Unpacking Silencing: An Exploration into Young Women’s Relationships with (Abusive) Men

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Samardzic, Tanja
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University of Guelph

My dissertation is based on decades of foundational works that have emphasized the entrenchment of securing intimate relationships with achieving one’s sense of self(-worth). Young women are said to engage in strategies that are seen as feminine and “good” to maintain relationships, and one such strategy is silencing. That involves putting aside one’s wants and needs to not “rock the boat” or threaten the relationship. But little is presently known about young women’s silencing in relationships with abusive men. Guided by Dana Crowley Jack's (1991) Silencing the Self theory, I aimed to answer the following question across three studies: how are young women silenced and/or how do they silence themselves, particularly in the context of intimate relationships with (abusive) men? In study 1, focus group participants mobilized a discourse of intimate relationship necessity/importance. Women were positioned as the silenc(ed/ing) woman and/or took up the communicative woman. Tensions between silence and communication arose (e.g., being "cool") and their talk reflected no-win relational situations. In study 2A, partnered women were categorized as having or not having experienced abuse. Women who had experienced abuse reported more self-silencing and other partner-focused behaviours (e.g., sexual compliance). In their open-ended responses, women, regardless of abuse experience, emphasized self-suppression as an important part of their relational conflict experience. Nevertheless, most suggested being able to be their true self in their relationship, suggesting the situational and strategic nature of silencing. In study 2B, I interviewed a subset of participants who had experienced some intimate partner violence. Participants spoke about the entanglement of silence and fear/anxiety and/or the necessity of speaking up. While also highlighting the continued importance of silencing, participants experienced an enhanced version of the silencing/communication tension from study 1. Indeed, they spoke up despite having experienced abuse and possibly experiencing further abuse by doing so. While there are important diversions from and contemporary takes on Jack’s theory, it remains an important framework for understanding young women’s navigation of intimate relationships given the uptake of the idea of needing to silence. This is especially the case amid modernized conceptualizations of modern women as “having it all.”

self-silencing, intimate partner violence, young women, heterosexual relationships, discourse analysis, reflexive thematic analysis
Samardzic, T., Barata, P. C., Morton, M., & Yen, J. (2023). �??It Doesn't Feel Like You Can Win�?�: Young Women's Talk About Heterosexual Relationships. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 47(1), 127-143. https://doi.org/10.1177/03616843221135571
Samardzic, T., Wildman, C., Barata, P. C., & Morton, M. (2023). Considerations for conducting online focus groups on sensitive topics. International Journal of Social Research Methodology. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1080/13645579.2023.2185985