White Ribbon Day – Calling for an End to Violence Against Women (part 2)
I am amazed at the amount of vitriol and resistance I have encountered over my piece from last week “White Ribbon Day – Calling for an End to Violence Against Women“. It seems that not only is the feminist aspect of this piece a trigger for some people to cry foul, but that the apparent “exclusiveness” of the campaign has many up in arms also.
The biggest reaction I received was in comments from readers, both here and on Ophelia Benson’s blog “Butterflies and Wheels”, where Ophelia highlighted my piece and thanked me for reminding people about the Montreal Massacre of 1989. Let me break down the arguments against The White Ribbon campaign one by one.
1. The White Ribbon Campaign is exclusive
The comments to this end mostly focused on the idea that a campaign to end violence against women is blind to the plight of the rest of the world, namely, men. While it is true this campaign only stands to end violence against women, it is asking the men of the community to step forward and tell the rest of the world that violence against women is not only intolerable, but that men won’t stand idly by when it happens. Most violence against women is perpetrated by men. At the same time, most violence against men is also perpetrated by men. If it’s men who are on the attacking end of this problem, then it makes sense to target men, to get them on side with the campaign, and to declare to the world that this kind of behaviour is unacceptable.
The fact that it focuses on violence against women, and not violence in general, is not, as some claim, turning a blind eye to the many acts of violence perpetrated against men, children or even animals. What this campaign does is look at one very important aspect of violence in our cultures, one where the perpetrator is usually larger and stronger than the victim, and one where the acts of violence have so long been kept under wraps, both from fear of reprisal by the aggressors or fear of further angering the partner in a relationship (and in some cases from fear of ridicule). So what happens when society pressures men, guides men and teaches men that aggressive behaviour against women is not tolerable? I would envision a greater respect for women across the board if men were to stop abusing women, which would lead to a greater respect for people in general.
We know that in many situations acts of violence against women happen in the home. Remember that we learn a lot about ethical behaviours in our own homes, from our parents and mentors. A strong male role-model, one who despises violence against women, against men and against children, one that can guide a child through the obstacle course of potential wrong-turns and pitfalls, one that teaches a child respect for people, animals and the environment at large, these are the men we want to have around us in the societies of the future. If a household shows respect to women, the effect will be that 50% of the population that has until recently been seen as second-class will be treated with the same level of respect as their male counterparts.
By targeting men, the apparent exclusiveness of the campaign becomes a non-issue; Men are not only being included in the conversation, but are being asked to actively participate in the physical aspects of the campaign. Women are being asked to support the men who support the campaign, so exactly who does this exclude? This campaign asks us not to sit complacently by and let acts of violence against women continue to happen, but to stand up and with support of other men (and women), work to stop this violence.
2. This is a feminist campaign, and you are an enabler of radical feminism
This campaign was developed by men, not women (not that it makes any difference in my eyes), to try and build a healthier society for all people. It is not a covert feminist campaign, with Andrea Dworkin hiding behind the men waiting to take over when finally women rule the world. No, this is primarily a humanist campaign, which focuses on respect for others, and civilised discourse between human-beings. To not hit a woman is no more a feminist ideal than to not hit a child is a “childist” view. To not hit anyone, for any reason, is just a way for civilised society to conduct itself, and owes little to radical feminism. People are people, and we are all in this together, whether we like it or not.
So often those that cry “radical feminism” seem to ask what is wrong with the world now, and question why we need to change it. To some, the way we do things as we do them now, and have in the past, are good enough, so why rock the boat? Well, it’s obvious the way things are is not “just fine”. Women are still treated as second class all over the world. In some areas of Afghanistan women are treated as little more than cattle, and are denied things we in the west take for granted such as education.
What we see here in the West is far less insidious than what happens to the likes of Malala, who was shot by the Taliban, seen as a threat to their rule. Rather it’s the seriousness with which women are treated in society. Women are paid less, as a rule, than men doing the same job. Women are seen as “emotional”, and are trusted far less often with the technical runnings of business and politics. Women are seen as “untrustworthy”, for not only is there a reputation for gossiping and the like, but in the view of some men that women may take off at any moment to have a baby. Many of these problems lie under the surface, and are enacted in society unconsciously. This is not radical feminism speaking; this is equality, where a woman’s role in society is seen as of equal value to that of a man.
As for me being an “enabler of radical feminism”? If that’s what you really think, then you obviously aren’t thinking clearly. I don’t care for the label “feminism”, and I use the title for lack of a better term; I care for equality of all people. (The way I see it, “feminism” is a term that ought not exist, but given the current world-view of women, it is necessary that it exist.) What is the alternative? If I choose to speak up about issues of social injustice, whatever they may be, then I get labeled “enabler”. The alternative is to shut your eyes and ears to the plight of others and forge forth, because as I said before, many would like us to believe that everything is just fine the way it is.
3. There should be a campaign against ALL violence, not just against women
Yes there should, only it shouldn’t be a campaign, it should just be the way people are. Unfortunately, this is not how people are, and our animalistic tendencies surface all to quickly. But the more civilised a society we live in, the less likely we are to grab a bat and beat the crap out of anyone who cuts us off in traffic, or pushes in front of us at the queue for the ATM. Violence is abhorrent in any situation, and though it may be warranted as a means to defend ourselves against aggressors, the violence being perpetrated against us is still a problem. It’s still violence, and we are all at risk of being violated.
That said, violence in society is still a huge problem, and it stems from how we view others. In a self-important environment, where my personal wants and needs seemingly take precedence over yours, of course it comes down to me looking after my own first, then worrying about yours later. A campaign to stop violence, which I see as a deeply ingrained illness in our species, would be great, but unfortunately it can’t be stamped out in one fell swoop. The campaign against violence needs to be built from the ground up, from the grass-roots of our upbringings. Tolerance toward other people is a good start, but if we want to make a real difference, a campaign has to start with a single problem and expand from there. As I said above, if we get men onboard to make a change in their attitudes to violence as a way to deal with conflict then we are already part of the way to making a change for the rest of society.
A campaign focusing on half of the population, namely women (this includes girls also), if successful, means that half of the population that was routinely victimised in violent situations has been spared from this. As for violence between men, maybe if the respect shown to women were extended, then we have developed a level of respect for others on all levels that means violence is lessened. To teach all of humanity that the use of the brain instead of the fist is the correct way to conduct ourselves is the aim of these campaigns.
If you want a campaign to stop all violence, then by all means, be my guest, start one. The White Ribbon Campaign is just one among many campaigns, and it is rooted in a desire to see an end to all violence. But you have to start somewhere, and 50% is a pretty good place.
4. We don’t need a “Don’t hit women day”, we just shouldn’t hit women
This is correct, we shouldn’t hit anybody. We should be able to react to confrontation without resorting to violence. But, as I wrote above, we need to start somewhere. Obviously we do need awareness campaigns if there’s still a problem with violence against women.
To call it “Don’t hit women day” is unnecessarily trivialising the campaign and the problem it seeks to address. Using this terminology makes it seem like we just shouldn’t hit women on that day, and every other day it’s fine. Of course this isn’t the case. Likewise, a campaign that seeks to end violence against women does not imply that other kinds of violence are okay. Quite the opposite, it highlights the fact that violence is abhorrent in all its guises, and should not be tolerated at all.
Humans are intelligent animals, the most advanced among the animal kingdom. We arrived here, at humanity and civilsation through millennia of evolution, struggle, war, famine, ingenuity, empathy and luck. We have outgrown the need to attack strangers on the street, or to distrust every person we meet. We have grown to become a large clan, where we place our trust in individuals to treat us fairly and with respect. This doesn’t always happen, and we still have much to learn about how to interact in a peaceable manner. Our intelligence, and our ability to empathise with each other are our strongest allies in the fight against violence. If every person who acts first and thinks later would just take a moment, a breath, a moment to consider the other person and the best way forward before acting violently, then violence on a personal level would be a thing of the past. This may do nothing for violence on the level of international war, but an attitudinal shift, a paradgimatic change in perspective on a societal level, would do wonders for the way we conduct ourselves.
The White Ribbon Campaign seeks an end to violence against women. I stand by this campaign, and I keep my oath to not perpetrate violence against women or watch silently if I see it happening around me. This is not a flippant oath; This is a determination to make society a better place for all people.