In fact, in this study I met extremely violent and cruel women, as well as women whose passivity was sometimes literally murderous toward their children (Gordon vii).
As Gordon's text continues, she shows how family abuse became more recognized in our society. She also covers the often taboo topics of incest before she moves into the more familiar topic of "wife-beating." Gordon's purpose here was not to show anyone who survived family violence as a hero, but rather to simply focus on what causes family violence, and how it has been viewed in the past. However, many of the personal anecdotes inspire the reader, while others are simply depressing. As Gordon notes, "Much of this book is sad. Most of the individual stories had bad endings. Family violence has not been stopped" (Gordon 289). Gordon's argument throughout the book holds firm, the changes in how society views family violence changed over time, and with the advent of many different social controls. It also shows that the social controls and even increasing social pressure against domestic violence has not been able to bring and end to the practice.
The book is part history, part social history, and part commentary on society. Gordon also brings the social workers themselves into the mix, illustration just how the change in social worker from male to female in the 1920s also changed the way social workers view family violence. This interesting theory makes the book more than simply a commentary on violence, but also illustrates how changes in society changed the way violence is viewed, and so, it is also a commentary on the people who report on violence, and how they affect how society views it in its many forms. As she notes later in the book, "Nevertheless, in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, many women clients did not seem to believe they had a 'right' to freedom from physical violence. When social workers expresses disgust at the way they were treated, the clients sometimes considered that reaction naive" (Gordon 256). In other words, women have long felt they were responsible for their own beatings, and even more enlightened social workers could not change this view. Gordon continually shows examples such as this one to explain the issues involved in family violence, and how they were slowly changed as society matured and evolved.
If there is one glaring flaw in this book, it is its lack of discussion about family violence toward males. The author does not cover this topic at all, and just as domestic violence was swept under the rug in the early 20th century, this form of violence is still being swept under the rug today. Gordon acknowledges she met some very violent women during the course of her research, but she does not discuss this, or even acknowledge it occurs, and it does indeed occur. As one reviewer notes,
The study does not deal with violence towards men and thus reflects both the immigrant's value system and the author's bias. She is pro-feminist and child-rights oriented, and this prejudices her book. There is little mention of fathers or fathers' rights. She admits she acquired her sex-abuse history from her students alone (p. viii) but does not state the limitations and assumptions of her study (Schlutz).
In addition, the author tends to make quite broad and general assertions regarding her research, while not always backing them up with viable information. As reviewer Schultz continues, "The book makes sweeping assertions without historical supports. There is unnecessary social work bashing, stating for example, that agency records on incest (1910-1920) were covered up by social workers that blamed the problem on female unemployment (Schultz). Ultimately, Gordon's book is both enlightening and a letdown. There is much more to be said on family violence, and Gordon's book seems to end too soon, while not covering all the issues involved.
Coontz, Stephanie. The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap. New York: Basic Books, 1992.
Gordon, Linda. Heroes of their Own Lives: The Politics and History of Family Violence. New York: Viking. 1988.
Schultz, LeRoy. "Book Review." IPT Journal. Vol. 1, Fall 1990. 18 April 2003. http://www.ipt-forensics.com/journal/volume1/j1_4_br3.htm
Weitzman, Susan. Not to People like Us:…