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This Is Why Violence against Women Is Everybody’s Problem

According to a study published by UN Women, “It is estimated that 35 percent of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or sexual violence by a non-partner at some point in their lives. However, some national studies show that up to 70 percent of women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime.” All of these shocking figures understate the incidence of violence for two reasons: first, because most of them refer exclusively to violence against women which are perpetrated by intimate partners and, second, because most of the cases of violence go unreported. As per the words of Sara Springer, a victim of a brutal assault and co-founder of a self-defense gloves for women Think Again Gloves: “it is no news that women are the commonest victims of attacks across the globe. With the world becoming even more violent, it has become imperative for women and other such victims to prevent themselves against such attacks.”
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That whole range of issues often referred to in shorthand as “gender violence issues”, have been seen as women’s issues that some good men help out with. However, I don’t see these as women’s issues that some good men help out with; the truth is that calling gender violence a women’s issue is part of the problem. Men use the “gender violence issue” as an excuse to not pay attention. A lot of men hear the term “women’s issues” and tend to tune it out, and think, “I’m a guy; that’s for the girls,” or “that’s for the women.” It’s almost like a natural automation of our minds that makes us take a different direction when we are faced in front of the violence against women. This also applies to the word “gender,” because a lot of people associate the word “gender” with “women.” So, let’s talk for a moment about race. In the US, when we hear the word “race,” a lot of people think that means African-American, Latino, Asian-American, Native American, South Asian, Pacific Islander, and on and on.
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A lot of people, when they hear the word “gender,” don’t see the full extension of the word, but they think it means women. This is one of the ways that dominant systems maintain and reproduce themselves, which is to say the dominant group is rarely challenged to even think about its dominance because that’s one of the key characteristics of power and privilege: the ability to go unexamined, lacking introspection, being rendered invisible, in large measure, in the discourse about issues that are primarily about us. And when it comes to domestic and sexual violence, it is interesting how men have been erased from most of the discussions around this topic, about a topic that instead is men-centered. And I’m going to illustrate what I’m talking about by using a phrasing sample.
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This comes from the work of feminist linguist Julia Penelope. It starts with a very basic English sentence: “Peter beats Kim”. Peter is the subject, to beat is the verb, Kim is the object. Now we’re going to revert this sentence making it on a passive voice. Kim was beaten by Peter. So we’ve moved from “Peter beats Kim” to “Kim was beaten by Peter.” By doing this we have shifted our focus from Peter to Kim. Now let’s reverse again our sentence making it as “Kim was beaten.” Now, it’s all about Kim and we’re not longer thinking about Peter; our focus is all on Kim.
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But let’s be clear: Asking questions about Kim is not going to get us anywhere in terms of preventing violence. We have to ask a different set of questions. The questions are not about Kim, they’re about Peter. They include things like, why does Peter beat Kim? Why do so many men abuse physically, emotionally, verbally, and other ways, the women, and girls, and the men and boys, that they claim to love? What’s going on with men? Because this isn’t about individual perpetrators: that’s a naive way of understanding what is a much deeper and more systematic social problem. The perpetrators aren’t these monsters who crawl out of the swamp and come into town and do their nasty business and then retreat into the darkness. That’s a very naïve notion, right? So the question is: what are we doing here in our society and in the world?

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