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Men, Domestic Violence and the Law: Constructions of Masculinities in Popular, Activist and Academic discourses

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Abstract

In this paper, I utilise a masculinities studies lens to analyse debates about domestic
violence in contemporary China. I focus on violence perpetrated by husbands upon their wives, and understand violence broadly to include ‘any behavior within an intimate relationship that causes physical, psychological or sexual harm to those in the relationship’, including ‘physical aggression, psychological abuse, forced intercourse and other forms of sexual coercion, and various controlling behaviors’ (Xu et al. 2005: 78; Krug et al. 2002: 89). I seek to identity and discuss the ways in which discourses about domestic violence construct masculinities. In the paper, I understand masculinities as plural, diverse and impermanent: there is no essential, timeless, universal ‘masculinity’. Nor are there culturally bounded masculinities, such as a singular ‘Chinese masculinity’. That is not to say that there are no ‘dominant’/ ‘mainstream’/ ‘hegemonic’ masculinities: as with other gendered and social identity markers, masculinities reflect and produce wider sociocultural hierarchies of power, status and recognition. I intend to highlight some of these mainstream masculinities, always locating them within topologies of power. I argue that an effective approach to countering men’s domestic violence cannot simply rely on legislation alone; it is also necessary to understand how masculinities are constructed. An appreciation of the discursive practices that shape masculinities and a recognition of men’s ‘bringing themselves’ into discourses of masculinities in various ways, opens up the possibility for men to fashion non-violent masculinities.