Why a 'Women's Issue?'

Friday February 8, 2013

In 1983, during a speech at the Midwest Regional Conference of the National Organization for Changing Men, the radical feminist activist and writer Andrea Dworkin talking on the issue of rape said: "We use statistics not to try to quantify the injuries, but to convince the world that those injuries even exist." Dworkin was drawing attention to the epidemic of violence against women in the United States -- an issue just as widespread today and just as silenced as it was back then. We hear the statistics all the time: One in three women globally will be beaten, sexually assaulted, or otherwise abused in her lifetime; in the U.S., one in four women will experience domestic abuse and one in five women will experience rape or attempted rape.

Numbers are used not only to inform us about the prevalence of the violence and who is affected but also to influence the way in which advocates at the Women's Freedom Center talk about the work and where to look for solutions. For instance, domestic and sexual violence is predominantly viewed as a "women's issue" -- wherein the victims are mostly women and it is women who lead the efforts to combat the problem. However, is it really a women's issue?

In the United States, as with the rest of the world, men perpetrate the majority of all violence against women, children, LGBTQ individuals and other men. While we acknowledge that violence can occur between any two individuals, we believe that failure to name the reality that men are disproportionately the main perpetrators contributes to the lack of accountability and misunderstanding of what is at the root of this violence and how to view prevention tactics. Do we put all our efforts into teaching women how not to get raped, or rather, do we teach men not to rape?

Take the latest tragedy in Newtown, Conn., as an example. Although not specifically domestic violence, it is an incident to which the majority of the population has tuned in to. After the Newtown massacre, the magazine MotherJones came out with a report detailing mass shootings in the U.S. since 1982. Of the 62 mass killings profiled in the past 30 years, only one was perpetrated by a woman -- 61 out of 62 were committed by men. The dominant discussion in the aftermath of Newtown has focused on mental illness and gun control -- both important issues. However, to not talk about the gendered component of this violence as part of the conversation is to perpetuate the normalcy of male violence. We desperately need a national discussion around the pervasiveness of violent masculinity in our culture and what we are teaching our youth. We need to ask what is going on in our society and its institutions that lead to the rise of so much male violence and continual subordination of women. Furthermore, without men's engagement in the issue, solutions are limited.

The advocates at the Women's Freedom Center, as Dworkin was doing in the ‘80s, are here to un-silence the issue, and we need the community's help. We are introducing our new column -- One in Three -- that will take a look at wide-ranging factors that contribute to violence against women. Statistics will be used as a launching point to engage the wider community in important dialogue around our society and expanding our definition and understanding of violence. We need to better recognize domestic and sexual violence as a human rights issue -- harming both men and women -- and more effectively work together toward lasting societal solutions that benefit all of us. We welcome feedback and the community's thoughts on working toward ending this devastating problem.

One in Three is a monthly column written by advocates at the Women's Freedom Center in Brattleboro. The column will appear on the first Friday of each month. The Women's Freedom Center is the local organization in Windham County working to end domestic and sexual violence. Follow us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/womensfreedomcenter and at our website www.womensfreedomcenter.net. You can reach an advocate 24 hours a day on our crisis line at 802-224-6954.


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