Gender violence is harassment that occurs to a person for the sole reason of their gender. Although physical assault is a common form of gender violence, it is not limited to just that. The European Council defines gender-based violence as acts that lead to “physical, sexual, psychological or economic harm or suffering to women.” These acts can include threats, coercion or deprivation of freedom.
From verbal assaults and threats to actual battery, gender violence spans a broad spectrum. Often, violence is inflicted upon people who do not match binary gender roles. This includes those who don’t match stereotypes of how a certain gender should look, speak and act.
Concerns about gender violence tie in closely with feminism, the movement that aims to establish equality between the two genders. Thus, a man could be victimized because he is portraying “feminine” traits and is not “masculine enough.”
Victims of Gender Violence
Men who fall outside the typical gender role, including gay men, are more likely to be the victim of gendered violence. This is especially true for young boys who may have interest in toys or activities that some people label as “feminine.” These include dolls, makeup, cooking and playing doctor/nurse, among others. Boys are most like to experience gender-based violence from older men, often their fathers. Women, siblings and even friends but also contribute to gender-based violence.
Transgender, intersex and androgynous people are also likely to become victims of gender-based violence. Violence may include forcing a trans person to use the wrong bathroom or even incarceration in a facility that does not match the trans person’s gender identification. Trans individual face particular difficulty in legally changing names and genders, which may be seen as a form of institutionalized violence against them. This violence may stem from a time not so long ago, when society viewed transgender individuals as mentally unwell.
Gender Violence Knows and Affects Everyone
Gender-based violence can start at a young age. Some people argue that circumcision in boys and the equivalent female genital mutilation, which results in more long term damage, are both forms of gender-based violence. Selecting the gender of one’s future children in the prenatal stage may also be considered by some people as gender-based violence. Forced abortion and sterilization are also forms of gender violence.
School-age bullies are likely to call boys who are too feminine (and girls who display “tomboy” traits) gender-based slurs as a form of verbal violence. These include insults such as pussy, wimp, baby and girl for boys. Girls may receive insults because they are dressed like a lesbian or “dyke.” The basis of these insults implies that it is disagreeable to be more like the other gender, especially for boys. There is nothing worse than being like a girl, which inherently supports sexism against women.
However, the perpetrators of this violence are almost always men, and it is women who experience gender violence the most frequently. According to one study by the National Violence Against Women Survey, 15% women will experience gender-based violence in their lifetime while just 2.1% of men will experience violence based on their gender. Perpetrators of this type of violence are often men who can overpower a smaller or weaker women — and do so violently.
Gender-based violence also extends to sexual assault and violence, including rape. Most rape victims are women and perpetrators are men. However, there are cases where the victim is not a female.
Gender Violence in the Workplace
Gender-based violence can be subtly woven into societal fabric. For many years, it was condoned for a man to hit his wife when she under-performed as a wife in his opinion. This was only criminalized in the United States in the 1920s. The popular television show “Mad Men” also portrays gender-based violence in the workplace during the 1960s in the United States. Women, who are almost always secretaries with few exceptions, must bear sexual harassment, verbal threats, insults and even sexual assault from their coworkers and superiors.
To combat gender-based violence and harassment, the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission exists to ensure that no one is prevented from getting a job based solely on gender or factors such as race, age, disability or religion. The EOEC also provides a way for employees to file a charge against a company that does discriminate based on gender. In the European Union, a mandate exists that gender-based violence must be acted upon.
Gender Violence and Society
The reasons for gender-based violence are typically not limited to the reasoning by the perpetrator, which can include aggression, revenge, jealousy and entitlement. However, gendered violence against women has become institutionalized in cultures like those of the United States where women are expected to look and act in a a specific way. Remnants of a culture where women we not allowed to vote, own land or even speak up against a man are alive and well in modern gender violence.
Feminists and domestic violence victims activists point out that gender-based violence exists as a way to maintain the perceived differences between the genders. Of course, few things that are natural, honest and moral require violence to maintain the status quo. This is why subtle forms of gender-based violence, which include cat calling, sexual harassment, judging a woman based on her sexual past and stalking, are often justified. In fact, even in cases of rape, society and the police may blame the victim for the way she acted, dressed or talked, as though she were a willing participant in the violence enacted against her.
An institutionalized form of gender-based sexual violence is human trafficking, where women, boys and girls are most often removed from their homes and illegally sold to other people. Forced pregnancy is one symptom of human trafficking. However, human trafficking may still be a form of gender violence even when sexual violence is not involved. This is the case when women are taken as slaves.
Tradition-Based Gender Violence
In some countries, gender violence is the norm because of traditions. For example, some Middle Eastern countries do not provide their female citizens the same rights or protections as in the United States or the EU. Forced marriage is still common in many parts of the world, and many brides are so young as to be considered children. This type of marriage often coincides with physical abuse.
Gender-based violence also extends to cultures that would shame women who are victims of rape for not being chaste enough while simultaneously allowing the perpetrators of those rapes to walk free. While obvious forms of gender violence such as these enrage people from other cultures and countries, more subtle forms of gender-based violence often go unnoticed at home. In fact, cliches such as “Boys will be boys” condone or even encourage violence aimed toward women.
Countering Gender Based Violence
In the United States, lawmakers have criminalized forms of gender violence within relationships and marriages. Marital rape and assault tie in closely to domestic violence, and women are often the victims. However, all states in the United States now specify that a spouse/wife has protection against marital rape and sexual assault. A marriage license alone does not allow any person to force sex on any other person.
Community-based efforts such as Hollaback Boston focus on calling out people who inflict gender-based violence, specifically on women. Outreach programs such as local women’s centers also provide a safe haven for women and young children who have become victims of gender-based and domestic violence.
However, there are plenty of strides to be made, especially within certain subsets. While women receive more protection in the eyes of the law, gender-based violence is worsened with the trauma and stigma that often come with reporting crimes against them. Even the police and lawyers may become involved in victim blaming, which is also popular in the media.
Unfortunately, laws that criminalize gender-based hate crimes against trans persons have even more catching up to do. For example, there were over 40 murders committed in the European Union between 2008 and 2011 because the victim was a trans person. These murders happened in nearly one dozen countries, but only two countries, Sweden and Scotland, have statutes that specifically protect transgender people from hate crime and violence.
Even when there are laws in place to protect people from gendered violence, the subtle ways in which misogyny, violence and sexism are ingrained into society still allows gender violence to proliferate. There is still progress to make in the U.S.A., where gender violence is more subtle, and across the world where many overt acts of gender-based violence still occur.