Fending off violence against women

No one likes to talk about it, but you hear about it all the time. A woman got beat up. A woman got raped. A woman got assaulted. There are movements all year round across the country, but it seems the statistics for violence against women keep on growing.

“The statistics are over 3,000 women in Canada every night are housed in domestic violence shelters,” said Amanda Baldwin, services coordinator at Partners Family Services. “Housing 3,000 women tonight isn’t going to prevent 3,000 more women from needing to be housed tomorrow. This is a perpetual cycle that our society is stuck in. It’s not women that are stuck in it. It’s not men that are stuck in it. We’re stuck in this together and we continue to reproduce these social norms of violence.”

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In Canada, Dec. 6 was proclaimed as the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women to commemorate the deaths of 14 female students at Montreal’s l’École Polytechnique. That tragedy happened 25 years ago. Despite this, it seems that nothing much has changed. The need for domestic abuse shelters is just as strong now as it was then.

As most people already know, there are a lot of factors that play into domestic violence. There is no one single cause, but there are some main issues that can be identified. One of the most important ones is the way in which violence against women is so closely integrated with the North American culture.

“Violence is very much normalized as how to solve conflict and so when it happens at the macro level, it only makes sense that that’s going to trickle down to the individual micro level at the same time,” said Baldwin. “You can’t really prevent that. So in terms of going forward, nonviolent approaches to conflict in general need to be explored as well as all of our cultural norms around … rape culture and victim blaming.”

The problem with combating a problem like this is that it’s difficult to notice. It’s a subtle taint in the way people speak, the way they perceive genders, the expectations they have, etc. Baldwin gives the example of a child that grows up in a home where the father goes out to work while the woman stays at home. Already, ideologies are being implied to the child about assigned gender roles and everything after that just begins to reinforce that.

Further reinforcing these gender roles, says Baldwin, is the characterizations of the sexes. Men are perceived as strong, logical, masculine types. Women are soft, docile, and emotional. For a woman to be portrayed as strong, she has to emulate a man by being hard, logical, aggressive, etc.

“The strength of women is marked by activities and behaviours that are more traditionally masculine, so athletics and strong body types and assertiveness and logic. All of those things that are traditionally masculine are on the higher end of the hierarchy for existence,” said Baldwin. “If you extend beyond that, you get that toxic hyper-masculinity with aggression and violence.”

Nevertheless, these reinforced gender stereotypes are beginning to change. Women are starting to find the strength and confidence in being a woman without needing the validation of masculine qualities. This shift, however, is also provoking more violence against, says Baldwin.

“So the rates of violence are still increasing in our society and the statistics here will show you that,” she said. “The paradox is that as women gain more power, as we become more assertive and we’re taking the rights that are ours and have been denied us, there’s more of a threat there and it’s a real threat to men and male dominance. So it’s kind of like a claw-back, a desperately hanging on to that power. The more power we get, the more they try to keep it.”

None of this is to say that the reverse can’t also be true. Baldwin said you’ll never hear her say that male domestic abuse doesn’t happen. It certainly does, but there are some major differences that need to be recognized. First, there’s the difference in strength. When a man hits a woman, he can kill her whereas the reverse wouldn’t normally be the case unless she used a weapon.

“Women don’t abuse that way. We generally abuse verbally if we’re going to abuse. At least, that’s what the research and statistics show,” said Baldwin. “Men, when they abuse women, it costs women more than what a woman could ever cost a man by abusing him.”

In that same sense, men can’t use the “she hit me first” clause as an excuse to hit a woman. While it’s not okay for either men or women to employ violent behaviour, it’s not nearly as damaging for a man as it is for a woman.

As such, Baldwin says it’s up to the men to take a stand against violence against women if things are to really change. Since they’re the ones with the most social, financial, and educational power, they’re the ones that have to make it an intolerable, shameful thing to do. They have to make the act of violence against women as shameful as other crimes such as pedophilia, to the point where even joking about it is unacceptable.

On that note, Baldwin says it’s important to note that it’s time for the conversation about violence against women to shift away from the victims and refocus on the perpetrators. While it’s good that domestic abusers are being publicly condemned, it’s more important now for that attention to shift to the act itself and those that commit it so that it’s not so much an individual’s crime as it is a societal crime. The best way to do that, of course, is through education.

“We need to keep on having awareness on this particular issue so that those of us that can do this can have support,” said Minister of Social Services and the Status of Women, Donna Harpauer. “I think violence against women is too prevalent and that’s unacceptable.”

“There shouldn’t have to be a national event for people to actually want to talk about it, raise awareness, and put preventative strategies in place,” said Dee Drummond-Goldman of Partners Family Services. “We shouldn’t have to have something on the TV from a celebrity for anyone to sit up and take note.”

As such, Baldwin said their organization is looking to get more involved in the schools this year. They’ll be looking to do more healthy relationships programming and may be partnering with Big Brothers Big Sisters Canada to co-facilitate programs to meet these goals.

In the meantime, while these programs are underway, they will continue to have their safety structures in place to assist women in need of shelter or other types of aid. They’re funded federally and so are capable of transporting women who can’t provide for themselves.

“This is broad based support and it varies from community to community,” said Harpauer. “When you work with a community-based organization, the model varies depending on the needs of the community. A lot of different people are trying to work on those root problems.”

“The big thing is we’re always here, so when people have questions or concerns, they’re welcome to give a phone call or drop in and experience some conversation with us that way,” said Baldwin.

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