Gender-Based Violence is a Reality we Cannot Deny

Fact. Photo: Kat Jayne

Are we ‘really’ living in the most peaceful time in human history?

Gender-based violence brings into sharp relief the connection between sociocultural change, violence, and activism and similar to the world of Game of Thrones, reality can be a dangerous place for people to live, but particularly for women. However, believe it or not, violence has been in decline for a few centuries now. Moreover, Steven Pinker claims that “today we may be living in the most peaceable era in our species’ existence.” However, with the bombardment of distressing content in today’s local and international media, this statement sounds ludicrous. The media should be representing, reporting, and facilitating content to reduce the conflict of violence in society. Instead, the mass media pay less attention to the factors that contribute to peace and cooperation than the attention given to the acts of violence and war.

Violence against women and girls is rooted in gender-based discrimination and social norms and gender stereotypes that continue such violence; it is a significant public health problem and a violation of women’s human rights. Global statistics issued by the World Health Organisation show that about 1 in 3 (35%) of women worldwide have experienced sexual violence at some point in their lifetime. Globally, intimate male partners commit as many as 38% of the murders of women. The UN’s Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women defines violence against women as: “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual, or mental harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life,” (United Nations, 1993). There is evidence that advocacy and empowerment are promising in preventing and reducing violence against women, which supports Pinker’s claims.

The Decline of Violence

War, violence, and public perception challenge the ideas that war is ever-present, that violence is increasing, and how the mass media is influencing people by either representing and reporting on violence. Steven Pinker is a Professor of Psychology at Harvard University and the author of ‘Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined’. In his book, Pinker talks about the incidence of violence in society and challenges some of the preconceived ideas about violence. He mounts a strong challenge to the notion that war and violence have decreased over time. Pinker conducted a statistical study of rates of violence that occurred commonly, such as criminal events of war and mass atrocities throughout history. Pinker asserts that “the decline of violence is a fractal phenomenon. You can see it over millennia, over centuries, over decades and over years.” There appears to be a turning point at the onset of the age of reason in the 16th century, especially evident in western societies.

Homicide: the killing of one person by another.

According to Pinker, “If you look at history we have undoubtedly gotten better” but when he asked people if they believed if violence has increased or decreased – everyone thought violence had increased despite statistics stating the exact opposite. The data says society is making things better, but “barbaric practices such as human sacrifice and execution by torture have been abolished, while cruelty towards women, children and animals is, Pinker claims, in steady decline,” (Gray, 2015). Gray argues that the stats are deceptive, and the idea of moral progress is ‘wishful thinking’. People have strong feelings about human nature. Human nature is not merely a scientific topic; it is a topic that borders on moral philosophy, history, politics, and ideas.

In order to achieve gender equality, society must first confront their hidden biases, in situations such as these, what is needed is not equal treatment, but fair treatment. People often debate, against the facts, that most Western societies have achieved complete gender equality, and claim that women have all the same constitutional rights as men, and workplace discrimination based on gender is illegal. Regardless, feminists continue to argue that the battle for gender equality is not yet won (Alba, 2018). Equity involves understanding that differences in ability mean that fairness often requires treating people uniquely so that they can achieve the same outcome. Equal treatment is essential to obtain gender equality, but there are many situations where this is not the case.

Domestic Violence has a History

Addressing the massive problem of domestic violence in today’s society is fraught with many difficulties. One challenge is how the underlying constitutional and cultural notions about violence by men against female partners seem so inherent and resistant to change (Hall, 2016). Critical assumptions about domestic violence formed centuries ago, this is explored in terms of what historian Philippa Maddern called a “moral hierarchy of violence,” where those in control had the moral authority to use violence to discipline and assert dominance over those beneath them. Women and children were expected to accept this discipline of punishment with submission, even if they thought it was unjustified or unnecessary.

Conversely, it was a husband’s “greatest humiliation and shame, if he allowed himself to be subdued, ruled and criticised by a woman” (Fischer, 1613). Early understandings of violence differed from society’s perceptions today, but this is not to say that abuse happening within society went unnoticed. Matters did not revolve around whether or not to practice violence, but rather what levels and types of violence were necessary to guarantee control. As society redefines the meaning of violence as a society more generally to disrupt the assumptions rooted in history, violence, and sexist power will hopefully disappear.

One of the forces behind the reduction in violence for both genders is the feminist movement, the enhanced role of women in society and positions of power. The rise of feminism relies on an increase of reliance on logical thinking instead of cultural traditions for creating policies. Sharing this movement has led to the potential for mass media to make it possible for people to see those lower in the hierarchy not as dangerous, but as humans with common humanity. However, there is a cognitive illusion – the easier it is to recall specific instances of something, the more importance assigned to that issue. The information consumed from the media burns memory with the intent for shocking viewers, thus exploiting the suffering of women and girls for the sole purpose of entertainment.

Gender-based Violence in the Media

The mass media makes people feel the world is becoming more dangerous; this is a sorely needed correction to conventional thinking. In today’s technologically advanced society, all forms of media can reach more people than ever before. The press is a priority area in primary prevention because of its potential influence on public understanding of violence against women (Carll, 2003). Game of Thrones primarily glorifies and normalises violence against women in a period, now, when society is already experiencing these issues. However, it fails women. The media exploits the suffering of women for shock value unnecessarily. They hardly ever lead to significant developments outside of labelling a male as a rapist or evil monster without ever being held to account for his actions; the boys-will-be-boys approach is no longer acceptable. Critics have accused the series of being misogynistic and argue that gender-based violence against all women, especially rape, have become frequent unnecessary occurrences (Scalera, 2019). There is nothing wrong with incorporating gender-based violence into the mass media, just as long as it is not with the pure intention of shocking viewers.

The media plays a critical role in shaping public interest because they report on current issues and provide a framework for interpretation. Today, media audiences are not merely passive recipients of information; published stories about individuals and events can profoundly influence people’s attitudes, beliefs and behaviours (Flood & Pease, 2009). News articles from 2017 detailing accusations of sexual assault and harassment against movie royalty Harvey Weinstein boosted the #MeToo movement into the nation’s awareness. The wake of the #MeToo movement and the ‘Weinstein Effect’ provided a voice for victims of sexual harassment, sexual abuse and predatory behaviour. There is no simple reason to explain how or why audiences are influenced by what they view, read and learn from the news. Media influence is a multifaceted process involving various sources, journalists, editors, and audiences. However, undoubtedly, the way information is structured can increase public understanding of violence against women and, more importantly, challenge its position in society (Easteal, Holland, & Judd, 2015).

Finding ways to capture narratives of change or methods which communicate to contemporary audiences is an ongoing challenge. One new approach is data visualisation to use statistics that demonstrate the lessons of violence throughout history, such as those used throughout this article. Documenting history is extremely important, capturing what happened for the record, but it is also essential to not neglect stories about what it takes to create a cohesive society. Even though violence and distressing content dominate the media, there is a growing appetite for stories and content that is inspiring, insightful, and provocative on the complexities of the human condition. Stories that show how people resolve conflict without addressing to physical violence or potentially violent confrontation is apparent in an emerging trend of ‘Possibility Journalism’. This question of ‘what is possible here’ opens up the discursive dialogue to use in media alternatives to convene conversations and foster collaboration, innovation, and action so that a diverse news and information ecosystem can thrive. In this case, the mass media pays less attention to the factors that contribute to peace and cooperation than the attention given to conflict and violence.

Deaths by Violence are Not All Equal

Estimating the numbers of individuals who die from violence involve examining combined questions of cause and effect, not necessarily separated from ethical judgments. Gender-based violence is a rising health and human rights issue. The United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women defines violence against women as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual, or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life.” Effectively disregarded is the physical and mental abuse of women in almost every part of the world. Men who are convicted and prosecuted for beating or raping women and girls are rare when compared to the numbers of assaults. Violence, therefore, still functions as a mechanism to maintain and reinforce the submission of gender-based violence. There are many kinds of lethal force that do not produce immediate death (Gray, 2011). If a woman gets sexually abused as a part of a military strategy and dies after the event takes place, will her passing feature in the data of the past? Another reason for misleading statistics is that women tend to typically avoid the harasser, deny or soften the significance of the situation, or try to ignore, forget, or tolerate the behaviour (Engel, 2017). In this sense, statistics can barely account for gender-based violence.

Reliable, accurate analogous data regarding gender-based violence is vital for society on a global scale to strengthen the advocacy for social change by understanding the predicament and conducting intervention mechanisms. Estimating the extent of violence in society, however, is a complicated task. Statistics available through the government, women’s organisations, and other social institutions underestimate the amount of violence because of under-reporting, even if it has drastically improved since the 16th century. The absence of consistent practices and representations about domestic violence makes correlations across studies robust because interpretations are prejudiced and usually refer to specific acts of violence, during a fixed time. While some studies consider only physical abuse, others may consider physical, sexual and psychological harassment. In family violence investigations, some may involve solely women currently in a relationship, while others report on only single women.

Uxoricide: the act of murdering one’s wife. Mariticide: the murder of one’s spouse, but has become the most associated with the killing of a husband.

Violence is a Social Dilemma

Unfortunately, evidence suggests that the prejudice of gender-based violence is still widespread. Pinker’s endeavour for the hope of peace in science is profoundly instructive, for it attests to society’s enduring need for long-term peace. The world does not need science to assure them that humans are violent animals, history and contemporary experience provide more than enough evidence (Gray, 2011). It should not be uncommon to know that human beings are becoming less violent and more humane. The decline of violence has not been linear, has not brought violence down to zero and is not guaranteed to continue. Despite how people feel about the gender-based violence in the Game of Thrones or the news, mass media, history, or reality itself, it is evident that the series recalls statistics on violence against women in today’s society. The mass media portrays its distressing content as a reflection of the violence against women today, in which the most privileged and influential women can still be subjected to gender-based violence, as exemplified by the Weinstein effect and the #MeToo movement. The investigation of the conflict of gender-based violence is a fact-based endeavour. It is pleasant when the facts make people optimistic, but even when they do not, it is critical to understand the data, so society can continue to make an effort to improve things. Things could be extremely worse, but they could also be a lot better.

#violence #violenceinmedia #representation #news #gender #women

Reference List

Alba, B. (2018, March 8). To achieve gender equality, we must first tackle our unconscious biases. Retrieved from https://theconversation.com/to-achieve-gender-equality-we-must-first-tackle-our-unconscious-biases-92848

Australian Government. (n.d.). What is violence against women? Retrieved from https://plan4womenssafety.dss.gov.au/resources/what-is-violence-against-women/

Carll, E. K. (2003). News portrayal of violence and women: Implications for public policy. American Behavioral Scientist, 46(12), 1601-1610. doi: 10.1177/0002764203254616

Engel, B. (2017, November 16). Why Don’t Victims of Sexual Harassment Come Forward Sooner? Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-compassion-chronicles/201711/why-dont-victims-sexual-harassment-come-forward-sooner

Flood, M., & Pease, B. (2009). Factors influencing attitudes to violence against women. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 10(2), 125-142.

Gray, J. (2011, September 21). Delusions of peace. Retrieved from https://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/magazine/john-gray-steven-pinker-violence-review

Gray, J. (2015, March 14). John Gray: Steven Pinker is wrong about violence and war. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/mar/13/john-gray-steven-pinker-wrong-violence-war-declining

Gurchiek, K. (2018, October 4). One Year After #MeToo and ‘Weinstein Effect’: What’s Changed? Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/employee-relations/pages/sexual-harassment-workplace-weinstein-effect.aspx

Hall, D. (2016, December 3). Domestic violence has a history: Early modern family violence. Retrieved from http://www.auswhn.org.au/blog/domestic-violence-history/

Koehrsen, W. (2019, January 06). Has Global Violence Declined? A Look at the Data. Retrieved from https://towardsdatascience.com/has-global-violence-declined-a-look-at-the-data-5af708f47fba

Pinker, S. (2011). The Better Angels of Our Nature. Retrieved from https://casw.org/sites/default/files/CASWNewHorizonsPinker10-16-2011.pdf

Pinker, S. (2011). The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. New York: Viking.

Scalera, M. (2018, August 12). Why do the Women of Game of Thrones Suffer So Much? Retrieved from https://the-artifice.com/women-of-game-of-thrones/

Sutherland, G., McCormack, A., Pirkis, J., Easteal, P., Holland, K., & Vaughan, C. (2015). Landscapes: Media representations of violence against women and their children: State of knowledge paper. (Landscapes: Our Watch; No. 15). Australia: Anrows.

United Nations. (1993). Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women (UN Resolution 48/104). Paper presented at the proceedings of the 85th plenary meeting, United Nations General Assembly, Geneva.

World Health Organization. (1997, July). Violence against women. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/gender/violence/v4.pdf

World Health Organization. (2017, November 29). Violence against women. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/violence-against-women

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