Violence against women is a widespread social problem affecting millions of women. For more than three decades, researchers have explored the experiences of women in abusive relationships. Victims’ accounts have been the main focus, often deflecting attention away from men who are most frequently the perpetrators. Consequently, woman abuse has come to be regarded as a ‘woman’s problem’ – blaming women and rendering them responsible for change. The literature on perpetrators and victims of violence seems to be developing independently of each other and commonly provide one-sided accounts (mostly from victims and less often from perpetrators). This article reports on an ongoing research project that aims to explore how both partners in a violent heterosexual relationship understand and attach meanings to their experiences. In-depth interviews were conducted with five couples. An analysis of the narratives revealed that women's and men’s understandings of violence are both similar and different. They construct particular forms of gendered identities, which are sometimes contradictory and ambiguous. In their talk about violence and relationships, they ‘perform’ gender and enact hegemonic constructions of femininity and masculinity. The analysis also shows that women’s and men’s talk about violence is linked to broader socio-cultural mechanisms that construct woman abuse as a serious social problem in South Africa.
This article was written by Prof Cheryl de la Rey before she joined the University of Pretoria.