The differences between the different phrases “wife beating,” “domestic violence,” “male violence against women,” and “intimate partner violence” are subtle but significant. “Wife beating” is explicit in both target and act. A wife is the victim of physical violence. Semantically, the word operates different than “violence” as well. The word “beating” is characteristic of the victim being in a very submissive role. To beat someone or something often implies the act was reactionary, as punishment or purposeful harm, and often involves sustained or repeated violence.
“Beating” can also be used as a noun. You can give someone a beating. It has characteristics and requirements. One or two punches, however violent, might not be considered a beating. Multiple blows delivered over a period of time becomes a beating, meaning there is a degree of dominance over the victim. A period of time where they physically harm someone without retribution. Because of this, “beating” comes with a lot of emotional weight. It is very often used in reference to husbands, there is even an entire male piece of clothing, a white tanktop that is cheap to buy and cheap to produce, dedicated to the stereotype of a low income male beating his wife.
“Domestic violence” on the other hand, is noncommittal in terms of both act and victim. There is no indication of gender (of the perpetrator or target) and “violence” is less specific than “beating,” though it certainly still implies physical, rather than emotional, violence. The connotation of violence is also less severe than beating.
Violence doesn’t necessarily even have to mean physical harm. The intention, even if never successful, of causing another person harm can be grounds for “domestic violence”. Throwing things, aggressive shouting, or threats can all be considered violent acts without actual physical harm begin done. “Domestic” does imply that those involved know each other, even live together, but it doesn’t necessitate violence between spouses. This generality makes it more useful as a legal term, but also makes it less emotionally charged. It is the term used when having a formal conversation about any of the phrases outlined above.
“Male violence against women” is quite explicit in terms of perpetrator, victim, and act. Again, “violence” tends to be more focused on physical violence rather than emotional violence. In addition, this term is less specific on the relationship between the man necessarily have to be married or even in a relationship at all. This is the opposite of “intimate partner violence” which specifically references a close relationship between the perpetrator and the victim. “Male violence against women” also clearly delineates that the violent acts are enacted by one and received by another only. “Intimate partner violence” doesn’t immediately deny the possibility of both parties being violent towards one another. Following this, “male violence against women” is more emotionally charged because it implies purposeful harm. “Against” is a powerful word. The OED defines “against” as “expressing motion towards”. It is willful and forceful, almost pre-mediated.
The more specific a phrase is, the more emotionally powerful it is. There is less ambiguity and therefore one spends less time wondering who did what. That emotional power can be used to enact change. By using terms such as “violence against women” instead of “domestic violence” we hone in on exactly the problems we mean to face. “Domestic violence” might seem more politically correct, perhaps simply due to its position as the legal term, but it removes responsibility from the perpetrator by not mentioning one at all. A community that unifies how it speaks about a problem can more easily tackle that problem.