“Ending Violence Against Women” & the Rhetoric of Self-Preservation
That’s not just semantics
Words matter, they are everything. They are the only means we have as a species to represent, define and re-define our individual and collective identities, our realities, our past, present, and future.
We just can’t afford to be casual about them.
If you are a woman and are reading this, you will probably have figured out that most of our language and narratives are designed to protect men from discomfort. (If you are a man and are still reading, I salute you, please keep reading). That is why we do not talk openly about periods, endometriosis, tampons, violent men, insecure men, abused and abusive men, toxic masculinity, and the jaded patriarchal system impregnating and destroying everything it touches. We avoid the elephant in the room to protect those men (in power) whose identity is built on a paper-thin sense of masculinity.
Violence against women is no different. To protect violent men and the culture that breeds them, we have built a discourse semantics that focuses on the disease and not on the root cause. Time to change that.
Words devoid of meaning
WHO (2021) estimates that globally “1 in 3 (30 %) of women have been subjected to either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime.”
I mean, partner and non-partner, I can not think of a more empty and faceless word, can you? If we say that “women have been the subject of violence” why can’t we say that “men [and the patriarchal system] have been perpetuating that violence”? Wouldn’t it be just fair? Of course, not all women and not all men, but seriously are we clear on who is doing what to whom? If yes, then we should just be entitled to spell it out.
In the 112 pages of the 2018 WHO report Violence Against Women Prevalence Estimates, the word men is featured only twice in footnote #6 (pg. 4), which states:
This report focuses on intimate partner violence as perpetrated by men against women. While recognizing that women can also perpetrate violence against their partners, and that intimate partner violence also occurs in same-sex relationships, existing evidence shows that intimate partner violence is most commonly perpetrated by men against women.
By hiding the perpetrators in a footnote, we are not condemning them, we are condoning their acts. It spares men from being addressed and confronted directly at every mention of the report, so that everyone can feel comfortable enough. Arghhh.
I get it that not all men are violent, yet those in power and responsible for passing laws and providing services for safety and security are almost all men; until violent men exists, non-violent men can never consider themselves off the hook. Unfortunately, until we bring equality into decision-making and law-enforcement, women safety depends on men.
Not just semantics, a paradigm shift
In dialing with violence against women we have adopted the discourse semantics of the healthcare domain. A domain, where focus and resources are disproportionally tilted towards cure rather than prevention, a domain that put the responsibility of health on the patients, a sector that is powerless (and maybe uninterested) in the prevention of very preventable, deadly, and chronic disease, led by an industry whose interest is to actually perpetuate disease to pay dividends to the shareholders.
Instead, we need to pick up the discourse semantics of homeland security because this is where the responsibility for the safety and security of citizens falls. We need to use the very words of the National Terrorism Advisory System (NTAS), just replace terrorism with violence against women:
“The National ̶T̶e̶r̶r̶o̶r̶i̶s̶m̶ Violence against women Advisory System, designed to more effectively communicate information about ̶t̶e̶r̶r̶o̶r̶i̶s̶t̶ violent men threats by providing timely, detailed information to the American public. […]It recognizes that Americans all share responsibility for the nation’s security, and should always be aware of the heightened risk of ̶t̶e̶r̶r̶o̶r̶i̶s̶t̶ violent men attack in the United States and what they should do. (https://www.dhs.gov/national-terrorism-advisory-system).
I mean what if we used color-coding in different countries, cities, and streets to raise awareness on the risk of encountering violent men? After all, we would do it for the national security of at least 50% of the entire population.
Violence against women is not like Covid, a reasonably equanimous virus hitting indiscriminately. Violence against women is specific in its demographics, it is violent men attacking women. What we need to stop is violent men from exerting violence against women. There, I said it.
Domestic: adjective, belonging or relating to the home, house, or family. Domestic: noun, mainly UK informal, a fight or attack that happens in a home between people who know each other. (Cambridge dictionary)
The words violence and domestic are antonyms, they should not belong to each other, and instead, they have become almost synonyms. We have camouflaged, sanitized, and normalised the issue of men’s violence against women to make it sound an almost physiological outcome of having a home or relationship, something we have resigned ourselves to.
More empty lingo
“Empowering women” is a good one. Hello everyone, it is 2021! Empowering women, I mean seriously, women do not need to be empowered, we need to have access to the same rights and opportunities as men, which includes walking alone late at night without fearing for one’s life, and translates into asking men to put their act together and stop being so fearful of women. Voila’.
“Gender Mainstreaming”, this one is so very special. Use it in case you need to: a) take time, b) say something reasonably intellectual to keep people busy for a while, c) protect oversensitive ears, and d) be re-invited to the next gender panel. Sorry, not sorry. For God's sake, we had to invent an entirely new science— gender mainstreaming — to be able to introduce gender equality in modern societies. Isn’t it amazing the degree of tiptoeing needed to introduce reality and claim women’s access to some very basic human rights?
Words are important, they are political and they take sides, they do.
The use and abuse of political correctness is more political than correct.
One thing is to say stop violence, another is to say stop police violence or men violence against women, we can not fix a problem if we do not identify the root cause. Why can we not call out those who have a responsibility and a role to play in fixing the problem? Why do we need to protect the perpetrator at the expense of the victim? Good men and good cops have absolutely nothing to fear, (really, we love you). Violent men and violent cops are the ones creating a bad rep for all, not women.
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Edmund Burke.
We are slowly recovering from a global virus that has killed millions. To deal with it, we have all wanted to become overnight epidemiologists, virologists, all experts in defining it, in understanding how to protect ourselves, prevent the transmission, violence against women is just the same. Until we find the courage to understand and name who and what feeds this virus, what allows it to multiply, and why we seem unable to create an environment able to suppress it, we are all going to suffer more casualties.