In cases of domestic violence instigated by males, addressing attitudes about masculinity can be an important factor to reduce aggression and coercive control. In this meta study, Vanesa Pérez-Martínez and colleagues looked at the available research on the issue and found 15 relevant studies (out of 501 reviewed). The studies examined programs which used somewhat different methods to address unhealthy masculine attitudes, and most reported reductions in interpersonal violence (IPV), sexual violence (SV), and/or gender-based violence (GBV).
Other studies have identified that violence can be instigated by any gender, male, female, and otherwise, and the overall prevalence of domestic violence may be gender equal. This study focused specifically on certain male attitudes which support aggressive and controlling behaviors.
Hegemonic masculinity can be moderated with a gender-transformative approach using positive masculinity
Hegemonic masculinity is described by Pérez-Martínez as referring to a gendered ideal which promotes the dominant position of men and the subordination of women.
Gender-transformative approaches help men and women build more equitable and nonviolent relationships through gender-equitable attitudes, behaviors, and community structures.
Positive masculinity is a concept which refers to alternatives to hegemonic masculinity which promotes more inclusive, empathetic, caring, egalitarian and nonviolent forms of manhood.
How to enhance positive masculinity
The study detailed some of the methods used by various programs. In general, the authors identified several suggestions. Since hegemonic masculinity is associated with acceptance of violent behaviors and attitudes, the programs they looked at incorporated components of conflict management and communication skills.
Addressing the problem involves addressing attitudes at a societal and an individual level. This involves providing information about gender equality as well as individual costs of adhering to hegemonic beliefs, which can help avoid creating a feeling of being blamed or attacked.
Pérez-Martínez and colleagues suggested that successful programs need to involve the community and social support systems. They found people who provided interventions included community and sports team leaders, some member of the community, police, nurses and others.
One of the most common techniques for reducing IPV involves education discussion groups. It didn’t matter if the focus was on reducing victimization or perpetration. It was more important that the focus was on transformation of gender norms and attitudes.
Another important element is public discourse about positive masculinity in schools, mass media, and public discourse. Critical reflection about the topic is important to support programs seeking to transform gender norms.
The study considered cultural issues and national attitudes, and naturally found differences between countries. Some countries legitimize hegemonic masculinity, but more positive expressions of masculinity appear to be emerging. Several of the studies used the Conflict Tactics Scale.
CSI’s take: Courts can contribute the the reduction of coercive control with flexible and creative orders
Courts and legal system participants can have an important role in promoting the reduction of gender-based violence by addressing the problems of toxic masculinity. Many studies have found that traditional 12-month domestic violence treatment programs are ineffective. Perhaps that’s more true if they are implemented without broader support as identified by the study authors. Either way, court orders can include components of the solutions identified by this study (and other similar studies). Some of those components might include:
- Identify hegemonic attitudes. A judge or lawyer can simply identify hegemonic attitudes and bring them out into the light with a simple, polite, and nonjudgmental or minimally judgmental comment about them.
- Community discussions. Legal professionals can address community groups, either on the topic specifically, or weave it into other topics.
- Tailored and multi-approach orders. In addition to treatment programs, orders can include requirements people engage in activities or programs which promote gender or human equality, empathy, and improving awareness of other’s needs.
- Ordered therapy to address masculine identity. Similar to above, a court order can require a male to explore masculine identity with a therapist. This should probably be ordered as a purely therapeutic experience (so the consultation remains private and is not discoverable, and qualitative reports are specifically prohibited). The order could include specific findings about what the court sees as concerning behaviors, to help inform the therapist about the issue to address. Orders such as these must be delivered by courts compassionately and in a manner that is not threatening to the person, otherwise defensiveness will be elevated probably throughout the legal proceeding. This idea addresses Pérez-Martínez’ identified goal of facilitating discussion, at an individual level.
- Courtroom visits by high school and college students. Especially now with many courts allowing appearances by video, students can sit in on cases. Judges can debrief students, and answer questions. In addition to giving students exposure to the real world they are about to enter, judges can emphasize critical topics such as the significance of the burden of proof in civil cases, how important it is to keep an open mind, and the need for critical thinking.
For additional components for addressing unhealthy masculine attitudes and domestic violence in general, see A family systems approach to addressing DV in court orders: A legal brief and the start of a dialogue.
It may be that domestic violence is partly a function, or outgrowth, of the interplay of interpersonal self-protective attachment strategies within family systems. The human attachment system is a survival system which, like the fight-flight-freeze system, when activated can be driven by thoughts and behaviors below the level of awareness. Identifying subjectively relevant relationship dangers and recognizing how to avoid triggering the danger, or working to minimize or manage the perception of danger, may be a key to reduce violence and risk of harm at an individual level. For example, interpersonal rejections can lead to aggressive behaviors, so being aware of what constitutes a subjectively perceived rejection and approaching rejecting topics mindfully can reduce or help manage aggressive responses. DMM-attachment strategies are sufficiently defined to help professionals accomplish this task.
Pérez-Martínez, Vanesa, Jorge Marcos-Marcos, Ariadna Cerdán-Torregrosa, Erica Briones-Vozmediano, Belen Sanz-Barbero, MCarmen Davó-Blanes, Nihaya Daoud, et al. “Positive Masculinities and Gender-Based Violence Educational Interventions Among Young People: A Systematic Review.” Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, (July 2021). https://doi.org/10.1177/15248380211030242.
Hegemonic masculinity has been recognized as contributing to the perpetration of different forms of gender-based violence (GBV). Abandoning hegemonic masculinities and promoting positive masculinities are both strategies used by interventions that foreground a “gender-transformative approach.” Preventing GBV among young people could be strengthened by engaging young men. In this article, we aim to systematically review the primary characteristics, methodological quality, and results of published evaluation studies of educational interventions that aim to prevent different forms of GBV through addressing hegemonic masculinities among young people.
We conducted a systematic review of available literature (2008–2019) using Medline (PubMed), Scopus, Web of Science, PsycInfo, the CINAHL Complete Database, and ERIC as well as Google scholar. The Template for Intervention Description and Replication was used for data extraction, and the quality of the selected studies was analyzed using the Mixed Method Appraisal Tool. More than half of the studies were conducted in Africa (n = 10/15) and many were randomized controlled trials (n = 8/15). Most of the studies with quantitative and qualitative methodologies (n = 12/15) reported a decrease in physical GBV and/or sexual violence perpetration/victimization (n = 6/15). Longitudinal studies reported consistent results over time.
Our results highlight the importance of using a gender-transformative approach in educational interventions to engage young people in critical thinking about hegemonic masculinity and to prevent GBV.