Sex Roles, Vol. 52, Nos. 11/12, June 2005 (
Philosophical and Political Issues in Research
on Women’s Violence and Aggression
Lisa D. Brush
This essay organizes the philosophical and political issues raised by researching women’s ag-
gression and violence by posing three questions. What does a research focus on women’s
violence and aggression offer feminist scholars and activists? What are the potential hazards
of such a focus? What are promising directions for research? To focus on women as aggres-
sors and perpetrators as well as victims sheds light on compelling and difﬁcult questions of
gender and violence, especially violence and aggression between intimate partners. It also
presents some political pitfalls for the most vigilant researchers, including oversimpliﬁcation
and misinterpretation of complex empirical ﬁndings. The author concludes with a call for
researchers to follow the lead of the ideas and evidence collected in this special issue.
KEY WORDS: gender; intimate partner violence; feminism.
The feminist struggle to politicize men’s
violence—to view it as rooted primarily in social
rather than natural or individual causes, to prob-
lematize the link between violence and masculinity,
to remove the veil of privacy that has shielded
men’s violence speciﬁcally toward their wives and
girlfriends, to promote safety and justice—has been
long and difﬁcult. As a result, feminists have been
understandably reluctant to acknowledge those
instances when women resort to aggression and
violence against their intimate partners (except to
defend or demand amnesty for women who kill men
who have violently abused them). Yet, as the contri-
butions to this special issue make clear, feminism’s
quest to understand women’s subordination as col-
lective, social, and remediable requires investigating
seriously social phenomena it might seem preferable
to ignore or explain away.
The ideas and evidence collected in this spe-
cial issue raise three key questions about the
philosophical, theoretical, methodological, and po-
litical issues in research on women’s violence and
aggression. First, what does a research focus on
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women’s violence and aggression offer feminists?
Second, what are the potential problems or costs of a
research focus on women’s aggression and violence?
Finally, what are some promising directions for fu-
ture research on the compelling and difﬁcult ques-
tions of gender and violence, especially violence and
aggression between intimate partners, suggested by
a substantive focus on women as aggressors and per-
petrators as well as victims? I use these questions to
contextualize the contributions to this special issue
and the ways they pose or solve important problems
of research and policy.
WHAT DOES A FOCUS ON WOMEN’S
VIOLENCE AND AGGRESSION
By focusing on women’s aggression and
violence, researchers can develop explanations
and interpretations of empirical ﬁndings, address
important dimensions of difference and dominance
among women, improve both measurement and
theory, and grapple directly and constructively with
issues of women’s agency and subordination.
The political debate over the empirical ﬁnd-
ing of “gender symmetry” in couple violence and
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