Most women experience some form of sexual violence as part of their daily reality. Even if this does not take the extreme form of rape, beatings, and murder, there is the ever-present threat of assault implicit in the sexual comments and gestures in the streets and at work. The media, advertising, and the widespread circulation of sexist literature and pornography create a climate that encourages sexual violence and harassment by objectifying women.
Forms of violence
Violence against women can assume many forms, physical and sexual, financial, verbal, and psychological/emotional. Physical violence includes not only actual assaults but also the threat of violence that limits women’s actions and behavior. Sexual abuse can include humiliating or degrading comments or jokes, unwanted touching or fondling, through to demands for sex, rape, and causing injury during sex. Financial abuse can involve male breadwinners not giving their female partners enough money for food, health, and housing or the threat of financial insecurity which is used to keep women trapped in violent situations. Women who have been full-time carers and out of the workforce for a long period may face unemployment or employment with low pay, it is uncommon for women to maintain their material standard of living after leaving a marriage or de facto relationship. Verbal abuse includes ‘put-downs, derogatory comments, persistent claims that a woman is incompetent, unattractive, inferior, etc. Verbal abuse also consists of actual threats of assault. (Berry, 175-90) Psychological/emotional abuse often comes from prolonged verbal abuse that destroys women’s self-esteem but can also include the prolonged threat of violence and social isolation. Violence against women is not just carried out by individual males against individual women. The State not only condones violations against the rights of women it perpetuates them. In the past, it did this directly by legalizing wife-beating and by placing the responsibility for rape onto the victim. Indirectly the state aids in the powerlessness of women by not providing adequate, affordable child-care, allocating insufficient welfare payments to single mothers, and under-valuing work that is traditionally female. These particular manifestations of violence against women are situated on a larger continuum of socially inflicted violence, which includes concerted, systematic violations of women’s economic and political rights.
Wood generally considers feminine problems she also, on the other hand, includes issues facing men as well. Even if men are not considered as the “ultimate” exploited gender in some fields of life they are subjugated. (Wood, 113) Wood is exact about the thought that gender prospects are principally predisposed by culture. Julia Wood takes every probability she can to affront and disparage men. The only men she will recognize constructively are those who have markedly “feminine” traits. (Wood, 54) Many feminists may discover this inspirational and validating, but it does little to promote better interaction or communiqué with members of the opposite sex. Wood is culpable of the same unpleasant attacks on men that she depicts as an occurrence to women.
Dominant pornographic imagery
Although pornography may not be responsible for creating violence against women it should take some blame for encouraging it by creating such disparate images of men and women and by the objectification of women’s bodies. (Cuklanz, 12-15) Dominant pornographic imagery is a problem not because it creates instant rapists but rather because it is one aspect of the continuous social construction of polarized images of women and men, pornography inevitably does play a part in constructing a dominant form of masculinity that fears and abuses women, and a dominant form of femininity which expects mastery from men.
Pornography depicts women as a vagina and breasts surrounded by an insignificant body, as waiting for receptacles for semen. Pornography does typically encapsulate all that is most distressing and depressing in the portrayal of women’s bodies in our own culture: women become sexual commodities, usable, disposable, and endlessly available for the titillation of men. Today’s feminist activism to male violence against women revolves around keeping steadily defunded services like refuges, health centers, and rape crisis centers functioning. Reclaim the Night marches continue to attract large numbers of women around the country and keep the violence experienced by women on the agenda and in people’s consciousness.
Like the battering of women in the home, rape is primarily a social problem, rooted in centuries of male predominance and in the links our society has fostered between property, sex, and violence. (Renzetti, 234-40) The problem cannot be tackled effectively unless changes are made in the social conditions that encourage violence and keep women in an inferior position. Sexual violence against women is about power, not sex. Until the power imbalance between men and women has been eradicated all women will experience violence or the constant reminder of it.
Berry, Dawn Bradley. Domestic Violence Sourcebook: Everything You Need to Know. Los Angeles: Lowell House, 1998.
Cuklanz, Lisa M. Rape on Prime Time: Television, Masculinity, and Sexual Violence. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 2000.
Renzetti, Claire M. Sourcebook on Violence Against Women. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 2001.
Wood, Julia T. Gendered Lives: Wadsworth Publishing; 7th edition (2006).