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Gend.

Issues (2016) 33:271–284


DOI 10.1007/s12147-016-9166-5

ORIGINAL ARTICLE

What’s in a Name? The Negative Implications


of Gender Neutrality in the Intimate Partner Violence
Prevention and Intervention Literature

Teila Sinnott1 • Sibylle Artz1

Published online: 30 May 2016


 Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Abstract Research and interventions for intimate partner violence in current use
largely consist of practices aimed at getting victims to leave their abusers, rather
than helping perpetrators stop their violence. In the context of parenthood, the focus
on programs targeting women experiencing violence has resulted in an emphasis on
mothers’ responsibility for mitigating the adverse effects of witnessing violence on
children. This has led to insufficient understanding of violent men’s identities as
fathers. This narrative review employed content analysis to analyze the discursive
constructions of men and women as parents in a selection of peer reviewed articles
about the prevention of intimate partner violence during childbearing years that
were published between January 2000 and January 2015 (N = 37). A quantitative
word count was conducted in order to determine the frequency with which these
articles referred to men and women in their parental roles when employing pre-
vention and intervention strategies. Women were consistently identified as mothers
in all areas of the literature, while the prevalence of men’s identities as fathers was
confined only to the specific, specialized area of the literature that is aimed at men
alone. The implications of these findings for future research and practice in the area
of prevention and intervention of intimate partner violence specifically in the
context of parenthood are discussed.

Keywords Content analysis  Intimate partner violence  Fatherhood  Language 


Motherhood  Mother blaming

& Teila Sinnott


tmrey@uvic.ca
1
School of Child and Youth Care, University of Victoria, P.O. Box 1700, STN CSC, Victoria,
BC V8W 2Y2, Canada

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Introduction

In recent years, practitioners and researchers working in the area of intimate partner
violence (IPV) intervention have turned their attention to the consequences of
witnessing such violence for children, and produced a growing body of research that
reveals the many adverse developmental outcomes that are directly related to child
and youth IPV exposure (c.f. [2] for a summary of this research). This has placed
IPV on the agenda for child protection services, and positioned it as a child welfare
issue, prompting a rising interest in the issues of parenting in the context of IPV
[7, 12, 13, 22, 26]. Another growing area of inquiry in IPV research is the function
of language in shaping cultural responses to violence against women
[3, 4, 8, 18, 23, 25].
Several inquiries have exposed the discourses in various media and conversa-
tional representations that have contributed to prevailing views of violence against
women, that legitimize or minimize this violence. For example, Phillips’ and
Henderson’s [25] discourse analysis of 165 abstracts and 11 full-length articles
about domestic violence published between January 1994 and June 1996, showed
that in this material, violence perpetrated by men is frequently described as domestic
violence, family violence, violence against women, and wife abuse, that is with
labels that distance men from their roles in this violence, while the term male
violence is used only rarely. Phillips and Henderson used these findings to support
their contention that the emphasis on women’s victimhood and failure to explicitly
name men as perpetrators conceals men’s responsibility for violence and instead
locates the problem of violence with women.
Following Phillips and Henderson [25], Coates and Wade [4] have provided a
framework for identifying discursive operations where language has been used to
‘‘conceal violence, obscure and mitigate offenders’ responsibility, conceal victims’
resistance, and blame and pathologize victims’’ in the academic literature (p. 513)
[4]. In Coates’ and Wades’ analysis of five accounts of personalized violence
provided by very different individuals, a perpetrator, a psychiatrist, a judge, a
government minister, and a therapist, the violent acts that they described, no matter
their role, are misrepresented as mutually instigated or, in some instances, activated
by the female victim and generally minimized, decontextualized, and portrayed as
unintended, isolated incidents.
Themes of minimizing male violence, mutualizing of responsibility for violence
and holding women responsible for their own victimization have also been found in
various kinds of popular media: Berns [3], who examined a combination of men’s
and political magazines, observed the use of parallel discursive strategies of (1) de-
gendering the problem of domestic violence by presenting the issue as simply a
human problem rather than a male or female problem, and (2) gendering the blame
for violence with women by focusing on women’s accountability for ending abuse.
These strategies rely heavily on a sex-symmetry perspective, offering accounts that
portray women as equally violent to men, and ignore research that demonstrates that
the majority of IPV victims are women [3]. Additionally, Nettleton [23] shows that
narratives about domestic violence in men’s magazines portray violence as natural,

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understandable, and excusable, and occasionally are even communicated in a light-


hearted or humorous tone. Meanwhile, narratives about domestic violence in
women’s magazines often convey the message that women who experience
domestic violence are guilty of choosing the wrong men, and are therefore
responsible for preventing or mitigating further violence against themselves. These
notions are further exacerbated in a recent examination of representations of gender
violence in news reporting media, in which Easteal et al. [8] show that women were
portrayed as lacking credibility in their allegations of abuse or harassment. Easteal
et al. [8] also showed that media reports tended to portray acts of violence against
women as individual issues rather than as aspects of a larger systemic problem, an
approach that functions to conceal underlying social and political causes of violence
against women and thus upholds the status quo of gender inequality and patriarchal
relations of power.
The role of language in constructing dominant understandings about men’s and
women’s roles in IPV and that absence of a thorough discussion of male
accountability for violence has also been studied in the discourses of various human
service practitioners who work with individuals or families experiencing IPV. Thus,
as Thapar-Björker and Morgan [29] show, the failure to hold males accountable for
their violence was clearly demonstrated in a series of interviews conducted with
volunteers working in Victim Support. These interviews revealed a set of
institutional discourses that implicated women as complicit in the violence against
them, often relying on rhetoric about women’s choices to stay with or return to their
abusers as indication of women’s agency in violent situations. As Thapar-Björker
and Morgan [29] also revealed, institutional practices and materials such as safety
advice literature offered to women were further associated with upholding social
norms that placed responsibility on women to take safety precautions instead of
calling for men to control their violent behaviours.
The requirement placed upon victimized women by human service practitioners
that female victims must assume responsibility for securing their own and their
children’s safety in the face of male aggression has a long history. In analysing the
discourses of human service practitioners working with men who perpetrate IPV,
Edin et al. [9] determined that, even when workers ‘‘entirely agreed on the goal of
making men accept full responsibility for their own violent behavior’’ (p. 317), they
still drew on gender discourses that constructed men as desiring power and control,
and women as possessing a greater capacity for empathy and with this, the implied
responsibility for the emotions of others. Thus, this suggests a fixed perspective on
gender patterns, and raises the distinct possibility that these discourses might
obstruct progress toward men’s accountability for violence. As well, Edin et al. [9]
state that, ‘‘The professionals said that since men often felt ashamed, were burdened
with guilt, and that certain subjects were taboo or too intimate, they usually did not
talk spontaneously about sensitive topics such as sexuality, pregnancy, and
parenthood’’ (p. 317). In other words, these professionals knowingly acted to
protect men’s feelings. As Edin et al. argued, this approach further serves to hold in
place the absence of holding men accountable for their violence.
The absence of male accountability is underlined in the omission of topics such
as parenthood and children in professionals’ discourse about men’s perpetration of

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violence described by Edin et al. [9] and fits with literature that identifies a larger
pattern in which men’s identities as perpetrators of IPV are consistently isolated
from their roles as fathers [11]. This pattern is extensively discussed by Canadian
researcher, Lapierre [19–21], who looks closely at the specific issues facing mothers
who are victimized by IPV. He has identified dominant discourses in the area of IPV
and child protection as characterized by a ‘‘deficit model of mothering’’, which
emphasises cultural expectations about women as primary caregivers, and holds
mothers accountable when children experience negative outcomes due to exposure
to IPV. After investigating this trend in an analysis of academic literature about
children’s exposure to IPV, Lapierre contends that the dual-emphasis on negative
outcomes for children and women’s responsibility for the safety and protection of
children essentially ignores men’s contribution to the negative impacts of their
violence on children [19]. This, he also argues, hinders research that would provide
a more ‘‘holistic understanding of abused women’s complex experiences as
mothers’’ (p. 456). Further, as Humphries and Absler, Lapierre, and Powell and
Murray [14, 19, 26], collectively argue, the tendency toward gender-blind
terminology, such as ‘parent’ instead of ‘mother’ or ‘father,’ disguises the reality
of the heightened levels of scrutiny and evaluation that mothers experience over
fathers, particularly in conditions where IPV is present.
This amplified sense of scrutiny is confirmed in the accounts of women who
speak about their own experiences of motherhood and IPV [20]. These women’s
reports are characterized by an awareness of a social definition of ‘‘good mothering’’
that places the responsibility for the protection and care of children on mothers in
the absence of any mention of fathers [20]. Concern about blaming mothers for the
failure to protect their children from exposure to IPV is also evident in the discourse
of community workers involved with mothers experiencing such violence [7]. The
workers who participated in the Douglas and Walsh study shared concerns that
mother blaming contributes to child protection systems that punish mothers for their
experiences of violence, and risks favouring custodial placements with fathers,
despite their violent behaviour such that, ‘‘male perpetrators of violence were
sometimes judged to be satisfactory fathers, just not good husbands’’ (p. 494) [7].
Further, as Lapierre and Humphries and Absler show [14, 19], the experience of
violence perpetrated upon them by the fathers of their children intensifies women’s
concerns about the effects of that violence on their children and results in conditions
in which these mothers were expected to maintain the safety and security of their
children with often limited access to physical, social, and emotional resources.
Additionally, the tendency to emphasise mothers’ failure to protect children from
exposure to violence, regardless of men’s responsibility in perpetrating that violence
is also found in research conducted by Humphries and Absler and Lapierre and Cote
[14, 21]. This research shows that, overall, a mother-blaming discourse appears to
be prevalent in child protection practice, and is also consistently paired with a
failure to hold men accountable for the negative and debilitative impacts of their
violent behaviours on their children.
Some attention has been turned towards the general tendency to obscure violent
men’s roles as fathers, as it was, for example, in a discourse analysis of policy
conducted in the United Kingdom (UK) by Featherstone and Peckover [11]. They

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point to a growing recognition that men are perpetrators of violence along with an
increase in the understanding of the importance of father involvement; however,
discourses about men who occupy both categories, that is ‘domestically violent
fathers’, have remained absent or invisible. These observations resonate with Edin
et al.’s [9] already noted observations that the perpetration of violence and the
experience of fatherhood are discursively sequestered from each other. This
discursive sequestering is vitally important, as policies and practices that blindly
encourage father involvement without consideration for contextual factors, such as
violence in relationships, may be counterproductive to the safety and wellbeing of
mothers and children [11, 26]. With regard to child protection services, a failure to
recognize fathers as violent men has allowed ‘‘inadequate attention to the
seriousness of harm and disruption to children’’ (p. 467) [26]. Particularly in the
context of post-separation contact issues, insufficient attention to fathers’ respon-
sibility for violence has been shown to disregard women’s and children’s rights to
safety in favour of the ‘right to contact’ principle and its proponents [26].
Additionally, in arguing for a meaningful response to IPV that holds men
accountable, Devaney [17] asserts a further important point:
One depressing finding from the research literature is the very low number of
men who are challenged about their behaviour and referred for intervention to
therapeutic services, or who are prosecuted. Whilst children may be safer if
they no longer live with a male caregiver who is abusive of their partner, many
men are able to move on to new relationships, placing other children and
women at risk, without any change in their behaviour. (p. 574)
Therefore, a response to IPV that places a focus on the role of mothers in securing
protection for children must be seen as unsustainable, because it allows men’s
behaviour to go unchallenged, and risks perpetuating a cycle of violence.
Our review of the literature that we have thus far described, and particularly the
positioning of mothers within this literature, compelled us to further investigate the
discursive formations of motherhood and fatherhood in the IPV prevention and
intervention literature by asking the question: ‘‘How are men/fathers and
women/mothers named in the academic literature that looks at the prevention and
reduction of IPV in parenting couples?’’ The procedures that we used to answer this
question and our findings are described below.

Review and Analysis Procedures

We took as our sources peer reviewed articles published between January 2000 and
January 2015 that reported on research on the prevention of IPV during childbearing
years. The literature for this review was identified using a computerized search of
the following electronic databases: Academic Search Complete, Google Scholar,
PSYCInfo, Social Sciences Full Text, and Web of Science. Table 1 provides an
overview of the search terms and inclusion criteria that were used for this search.
Titles and abstracts identified in the initial search were reviewed for relevance. The
reference lists of eligible articles were also reviewed to find additional relevant

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Table 1 Initial search procedure: strategy and selection criteria


Databases Academic Search Complete, Google Scholar, PSYCInfo, Social Sciences Full Text,
Web of Science
Search terms Intimate partner violence, domestic violence, partner abuse, childbearing years,
parenting, parenthood, transition to parenthood, pregnancy
Inclusion 1. Focus on childbearing years or transition to parenthood (prenatal to first 5 years)
criteria 2. Discussion of strategies for the prevention of IPV, or intervention of existing IPV such
that intervention would preclude the risk of exposure for children
3. Published in the English language
4. Published between 2000 and January 2015
5. Published in a peer-reviewed journal

Table 2 Second search procedure: strategy and selection criteria


Databases Academic Search Complete, Google Scholar, PSYCInfo, Social Sciences Full Text,
Web of Science
Search terms Intimate partner violence, domestic violence, partner abuse, fathers, fatherhood,
fathering, transition to fatherhood,
Inclusion 1. Focused on the intervention of IPV specifically within the context of fatherhood
criteria 2. Discussion of strategies for the prevention or intervention of IPV, even following
children’s exposure to violence
3. Published in the English language
4. Published between 2000 and January 2015
5. Published in a peer-reviewed journal

articles that may not have been identified through the original electronic search.
Following an initial search, 25 articles met the inclusion criteria.
In reviewing the results of this initial search, it was quickly evident that this
literature focuses almost exclusively on prevention and early intervention aimed at
pregnant or recently delivered women as potential victims of IPV, and that the
behaviour and experiences of men during the transition to parenthood was absent
from the articles that our initial search produced. This compelled us to conduct a
second search with expanded search terms and new inclusion criteria, in order to
locate literature that focused on male perpetration of violence in the context of
fatherhood (Table 2). This adjusted search strategy was successful in identifying an
additional 12 articles that studied male perpetration of violence against women in
the context of fatherhood.

Analysis

We employed content analysis [17] in our examination of the presence and


meanings of specific word choices that were made when referring to men and
women in the articles that we examined. To do this we used a quantitative word

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count to provide a stable and observable comparison of the use and frequency of
specific terms, identified a priori, in the two categories of literature. Our first step in
this process was to determine a set of terms that structured our coding. The terms
that we identified as relevant to our research question are: (1) Mother(s), (2)
Father(s), (3) Woman/women, (4) Man/men, (5) Partner(s), (6) Parent(s)/copar-
ent(s)/caregiver(s). Once these terms were agreed on, we read each article and
manually coded for the appearance and frequency of each term. In the case of the
gender-neutral terms [partner(s), and parent(s)/coparent(s)/caregiver(s)], these
words were examined within their surrounding language context for each distinct
instance of their appearance so that we could determine whether these were used to
refer to the male or female partner, and were then coded accordingly. Gender-
neutral terms that were used to refer to a perpetrator of violence were coded as male.
Gender-neutral terms for victims of violence were coded as female. As we did this,
we acknowledged that there may be cases in which the roles of victim and
perpetrator may fall in the opposite gender categories; however, we also determined
that all of the articles that we analysed for this review researched male perpetrated
violence against women in primarily heterosexual relationships; therefore, we
believed that our designations were appropriate to the nature of the articles in our
sample.
Our literature search produced two distinct categories of literature: (1) articles
that focused on prevention and early interventions aimed at pregnant or newly
delivered women as potential victims of IPV; and (2) articles that focused on
secondary interventions aimed at men who had perpetrated IPV in the context of
fatherhood. Once each article was coded for the frequency of each specified term,
the frequency counts were summed for each literature grouping. In order to account
for the fact that each category of literature contained a different number of articles,
the total count number of each term was divided by the number of articles in that
category to produce a mean frequency of mentions per article for each term.

Findings

Table 3 provides a summary of the word counts and average frequencies of each
term for the two literature categories, as well as a combined count and frequency for
all literature.
As can be seen in Table 3, the appearance of father(s) was almost completely
absent from the prevention and intervention literature that is aimed at women, with
an average frequency of 0.56 mentions per article, as opposed to an average
frequency of 9.12 mentions per article of the words mother/mothers for this same
selection of literature. Similarly, man/men appeared with a frequency of only 0.44
mentions per article. Rather, these articles favoured use of the gender-neutral term
partner(s) in referring to male perpetrators, with an average frequency of 7.32
mentions per article. The appearance of mother(s) was relatively consistent across
the different literature categories, with an average frequency of 9.12 mentions per
women’s intervention article, and 8.50 mentions per men’s intervention article.
Therefore, references to women as mothers were moderately likely to appear in the
men’s intervention literature, while references to men as fathers were very unlikely

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Table 3 Total word frequency and average frequency per article


Women’s intervention literature Men’s Combined
(N = 25) intervention (N = 37)
literature
(N = 12)

Total count Mean frequency n M n M


(n) (M)

Mother(s) 228 9.12 103 8.50 340 9.19


Father(s) 14 0.56 666 55.50 680 18.37
Woman/women 1658 67.72 106 8.83 1799 48.62
Man/men 11 0.44 31 2.58 594 16.05
Partner(s) (Female) 4 0.16 146 12.17 150 4.05
Partner(s) (Male) 183 7.32 31 2.58 215 5.73
Parent(s)/co-parent(s)/ 8 0.32 14 1.17 22 0.59
caregiver(s) (Female)
Parent(s)/coparent(s)/ 0 0.00 31 2.58 31 0.84
caregiver(s) (Male)

to appear in the women’s intervention literature. However, the average appearance


of father(s) in the men’s intervention literature was high, with a frequency of 55.50
mentions per article (Table 3). Together, these results indicate that the identification
of perpetrators as men and fathers was almost completely absent from the literature
aimed at women, and appeared as prevalent only in the secondary intervention
literature aimed specifically at men, whereas women’s identities as mothers were
constructed at a fairly consistent rate across all the literature.
Another striking finding to emerge from this data was the prevalence with which
woman/women appeared in the women’s prevention and early intervention
literature, with an average frequency of 67.72 mentions per article. In this literature,
the terms woman/women are highly favoured over mother(s); whereas, in the men’s
intervention literature, the appearance of mother(s) is highly comparable to
appearance of woman/women, with average frequencies of 8.50 and 8.83 mentions
per article respectively. Overall, these findings suggest that while women’s
identities as mothers was constructed in a relatively stable manner across the
literature, the prevalence of men’s identities as fathers was dependent on the
specific, specialized area of the literature that is aimed at men alone.
After looking at the frequencies noted above, we re-reviewed the articles from
the women’s intervention literature to record the extent to which the methodologies
in the studies they described clarified the parenting role of the abusive partner. Our
findings from this review revealed that none of these articles contained statements
about whether the abusive partners in any of the studies were fathers or were
assuming a father role. Indeed, only four of the 25 articles made any direct reference
to the male partner at all [1, 15, 27, 28]. In these four articles, men were mentioned
only in relation to their presence during IPV screening as a possible barrier to
mother’s disclosure of violence, but not in any way as part of the intervention that

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followed. This additional examination of the articles under review suggested to us


that the main focus of the interventions described was the ‘‘treatment’’ of women
who were seen as the bearers of the condition of concern, that is, as the carriers of
the effects of IPV who required intervention for this reason.

Discussion

The findings from this literature review show that mothering women who are
victimized by their male partners are consistently more likely to be identified as
mothers, while violent men’s identities as fathers are frequently left out of
consideration. Although this emphasis on mothering did not reach to the prevention
literature that focused on pregnant women prior to giving birth to their first child, or
to the men’s secondary intervention literature, overall, men in the research that we
reviewed, were more likely to be referred to using the gender-neutral term partners,
thus confirming the endurance of previous observations of a preference for gender-
blind language when referring to the male perpetrators of violence [3, 18, 25].
Further, we believe that it is significant that most of literature on IPV prevention and
early intervention during transitions to parenthood that our search generated focused
almost exclusively on targeting the behaviour of women, and was characterized by a
stark absence of any reference to men or fathers. In this way, the discursive erasure
of men’s identities and the high number of references to women in these articles
serves to indicate that women are the primary objects of study in IPV prevention and
early intervention literature, and that dominant intervention strategies emphasise
women’s responsibility for reducing, escaping, or managing violence in the absence
of any discussions of male responsibility for violence.
We acknowledge that the way that we structured our analysis, such that literature
was divided into subsets that explicitly targeted either mothers or fathers, is largely
responsible for the emphases placed on the respective parenting roles in each
section. It should also be noted that, while female victims were often identified as
mothers in the men’s intervention literature, it is possible that the male perpetrators
in the women’s intervention literature are not identified as such because they are not
taking on fathering roles. Our finding that none of the studies from the women’s
intervention literature included any discussion of the parenting role of the abusive
partner points to an important gap in this research.
Further, the consistent and frequent reference to motherhood in all of the
literature that we examined seems to indicate that, where parenting is concerned,
motherhood is still very much in the foreground over fatherhood as a site for
responsibility for child welfare. This is significant, particularly in light of the
‘‘deficit model of mothering’’, which labels mothers who are experiencing abuse as
inadequate and deficient caregivers. Lapierre argues that this centering of attention
around motherhood contributes to the increased scrutiny of women’s decisions and
serves to uphold normative discourses that perpetuate expectations that women are
primarily responsible for their children’s experiences and life outcomes [19]. As
Krane and Davies [16] point out,

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When mothering is seen only as a natural expression of caring and love, the
actual labor involved and the necessary material and emotional resources to
care for children remain invisible (Rosenberg, 1988). Thus, the normal
everyday tasks of ‘motherwork’ are apparent only by their absence. (p. 28).
This highlights the values and assumptions implicit within discursive representa-
tions of mothering identities that conceal the work of childrearing, until there is a
perceived failure to live up to the cultural norms of motherhood, such as when
children witness IPV perpetrated on their mothers by the children’s fathers.
Although IPV prevention practices and research may be focused on mothers and
children because they are typically more available for study, this calls into question
the extent to which investigations that narrow their focus on mothers contribute to
emphasizing women’ problems and behaviours, and to shifting attention away from
men’s role in enacting violence [19, 30]. As Powell and Murray [26] show, the
failure to recognize violent men as fathers has resulted in ‘‘inadequate attention to
the seriousness of harm and disruption to children, as well as insufficient attention to
who is perpetrating and therefore ultimately responsible for the violence’’, (p. 467).

Implications for Practice

Our search procedure helped us to locate a handful of articles that at least


considered the role of fatherhood in perpetrator programs, representing a relatively
recent and promising shift in the field of IPV intervention research and practice
toward more programming that engages violent men in their roles as fathers [10].
However, this shift has been gradual, and is still in early stages [10]. Further, a gap
remains with regard to the stark absence of men and fathers in the literature that
focused on preventing pregnant women from becoming victims of IPV. This
highlights a significant need for more prevention programming that is focused on
men during their transition to fatherhood—either during pregnancy or postnatal
stages—that would assist in preventing children’s exposure to violence. A study by
Condon, Boyce, and Corkindale shows that men experience a period of stress and
uncertainty beginning in the early stages of a partner’s pregnancy, with little
improvement into the postnatal stage [5]. The expecting fathers in this study point to
a decline in their sense of mastery and control during their partners’ pregnancy that
suggests a significant need for the implementation of programming to support men
in preparing for this transition to fatherhood. Such programming could make an
important contribution to the mitigation of violence against women during
pregnancy and the postnatal period, without placing the responsibility on women
to address the violence that is perpetrated against them. As Douglas and Walsh aptly
point out, ‘‘…an approach that blames a mother’s failure to protect her child from
domestic violence is unlikely to address the perpetrator’s violence, meaning that a
violent cycle of domestic abuse is more likely to continue’’ (p. 493) [7]. Placing
responsibility for the prevention or cessation of violence on perpetrators will
contribute to more effective and comprehensive strategies for the prevention of
negative outcomes for all members of the family.

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Theoretical Implications

The findings of this review confirm that social categories of mother and father are
unequally weighted across the academic literature on IPV prevention and intervention
and call for a shift in the academic gaze to ensure that men, particularly fathers, are no
longer invisible in the response to IPV. In addressing the ubiquity of the
decontextualized nature of demands placed on mothers experiencing IPV, Lapierre
advocates for the use of a feminist theoretical framework for conceptualizing male
violence against women [19]. Feminism helps to uncover the societal issues
surrounding gender and power within the broader social context that legitimize male
violence and objectify women’s experiences. Further, as Easteal et al. [8] argue
patriarchal social narratives and gender norms are maintained through media
representations of violence against women, reinforcing a system of male power of
women. Therefore, a feminist perspective that challenges gender inequalities provides
a framework for further critical interrogation of the impacts of linguistic operations in
sustaining dominant relations of power. Finally, the adoption of a feminist framework
would remedy the impact of decontextualized expectations about motherhood and the
dominant mother-blame discourses, by encouraging ‘‘an understanding of mothers as
subjects in relationships with their children, emphasizing the emotional range and
complexity of feelings that many mothers experience’’ (p. 28) [16].
A similar shift is needed in our decontextualized expectations about men and
fatherhood. Featherstone and Peckover [11] emphasize the importance of consid-
ering the impact of gender discourses on fathers and identify several theoretical
advantages of explicitly naming men as fathers. Among these advantages is the
directing of attention of male perpetrators toward understanding the negative impact
of their violence on their children and the attendant emphasis on the need for more
interventions that specifically address men’s relationships within their families [6].
Further, since Featherstone and Peckover [24, 31] and others show that the desire to
be a ‘‘good father’’ is a potential motivation for men to change their violent
behaviours. This suggests a need for further study into normative gender discourses
and fathering, in order to begin to unravel the intricate relationship between
hegemonic masculinities and men’s experiences of fatherhood [9, 11].

Limitations and Future Research

While we believe that our analysis makes a useful contribution to the current
understandings of the deficits in the discourses about IPV, we acknowledge that our
analysis comes with a limitation inherent in the use of quantitative content analytic
method: The loss of contextual nuance and complexity makes it difficult to draw
deeper inferences about the meanings of specific terms in the broader context of
their use. For example, many of the articles that describe research on fathers make a
point of distinguishing between biological and non-biological fathers, a feature of
the literature to which our quantitative process did not attend [17]. Future reviews of
the IPV literature may wish to apply more qualitative analysis to determine if these
findings are supported and to potentially yield richer data regarding the discourses
that surround narratives of IPV in the context of parenthood.

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A further limitation that is particular to our selection of articles is that the


iterative nature of our search procedures made it such the search terms that we used
to locate the men’s intervention literature were designed to specifically locate
material that made mention of fathers, and may therefore have produced the higher
prevalence of these terms in that category. This literature was also more focused on
families in later stages, after children have been present in family life for a number
of years, and is in that way quite different from the women’s intervention literature,
which is primarily focused on women during pregnancy, when parenting identities
may as yet be less determined. In this way, the comparison of the two literature
procedures may be a bit uneven. We therefore suggest that a closer and more
balanced look at IPV intervention literature that examines later family stages could
provide us with a much-needed additional comparison that would allow us to learn
more about the differential approaches that are taken with mothers and fathers.
In our current study, the lack of clarity regarding the parenting roles of
perpetrators makes it hard to draw conclusions about the extent to which men
actually take on fathering roles, versus the extent to which researchers fail to define
these roles. Therefore, in addition to the need for more research on interventions for
perpetrators, research that focuses on both men’s and women’s interventions should
seek to clarify the parenting roles of both partners. This would help in assessing the
impact of IPV on children, by providing a more complete record of the extent to
which perpetrators of IPV are involved in the lives of children, and better
determining the scope of this issue.

Conclusion

This review reveals a significant need for the development of more violence prevention
programming for men during their transitions to fatherhood. We were unable to find any
mention of research that examines interventions that engage violent, or potentially
violent, men or mention fatherhood during pregnancy and the postnatal period. At the
same time, we have shown conclusively that throughout the literature, the role of
women as mothers is both assumed and imbued with cultural discourses of mother-
blame and expectations that place responsibility for their own and their children’s safety
and life course outcomes squarely on mothers. Therefore, despite some efforts to
implement programs that engage violent men in their roles as fathers, there continues to
be a need for more comprehensive, holistic policies and services that address the safety
needs of women and children by holding male perpetrators accountable through
prevention and intervention programs that name and deal with male violence.

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