Describing Without Circumscribing: Questioning the Construction of Gender in the Discourse of Intimate Violence

52 Pages Posted: 14 Jul 2006

See all articles by Phyllis Goldfarb

Phyllis Goldfarb

George Washington University Law School


In this Article, Professor Goldfarb examines the construction of gender roles in the discourse on intimate violence. The Article argues that this discourse assumes that male violence against female intimates represents the problems of battering in its entirety. In doing so, the discourse renders invisible the battering that occurs outside this discourse, most notably battering within same-sex relationships. The Article focuses on how the gender assumptions in the domestic violence discourse affected the representation of the Framingham Eight, a group of women who killed their batterers and were incarcerated in the women's prison in Framingham, Massachusetts. These women petitioned as a group for the commutation of their sentences. Seven of the women had killed their male partners; one had killed her female partner. Professor Goldfarb discusses why the lesbian petitioner faced the longest odds in her struggle to be seen and heard. First, the Article describes the phenomenon of intimate violence in same-sex relationships. Next, the Article explores how and why the contemporary discourse of intimate violence is gender-specific. After identifying a need for the expansion of the conversation on intimate violence, the Article suggests enumerating parallel discourses that are tied to their particular and varied contexts. Last, the Article discusses the professional responsibility issues implicated when an attorney represents a client who conforms to gender stereotypes that inflict harm on others.

Keywords: gender roles, gender stereotypes, intimate violence, male violence, female violence, gender assumptions, battering, same-sex relationships, same-sex battering, domestic violence, Framingham Eight, incarceration, lesbianism, professional responsibility

Suggested Citation

Goldfarb, Phyllis, Describing Without Circumscribing: Questioning the Construction of Gender in the Discourse of Intimate Violence. George Washington Law Review, Vol. 64, pp. 582-631, 1996, Boston College Law School Research Paper No. 1996-03, Available at SSRN:

Phyllis Goldfarb (Contact Author)

George Washington University Law School ( email )

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United States
202.994.7463 (Phone)

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