What can we do about gendered violence?

Part of the 10,000-strong vigil for Eurydice Dixon in Melbourne on June 18. Photo: Peter Boyle

The rape and murder of comedian Eurydice Dixon in Melbourne on June 12 has prompted a nationwide discussion about the endemic nature of male violence against women, as well as a push for solutions — short and long-term.

MARGARITA WINDISCH, a sexual assault councillor and educator on family violence at Victoria University, spoke to 3CR on June 18. Below is a transcript of her remarks. The full Podcast can be found here.

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It is quite important to get a sense of why there is so much violence in our society.

Broadly speaking, we live in a very brutalised and brutalising world.  It is very important to understand where this violence comes from, so that we know how to address it, and eliminate it.

At the end of the day we all — irrespective of gender — want to live in a world that is free of violence.

My view is that violence is part of the DNA of the current system — capitalism. Sexual assault and violence are not, in themselves, innate behaviours: they operate in a particular social context.

Sexual assault and domestic family violence, which is part of the spectrum of violence against women, are a symptom of the unequal economic system that makes women second-class citizens.

But they are also the necessary enforcers of this gender oppression. There is no better way to keep women in their “place” than by using violence against them.

So it is important to have an understanding of where this violence comes from, and understand that it is deeply entrenched in gender oppression. And this is expressed in very different ways.

An interesting book by Cordelia Fine, a Canadian-born British philosopher, psychologist and author of Delusions of Gender, looks at how people are socialised from very early on. She says that male violence is not part of our DNA, but that it is a product of the environment, or the system.

Because our society is more and more commodified — all our behaviour and social relations are commodified — we can see how that impacts on everyone’s development.

We can see how boys and girls, who identify as such, are from very early on straight-jacketed into very specific gender roles. I would say this has shifted to much earlier in their lives than I remember growing up.

Fine also says that parents, or a pregnant women, if they are aware of the assigned gender of the foetus, will even speak differently to it in the womb.

In tackling violence prevention, we really need to look at how we can make a concerted effort to attack those outmoded ideological justifications, including the institutional reinforcement of gender oppression. This includes the very rigid gender roles that always put women in a nurturing space, but also suggest that men own women’s sexuality. This is critical to address if we are going to look at the drivers of gender violence.

On the role that government and institutions can play, we have to understand that prevention has to happen on different levels.

If we really want to attack gender oppression – and that would not just help create a safer world for women but also for men and all people of fluid genders — we have to look at system change and how we can dismantle the economic foundations of oppression.

That includes finding different ways of changing the resource allocation and provide financial security and accessing housing options for survivors of domestic family violence.

I think people need to get more angry about it.

We know that the current government’s neoliberal agenda means that vulnerable or discriminated population groups – women and people of colour — are consistently attacked. That’s where we need to get angry and demand real change which starts to address the economic imbalance and then the ideological justification for it.

But is also about individual victim survivor support.

What is it that people who experience violence need to restore some sense of self, some healing and some sense of purpose?

It is also critical to hold the perpetrators to account. And that is not just individual perpetrators but institutional ones as well.

The police perpetrate a lot of violence, and that includes gendered violence.

What are the different ways to tackle this gender oppression? It includes having much more space for social movements to demand this change. We also need to hear lots of different voices, as not everyone who has experienced gendered violence has exactly the same needs.

[The full 3CR morning breakfast panel podcast can be found here.]

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