Sex Roles, Vol. 53, Nos. 7/8, October 2005 (
Gender Symmetry and Asymmetry in Violent Relationships:
Patterns of Mutuality Among Racially Diverse Women
Jeff R. Temple,
and Linda L. Marshall
Three patterns of mutual intimate partner violence (IPV) are proposed, based on frequency
and severity: Male primary perpetrator (MPP), female primary perpetrator (FPP), and sym-
metrical (SYM). Patterns and effects of ethnicity were examined with 445 African Ameri-
can, Euro-American, and Mexican American low-income women experiencing mutual IPV.
More relationships were classiﬁed as MPP (54%) than SYM (35%) or FPP (11%). Compar-
ing women’s and men’s perpetration of several types of IPV (e.g., threats, severe physical)
indicated MPP-pattern women experienced all IPV types more often and were more likely to
sustain injury than their male partners. Fewer gender differences were found in the FPP pat-
tern. Racial/ethnic groups were more similar than different; previously reported differences
may be explained by variation in socioeconomic status.
KEY WORDS: low-income; physical violence; injury; male and female perpetration; gender differences.
Early research by Straus, Gelles, and Steinmetz
(1980) suggested that males and females perpetrated
intimate partner violence (IPV) at similar rates, yet
the literature typically ignored female perpetration
and considered only male perpetration (Dobash &
Dobash, 1979; Martin, 1981; Pagelow, 1984; Walker,
1984). This approach implied IPV was unilateral
with regard to gender; males inﬂicted violence
and females sustained violence. However, another
body of research implying bilateral violence has
The larger part of the study was funded by grant R49/CCR610508
from the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control of
the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, awarded to the
third author. This article was also made possible by grant 2001-
WT-BX-0504 from the National Institute of Justice awarded to
the ﬁrst and third authors. These agencies are not responsible for
the results. Portions of this paper were presented by the ﬁrst and
third authors at the International Family Violence Conference in
Portsmouth, NH, July, 2003.
Department of Psychology, Southern Illinois University, Carbon-
dale, Illinois 62901.
Department of Psychology, University of North Texas, Denton,
To whom correspondence should be addressed at Department
of Psychology, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, Illinois
62901; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
developed. These studies, conducted primarily with
college and high school students, measured both
perpetration and victimization among males and fe-
males (Arias, Samios, & O’Leary, 1987; Makepeace,
1986; Thompson, 1991; White & Koss, 1991). An
accumulation of results from a broad range of
samples (e.g., Cantos, Neidig, & O’Leary, 1994;
Capaldi & Crosby, 1997; Umberson, Anderson,
Glick, & Shapiro, 1998) suggests IPV is usually
bilateral. Despite this evidence, many questions
about males’ and females’ use of violence remain.
Foremost among unresolved questions is the issue
of whether mutual violence perpetrated by both the
man and the woman within a relationship should be
labeled symmetrical, implying that violent acts by
one partner are balanced by violent acts by the other.
When gender differences in perpetration have been
considered, comparisons were not necessarily made
between males and females in the same relationship
(e.g., Archer, 2000). Although these comparisons
suggest similar rates of perpetration by both genders,
they do not allow for the identiﬁcation of patterns
that may exist within relationships. That is, similar
rates of perpetration by males and females in general
do not necessarily imply similar rates of violence in
2005 Springer Science+Business Media, Inc.