Jan. 7, 1998 Writer: Cathy Keen
Source: Janis Weber, (352) 473-6829
GAINESVILLE, Fla. --- Lesbian couples face the same problems of domestic violence and unequal division of household chores that married heterosexual women do in their relationships, a new University of Florida study finds.
About 14 percent of 168 lesbians surveyed who were in committed relationships admitted they battered or were battered by their partners at least once a month, said Janis Weber, who did the research for her doctoral dissertation in sociology at UF. A similar number of women in heterosexual relationships suffer from domestic abuse, she said.
"The only difference between these women and their heterosexual counterparts is they feel completely ostracized from normal channels of help," Weber said. "If they call the police, the officer would likely laugh and say ‘Oh right, your girlfriend beat you up.' And they're persona non grata at shelters because these are usually battered spouse shelters."
The study of 84 lesbian couples found that lesbians who beat their partners fit the profile of heterosexuals who did so because they also abused their authority and tried to control their partners. The victims resembled their heterosexual counterparts in making excuses for the abuse or the abusive partner.
"That is completely consistent with ‘battered women syndrome,'" Weber said.
The study broke new ground in finding that lesbians have the same complaints as married women about the distribution of household chores, Weber said. Other researchers contend that lesbian couples share equally because, as women, they realize that household labor always has been associated with low status, she said.
Only 17 percent of the couples in the UF study reported sharing equally in these tasks, which included preparing meals, washing dishes and taking out the garbage.
"Weber's research is important because it shows that lesbian couples resemble all families," said Leonard Beeghley, a UF sociology professor who supervised her research. "They have many of the same problems and resolve them in similar ways."
Generally, the woman who made less money in the relationship did the most work, Weber found.
"Money seems to be the great equalizer rather than gender -- whether a partner was ‘butch' or ‘fem' in showing more masculine or feminine traits," she said. "Whoever made more money seemed to have more power, which is pretty typical of heterosexual unions."
More than 80 percent of the women said they believed each partner did her fair share of housework, even though one of them really did much more, she said.
"Heterosexual women are always griping that their husbands don't do enough," she said. "Yet these women somehow negotiated and compromised, at least in their own minds, to make this unequal division perfectly OK."
Weber, who did the surveys at lesbian bars, gay pride picnics and a lesbian resort on the U.S. East Coast, was surprised at how eager women were to tell about their lives.
"Our culture has tended to look at lesbian women as stereotypical caricatures of wanna-be men and ultra-feminine women who try to mirror or recreate heterosexual pairings," Weber said. "That's not the case at all. The only difference between their relationships and women in straight relationships is the gender object of their desire."
At least one woman says Weber's research strikes a chord with her.
"I don't have any experience with domestic abuse, but I do think the research on unequal division of household chores is accurate," said Anita Kinsey, a Gainesville lesbian living with her partner of eight years. "When I learned of that I said ‘Aha, it's not just me who has that problem.' And it did spark some discussion between myself and my partner."
Perhaps because lesbians feel such discrimination -- half of those whose families knew they were gay had disowned them -- they tended to move quickly from dating to a committed relationship, Weber found. Fifty-one percent of her sample met and moved in together within six months, she said.
"Years ago I saw a lesbian comedian on television who told the joke, ‘What does a lesbian bring on her second date? A U-Haul truck.' I didn't get it, but it's something lesbians in their subculture would understand perfectly," she said.
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