The Feminist Case for Acknowledging Women's Acts of Violence

44 Pages Posted: 7 Jun 2016 Last revised: 16 Sep 2016

See all articles by Jamie R. Abrams

Jamie R. Abrams

American University Washington College of Law

Date Written: May 1, 2016


This Article makes a feminist case for acknowledging women’s acts of violence as consistent with — not threatening to — the goals of the domestic violence movement and the feminist movement. It concludes that broadly understanding women’s use of strength, power, coercion, control, and violence, even illegitimate uses, can be framed consistent with feminist goals. Beginning this conversation is a necessary — if uncomfortable — step to give movement to the movement to end gendered violence.

The domestic violence movement historically framed its work on a gender binary of men as potential perpetrators and women as potential victims. This binary was an essential starting point to defining and responding to domestic violence. The movement has since struggled to address women as perpetrators. It has historically deployed a “strategy of containment” to respond to women as perpetrators. This strategy includes bringing male victims of domestic violence within existing services, monitoring exaggerations and misstatements about the extent of women’s violence, and noting the troublesome line between perpetrator/victim for women. This strategy achieved specific and important goals to domestic violence law reforms. These goals included retaining domestic violence’s central and iconic framing as a women’s issue, preserving critical funding sources and infrastructure to serve victims, and thwarting obstructionist political challenges largely waged by men’s rights groups.

While acknowledging that these goals were sound and central to the historic underpinnings of domestic violence law reforms, this Article considers whether the strategy of containment is too myopic and reactive to endure. It begins a discussion of whether moving beyond a strategy of containment might paradoxically advance the efficacy of both domestic violence law reforms and the feminist movement. It suggests that moving beyond the strategy of containment would strengthen the infrastructure and foundation of the domestic violence movement. It would move beyond the limited masculinist frame dominating domestic violence, beyond the pathologized and marginalized frame depicting women abusers, and toward a more inclusive movement. It further examines potential gains to the broader feminist movement, such as preserving the movement’s sustained legacy, diffusing gender stereotypes, righting skewed legal standards, and advancing women’s political and professional status.

Keywords: domestic violence; social movements; feminist theory; women

Suggested Citation

Abrams, Jamie R., The Feminist Case for Acknowledging Women's Acts of Violence (May 1, 2016). Yale Journal of Law & Feminism, Vol. 27, No. 2, 2016, University of Louisville School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper Series No. 2016-5, Available at SSRN:

Jamie R. Abrams (Contact Author)

American University Washington College of Law ( email )

4300 Nebraska Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20016
United States

Do you have negative results from your research you’d like to share?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics