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Mariana Plata

Why Do We Normalize Violence Against Women?

Even though it's a growing problem, society continues to normalize it.

Daniel Silva Gaxiola/Unsplash
Source: Daniel Silva Gaxiola/Unsplash

Yolanis Isabel De León Domínguez in Panama. Yuliana Samboní in Colombia. Mara Castilla in México. Rosa María Bonilla Vega in El Salvador. Karen Vanessa Jiménez in Costa Rica. Gabriela Lucía Villacinda in Guatemala. Mollie Tibbets in the U.S. These are just a few of the names that come up when you Google "femicide in [country]."

Some of the headlines that journalists have chosen to announce these deaths include: "Dead because she said no," "Murdered by a man who harassed her," and "She was just running." Cases of gender violence, according to UN Women, represent around 35 percent of women around the world who have suffered from physical and/or sexual violence from their romantic partner.

And while reading about these cases can be heart-wrenching, what makes it even sadder is witnessing the reactions and comments from other people — both men and women — who normalize this type of violence:

"That happened to her because she was walking around by herself."

"That's what happens to women when they dress like that."

"That's what happens when they resist."

Just a week ago, during a criminal trial in Ireland, "The lawyer of a man accused of rape cited the lacy underwear worn by a woman as a sign of her consent." Later this week, we found out that the Chicago hospital's shooter was the ex-fiancée of Tamara O'Neal, an emergency room doctor. According to Huffington Post, "Just after 3 p.m., Lopez showed up in person to argue with O’Neal over their 'broken engagement' and to demand the engagement ring back, witnesses told Reuters. That argument ended when Lopez shot her three times in the chest, and then stood over her and shot her three more times."

Why do we consistently give the aggressor the benefit of the doubt? Why do we struggle to comprehend that a victim is never responsible for their abuse? There's nothing anyone can or should do to give permission to another person to physically or emotionally invade and/or hurt someone else. Why do we keep making women responsible for their abuse? More importantly, what are the different faces of the violence we keep normalizing?

When do we start normalizing violence?

A recent survey created by Oxfam Intermon found that more than 80 percent of young, male respondents in Latin America believe they can have sexual relationships with whoever they want, but women can't and shouldn't, and 40 percent believe that if a woman is drunk, she's giving permission to men to have sexual intercourse with her.

Even when men don't consider their behaviors violent, this survey shows how they do hold beliefs that normalize violence against women. But where do these come from? The report explains that it's the interdependence of personal, family, and social values, which interact and maintain normalization. Toxic masculinity, internalized misogyny, and patriarchal societies are all forms in which these beliefs are established. And it becomes a vicious cycle which can only be stopped through awareness, education, and active defiance of gender stereotypes.

The many faces of violence against women

Frequently, due to the cycles and patterns mentioned earlier, violent behavior continues to happen, because it's the only way people know how to relate to one another. Sometimes, this is due to their own background or family dynamics. Because of this, it can be difficult for a victim to realize she/he is part of a violent or abusive relationship. A way to help identify this is by increasing awareness about the many faces that violence against women can take, some of which are:

  • Physical Violence — Includes any type of behavior that inflicts physical pain (pushing, shoving, hitting, etc.)
  • Emotional Violence — When one person threatens, humiliates, mocks, insults, or undermines another person, typically in a romantic relationship
  • Sexual Violence — When one person invades another person's sexuality. Might be expressed as sexual harassment, sexual abuse, rape, forced sexual relationships, or genital mutilation, among others
  • Economic Violence — When one partner controls the other person's finances, forces economic dependency, or threatens the other person with economic control
  • Social Violence — When one partner controls the other person's social life, forcing them to social isolation
  • Symbolic Violence — The way media messages promote and perpetuate violence against women
  • Obstetric Violence — The dehumanization of women, and control of their reproductive rights and choices
  • Teen Dating Violence — Control, abuse and/or aggressive behaviors that can occur in teen relationships

How do we stop violence against women?

I've had to take several breaks while writing this article. Particularly because any topic that clearly shows how another person's human rights are being threatened and disregarded is painful for me to read and research. It's a topic that's not easy for me to dive into, but that's exactly what makes it so necessary and important. Especially if I have the privilege to do so.

I'm not a fan of leaving problems unsolved. And I'd like to end this article by offering you some actionable steps you can take to help eliminate violence against women:

  • Start at a family level. It's crucial to educate mothers, fathers, parents, siblings, and any other family member that is capable and willing to deconstruct these normalized beliefs regarding gender violence.
  • Talk to your friends. Violence needs to be stopped in its tracks. And this might mean cutting a friend short on their sexist "joke," story, movie, or even the type of language they use. We need to be willing to challenge this normalization and seize teachable moments as often as possible.
  • Help young women reclaim their narratives. When a woman decides to come forward about having experienced any type of violence, what should feel as a freeing moment is often clouded by scrutiny and humiliation towards her. We need to stop victim-shaming and victim-blaming, and we need to start supporting, helping, and listening to these women. Honoring their stories, their bravery, their strength, and their voices.
  • Build alternative references to masculinity. The way in which the concept of masculinity has been built is hurtful, simplistic and constraining (which is why we often refer to it as toxic masculinity). We need to broaden this concept in a way that we never have to reduce someone's worth to their biological sex or gender.
  • Mobilize and occupy spaces to raise awareness. A wise friend of mine once said, "If we aren't given the spaces to voice our concerns, we must take them." The same applies to spaces where we organize. Like the activist Flo Kennedy used to say: "Don't agonize, organize."

This upcoming November 25th is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. We must use this day to raise awareness and make a change in our immediate communities and groups. However difficult it is to talk about this, communicate it, study it, and listen to it — we can't stop fighting and resisting. The only way to challenge these injustices is talking, talking, and talking some more.


About the Author

Mariana Plata is a psychologist, educator, and mental health writer based in Panama.