In last week, there was a wave of anger over the treatment of women and a stronger feeling that things must change. Individual actions make up the cultural scaffolding that sustains violence against women. This means that we have the power to alter these structures if we want to.
We can start by changing the way we understand and talk about violence against women. It is not an “isolated incident”, nor is it weird despite current claims that it is. Violence against women exists on a continuum, the different shapes overlap and their impact is cumulative. This is true for victims of violence, but also for perpetrators.
Related to this is the need to accept women’s view of the world as they experience it. Tell women that we are hysterical because talking about our fears and the things we do to keep ourselves safe is deeply useless. It feeds our doubts about our own experience and tells us not to trust ourselves at the same time that we expect us to use our instincts to assess when we are in danger.
What is asked of women is to find the fair amount of panic. Don’t panic enough and it’s your fault if something happens. Too panic and you’re paranoid. It is a trap 22 which means that no matter what we do, women are doing it wrong. We need to start trusting in women’s ability to accurately assess risk and understand that “security work“They are required to do so limits their freedom.
More generally, we are all complicit in structures that dehumanize women. Recent research On male sexual assault he has argued that dehumanization, and in particular the denial of the “human uniqueness” of women, can be a determining factor for men who commit sexual crimes. Simply put, some don’t see women as people.
We have to stop producing and consuming representations of women as nothing more than a conduit for men’s actions. Stop watching pornography that sees women as replaceable endlessly; describing women only by their skin or hair color; that sexualizes the coercion and non-consent of women. If you don’t see it, stop scrolling past it as if by ignoring it you weren’t an accomplice. Demand that this material be removed and stop using pornography until it is.
The argument here has gone beyond causality. It is about recognizing that pornography has a social function: it helps authorize “what counts” as sexual practice and sexual pleasure, and shapes how we view ourselves and others. Recent research I discovered from myself and colleagues at Durham University that one in eight headlines on the covers of the UK’s most popular pornography websites described sexual acts that fit the World Organization’s definition of sexual violence. Health. This is not a problem with niche sites or the dark web, something that only “bad men” who actively search for this content find. This is mainstream porn on the main sites with the main message that sexual violence is sexy.
And it’s not just pornography, the “real crime” is all too often a recount of men’s violence against women. Most of the time, the opportunity to use these stories to raise awareness of the harms of violence against women and to communicate the humanity of its victims is seldom seized.
Instead, the perpetrators are sensational and celebrated. We saw this most recently when the families of the victims Peter Sutcliffe asked Netflix to change the title of his series about his crimes. They urged producers to remember “that the word ‘ripper’ refers to tearing flesh” and to recognize that its use glorifies violence and gives Sutcliffe celebrity status. Netflix claimed the show was “a sensitive reexamination of crimesAnd the series became a huge success. Nothing will change until we stop looking.
Men need to speak up when women are treated or talked about in ways that don’t feel good or respectful. You will feel uncomfortable and you may be teased, but men need to challenge other men about their attitudes and behaviors. As a society, we need to raise children without gender restrictions limiting who they are and who can be converted. Simple actions such as altering the pronouns in children’s books, so that female characters have the rich life and adventures that male characters have, will eventually help build a world where it is increasingly difficult not to see women as persons.
Finally, we must ensure that our laws and policies recognize the humanity of everybody women. Migrant women, for example, were deliberately left unprotected by the current domestic abuse bill. Last night the Lords passed an amendment to help rectify this, but we must keep up the pressure. The government has reopened its consultation on violence against womenLet’s take this opportunity to tell you that every woman deserves protection.
For women to be free and safe, we must do more than increase Street lighting and surveillance. The past year has shown us that our actions are connected; individual decisions have consequences that extend and affect us all. We can apply that understanding to this situation and recognize our role in defending a culture that endorses, excuses, and eroticizes violence against women. We need a change and we need it now. Women cannot afford to wait another day.