Gender based violence – where does it begin? Do we really want to know?

Gender based violence – where does it begin? Do we really want to know?

Gender based violence – where does it begin? Do we really want to know?

Through worldwide statistics and our daily experiences we know that many men have a tendency to resort to violence in the way they relate to the world and therefore to other men, women and themselves.

To shed light on this global problem we can focus on finding solutions and penalties for the perpetrators or, as presented by Serge Benhayon, take a hundred steps back and look at the upbringing of boys (and girls) and the responsibility we hold as parents in providing a fertile ground that either promotes love or harm.

When we start to examine the way we raise boys it is clear that we are raising them in a gender wasteland. From the time we slap a young boy on the back and tell him to go wash his bloodied knee under the tap, or look at him with disapproval because he is crying, we have chosen to begin his education in ‘rough and tough’.

A state that for most boys will be pummelled into them from every angle, eventually amounting to years of gendered conditioning. His preciousness will be a bad thing, his sensitivity the domain of the sissy; his tenderness will not be fostered as his greatest strength. The most brutal will survive and succeed to become the stars of the rugby or football field and will be deified in popular culture. Men will be accused of being 'gay' if they are not into porn and dare to openly show and live their sensitivity. The Sharks of Business will have the edge financially – men willing to forego their humanity to make business about financial success at the expense of both their own health and the health and wellbeing of our communities. This temporal success will be congratulated, affirmed and applauded despite its real world effects.

When men are angry they will be encouraged to 'thrash it out on the footy field' or to drink it down and 'get over it', and then when they do enter into an intimate relationship they will be expected to be literate in the sensitivities that have been metaphorically beaten out of them from the time they are three years old.

In this climate it is shocking and appalling that women are being abused and murdered by men at the rate they are – but sadly it is not surprising.

Gender based violence (GBV) is an umbrella term for any harmful act that is perpetrated against a person’s will and that is based on socially ascribed gender differences between males and females, among males, and among females.

Gender based violence affects both men and women, but men are statistically speaking more often than not the perpetrators of this violence, especially as women and girls are the subjects of specific forms of gender based violence at the hands of men across the world, particularly through domestic violence, sexual violence, rape, trafficking, prostitution etc. Violence against women perpetrated by men is so widespread that the UN has declared it to be ‘the most pervasive form of human rights abuse’. A lack of equality (women being treated as second-class citizens) and a power imbalance between men and women contributes to women’s vulnerability to this widespread human rights abuse.

The definitions we use to define what violence is and what constitutes a crime, are much needed to ensure that we don’t accept physical and sexual abuse in society, yet our lack of ability to stem the tide of violence against women suggests that having the extremes of violence as our primary focus can mask the subtle violence with which we raise boys and young men society wide: subtle (and in some cases not so subtle) violations that inform the ideologies and temperaments of the men we later imprison.

Meanwhile not enough is being done to recognise the criminality of violence against women, particularly when misogyny is entrenched in cultural attitudes. Violence against women is very much overlooked in political spheres globally.

It is often justified by tradition, institutionalised religion, conflict or war as well as individual failure, which makes it intrinsically difficult to have it declared, treated and prosecuted as a crime. Women still have to justify themselves on multiple levels when they report the violence they suffer.

However, even though it is a crime, and is declared as such, we have to take into consideration that a crime is the end result of a series of events and ill behaviours; it is by definition “an act committed or omitted in violation of a law forbidding or commanding it and for which punishment is imposed upon conviction”. This means that even if society reaches the understanding that all violence against women is to be considered a crime, this in itself will not put an end to violence against women. It might result in a higher prosecution rate and harsher penalties for perpetrators, however the means by which feminine and masculine identities are constructed, produced and reproduced in society (including social patterns of violence against women) would still remain unchanged and unchallenged. Our approach so far is to attempt to fix the problem after the horse has bolted, rather than examine the conditions that allowed its errant path in the first place.

When we talk about gender based violence and its specific forms of violence against women, we always talk about individual behaviour with a strong focus on men, characterising them as brutal, cruel, violent, irresponsible, etc. – we portray them in the role of ‘perpetrator’...

  • but how seriously do we question the upbringing of boys?
  • How willing are we to look at the subtleties of gendered conditioning and the pictures that we impose that inhibit the natural tenderness and sensitivity of young men?

It is clear that our current approach fosters and legitimises violence and oppressive behaviour in men towards women, other men and towards themselves. Worldwide statistics[1-3] indicate that amongst the younger male population, factors such as road accidents and suicide are the most frequent causes of death. Of particular concern is the over-representation of young males in road traffic accidents that have been linked to risky driving behaviours such as speeding, driving when fatigued and driving under the influence of alcohol or other drugs. Intentional injuries, such as self-harm or suicide and assault, are also important causes of hospitalisation and death among young men at a time when peer acceptance through the confirming of male ideals is sought.

Yes, both women and men are more likely to die at the hands of a man than at the hands of a woman; we can clearly identify a gendered statistic here and could choose to ascribe gendered roles of ‘victim’ or ‘perpetrator’ to men and women, but this doesn’t support us to look beyond the dynamics we find ourselves in, or enable us to unpack the reasons why we got here in the first place. Looking outside of ourselves to construct a sense of who we are, and choosing to continue to live gendered roles, imprisons us in a self-supplied cage.

Do we continually examine how and why tender boys end up being adults that are prone to violence? Or do we instead subscribe to the term, “boys will be boys?” Do we ever ask the question why the delicate girl ends up wanting a man that is rough and tough? Or do we accept the axiom that “girls like a tough guy?”

Socially determined roles and expectations linked to ideas about masculinity, (including social patterns that reinforce the casual abuse of women), set men and boys up in a cycle of harming and violent behaviours. Women and girls are set up in a cycle of self-loathing that is tied to seeking identification outside of themselves, mainly in identification with the role of ‘mother’, ‘wife’ or the ‘do-it-all superwoman’. All of these roles, in the way they are currently socially constructed, result in women subscribing to patterns of disregard towards their own bodies. This makes them doubly receptive to accepting abuse as a normalised form of living. And yet abusive behaviours are not innate in any human being but are learned and ingrained over many generations.

If our learning process of how to participate in social life is shaped by family, schools, institutionalised religion, the mass media, etc. (which it is), and the outcome of this socialisation process is massive gender based violence (which it is), then we have to HONESTLY and DEEPLY look at the root cause of the problem to recognise and understand how these institutions perpetuate gender based violence, as all together they create reference points and legitimise practices which humanity identifies and measures itself against.

The cycle of supply and demand

Of course the Institutions would not exist without the input of the many. We cannot simply blame what is supplied to us during our upbringing – we also have to look at individual responsibility. Gender based violence will never end if we do not stop and look at the many ill seeds that create it, and the fact that it is a societal problem that is expressed through individual actions.

How is it that we find our individual actions have culminated in the Institutions and constructed definitions of gender we have today, even though the model is not working for either men or women?

To answer that question we have to ask another one – one that exposes an irresponsibility that masks itself as either a false piety or overt righteousness. How often have we judged a form of abuse as tolerable because there are worse abuses in the world?

The woman that says, ‘at least he doesn’t hit me’, is in effect accepting verbal abuse as standard and normalising the violent ways we interact with each other. When a woman psychologically abuses or denigrates a man but justifies it as not being violent because it isn’t physical, this also contributes to a standard that is way below the innate honouring and care for others that is our true nature.

Every time we tolerate and accept less than our true nature, we add to the pool of abuse that in its totality becomes the ill environment that we raise our children in.

On a sociological level, through accepting less than our tender and delicate nature we have created and continue to perpetuate a feedback loop of gendered identities that do not serve us.

To break out of this loop would be a break from a security-based mode of parenting and of living generally.

For many men it can, understandably, feel like social suicide to show their natural sensitivity and tenderness. Both fathers and mothers know this. How often have we felt if not outwardly heard a mother in concern because her son was showing ‘too much’ of his sensitive nature, or witnessed a father tell his son to toughen up?

Therefore, in the quest for ‘security’ (fitting in to the self-created ill picture of gendered roles), we have created a demand for the ‘tough’ behaviours that essentially legitimise defensiveness and violence as a means of protection and interaction.

Breaking out of a security-based mode of operation and moving in a way that is truly open and not defensive is a choice available to everyone equally.

Hence, are we willing to look at the ways we measure our love and tenderness towards men and boys as a first step in addressing Gender Based Violence? Or will we keep blindly pushing our boys through the ‘school of hard knocks’ and then wonder why they come out fighting and hurting the ones they love most?


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Filed under

Domestic violenceParentingRaising childrenGender equalityEducationBehaviourAbuse Gender

  • By Rachel Andras, MA Gender & Development, MA Social Education

    Gender policy advisor, facilitator of change management processes, adult and youth educator, focusing on body awareness and (self) care as an essential category of value-creation, impulsing processes of real change by guiding people towards themselves as experts of their own realities.

  • By Rebecca Asquith, BA

    Internet professional, media educator, writer, producer and presenter Rebecca has a keen interest in the intersection between media & communication and our health & wellbeing.

  • Photography: Matt Paul