The domestic violence movement purports to empower survivors of abuse, yet battered women's shelters in the U.S. have rules and practices which may serve to discipline women into complying with stereotypical white, middle class, heterosexual norms of femininity. This research relies on qualitative interviews with thirteen workers from anti-violence organizations in the U.S., on examination of written shelter rules and documents, and on recent writings by progressive antiviolence organizers. Evaluation of mainstream shelter rules and practices suggests that the ideal shelter client is a stereotypically submissive, “feminine” woman who unquestioningly obeys extensive and intrusive rules about personal behavior, remains emotionally open to authorities, and efficiently performs her household chores. Women who fail to meet this ideal may be perceived as inappropriate clients at risk of being lost to the “culture of poverty,” which supposedly encourages them to be dependent, lazy, dirty, devious, and unlikely to function adequately in the job market. Analysis of shelter practices reveals an embedded "culture of poverty" ideology which pathologizes survivors of abuse seeking emergency housing. Shelter workers endeavor to reform individual women, while the structures that perpetuate poverty and abuse are left intact. Rather than empowering women, battered women's shelters may serve the latent function of disciplining women to comply with norms of middle class, heterosexual femininity. Some communities are now developing innovative antiviolence strategies that exist outside of the mainstream shelters and do not rely on culture of poverty ideologies. In addition, some shelter administrators have begun to rethink their structures and provide greater autonomy to residents. This paper traces the problems with traditional disciplinary shelter models and describes some evolving efforts to address violence in a liberatory fashion.
|Keywords:||Domestic Violence, Battered Women, Abuse, Battered Women’s Shelters, Culture of Poverty, Antiviolence Organizing|
Assistant Professor, Sociology, Criminology, Dominican University, Chicago, Illinois, USA
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