COLUMN: Stop gendered violence

It’s a punishment so brutal, it boggles the mind how so many men — and they were all men — could be persuaded to participate in it.

A 19-year-old woman was stoned to death last week in Afghanistan, after she had been charged with adultery for running away with another man after she had been forced into marriage against her will, according to CNN.

Video of the gruesome act has since been circulating online. A CNN report suggests that this horrifying form of capital punishment “underlines the widespread problem of violence against women in Afghanistan.” Yet the problem is much larger than the territory of any one country.

Gendered violence — violence that “serves to maintain structural gender inequalities,” according to the Duke University Women’s Center — occurs every day in every country on the planet.

And while it might be controversial to say it, the vast majority of this violence is perpetrated by men against women.

Men’s violence, unlike women’s, is backed up by what author and gender theorist Michael Kaufman calls “a nurturing environment of violence” — that is, patriarchal societies structured hierarchically, with some men having power over others and violence encouraged as a particularly “masculine” pursuit.

Recognizing and acknowledging the reality — and overwhelming unidirectionality — of gender-based violence is an important first step toward ending it.

But those who dare to speak the truth of the situation tend to experience backlash. Women in particular are often subject to men’s efforts to silence them or derail conversations they might try to begin about the violence women live with on a daily basis.

One strategy deployed against attempts, especially by women, to discuss the problem of men’s violence against women is the “not all men” argument, which suggests that, since not all men commit rape, domestic abuse or other forms of violence against women, the subject should not be raised at all.

But let’s not kid ourselves — it isn’t cisgendered men who are sentenced to gang rape as punishment for their brother’s elopement with a woman from the wrong caste, as the Daily Beast reported a 23-year-old woman and her 15-year-old sister in India were in July.

It isn’t cisgendered men who are subjected to forced pregnancy, forced abortion and virginity tests, some of the forms of sexual violence listed in a training program for health care providers developed by Women Against Violence Europe and the United Nations Population Fund.

Acknowledging the fact that the overwhelming majority of acts of gendered violence are perpetrated by cisgendered men does not mean accusing all men of being 
violent predators.

Of course not all men are rapists, abusers etc. But too many of them are.

Violence against women who dare to make their own choices — such as the stoning of the young woman in Afghanistan last week — is not a problem limited to Afghanistan. It is not something that will go away if the Taliban does.

Men’s violence — against women, children, transgender people and other men — will only end once all men do the difficult work of acknowledging and working to undo the social and cultural foundations of such violence.

This will not be easy work, and it will require men to feel uncomfortable.

But maybe men’s discomfort is a small price to pay for ending gendered violence.

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