Lets Talk About Gender Based Violence

What is gender inequality?

A social condition characterised by unequal value afforded to men and women and an unequal distribution of power, resources and opportunity between them

What is gender based violence?

“Any act of gender based violence that causes or could cause physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of harm or coercion, in public or in private life.” (United Nations (1993) Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women)

An act of violence can be classified as gender based violence if the perpetrator’s motivation for the act is linked to the victim’s gender.

Regardless of which gender the victim or perpetrator is, violence should never be tolerated. But with a vast majority of reported domestic violence and sexual assault being perpetrated by men against women, there is a distinctly gendered pattern in the impact and usage of violence. (Australian Bureau of Statistics (2013) Personal Safety)

Violence against women is a serious and widespread problem that will continue to deeply affect individuals and communities until we address it properly. In starting the conversation about how to prevent gendered violence we first need to understand the issue as one driven by social factors - the gendered drivers of violence, which are embedded deeply within our social and cultural norms. In this article, we’re going to unpack how common gender biases and stereotypes can eventually lead to acts of violence.  

A good way of looking at what causes people to engage in gendered violence is through the ‘pyramid of violence’, otherwise known as the pyramid of hate. This idea was used by the Anti-Defamation League as a classroom tool to explain the consequences of prejudice in relation to Jewish people.[1]


pyramid - final.png

The bottom of this pyramid contains the most pervasive and common behaviours, while the higher up you go, the less socially acceptable the behaviours are.

The first and most common step in this pyramid is gender socialisation, the attitudes and beliefs you come to associate with particular genders based on what you see in the media, and what the people and society around you think. We’ve talked about this in an earlier piece, so if you haven’t read that one you can do so here: http://www.chalkcircle.org/chalkaboutit/2017/11/27/lets-talk-about-gender-socialisation

The biases and stereotypes developed through gender socialisation can lead to ‘microaggressions’, biased behaviours and actions that are considered relatively normal. The term was coined by Chester M. Pierce in 1970 to describe insults and dismissals he witnessed non-African Americans inflict on African Americans.[2]

In the context of gender, this could be words that centre men like ‘mankind’ rather than ‘human-kind’ or using gendered insults like calling someone a p*ssy. These might not be things that people put conscious thought into, but they reflect implicit beliefs or assumptions. For example, calling someone a p*ssy is to say that they’re weak by giving them a characteristic common to women; in order to be comfortable using that as an insult, a person would need to feel on some level that women are inherently weaker than themselves.

When someone feels comfortable using microaggressions, they can begin to explicitly verbally express their feelings of superiority. This can take the form of catcalling or suggestive comments, or boasting to others about times they’ve engaged in the behaviour that marginalises others.

In order for someone to feel comfortable doing this kind of behaviour, they’re actively disregarding the discomfort the person they’re doing it to may feel - and the behaviours listed above are unequivocally uncomfortable to women. When someone continuously exhibits this kind of behaviour to people of a particular gender, that disregard for others’ comfort turns into the dehumanising of a whole gender.

If these behaviours are validated, say by others laughing at a sexist joke they make, the individual’s sense of women as being lesser than themselves solidifies. And this is when they start to physically assert what they believe to be power and control they’re entitled to, in the form of violence or sexual violence.

Sexual violence is motivated by power and control[3]. Perpetrators feel like it is within their right to physically control women. They see women as less than human and can often justify the pain they inflict because of this. They do not feel responsible for the crime they’ve committed and may not even recognise their actions as assault. 

At every step in this process, when an individual’s behaviour is validated by the people around them, or implicitly condoned by a lack of reaction from others, that can make them feel like what they’re saying is normal and that others agree with them. This is when they can progress to the next step, increasing the severity and danger of their feeling of entitlement. The more someone progresses through these behaviours, the harder it is to dispel their beliefs and biases. That’s why it’s important to challenge these types of behaviours early before they escalate. If you hear someone voicing an opinion that contains a gender bias, it’s important to speak to them about why that bias is wrong - and we’ll have more resources about how to do that effectively coming soon!

[1] (https://www.adl.org/sites/default/files/documents/assets/pdf/education-outreach/Pyramid-of-Hate.pdf).

[2] (American Psychological Association, http://www.apa.org/monitor/2009/02/microaggression.aspx)

[3] (World Health Organisation http://www.who.int/violence_injury_prevention/resources/publications/en/guidelines_chap2.pdf).

This conversation starter was produced by Chris Phung and Yan Zhuang - Chalk Circle's #ChalkAboutIt Content Creators

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