Social issues involved in the events
In this essay, I will explain some of the social issues involved in the events and situations described in the case study and then consider some of the underlying sociological concepts that might also be involved.
Both Greg and Annalise are professional people. They have an established marriage, enjoy a high standard of living and can afford to send their children to independent schools because of their dual income. On the surface it appears they are a successful couple. However, their relationship is starting to break down through a number of complex social/health issues, namely Greg’s emerging depression which he is reluctant to acknowledge. His depression manifests itself by his growing substance abuse (consumption of alcohol) and the escalation to domestic violence in the home environment. Annalise has been assaulted but is in denial of what has happened.
Annalise is a primary school teacher and has been offered promotion within the education system. It appears she has been ‘headhunted’ for the position of District Supervisor presumably as a result of her own hard work and endeavour. Greg, on the other hand, did not have to prove his ability or suitability as a lawyer. It appears he gained employment in his father’s law
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The stress of Greg’s job has spilled over into his family life and he has taken to drinking more frequently as a coping mechanism. Frone (1997) cited in Griffin et al (2002) states that ‘work to family spillover is more closely associated with negative health behaviours, such as heavy alcohol consumption’. In the case study, Greg exhibits a number of risk factors for the perpetration of spouse abuse. These include increased stress in the family environment and his symptoms of depression and substance abuse (Riggs, Caulfield and Street 2000). Alcohol use, in particular, has been associated with elevated rates of marital violence as its consumption ‘increases violent incidents, either by disinhibiting the abuser or by increasing conflict’ (Riggs, Caulfield and Street 2000).
Greg’s own perception of hegemonic masculinity has led him to feel a failure in the light of his wife’s professional success and he no longer sees himself as the major ‘breadwinner’ of the family. Eisler and Blalock (1991) cited in Cano and Vivian (2003), suggest that ‘men with a strict adherence to traditional male gender roles are particularly at risk (of male violence)’. Bird (1999) cited in Griffin et al (2002) states that control at home is based on power within relationships such as ‘having the power to assign household tasks to family members and ensure they are done in an appropriate way.’ When Greg comes home from a stressful day’s work after drinks with colleagues he finds that his wife is relaxing in the garden and hasn’t fulfilled her primary family responsibilities of preparing a family meal. He feels further disempowered and becomes resentful and angry. Cano and Vivian (2003), suggest that ‘male violence is likely to occur after husbands experience stressors involving a loss of male dominance in various environments (e.g. job demotion, loss of traditional husband role)’. He continues to drink. Alcohol fuels his temper and he becomes confrontational and physically violent. Witt (1987) cited in Cano and Vivian (2003), explains this by stating ‘out of frustration with occupational stressors, some men may find that violence against their wives is an acceptable way to reassert their dominance and power’.
Greg has failed to recognise the signs of his own depression and seek help or counselling. One explanation of this could be that a diagnosis of depression would confront his own sense of self and undermine his masculinity (Willis and Elmer 2007). He may be reluctant to seek help because ‘culturally dominant or hegemonic forms of masculinity are characterised by emotional control’ (Emslie et al 2006), and linked with personal competence and achievement. By acknowledging his depression, Greg would be admitting his feelings of powerlessness and lack of control and may be viewed by others as weak and become the potential subject of ridicule (Emslie et al 2006) by his work colleagues and family members.
According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists (1998) cited in Emslie et al (2006), ‘depressive symptoms in men are often undiagnosed and untreated’ and ‘men with depression have been particularly under-researched, probably because anxiety and depression are conditions associated with women’ (Prior, 1999, cited in Emslie et al 2006).
From a sociological perspective, more needs to be done in our (Australian) society to raise awareness of this crippling condition. Burns, Andrews and Szabo (2002) cited in beyondblue: the national depression initiative (2009) suggest that early intervention within a school environment could help by teaching interpersonal skills and ‘developmentally appropriate programs could potentially decrease prevalence, reduce severity and delay the onset of depression (in males).’ In hindsight, Greg may well have benefitted from such an initiative. By including these programs as part of the educational curriculum in all schools, it may have significant benefits to the next generation.
Greg and Annalise argue after Greg returns home and this ‘escalates into Greg becoming violent towards Annalise.’ According to Watts and Zimmerman (2002) domestic violence ‘occurs across the world, in various cultures and affects people across society, irrespective of economic status.’ In the United States, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (1997) ‘women are about six times as likely as men to experience intimate partner violence.’ Domestic violence is a broad term that encompasses a wide range of behaviours. One definition proposes that it can be ‘a repetitive pattern of physical and emotional relationship violence that functions to control and entrap the victim’ (Riggs, Caulfield and Street, 2000) which could fit Greg’s and Annalise’s scenario.
The fact that Annalise has old bruises suggests that her physical abuse has been going on for some time. ‘Rarely, if ever, does an incident of spouse abuse occur in isolation’ (Riggs, Caulfield and Street, 2000). The injuries from her husband’s latest attack – a depressed cheek fracture and a broken arm – are horrific. Domestic violence often goes unrecognised although ‘research indicates that it is a common cause of injury among women who present to emergency rooms’ (Abbott, 1997, cited in Riggs, Caulfield and Street, 2000) but ‘one that has tended to be unrecognised by health workers, or inappropriately treated’ (Patton, 2003, cited in Willis and Elmer 2007). It is significant to note that Willis and Elmer (2007) suggest that a sociological explanation for domestic violence should be considered so that ‘a full understanding of the effects and possible solutions can be explored’. If the nurses and medical staff at the hospital have this perspective then there is a greater chance that Annalise (and women in similar situations) could be supported and listened to empathically. It could mean her concerns are taken seriously and she could be given information, help and guidance which could be an incredibly validating experience (Riggs, Caulfield and Street, 2000).
The domestic violence in this case study has a number of critical dimensions. The most obvious is that Annalise lied to the health care workers at the hospital about how she acquired her injuries. She states that she ‘is breaking in a very temperamental horse’, and appears to be in denial of what really happened. At a structural level in contemporary society, her family role is that of mother and primary caregiver to her children. Her responsibilities make her vunerable and less powerful in her relationship with Greg (Willis and Elmer 2007). Annalise may be trying to protect herself (or her children) from further physical repercussions because domestic violence is rooted in fear and control of the perpetrator (Riggs, Caulfield and Street 2000).
Being a victim of violence can also generate strong negative feelings of guilt or shame. Annalise didn’t recognise the warning signs of abuse and may be ‘engaging in cognitive strategies such as denying the abuse occurred and minimising or rationalising the threatening nature of the abuse’ (Riggs, Caulfield and Street 2000). Furthermore, domestic violence takes place in the larger context of an intimate relationship and Annalise may feel ‘very strong positive attachment feelings toward her abuser through a process termed traumatic bonding’ (Herman, 1992, cited in Riggs, Caulfield and Street 2000).
She may still be in love with Greg and doesn’t want to be disloyal to him or feel that she may betray him by disclosing his abuse. She may also be concerned that telling the truth might lead to an escalation of violence or subsequent divorce and family break-up. Davilla et al (2003) argue that women accept more blame when their marriage becomes distressed because there is a perception that initially ‘women feel more responsible for establishing relationships than men’.
Looking through a sociological lens, the issue of identifying men at risk of perpetrating domestic violence whilst also identifying women who are likely to be victimised ‘warrants a systematic screening and assessment in all health care settings’ (Riggs, Caulfield and Street 2000). Also, according to Davilla et al (2003), ‘depression and marital dysfunction are each substantial public health problems’ and mounting evidence suggests that each increases the risk for the other.
Applying sociological knowledge to this case study would enable health care workers to examine the social patterns and forces that have influenced Greg and Annalise’s patterns of behaviour and acknowledge how their relationship has changed over time. These insights might provide opportunities for support agencies to intervene and help both parties in non-judgemental yet positive ways. An understanding of hegemonic masculinity could provide health workers the opportunity to support Greg to seek to change his behaviour. Understanding the factors involved in domestic violence cases means that health workers could help Annalise to put her situation into context which could facilitate her recovery.