Not sheepish, but individ-ewe-al (livredor) wrote,
Not sheepish, but individ-ewe-al
livredor

Is violence against women taboo?

OK, I really need to get on with work, not joining in the fun and multi-valent discussion on my dating post. But I want to start unpacking the tangle in this thread, starting from pw201's comment that violence against women is so often taboo (even among men who might be violent to other men, I think) that I was shocked to learn that women genuinely feel they might be at risk of it.

So far two women have commented that violence against women absolutely isn't taboo, and three men have maintained that it is, and lots of people haven't seen the discussion because it's buried at the bottom of a long and collapsed thread.

Facts: yes, women are afraid of violence, particularly sexual violence. Some of that I think isn't justified. But even if you're male you must be aware of the background of chatter that it isn't safe for women to go out alone after dark, and a woman on her own should be careful in particular areas, and women need to learn self-defence, and all that kind of thing. Any woman who is alone with one or more men is going to be aware of that. She may reject it intellectually, but she's aware that she's expected to be afraid in such a situation.

Yes, women suffer from male violence. I mean, duh. I hope nobody is actually denying that this is true! There aren't any completely reliable stats on the prevalence of rape, and any rape at all is too much. But somewhere in the order of one in four women are raped or experience serious sexual assault during their adult lives. If that statistic is an order of magnitude out, it's still an extremely common crime. Unless you are a complete hermit, you almost certainly know several women who have been raped.

So, if there is a taboo, it's not working. I can think of several possible reasons for this. Speculation:

Maybe there isn't in fact a taboo. But the perception that there is one must come from somewhere. Since a taboo isn't actually a physical thing but a matter of perception, saying that there is a perceived taboo is the same as saying that there is a taboo.

Maybe the taboo just means that violence against women takes place in secret, not in the open, as neonchameleon suggests. This is at least partly true. Though things that are illegal tend to take place in secret anyway, which doesn't say much about whether they are taboo or not.

Maybe the taboo is very limited in scope. Incest, for example, is pretty uncontroversially taboo; some people still commit incest, and a lot more fantasize about it, but they are likely to be very acutely aware that it is considered disgusting by most of society. Is that the case for rape and violence against women? To an extent yes; just about everybody would enthusiastically agree to the proposition that rape is wrong. However, you're a whole lot more likely to see rape portrayed and discussed in the mainstream media than you are to see incest. As for more general violence against women, pretty much any film or novel that includes violence at all is going to include a portrayal of female victims. It's seen as bad, maybe even especially bad compared to attacks on men, but it's out there, it's part of the background in a manner that doesn't seem congruent for something that was really taboo.

Maybe only a proportion of people accept the taboo. Obviously, the great majority of people would never dream of raping a woman in any circumstance. I think we can discount most of them as being people who are not violent anyway; they don't hold back from raping women because of a specific taboo, they just generally don't have any inclination to do anything like that. Are there some people who wouldn't hesitate to get into bar brawls with men who look at them funny, or beat up men in order to rob them, but would never lay a hand on a woman? Yes, probably such men exist, but I would guess it's a very small category.

I don't agree with the implication in the comment discussion that "men like us" hold the taboo, whereas some unspecified group of outsiders are barbarians who often hurt women. There is no indication that educated men are less likely to rape than less educated men, or that white men have more respect for women than any other ethnic group. To the extent that violence against women is taboo, it is often used to demonize outsiders, foreigners, or poor people, or people of a different religion. It's unhelpful to give any credence to what is essentially a xenophobic myth.

Maybe rape is not seen as violence. This is the explanation I most favour. You might well find men who would never punch a woman in the face, because that genuninely is taboo, but would hold a woman down and force her to have sex, or would have sex with a woman who was unconscious or extremely drunk or mentally incompetent. Or who would use implied threats of violence to get women to comply, such as violence against her pets or breaking things in front of her or cornering her somewhere she couldn't escape or get help and then initiating sex.

Maybe the taboo doesn't apply to all women. neonchameleon brought up the idea of chivalry, which is a definite example of this. "Good" women, who are upperclass, sexually "pure" and usually beautiful, are protected by chivalrous men, even to quite extreme extents. Women who fall outside this magic circle are fair game. However, most of the time it's a lot more subtle than that; most men these days do not claim to be following the rules of chivalry, or openly admit to raping peasants, servants and so on.

But there's a kind of weird division going on among misogynists where some women don't really count as people. You get some deeply sexist men who will go on about how they respect and admire and of course are attracted to women, and would beat up anybody who ever touched a woman when he shouldn't, and so on. But they also go on about slags or sluts or bimbos or hos or some other word which basically means, women who have sex outside committed relationships. Such women are discussed in the most graphic terms; this kind of sexist doesn't usually admit openly to wanting to rape such women, but he does talk about all the terrible things that might "happen to" her if she goes about dressed like that, and anyone who gets drunk and goes home with strange men must be "asking for it", and she obviously has "no self-respect" (so why should I respect her?).

Similarly, there's the undercurrent of justification for domestic violence. Of course beating your wife is wrong, but she was such a terrible nag, she drove him to it. Even more so if he suspected her of having an affair; violence in that case is seen as a crime of passion, or justified revenge. Obviously, I don't think it's morally acceptable for women to cheat on their husbands, but the appropriate response is to divorce them, not to beat them to a pulp or shoot them, and the latter happens far more often than would seem reasonable if violence against women were really taboo.

So in short, my question is, if violence against women is such a taboo, why is it that so many women get attacked?

I've set comments to partial screening here because sometimes this kind of discussion attracts trolls. If you have something intelligent to contribute but you're not on my flist, be patient, I'll unscreen your comment as soon as I get to it. I do also expect people to engage sensitively; bear in mind that just on a statistical basis there are probably women reading this who have been raped in the past, so it's not just an abstract hypothetical issue to play intellectual games with.
Tags: political
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