Skyler Simpkins ’23
This Women’s History Month, it is especially important to grapple with issues predominantly affecting women. These issues are numerous and include the likes of equitable healthcare access; reproductive healthcare; social, cultural, and economic barriers to women’s equality in the private sphere of livelihood; and, what I would like to discuss today, gendered violence or gender-based violence. To put this in perspective, the World Health Organization estimates that approximately 1 in 3 women will experience sexual violence, domestic violence, or intimate partner violence in their lifetime.
Gendered violence is a term used to shed light on the disparate character of aggressors and victims in acts of violence, especially within the domestic sphere. Women are the predominant victims in these scenarios and the aggressors are more-often-than-not men. Many times we use the term domestic violence instead to account for the fact that the victims in these scenarios can be male or gender non-binary, which is true; however, by using this term in sociological settings, we deemphasize the one-sidedness of this phenomenon, we fail to acknowledge the inequality of victimhood in domestic violence and, therefore, fail to understand where this inequality stems. By identifying the unequal victimhood of domestic violence and intimate partner violence, we can ponder the question of why. Why are women often the victims of violence? Why are women in compromised positions (i.e., pregnancy) especially prone to falling victim to this type of violence? Why is this violence often unacknowledged by state, national, and international mechanisms of protection?
So why do these intimate manifestations of violence largely affect women? This is due to the systemic oppression of women around the globe. Centuries of women being deemed “objects” has led to our inevitable dehumanization. Subtle indications especially in relationships such as the common vow phrase of “man and wife,” declaring the woman a possession of the man, or the common sexual derogations adhering to the format men *insert sexual action verb* women, following the well-known subject-verb-object grammatical arrangement, enforce long standing systemic gender discriminations that make women sexual objects and possessions of men when in a relationship with them. As seen by these common displays of women’s objectification, women in relationships with men become objects, serving the man sexually and domestically. The implications of this thinking affects both men and women. Men believe they own their significant other and internalize societal projections of women’s objectifications; thus, their significant other becomes just another object in their possession. Women lose their humanity and, consequently, it becomes extremely easy for the man to cognitively justify their physical, emotional, and sexual harm toward “their woman.”
Women, too, internalize this objectification, especially when society emphasizes that these “successful and loving relationships” promote societal unity. Women are forced by the psychological desire of societal acceptance to accept their possession by men. When these possessive relationships become abusive, many women accept this reality as a necessity for existence or become scared of leaving a relationship touted as their most secure option. In addition, male manipulation plays a large role. When their female partner threatens to leave, they become their once loving self again, reminding the woman of their happy past. These happy memories combined with the security imparted from a heterosexual relationship in our heteronormative, male-dominated world chain women to these abusive relationships. In short, our systemically discriminatory institutions create and support the continuation of these abusive relationships while the women making up these relationships are largely left powerless in the wake of this global, problematic culture. For any woman, leaving an abusive relationship is not simple or easy. Culture needs to change for women to feel empowered to confidently leave these relationships, but why hasn’t culture changed?
Much of the answer to this question relates to the dichotomy of life in the public and private sphere. Though first used to discriminate against women and men, subjugating women to lifelong involuntary solitude in the private sphere, it is now used to acknowledge why many women’s issues fail to be addressed: Women’s issues are predominantly concerning the private sphere. By virtue of linguistic distinction, we can glean an explanation to the above conclusion: The private sphere is not public, hiding the realities of the private sphere from public acknowledgement. Women’s lives have been confined to the private sphere, and that sphere has been pushed outside of collective consciousness by institutions led by men who fail to consider gender-based issues. For culture to change, we need to revive investment into the universal private sphere. In addition, we need to lighten the opaque line of separation between the private and public sphere. These two initiatives will support women’s—and men’s—participation in both the public and private spheres while also acknowledging the gender-based oppression shielding the private sphere and those in it from equitable treatment as human beings. Women are the key to a more prosperous future and need no faux-protection from men who have long vied to confine us to a life of docile domesticity.