Making the Connections: Harmful Masculine Norms and Intimate Partner Violence

The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence is an international campaign used by activists around the world (November 25-December 10) as an organizing strategy to call for the elimination of all forms of gender-based violence. 

This year, we will be sharing out research on the links between harmful masculine norms and eight different forms of violent behavior, as well as insights and recommendations to eliminate all forms of violence.

While there is nothing inherent about being male that drives violence, how we socialize boys into their identities as men and what we expect of them – that is, society’s masculine norms – are undeniably linked with violence. 

Indeed, boys and men are often raised, socialized, and encouraged to use violence in some form; on the whole, men and boys are disproportionately likely to both perpetrate most forms of violence and to die by homicide and suicide. However, the research affirms that this violence is preventable, gender equality is achievable, and nonviolent norms and ideas about manhood are prevalent and powerful. 

Promundo and Oak Foundation’s report Masculine Norms and Violence: Making the Connections, examines the links between harmful masculine norms and eight forms of violent behavior. This first blog in the Making the Connections, 16 Days of Activism series focuses on intimate partner violence (IPV). It breaks down the facts on IPV, explores its linkages to other forms of violence, and provides recommendations for action.

Intimate Partner Violence

The Facts

Worldwide, an estimated 30 percent of ever-partnered women experience physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner at some point in their lives.

Intimate partner homicide is an extreme manifestation of these same trends. Globally, World Health Organization (WHO) statistics show that up to 38 percent of murders of women are perpetrated by a male intimate partner.

The Links 

Multiple studies confirm that rigid norms regarding gender, gender roles, family, and marriage – together with men’s childhood experiences of violence – contribute to men’s use of violence against intimate partners. When men adhere more strongly to rigid, inequitable definitions of masculinity, they are more likely to also report perpetrating many forms of intimate partner violence. If men believe that they are not – or are not perceived to be – “masculine” or “man enough,” they may use intimate partner violence as a way to overcompensate or conform to gendered expectations.

The Intersections

Violence within the childhood home can contribute to children accepting violence as a “normal” part of intimate relationships, playing a role in the often-observed intergenerational transmission of intimate partner violence. Transforming these patriarchal, violent gender norms is essential for mitigating the influence of childhood experiences of violence, and is critical as an overall prevention strategy. 

The stress, challenges, and loss of masculine identity caused by various forms of social oppression – for example, economic hardship, racism, religious persecution, and discrimination – can multiply risk factors for both men’s perpetration of intimate partner violence and women’s, including and in addition to transgender, non-binary, and gender nonconforming people’s victimization, as well as change the likelihood of survivors pursuing formal justice-system responses to this violence.

Local laws defining what intimate partner violence is or is not – for instance, whether or not legislation specifically outlaws marital rape – also intersect with gender norms and other factors, affecting rates of violence. Religious texts and teachings are also sometimes used to enforce women’s inferior position within intimate relationships with men.

From Theory to Practice

Initiatives aiming to prevent intimate partner violence should focus on the following transformations of harmful masculine norms:

  • Ask participants to name, recognize, and discuss power inequalities in their intimate relationships.
  • Teach discussion-based and compassionate problem-solving approaches, and provide safe spaces for practicing them.
  • Foster an appreciation for multiple, limitless ways of defining what it means to be a man – for example, a man can love and respect his partner; a man can use his words to avoid violence; a man can share leadership and decision-making responsibility in his family.
  • Demonstrate the broad, harmful effects of violence, including intergenerational effects, and insist that violence against one’s partner is never justified.
  • Identify violence suffered in men’s and boys’ lives, recognize and explore the consequences, and help men and boys to process their experience of violence and heal.
  • Reflect with men and boys on what would happen if they were not entitled to using power to get what they wanted: Would they feel vulnerable? Who would they be? 

Read the rest of the Making the Connections, 16 Days of Activism blog series to learn more about physical violence against children; child sexual abuse and exploitation; bullying; homicide and violent crime; non-partner sexual violence; suicide, and conflict and war.

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