Tori Amos once sang, “A few witches burning/ gets a little toasty here.”
On Nov. 25, 2009, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, France’s Prime Minister François Fillon — while declaring that violence enacted against women is not only society’s struggle but also a universal one — designated this undertaking as the “great national cause” of 2010. In doing so, he admirably furthered the visibility of a feminist issue and framed it in a way that implicated its universality. Additionally, French President Nicolas Sarkozy already proposed measures from the years 2008 to 2010.
Why should this problem, concerning only women, also be of great importance for us in the United States, and why do feminist social justice initiatives always seemingly ignore men? To answer the former in the simplest terms, feminism, as a division of egalitarianism that seeks equality for all regardless of gender, focuses on those lower in the hierarchy who lack privilege and access. In this case, society has not yet done enough to raise women’s status to equal men’s, and gender inequality manifests in the gender imbalance of violent crimes.
In order to answer the second question, we must recognize three essential points: First, men often escape scrutiny as a privilege of their gender because we consider maleness the status quo. The invisibility of male as a gender results in a lack of critical examinations of the constructions of masculinity that promote a culture of violence. For example, rather than address the issue of consent and the problematic belief in the entitlement of men to women’s bodies inscribed in masculinity, programs seeking to reduce occurrences of rape often fail to target men as a potential source of the solution and unflinchingly blame women’s alcohol abuse. The failure to address masculinity further reproduces gender inequality in recycling old, faulty narratives that seek to fault women’s sexuality for violence they endure, thus missing the mark and failing to improve the condition of life for all genders.
Furthermore, the privilege of invisibility leads us to the second point: In terms of violent crimes, there is an astounding overrepresentation of men as perpetrators. As mentioned before, male privilege leads to the underwhelming analysis and overwhelming dismissal of the idea of maleness as perhaps an essential contributor to the reason for which men comprise over 80 percent of persons arrested for violent crimes, such as murder, aggravated assault and rape. (And please don’t tell me that it’s just the testosterone.) This gender imbalance of violence directly relates to our third and final point: In the same vein as the previous one, women are overrepresented as victims of intimate violence relative to men. For every one man who is injured by a spouse, ex-spouse or girlfriend, around eight women are injured by their respective partners. Husbands or boyfriends are responsible for roughly one-third of all murders of women, and domestic violence remains one of the leading causes of injury against women. It is thus clear that in these examples, more women suffer than men — not to mention all the other various inequalities that place women in positions of danger that I did not address in this column.
All three points clearly revolve around the issue of gender inequality, which negatively impacts all genders. We should not, therefore, seek to dismiss feminist initiatives that are women-centered as selfish and self-serving. Though neither of the two highest-ranked politicians of the French government will likely address gender inequality as the major contributor to violence against women, it does not mean that gender plays no role. An approach that does not ignore our multiplicity of identities — and in this case, gender — offers fresh perspectives in analyzing and understanding our world. Gender inequality, which manifests at all levels of society, inevitably influences and affects the distribution of violence. Therefore, it cannot be ignored in the fight to reduce violence against women.
Elisha Sum is a rising senior majoring in English and French. He can be reached at Elisha.Sum@tufts.edu.