FAU Communications Public Spheres Discussion

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How have counterpublics challenged and expanded the discursive norms and practices of the public sphere?What does Tierney mean when she writes about the “creation” of a social problem? How do counterpublics contribute to the “creation” of social problems?How has the rise of electronic communication and social media affected the development and operation of publics and counterpublics in the contemporary American public sphere?Ryan argues that women entered public life as private citizens when they were denied access to the public sphere. What does she mean? What does she see as the disadvantages of this private encroachment on the public?

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The Battered Women Movement and the Creation of the Wife Beating Problem
Author(s): Kathleen J. Tierney
Source: Social Problems, Vol. 29, No. 3 (Feb., 1982), pp. 207-220
Published by: Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for the Study of Social
Problems
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SOCIAL PROBLEMS, Vol. 29, No. 3, February 1982
THE BATTERED WOMEN MOVEMENT AND THE CREATION OF
THE WIFE BEATING PROBLEM*
KATHLEEN J. TIERNEY
University of California, Los Angeles
Wife beating has become the object of media attention and government policy,
not because of an increase in its frequency, or because the public has become mor
concerned, but because a social movement developed in the 1970s to help battered
women. The growth of the battered women movement illustrates both successful
resource mobilization and the creation of a social problem. Pre-existing organiza
tional ties, structural and ideological flexibility, and, in particular, the benefits spon-
sors gain by supporting movement activities account for the movement’s rapid
growth and impact. At the same time, increasing co-optation is affecting both how
wife beating is defined and managed, and the course of the movement itself.
Wife beating has received increasing attention in recent years, not because it has b
widespread, or because the public has become more concerned, but because social
organizations (SMOs) have effectively mobilized resources to aid battered women.
discusses the background of the social movement to combat wife beating and exam
responsible for its growth and impact. The emergence and development of the m
lustrates how professional social movements mobilize resources from outside sou
government agencies (McCarthy and Zald, 1973) and, in effect, “produce” a social
HISTORY OF THE MOVEMENT AGAINST WIFE BEATING
Chiswick Women’s Aid, the first widely publicized shelter for battered women, was
in London, England, in 1971. One of its founders, Erin Pizzey, furthered awareness of
lem through speaking tours and a book entitled Scream Quietly or the Neighbor
(1974). By 1980 there were approximately 150 shelters in England sponsored by th
Women’s Aid Federation, serving mainly poor and working-class women and their
(Johnson, 1981). Due to agitation by Pizzey, other activists, and sympathetic polit
British parliamentary committees investigated wife beating, and a law giving broader
to battered women was passed in 1976.
In the United States, the organized response to the problem of wife beating has focu
provision of shelter and crisis services. Several early programs became prototypes f
forts. Rainbow Retreat, opened in Phoenix, Arizona, in 1973, is believed to be the
shelter for battered women. Haven House in Pasadena, California, began sheltering
women in 1974. Originally restricted to helping women beaten by alcoholic husbands,
pioneer shelters have since opened their doors to battered women in general. Two o
shelters, La Casa de las Madres in San Francisco and Transition House in Cambridge,
Massachusetts, were models of feminist, grass-roots shelters.
Other movement groups have become influential beyond their local communities. In 1972,
Women’s Advocates, Inc. established a hotline in St. Paul, Minnesota, to provide telephone crisis
counselling to battered women; group members later informally sheltered victims in their own
homes. In 1975, Maria Roy, a social worker, began a Hotline in New York City called Abused
Women’s Aid in Crisis (AWAIC). This group opened a shelter in Manhattan in 1976. Roy herself
* This paper was prepared with the help of a post-doctoral traineeship from the National Institute of Mental
Health (USPHS Grant MH 14583). The author thanks John M. Johnson, Tahi Mottl, Mildred Daley
Pagelow, and E. L. Quarantelli for their comments. Correspondence to: Dept. of Sociology, UCLA Los
Angeles, CA, 90024.
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208
TIERNEY
helped
launch other New Yor
book on the subject (1977). T
Michigan, chapter of the Nat
has produced manuals for gr
battered women (Fojtik, 197
Feminist organizations began
formed a National Task Force
ference in October, 1975, to
ordinator
the
of
this
National
local,
state,
and
momentum.
other
local
country
through
but
by
New
the
all
of
Year
levels
York
City
and
next
were
their
Estimates
force,
federal
chapters,
in
members
task
Women’s
many
few
almost
year
exclus
professions.
the
number
accounts,
of
g
assistanc
(1976) listed 20 sources of as
District of Columbia; the U.
hotlines, and groups acting a
housing and public assistance
than 170 shelters opened in t
The
cal
movement
against
orientations
many
for
and
characterize
anti-wife
wife
b
complex
themselve
beating
groups
as the YWCA; federal agenc
(LEAA) and the Department
(CETA)
programs;
campaigns
and
of
such
related
the
make
sheltering
Whereas
crisis
for
recognition
of
Since
and
use
volun
demand
for
and
serv
crisis
cen
independently
of
wife
services
1975,
are
the
ne
wome
women
rape
ci
United
costly
battered
now
the
battered
hotlines,
sients,
state
services
continuous
Programs
sion
as
ope
beating
two
as
major
movement
h
shelter: legislation, governme
1) Legislation: Students of th
husbands,
brutal
and
proved
while
possible
flagrant
ineffective
1. See Field and
those involving
in
cases.
as
th
Civi
sanctio
Field (1973) for
spouses. See Eise
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The Battered Women Movement 209
to broaden protection for battered women by increasing the crimin
strengthening civil protections, and making it easier for women to
assailants. By 1979, more than a dozen states had passed such laws; b
District of Columbia had made special legal provisions for cases of w
Straus, 1981). Although law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, and the
tant to intervene in wife beating cases, these laws make it more diffic
clarify the legal rights of victims, and raise the costs of wife beating for
Ohio, Florida, Montana, California, and Pennsylvania have also impo
marriage licenses to raise funds for shelters.
Efforts to pass federal laws have not been as successful. Two domesti
sored in Congress in 1977; neither became law. In 1978, the Domesti
was defeated. In 1980, the Domestic Violence Prevention and Services
its supporters realized they did not have the votes to overcome a Sen
2) Government policy and programs: U.S. government agencies hav
programs for battered women or extended existing programs to better
LEAA put several million dollars into combatting family violence in
Early LEAA assistance was channelled through Victim Witness Ass
dispute-settlement programs such as the Neighborhood Justice Prog
1977; Viano, 1979). In 1979, however, LEAA tripled its allocation to $1 m
ly for domestic violence programs, and agency officials publicly decrie
wife beating (New York Times, 1977). The Special Programs Division
violence projects in 1978 and 17 in 1979; the majority were for batte
Other government agencies began supporting battered women groups
In May, 1978, the Department of Labor instructed regional administrat
ments to fund programs for battered women under Titles I, II, and
Employment Training Act (U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, 1978)
helped staff many shelters. Starting in 1977, ACTION, the federal volun
staff support through the VISTA program and made funds available th
gram. ACTION also funded technical assistance centers in each of the
and Human Services (then Health, Education, and Welfare) districts;
mation on how to assist battered women. Federal “Title XX” funds (P
states for social services, are frequently used for “protective servic
neglect of children and adults. Shelters and services for battered wome
(U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, 1978; Johnson, 1981), largely becau
groups pressured social service administrators to view battered wives as
tective services. Other federal agencies and programs funding servic
clude the Community Services Administration and the Office on Dom
the Department of Health and Human Services in 1979.
3) Research and Information: Sources of information on the causes of
combat it have proliferated. The National Institute of Mental Health be
family violence in the early 1970s.2 The Office on Domestic Violence al
and publishes a monograph series on how to set up programs and lobby
tional Clearinghouse on Domestic Violence, 1980). The U.S. Commissi
held a national conference on policy issues regarding wife beating in J
Coalition Against Domestic Violence was one product of the conferen
2. Much of the sociological research on family violence conducted during the 1
Family Violence Research Program in the department of sociology at the Univer
funding from the National Institute of Mental Health (Family Violence Rese
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210
TIERNEY
Policy
Studies in Washington,
violence programs and policy
Washington-based
against
tional
women;
activities
munities
Feminist
called
and
Aegis,
th
informati
throughout
the
Unite
FACTORS AFFECTING THE GROWTH AND IMPACT OF THE MOVEMENT
In less than ten years, wife beating has been transformed from a subject of priva
misery to an object of public concern. The movement that has been instrumental in
formation provides an example of how social movements can construct social proble
cessfully mobilize resources.
How long-standing injustices are brought to the attention of the public and its lead
the efforts of interest groups, pressure groups, and social movements, has become an
important area of sociological research. Recent literature3 suggests that the public de
social problem and the official solutions proposed are products of interaction and
among established and emergent groups, organizations, and interests – all of whom
the problem and solutions differently. In contrast, both common sense and olde
views see an increase in social concern with an issue as the result of an increase in th
rising demands for solutions.
A complementary body of work stresses organizational characteristics and resourc
tion as important factors in the careers of social movements. Unlike classical treatm
movements that emphasize social disorganization, social change, and the develo
grievances, this perspective focuses on social solidarity and pre-existing structural a
as conditions for the development of movements (Oberschall, 1973, 1978; Tilly et
resource mobilization approach views the proliferation of social movements in the U
as one outgrowth of an affluent way of life, in which an increase in discretionar
discretionary time can be used to support movements. The trend toward professio
tion and outside support for movements is another important theme in this literatu
sional movements are characterized by: (1) full-time leaders and the chance for care
ment work; (2) separation between supporters (those providing funds and reso
beneficiaries; and (3) patterns of support from established sectors in society, such as
government, and the media (McCarthy and Zald, 1973). McCarthy and Zald (197
that: “The professional social movement is the common form of recent movements a
sharp departure from the classical model.” The resource mobilization perspective
groups working on issues congruent with the priorities of established institutions are
tain support from outside sources.
Neither classical grievance theories of social movements nor what Chauncey (1980)
jectivist” views of social problems explain why wife beating emerged as a social pr
1970s, or why activists have gained so much support. Contrary to the assumption tha
cern precedes the development of a movement (Blumer, 1951; Morrison, 1971), t
women movement did not ride a wave of public sentiment demanding solutions to t
3. This extensive literature concerns both social problems in general and the production of
issues. Blumer (1971) conceptualized social problems as the product of collective behavior. H
was followed by those of Spector and Kitsuse (1973) and others in what has been termed the ”
view of social problems (Chauncey, 1980). Mauss (1975) discusses the social construction of
social problems, including alcoholism and mental illness, stressing the role of social movemen
sional interest groups in mobilizing public and governmental concern. See also Platt (1969
children, Pfohl (1977) on child abuse, Duster (1970) on drug abuse, and Rose (1977) on rap
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The Battered Women Movement 211
The public has shown indifference-even tolerance-toward this form
mid-1970’s, major social institutions, community organizations, and th
problem. The movement could not use data from research on the inc
quences of wife beating to support its claims, because such informat
the movement began. Sociologists acknowledge their own lack of at
family; until recently, overt physical conflict among family members
viant (O’Brien, 1971; Steinmetz and Straus, 1974). The occasional so
husband-wife violence gave the impression that it is confined to the w
1964). Sociologists have recently begun to contend that wife beating is
culture (Gelles, 1974; Straus, 1974, 1977) but also common at all levels
and Steinmetz, 1980).4
As an alternative to a grievance-based approach, the development
studied by looking at the structure and strategies of groups working a
how resources were mobilized. The movement’s growth and the “produ
problem can be attributed to three factors: the pre-existing organiza
ment, the movement’s flexibility, and the incentives for sponsors to p
1) The Pre-existing Organizational Base: The battered women mo
structural foundations of pre-existing organizations of feminists and g
mental health, and legal professions. Groups in both the “older” and
the feminist movement (Freeman, 1975) became involved in the battere
former through NOW and other reform organizations, and the latter
hierarchical battered women refuges that stressed peer support, sel
patriarchy. Pre-existing social networks aided the movement in several
common frames of reference and rationales for participation in th
they provided co-optable networks (Freeman, 1975)- ongoing chains
sons likely to adopt and promote the idea of a movement to aid battered
works facilitate the growth of a movement because time, effort, and m
be invested building consensus and establishing links among potentially
the networks provided experienced people to act as movement leader
tivists, many women involved in organizing the battered women m
previous experience working on other women’s issues. Many were pro
working in organizations and developing social programs. As in ot
movements (McCarthy and Zald, 1973), women from the social work
often worked for the movement as part of their own professional activ
the national level and in local communities, where professionals played
resources for the movement (Tierney, 1979).6
4. This shift in emphasis illustrates the complexity of the process of social prob
mobilization. At one level, emphasizing the “classlessness” of wife beating refle
awareness of how heterogeneous the problem really is. At another level, inc
violence in middle-class marriages is partly a consequence of movement work:
middle-class women to speak out about violence in their marriages. At still ano
class is not a major factor in wife beating is also part of an effort to create
woman as typical of women in U.S. society and as deserving of support.
5. At least three ideological orientations can be identified: feminism; civil righ
human service/community mental health ideology. These orientations are refle
strategies advocated by anti-wife beating groups.
6. Kalmuss and Straus (1981) found that the existence of local feminist groups
tor of programs for battered women throughout the United States than s
measured, including per capita income, political liberalism, the level of individ
the existence of domestic violence legislation at the state level. They maintain t
portant, not only because they conduct local programs, but also because the
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212
2)
TIERNEY
Movement
Flexibility:
goals.
The
tary,
polycephalous,
scope,
that
and
of
to
local
operate
to
sponsorship.
for
fact
adapt
1979).
has
the
an
to
the
In
part
pursued
courts
tionship;
a
ret
on
the
There
is
loc
no
movement.
c
Wh
because
conditions
and
because
its
number
more
and
the
and
organizatio
advantage,
local
The
has
organizations
mainly
established
tactics
in
movement
of
of
diff
responsive
perhaps
most
to
w
women and their children.
The sheer number of battered women needing help, and the nature of their problems, are other
reasons the movement has remained flexible. Because so many battered women sought help when
the movement first emerged, the scope of the problem became apparent, enabling the movement
to approach many different organizations for support. Furthermore, the broad range of problems encountered by victims – including legal, financial, and health concerns – has provided a rationale for almost any potential provider of resources to “invest” in the problem. The ability to
contact a variety of potential sponsors is crucial to the success of a movement, because the
number and strength of its ties with outside organizations enhances its potential to mobilize
resources and thus its power (Aveni, 1978).
3) Incentives for Sponsors: The battered women movement cannot rely on help from the vic-
tims it aids. Beaten women, whether at home or on the run, need much and can give little. An
essential task in soliciting resources has been stimulating interest in the problem and providing
mutually beneficial exchanges between battered women’s groups and their sponsors. The mass
media have played a crucial role in promoting this co-operation.
THE ROLE OF THE MEDIA
The media paid little attention to the wife beating problem until the latter half o
The New York Times is a case in point. I searched the New York Times Index for
wife beating between 1970 and 1978. I checked the following subject headings for re
the problem: assaults, battered wives, divorce, domestic relations, families and fami
riages, violence, and women. There was not a single reference to wife beating as a so
munity issue from 1970 to 1972. The only references to violence against wives occur
pressuring policy makers and documenting the need for services for battered women. Kalmus
(1981:10) conclude, as I argue here, that “given the number and diversity of pressing social pr
response to a particular issue depends on the existence of an interest group or coalition of gr
pressure for the solution of that problem.” However, I believe they over-emphasize the
feminist organizations in the movement and misjudge the importance of the battered women p
feminist movement. Wife beating was only one of a number of concerns for both the ”
“younger” branches of the movement. In the older branch, NOW and other moderate orga
pressing for changes in several areas that were important to their constituencies, including sala
women and passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. Small grass-roots groups in the younger
a role in the movement, but they also had other concerns besides wife beating, and their chr
problems limited their visibility and influence. Surveys taken in the late 1970s show that less t
the battered women shelters in the United States were founded by feminist groups or are explicitl
orientation (Johnson, 1981).
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The Battered Women Movement 213
reports of assaults and murders in which the victim was incid
living with her assailant. In 1973, a Federal Bureau of Inve
fatalities to domestic disturbance calls was reported. In 1974,
noted that New York City police and courts discourage batter
In 1975, five relevant articles appeared: three dealt with the la
in wife beating cases, one reported on a conference on battered
NOW march protesting violence against women.
More intense coverage of the problem by The New York Ti
appeared that year, and for the first time the newspaper bega
to combatting wife beating, including shelters. Late in 1976, t
erage of a class-action suit filed by the Litigation Coalition
York City’s police department and family court, charging them
for abuse victims (Bruno v. Codd, 1977). In 1977, 44 referenc
appeared in The New York Times. The articles discussed such
vices to victims; new and proposed legislation; newly opened
ferences; and the trials of battered women who killed their
peared in 1978. For the first time, “Battered Wives” began a
index, evidence that The New York Times had come to view pr
beating as elements in a common theme.7
Similar trends can be seen in popular magazine coverage of w
“domestic violence” meant riots and terrorism, so far as U.S
concerned. Davidson (1978), a journalist who writes on wif
popular magazines in stories about battered women before m
problem. Sketchy coverage began in 1973, when Newsweek ra
Aid and Society devoted some space to the problem. Ms. ran a
June, 1974, the same month Ladies Home Journal ran a story
had appeared in numerous publications, including Scien
America, Vogue, Mademoiselle, and the major U.S. news m
CBS television aired a series on wife beating on its morning
ran a segment on the problem in the spring of 1976. Perhaps d
legal cases involving wives who killed their husband-assailant
subject appeared in 1977 and 1978. Network news stories and
coverage in many cities, as local news team supplemented the n
information on local efforts to stop wife beating.
According to Downs (1972), the public’s belief that a domestic
not the result of a change in “real” conditions in society, but re
in the problem. Wife beating possesses all the attributes Do
“issue attention cycle”: (1) It is not a problem that directly affe
same social arrangements that oppress its victims also benefit
those social arrangements and aspects of culture based on the c
(3) The public might ignore the problem in the absence of dram
terest was crucial to the growth of the battered women mo
through the issue attention cycle typically obtain more resour
Wife beating was a good subject for the media. It was a ”
although certainly not for its victims. It was controversial.
social relevance. It provided a focal point for serious media disc
7. This pattern is similar to the one documented by Fishman (1978) in
“crime waves.”
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214
TIERNEY
inequality,
value,
Media
respond
media
Then,
Finally,
began
family
and
attention
visibility.
port.
and
action,
to
to
was,
in
groups
wife
the
life
in
urgency
turn
used
beating
conditions
perceive
attention,
new
t
on
m
cam
th
needs
created
a
clim
tered women could do so-and obtain benefits in return.8
INCENTIVES TO SPONSORS
Incentives to support the new movement were subtle and diverse. Some sp
believed that they could change or increase their own clientele by supportin
groups (Levine and White, 1961). Battered women and their children-the ”
movement – were evidently attractive to those sponsors interested in supporting
posed to “radical”) feminist programs and to organizations that typically wo
stigmatized clients. A representative of a mental health organization explained t
sion to fund a shelter for battered women, rather than other programs, in term
ship’s benefit to the funding agency:
The shelter gives us publicity. …. It is the kind of program that captures the imaginatio
ty, based on honest-to-God, real need. It’s a little harder when the client you’re dealing w
state hospital for twenty years, is bizarre in appearance and dress, trying to find a place
munity. Because of the kind of visibility and acceptability the shelter gives us, we can i
those clients who are not as acceptable. So there is mutual payoff. …. It helps if mental
seen as people who look all right, who might have the same problem (Personal interv
The positive, progressive image some sponsors could gain through supporting
groups-and by extension, victimized women-was one reason they invested in
The hypothesis that sponsors anticipated gains when they gave resources to th
supported by evidence that some sponsors volunteered support for anti-wife bea
One group applied for a CETA grant, only to be told by a CETA official to incre
did so, got what it asked for, and received even more funding the following year
In another case, the Community Services Administration, a federal agency, as
anti-wife beating groups in Massachusetts to submit a proposal for $100,000. A
ing, the coalition applied for and received the grant in 1978. Objecting to som
policies, the coalition later tried to give back the funds, but the agency made poli
the group rather than take the money back (Andler and Sullivan, 1980).
Some government agencies became involved with sponsorship to encourage or
ticular forms of response to the problem. For example, the Neighborhood J
forerunners of later LEAA programs in the family violence area, were design
number of cases in the criminal justice system and to cut case-processing costs.
tered women programs perform the same function: rather than ending up in cou
beating are “referred” to shelters and other programs (Johnson, 1981; Morg
many groups in the battered women movement, LEAA did not take the posit
forcement agencies or the courts should provide remedies for battering. An LEA
that this is a job for the whole community:
.. the approach recommended is called “comprehensive” because it foresees the need for
8. See Gitlin (1980) for a good discussion of movement-media symbiosis.
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The Battered Women Movement 215
local service agencies and community-based groups. By concentrating
justice system, LEAA does not imply that the part which criminal justic
family violence should be enlarged (Niedermeyer, 1978:178; emphasis
Another LEAA official stated that the criminal justice system can
problem:
Advocates for battered women will have to understand that the criminal justice system has nothing inherent in its structure or function that would lead it to make battered women cases a priority. . … Advocates will have to understand the dynamics of social action and political pressure that lead the criminal
justice system to allocate resources to certain areas not because such allocation is good or wise but
because, somehow, it becomes expeditious or necessary (Schudson, 1978:369-370).
LEAA sponsored movement activities to insure that their work was not disrupted by demands
generated by the movement and to structure the organized response to the problem in ways that
were in line with their own interests.
Direct government involvement in the formulation of the wife beating problem, while significant, was not as great as in cases such as the War on Poverty programs of the mid-1960s (Ferrari,
1975). Although there have been no comprehensive studies of decision-making by government
sponsors, movement activists believe that support from the social welfare sector for the battered
women movement stems from moral entrepreneurship, an interest in capitalizing on feminist
issues, and the more general goal of maintaining the family unit (Klein, 1979; Martin, 1977; Warrior, 1978). Johnson (1981) describes sponsor involvement in the movement as a type of “profes-
sional enterprise” that enables sponsors to move into new domains as “old” social problems
decline.
As Freeman’s (1975) account of the policy impact of the women’s liberation movement suggests, collaboration between movements and established organizations is an exchange relationship. Government agencies benefit from co-operating with SMOs. Movement pressure supports
claims by sympathetic parties within agencies that a particular problem should be addressed.
Movement groups provide valuable information to interest government and legislative personnel
on the nature and scope of a problem that is gaining media attention. Working with SMOs can
both promote sponsor interests and be a source of publicity and legitimacy for sponsors seeking
to show concern for emerging issues.
CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS
Judged by common sense and some sociological criteria, the battered women mo
not been successful.9 It has neither eliminated wife beating, nor brought about a full
tional response to the problem. Large numbers of victims still await help; others
members of the public, are still not aware of the movement’s work.
Nevertheless, the movement has achieved several important goals in a relatively sho
plight of beaten women, once socially invisible, is now the subject of public discus
first time, battered women have been singled out as a special population that needs a
vices. Funds and other material resources have been obtained by anti-wife beat
Government agencies and task forces have been established, new laws have been
community organizations are making explicit efforts to aid battered women.
9. Movements may be considered successful if they survive, increase their membership or mem
ment, affect public policy, affect public attitudes, or result in social changes consistent with th
(Turner and Killian, 1972; Gamson, 1975). I employ a definition of success that is compati
resource mobilization perspective. Like established organizations, SMOs can be assessed from
and Rogers (1976) term a “system resource” perspective (in contrast to “goal attainment”)
movements can be evaluated on how successful they are in mobilizing resources. I believe the ba
movement has accomplished a great deal by simply putting the problem of wife beating on the
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216
TIERNEY
This
sors
paper
as
the
portant
has
key
role
in
emphasized
to
m
successful
this
process
r
in
groups and broadening publi
structural and ideological fle
resources
also
to
is
a
lobby
source
for
of
power
legislative
beating.
As movements grow, they are often co-opted by official organizations; this pattern is
characteristic of both social problem movements (Mauss, 1975) and professional movements that
lack a broad membership base (McCarthy and Zald, 1973). While it is too early to accurately
forecast the consequences of co-optation for the battered women movement, I foresee two
trends:
1) The trend toward conventional, social service-oriented programs that is already evident will
continue, and the emphasis on feminist concerns will decline. Influential sponsors, including
federal law enforcement and social welfare agencies, have directed the movement away from
“radical” programs that challenge society’s patriarchical values and advocate large-scale social
change. The fact that much of the movement’s sup

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