LYNN REYNOLDS, Fordham University


This study focuses on the power relationship between the husband and wife in the conjugal unit. Women are considered the most likely victims of marital violence due to their subordinate status within the institution of marriage. Many psychological as well as sociological theories which have been generated to explain wife abuse are inadequate. Defining abuse in terms of power distribution clarifies the underlying issues which are the social, political, and legal context of violence. Three hypotheses were constructed to guide the study. They are as follows. The power imbalance within the marital relationship is the major contributory factor to spouse abuse ranging from psychological harassment through various degrees of physical assault. This unequal power distribution commonly leads to the socially sanctioned condition of dependency and a sense of low self-esteem on the part of the woman. The power inequality in marriage grants the male privilege by virtue of his sex, is reflective of the subordinate position of women within the larger social system, is culturally sanctioned, and has historical antecedents. Five women were interviewed in depth for this exploratory study. All of the interviewees were self-referred to a community agency which provided services to victims of domestic violence. Participation in the study was voluntary. The semi-structured interview was the method chosen for data collection. This technique permitted an in-depth qualitative analysis of the narratives from the frame of reference of each abused woman. The interview data provided support for the three hypotheses. A considerable amount of newer published literature and research also support the general theme relating spouse abuse to the power structure. The findings suggest that abuse is rooted in sexual inequality and differential power bases which are institutionalized within American society. Especially important is the sex role socialization of the female into a socially sanctioned condition of dependency and low self-esteem. Future research should be focused on the heretofore neglected variables of gender, age, and political power as well as the cultural and structural context within which the conjugal relationship takes place. Among the major policy implications are ones that impact upon the legal, familial and economic institutions of the society.

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

REYNOLDS, LYNN, "POWER AND INEQUALITY: A CASE STUDY OF ABUSED WOMEN" (1981). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI8123466.