As part of a Culture in Conversations series held at Western Carolina University (WCU), I had the opportunity to speak on the topic of gender violence in a panel session. It was a wonderful session and felt great to participate in the panel with these amazing speakers from WCU. Link to the full session here. Here, you can find the video and the transcript of my talk.
Thank you so much for organizing this panel. It’s an honor to share space with all of you.
I want to take this time explain the title of our panel: The many shades of gender violence – Gender violence is the oppression of anyone and anything that challenges the gender binary so as to sustain the power and privilege of the ruling class.
First what is the gender binary ideology – it is the belief that sex and gender is a binary – man and woman. And more importantly, the belief that someone perceived to be a man or a woman should abide by norms assigned to that gender.
Why does the ruling class need the gender binary ideology? Under capitalist systems, you have a worker who is exploited but paid a wage but a lot of unwaged, devalued care-work goes into creating and sustaining that worker. Typically, that work is done by women and racialized women, whose devalued existence is profitable for the capitalist class.
Thus, we should see gender violence not just as individual pathology, but as structurally supported.
Gender based violence can take many different forms with many intersections.
On one hand, access to abortion is difficult but at the same time, women who want to have children do not have access to childcare or paid parental leave and when they have food stamps, we stigmatize the hell out of poverty.
Gender violence may take the form of discomfort with ambitious women because their ambition is not seen in alignment with the gender binary ideology that expects women to be loving and nurturing. We should all be loving and nurturing. The problem is the barriers to women achieving their full potential or the outright violence against women with strong opinions.
Sexual violence is yet another problem. Studies show that 33% of women and 16% men report being sexually assaulted by the time they graduate university. LGBT people and gender-non-conforming people are under greater risk. Many students in our university work in restaurants and bars and face a lot of sexual violence in their workplace. Again, think of the ruling class who owns these workplaces. They are usually cis-gendered men who either engage in violence themselves or don’t care about addressing these issues.
Even cis-men, often gay men, experience sexual violence, usually from other cis-men. And men are less likely to report their experience of sexual violence or seek mental health help. Again, because of the gender binary ideology that expects men to be strong.
Gendered violence can take the form of discrimination of trans-gender people as in the case of bathroom bills in North Carolina or extreme violence against Black trans women.
We also need to know gendered violence is racialized. The racist video that we saw recently ended with a threat of sexual violence, not against all women, but particularly against Black women. In the US, the image that’s fits the ideal of femininity is a thin white woman. In a racist society, the grace that the white ruling class sometimes offers to white femininity, is not available to all women. And it follows a color scale. The closer you are to whiteness, the more grace you are offered. Black women in particular, face double violence. On one hand, you see the sexual violence as in the video and on the hand, when Black women go to hospitals, their pain is not taken seriously enough. Even for someone as famous as Serena Williams who had to struggle to have her pain acknowledged. Native American women and Black women have higher proportions of pregnancy related deaths. That is gender violence.
Another manifestation of gendered violence is war. Imperialist wars kill women and children in the rest of the world with drones and economic sanctions, and we care less about those women. And when they flee those conditions, those women are subjected to forced sterilizations here at our borders. While all this is happening, brown men, Muslim men are stereotyped in the west as being particularly patriarchal. So much so that, feminism often becomes imperialism’s hand maiden.
What should we do about it?
Even on the worst day, we need optimism to continue. Because nothing can uphold the status quo more than a feeling of helplessness or cynicism. I believe that just as oppression is intersectional, so is resistance. That means, challenges to the gender binary should intersect with challenges to capitalist exploitation, imperialist wars, and white supremacy.