On the other hand, Potoczniak et al (2000) support that gay men, while perhaps partially adhering to traditional gender roles for men, do not adhere completely. Kurdek (1994) found that while men in general (gay and straight) tended to be less satisfied in relationships than women, gay men tended to be more tender, compassionate, and warm in the relationship. Gottman and colleagues (2003a) found that gay men were more likely to begin difficult conversations with their partner in a positive and less threatening manner, showing "less belligerent and less domineering" behavior compared to straight relationships. Gay couples are also more likely to maintain positive affect and a sense of humor throughout difficult discussions to prevent them from becoming too negative, as well as to prevent them from becoming too light (and thus failing to reach a conclusion on an important issue), compared to straight couples. Gottman and colleagues attribute this difference to two factors: 1) gay couples place more stress on equity and fairness, and 2) gay couples perceive fewer barriers to ending unhappy relationships. They explain that the power differences between men and women in traditional heterosexual relationships often breeds resentment in women, which makes conflict resolution more difficult.

With regard to domestic violence, Potoczniak et al (2000) explain that the idea of "Intimate Terrorism," or a kind sociopathic violence and control discussed by Johnson and Ferarro (2000), is common in abusing men in straight couples. If this were simply the result of adhering to the male gender role, then the incidence of Intimate Terrorism in gay couples should be twice that of straight couples, since there are two men in gay couples. However, this is not the case (Merrill and Wolfe, 2000). Further, if this were simply the result of adhering to the male gender role, then the incidence in lesbian couples should be zero, since there are no men in lesbian couples. However, Renzetti (1992) found the opposite, and that this kind of abuse was in fact the most common.