Switching the phrase “Domestic Violence” to “Patriarchal Violence”

It’s time we stop treating domestic violence as a private matter but rather as a public and real issue that stems from sexist and male dominated thought.

One in four women have experienced some form of domestic violence by a partner. Look around, it could be a co-worker, a friend, a family member, or even yourself. Unfortunately, it’s such a common form of violence but not many people seem to be talking about it.

bell hooks, a famous author, feminist, and activist asserts that the term “domestic” makes the violence seem like an intimate and private matter. She suggests we move to a more halting word like “Patriarchy” which, she argues, relays the idea that this violence stems from sexist thinking and male domination. It stops becoming a soft term and starts becoming a wake up call. So lets start by asking ourselves, why do we have domestic violence?

Where it Started

While domestic violence is not a new phenomena, it hasn’t been a public issue until fairly recently. When feminist and women’s movements started in the 60’s, so did the domestic violence movement. As women tried to gain autonomy, their partners asserted their dominance by physically harming them. This harm manifested its way through spanking, slapping, and even punching. I’m sure you’ve seen countless ads with battered women sporting a black eye or finger shaped bruises on their wrists.

These ad’s however, greatly contrast the ads that were around in the 50’s. They depicted patriarchal violence as a normal interaction between a husband and wife, usually resulting from a trivial act such as not store-testing coffee. They almost always depict the women as the obvious subordinate to a man and include demeaning phrases like “If your husband ever finds out…woe be unto you!” or “Show her it’s a mans world”.

Two ads from the 1950’s depicting different forms of patriarchal abuse.

Contributions to Patriarchal Violence

This violence is continually in our everyday life and that can be attributed to the way this country is run. We have a militaristic state where military power is glorified and we handle our affairs with violence. The act of using force to achieve some type of end goal, whether it be soldiers pillaging land or raping the women who inhabit it, only help these practices to seep their way into a home, possibly even your home.

30% of adult rape cases were committed by husbands, common-law partners, or boyfriends.

Marital rape is actually semi-legal in certain states. These backward laws only serve to normalize rape in the home and further perpetuate the idea that men can control their wives.

This, however, ties in to the problem that Bell Hooks is trying to address. Domestic violence is not just for spouse on spouse abuse and certainly not just for male on female violence. Domestic violence includes women against men, women against women, and parental abuse against children. Yet, when someone says domestic violence, most people think of those same ad campaigns photos mentioned earlier.

One of the many domestic abuse campaign photos that depict a wife beaten by her husband

If we start to think of it as patriarchal violence however, then maybe we can move away from only thinking of male on female spousal violence and start to think more about why this violence is being enacted in the home in the first place.

In addition to how the military operates, setting precedents for how people treat their spouses in a domestic setting, we also have to consider who else perpetuates these unhealthy practices.

Who can perpetrate this type of violence?

Women are not solely victims in the household. They too can make matters worse by allowing this abuse to continue. Yes, a lot of the time the situation is out of her hands and she cannot so easily escape her abuser but sometimes she is the abuser as well, especially to her children.

Statistics for youth victims of family violence

Cultural Differences

Gloria Anzaldua touches upon the idea of mothers reinforcing harmful patriarchal ideals in her book Borderlands/La Frontera and she attributes this to the culture made by those in power; men. Men make the rules and use their authority to dictate what roles women are allowed to have. For example, in many Hispanic cultures it is customary for the women to stay home and learn to be an ama de casa, or a housewife. They cook and clean for their husbands but if they make mistakes or act out of line their mothers reprimand them or even encourage their husbands to beat them and “show them their place”. The problem with patriarchal violence is that its ideals and concepts begin to shape the minds of the women its affecting and so they teach these concepts to their children. Mothers encourage their son in laws to beat their daughters.

So again, patriarchy rears it’s ugly head and can even make women do it’s dirty work of oppressing and abusing women. It is this cycle that we need to escape in order to show that we will not condone this violence. We need to recreate the culture whose rules and beliefs we follow so strictly. Violence does not only live in the home. It does not only manifest in harsh words or a husband roughing up his wife. It exists everywhere. It can be perpetrated by anyone. Our job is to make sure that we speak up and remove the stigma that abuse is purely a private matter. It does not end at home. And it will never end if we don’t do something about it.

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