Why “Violence Against Women” Is a Harmful Term

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Why do we call it violence against women?

The term ‘violence against women’ is problematic. Let’s talk about it…

Violence against women and girls is a prominent topic. It has been for decades and rightfully so. However, the term itself could be harming the issue even more. You may have heard it referred to as ‘gender-based violence’ or ‘sex and gender-based violence’. We all know that these things include rape, abuse, assault, and murder. Horrific crimes that we are all potentially vulnerable to.

However, we don’t talk about the major issues that women all over the world are facing, such as breast ironing, female genital mutilation, forced marriage, marry-your-rapist laws, forced pregnancies, bride burning, femicide, sex trafficking, child sexual initiations, and fetish slavery. These practices are almost exclusively directed at women. Many of them are employed on a mass scale solely to exploit and abuse women.

When we talk about ‘violence against women’ or ‘violence against women and girls’ or even ‘gender-based violence’, there is one clear thing that is missing….

Accountability.

For someone to experience violence, someone else has to commit it.

We talk and talk about violence against women and girls but we don’t ever discuss who’s at fault. We never go to the source of the issue. We start with the victim. In any conversation, the main subject is always the women and girls that have died, been raped, been assaulted, or are living in abusive relationships. These women have suffered and their struggle symbolizes women’s concerns.

But we never consider the perpetrator. We never discuss the murderer, the rapist, the assaulter, or the abusive partner. The man. The term ‘violence against women’ literally ignores the problem. Society puts all the focus on women. On the victims. It’s always important to pay attention to the victim and acknowledge their struggle but ignoring the actual cause only leaves the victims to solve the entire problem.

Yet, because of women’s social class and restricted access to positions of power, it’s extremely difficult for us to solve on our own. It’s almost impossible since the majority of women are actually unaware of the issue or are highly misinformed. Women are also conditioned to uphold patriarchal values which means some have been blinded by their own misogyny.

We’re allowed to say “violence against women” but when we describe it as “violence from men” there is always outrage. These men are angrier with the fact that we’re holding them accountable than the horror and torture most women go through and the trauma women share. We’re simply going straight to the source and holding men responsible for their role in women’s oppression. They invented it. They do it. They perpetuate it.

Women all over the world have been battling “violence against women and girls” for centuries. Women have been struggling for equal status, respect, ethical cultural practices, safe streets… and yet, we are still suffering.

Part of that is due to the fact that when the issue is raised – the issue of “violence against women” – the issue isn’t actually being raised. The issue is men. The issue is violence… from men.

I know, I know. It’s “not all men”. But it is still men. Women don’t choose to iron their own breasts. They don’t force themselves into pregnancies or marriages. If all the men on the planet were to disappear, the majority of these issues would almost cease to exist. 99% of rapists are men (source). 96% of child abusers are men (source). Clearly, men have a problem.

And it’s not about “man-hating” or being “anti-men” and I’m definitely not suggesting that we get rid of all men (that’s not even possible). It’s simply about the fact that these issues cannot be solved if we don’t address the cause. The source. The origin. The perpetrators of violence against women.

Imagine this… If you saw a shark in the ocean, you wouldn’t swim towards it. You wouldn’t pet it. You wouldn’t even stay still (unless you’re in shock). You would get out of the water, as fast as you can! But why? Not all sharks are going to bite. But you know that it could and so you protect yourself. Women don’t know which men will hurt us so we do what we can to protect ourselves. 1 in 4 women still gets raped.

You could also think about it like this…

  • Not every car is going to hit you but you still wait to cross the road.
  • Not every big dog is going to bite you but you don’t pet one just in case.
  • Not every wasp is going to sting you but you’d move if one came toward you.

In fact, here’s a more realistic example. If someone gave you 16 skittles and said “one of these skittles is poisonous”, would you eat one? Of course not. You don’t know which is which and so you’d be crazy to take the risk. Well…

1 in 16 men is a rapist.

1 in 3 men have said that they would rape someone if they knew they’d face no consequences.

Women have no choice but to be alert and to be careful at all times. Women are taught to take self defence lessons, to not go out after dark, to always travel with friends. All while the majority of men don’t even know how consent works. Why aren’t we teaching them?

Consent is not “no means no”. Consent is “only yes means yes”. There aren’t signals. A drunken yes is not a yes. A yes after 30 minutes of begging is not a yes. A yes to one thing is not a yes to everything. Why aren’t men taught that?

It’d be much easier than women having to regulate their entire everyday life just to avoid sexual assault when the majority of women are sexually assaulted at some point in their life regardless of the steps they take.

So let’s actually address the rapist. What consequences do they face? What do those 1 in 3 men have to fear? Well… the likelihood is that they wouldn’t face any consequences at all, considering the fact that:

  • Less than 16% report to the police (ONS)
  • Of those reported rapes less than 2% will be prosecuted. (Independent)
  • Of those prosecuted rapes over 40% will not face charges (CPS)

That’s how our system works. Our beloved criminal justice system. It’s dysfunctional. And sexual assault survivors are always asked “Why didn’t you report it?” or “You could’ve just called the police you know?”.

We know that there are good men out there. But what makes these men? Are they the ‘nice guys’? Are they the guys that don’t rape? Are they the ones that don’t laugh at rape jokes? Are they the guys that don’t join in when their friends are making sexist comments? No. Those guys don’t do anything. They’re silent. They’re practically useless.

Those guys seem to think that they aren’t a part of the problem, just because they haven’t gone out at midnight and waited in a park for a woman to come by. Or just because they haven’t taken advantage of a drunk girl who had passed out, they think they’re the good guys. They aren’t.

Just because a man isn’t part of the problem, that does not make him a part of the solution. If a man wants to be good, he’ll be a part of the solution. Actively.

It’s not enough to be one of the ‘nice guys’. We all know what it really means when a guy looks at a girl and says ‘hey, I’m one of the nice guys’. Then when she turns him down he starts to get all grumpy because ‘nice guys finish last’. It’s not enough to not rape! Far too many people think the bar is that low.

It’s not enough to just stay silent while your friends make rape jokes or sexist comments. If you can still be friends with them, then your willing to look past the rape jokes, and if you’re someone that can do that, then do you really think that you’re a good person?

Good people act. They intervene. They call out sexism and misogyny. They go to protests. They march. They educate themselves as much as they can and then they educate others. If a man wants to be a part of the solution, there is nothing stopping him. When we say men are the problem, we are talking about men.

We are talking about men that will look at someone who is discussing women’s concerns and respond with: “well, it’s not all men”. A man is definitely part of the problem if is his sole focus is on dodging accountability. Be a part of the solution and take accountability!

Do not try and separate “the men from the boys”. “Real men don’t rape”. “Only boys rape, not men”. Actually, men do rape. It’s not boys. It’s men. It’s presidents. It’s uncles and fathers. It’s teachers. It’s police officers. It’s CEOs. It’s politicians. It’s men.

Society is just giving men more ways to avoid taking accountability for their role in rape culture. Whether a man has raped someone or not, whether he has laughed at a rape joke or not; whether he has sat silently while his male friends were being misogynistic or not; whether he has protected 20 women from rapists or not, he has a responsibility. He has a role. A man is either a part of the problem or a part of the solution. If he does nothing… he’s not solving anything. If he’s not solving anything… he’s letting it get worse. That man is a part of the problem.

If he wants to be a part of the solution, he’ll act.

The things that contribute to rape culture and women’s oppression may not be as ‘extreme’ as people think. You don’t have to punch women or drug women to be a part of the problem. Anti-woman practices and attitudes are so deeply rooted in society that we (including women) don’t even recognize it.

UN Women UK recently found that 97% of women have experienced predatory behavior, sexual assault, or harassment. All of my female friends have experienced this and several of us have shared stories. However, a lot of us (myself included) did not realize how often or how much these things happen. There are so many disgusting behaviors and interactions we’ve experienced from men but for some reason, they just didn’t register as predatory or as harassment.

violence against women, 97%, sexual violence
Pixabay

Most of us don’t recognise sexual assault, harassment, or any sort of concerning behaviour in men because we aren’t taught what is. Men aren’t taught to not rape. Women aren’t taught how to recognize it. Women, as victims, have to figure these things out on their own. Then by the time we realise and begin to notice these things, it’s too late for at least 97% of us. However, that’s not to say that having a better understanding of sexual assault could save a woman. It’s the perpetrator (the man) who is at fault.

These behaviours run deep. Even from a young age, on the playground, we’re all taught that when a boy pushes a girl or pulls her hair, he likes her. At that young age, we are already being conditioned to believe that when a man is physically violent or aggressive towards us, it’s some sign of affection. We’re supposed to just accept the compliment, put a bandage on the cuts and scrapes and move on.

These behaviours can be seen in men throughout childhood and their teen years (and carried into adulthood). Of course, I do believe that at a very young age it’s not necessarily their fault. Young children learn their way around by making mistakes and copying others. Up to a certain age, I think it’s fair to say they’re too young to know better. The younger they are, the more impressionable they are and the more they can be influenced by media, parents and peers.

However, when we get to high school, these boys should know far better. It becomes very clear why it’s 97%. The behaviour of boys throughout high school (11-18) was vile but it was continuously ignored by teachers, other students and parents. It was brushed off by “boys will be boys” attitudes and the normalization of sexist behaviour. It’s those horrible boys that will go around today talking about how it’s “not all men” when they, themself, put a girl into the 97%.

violence against women, sexual violence, not all men
Pixabay

Maybe it’s not all men but it certainly is the men that:

  • Throw pens on the floor and ask female teachers to pick them up (and bend over) – it’s weird and not funny. Just let them teach the lesson.
  • Played games like ‘t*tty touch Tuesday’ that just involved grabbing girls’ breasts – obviously sexual assault and most girls prepared for this by wearing their bags a certain way and covering their chest.
  • Ran into the girls’ changing rooms for a laugh – it’s not funny, it’s terrifying for most girls.
  • Say “are you done now” after a woman expresses an opinion – listen, you’ll learn something.
  • “Enjoy the chase” – it’s weird that you don’t just want her to immediately consent. If she’s not interested, drop it.
  • Share girls’ nudes – in high school, this is child porn and in general, it’s just wretched. What’s the actual point?
  • Send unsolicited nudes – women don’t want to see it. Ever. I don’t know why you think we do. We don’t.
  • Are scared of being falsely accused – the fact that you’re scared of false accusations is suspicious. You’re more likely to be raped by a man than face false accusations. Be scared of that.
  • Want a girl to be ‘tight’ – that means she does not want it. Learn basic anatomy before you start having sex with women.
  • Say ‘nice guys finish last’ – you’re not a nice guy, you’re a predator.
  • Say ‘all girls are the same’ – we’re not but if we have one thing in common, it’s that we don’t like you.
  • Bully girls for wearing ‘too much’ makeup – we can wear what we want but do you not have better things to do than put down women that aren’t interested in you?
  • Bully girls for not having experience/not knowing what she’s doing – you are definitely bad in bed. You are in no position to talk.
  • Bully girls for having high body counts – sex is natural for women and your insecurity is not her problem.
  • Complain about men’s issues on international women’s day – why were you silent about men’s issues the other 364 days of the year?
  • Talk about girls being ‘legal’ – if you were interested when she was a child, you’re a paedophile and if you wait for it to be legal, you are a predator.
  • Roll their eyes when someone mentions feminism or women’s issues – just say you don’t like women and move on.
  • Don’t understand periods and compare them to getting kicked in the balls – again, learn basic anatomy. Also, stop kicking each other in the balls.
  • Leave a conversation about women’s issues because they feel uncomfortable – does it make you uncomfortable hearing about all the pain and suffering women have to endure? Literally, imagine how we feel.
  • Don’t understand consent – even if you think you do, look into it some more. Signals don’t exist. A yes to this is not a yes to that. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a relationship.

These are just a few examples. There are a million and one horrible things that men do that we all just ignore. All of these things contribute to the rape, murder, and subjugation of women. Even in light of the recent 97% statistic, men are either staying silent, making horrible comments about it or avoiding accountability.

Women go on and on supporting men’s issues, specifically around mental health, but when a woman is raped and murdered in the street (and it turns out that 97% of women have been in situations that could have resulted in the same thing), the majority of men don’t care because it’s ‘not their problem’. Or because it wasn’t them that did it.

Truth be told, 97% is probably wrong. It’s probably wrong because most women don’t even know what sexual assault or harassment can look like, including the 3% that said they’ve never experienced it. The sad fact is that they have probably experienced it and simply haven’t realized it. This is true of a lot of women.

I have heard several women talk about how their boyfriends have begged for sex and these women have done it just so they’ll be left alone. Coercion is not consenting but people do not seem to realize that.

violence against women, 97%, gender-based violence, violence
Pixabay

Those that were young children at the time of their abuse/assault tend not to realize it until years later because even though these things can happen to us as young children, we aren’t ever taught or educated about it. We learn “stranger danger”. We don’t learn that 9 out of 10 times rape is committed by someone the victim knows (source).

When we call it “violence against women” no one has to take responsibility. No one is encouraged or obligated to step forward and say that they are a part of the problem because nowhere in the title are they mentioned. The way that we talk about the subject to is problematic: the language we use and the way we see the issue.

We talk about how many girls were assaulted in classrooms but not how many boys assaulted them. We talk about how many women have been found dead on the street but we don’t talk about how many men put them there. When we talk about the fact that most women are first catcalled at 11-12, we don’t talk about the men that catcall 11-year-old girls. When we talk about the 97% of women that have experienced sexual assault/harassment, we don’t talk about the men that assaulted/harassed them. Even when we talk about the 1 in 6 boys (under 18) that are sexually abused, we don’t talk about the fact that 96% of child abusers are men (PDF).

Women have been asking for men’s help in the battle against oppression and sexual violence for decades. I recently had a male friend tell me ‘I want to help but I’m male so I don’t get much of a say’. No! It’s quite the opposite actually. Men are the class with power and privilege. A man’s voice is far more likely to be listened to, not just as a peer but as a superior potentially. Men do have a say. Men can help and it goes far beyond just educating yourself.

Spread awareness. Spread information. Actually, get involved with helping women who are suffering rather than just saying you want to help. If you have at least 5 female friends, then you know at least 4 people that have experienced sexual assault. Of course, don’t interrogate women about their experiences but listen if/when they come forward. Listen to them when they’re discussing these issues. Do not talk over them, interrupt them or invalidate their experiences but feel free to contribute to the conversation.

If there’s a coping mechanism that you’re aware of, share it with them. If there’s a helpline or organisation that they can get in touch, tell them how to contact them.

If they call you out or check you on something you’ve said, don’t get aggressive or defensive. Just listen. Accept it. Learn to do better.

We are aware that not all men are evil. But all men are raised to uphold misogynistic ideals. If you believe that you weren’t, then you have been deeply conditioned to accept these sexist attitudes. We all need to be informed on these issues. These issues are never going to be solved if we keep focusing on the victim rather than the cause. It’s not violence against women. It’s violence from men. All men should hold themselves accountable for the role that they’ve had.

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