That's just the way things are
When you think about violence against women, our minds can jump to the stereotype of a "monster" waiting to attack from the bushes. Violence against women, also called gender-based violence, is habitually more subtle and often happens out of sight in people’s homes, among friends – maybe even your friends. Non-physical forms of violence can be particularly hard to detect.
We all know that violence against women is a big issue. But it’s also a complicated issue with underlying causes that are deeply ingrained into our society.
Yep – it’s overwhelming. So let’s begin with the biggest cause – accepting violence against women as just the way things are.
Ok, so what is considered violence against women?
To start, while this article focuses on women and femme identifying individuals, it’s important to note that people of all genders experience intimate partner violence.
Violence against women takes many forms, and it’s not only or always physical. It includes psychological, economic, emotional and sexual violence and abuse, and a wide range of controlling, coercive and intimidating behaviours. Things like controlling a partner's income and finances are considered economic forms of violence, while emotional abuse can involve verbal threats, name-calling and degrading comments to harm a partner's self-worth.
For Freya, a 27-year-old Swinburne student, financial violence in a previous relationship was influenced by expected gender roles. “Since my partner and I lived together and I did not have to contribute to paying the rent, he assumed that it was taken for granted that I would do the household chores, cook and handle all other related duties.”
As many as one in three women experience gendered violence in their lifetime, but while this experience may be common, it’s not a blanket experience. Violence happens differently for different women and is usually based on power inequalities that have arisen from society’s long-held gender roles. Often it occurs in combination with other forms of structural inequality and violence, like homophobia, transphobia, racism, ableism and the ongoing impacts of colonisation.
As long as society thinks perpetrators of violence against women are creeps in the bushes, and of other controlling, exploitative and manipulating behaviours as "just the way things are", we won’t be able to change things. But if we start unlearning some of the accepted attitudes that condone gendered violence, we can actually make a difference.
She was asking for it
The condoning of violence against women is widespread. It’s in the media, the legal system and that “slightly off” conversation you had with a mate – that is, it’s everywhere. "Condoning" violence involves anything from downplaying and excusing it – "they’re going through a hard time”, "they were drunk” – to flat-out denying it – "I know them, they would never do this." This behaviour means the violence is never properly addressed and perpetrators are not held accountable. By being passive or staying silent, people of all genders can condone violence.
When sexual violence occurs, you might hear it implied that the victim was “asking for it”, based on the way they dressed, behaved or whether they’d been drinking. In other words, the victim is blamed for what happened, rather than the perpetrator. This is called "victim blaming". In other instances, the victim might be blamed for the physical assault, through the suggestion that they forced the perpetrator to act violently or lose control.
Placing the blame on women feeds into stereotypes that certain clothing or “talking back” to a man should naturally be resolved with violence, but the responsibility to be safe shouldn’t lie with women. Talk to your male friends about these issues, and ask yourself how you can unlearn victim blaming and support survivors of violence instead of their perpetrators.
I wear the pants around here
Decades ago, men assumed a lot of control over women’s lives, including their decisions, their finances, and their friendships. Although we have come a long way from this outdated way of thinking, this behaviour still occurs in some intimate relationships.
Many people still believe they have the right to know where their partner is, control how they act and have the final say on decisions. This can include something seemingly small like checking a partner’s mobile phone. But monitoring a partner’s whereabouts, who they’re with and when is not okay. It’s not only totally creepy, but controlling and a breach of privacy.
Remember this: an equal relationship is based on mutual trust, not control.
Stop acting like a girl
Ever noticed how men and women are expected to behave differently? Unlike a classic pub parma, one size does not fit all when it comes to gender.
Society constantly sends us messages about what men and women should do, think and be. So it’s no surprise that over time, these ideas have become fixed. We might feel like they’re based on facts when really, we created them.
Men are taught to yell and “punch on” to get what they want, instead of using empathy and communication. “Real men” don’t show emotions, but definitely start a fight over a bruised ego or a spilt drink.
Women are told to be seen, not heard and act “ladylike” at all times. In other words, they should not be too outspoken or confident (especially when there are men around), they should dress in a feminine way, but not wear anything too revealing, and if they have multiple sexual partners, they should be prepared to be labelled differently to their male friends.
Women typically get branded as more emotional, which is a stereotype that male perpetrators can use to undermine their feelings and sanity, or to use a common term, “gaslight” them.
Apart from being completely archaic, gender stereotypes are harmful and reinforce the power imbalance between men and women. If we can unlearn them, we can build equal and respectful relationships.
Boys will be boys
The last big issue that drives gender-based violence is our acceptance of aggressive and dominating behaviour as “male-bonding”.
It’s often taken for granted that when groups of guys get together, they get aggressive, maybe drink a lot and enjoy joking around in a way that disrespects women. But writing this behaviour off as “being a man” excuses it. When this behaviour is so widely accepted, it can be difficult to pull your mates up. No one wants to be called “uptight” or told they “can’t take a joke”, but calling out your mates on aggressive behaviour or disrespectful remarks is one of the best ways you can help stop violence against women.
I would never hurt someone. But what else can I do?
Because we live in a culture that condones violence against women, we’ve all learned gendered roles and have certain biases, whether or not we’re aware of them. It’s never too late to start unlearning these beliefs and challenging those around you to do the same.
We can all do better.
Here are some things you can do:
- Think critically about the media’s portrayal of genders. Are they correct? Are they based on stereotypes? What messages do they send?
- Get to know yourself and define yourself in a way that’s free from gendered stereotypes.
- Avoid language that puts down, objectifies or degrades.
- Speak out if you hear a sexist joke. It’s not cool or funny. It’s lazy! Challenge your mates to find better jokes.
- The same goes for online behaviour – if you see someone posting a disrespectful comment, stand up to them.
- Always respect people’s personal space and boundaries, checking in for consent every step of the way.
If you witness an act of disrespect or violence, here’s what to do
Knowing how to respond when you witness violence or behaviour you feel is disrespectful can be overwhelming, and you might be scared you’ll say the wrong thing. Call out the behaviour if you feel safe to do so. If you don’t, there are many ways you can help indirectly, by creating a distraction or delegating responsibility. Intervening however you feel comfortable challenges gender stereotypes and violence while showing support for the victim.
Here are some steps to take if you witness inappropriate behaviour:
- notice the event
- identify there is a problem
- take responsibility
- think through what action to take
- make a plan
- act (using one of the below intervention strategies).
There are many ways you can intervene.
Direct – If it’s safe to do so, directly challenge the person’s behaviour or show your disapproval in your body language.
For example, you could ask, “what did you mean by that?” or disagree and state, “I find that disrespectful.” You can also highlight the reasons why what they said or did is harmful, even if they only meant it as a joke. Or sometimes a simple shake of the head can do the trick.
Indirect – This can be done after the moment has passed by having a conversation with those involved in the situation. Talk to other witnesses and make a plan as a group, or band together with friends who also find the behaviour inappropriate.
Distract – Distract both parties with a light-hearted comment, an unrelated question or make a scene elsewhere to create a circuit breaker.
Delegate – While it’s important to intervene when safe, if a situation is concerning it can be best to delegate to the relevant authorities or person. These include:
- Safer Community Unit at Swinburne
- Swinburne Security
- social media platform administrators
- eSafety Commissioner
- other authorities.
Support at Swinburne
Provides advice, support, intervention and risk management for students who experience or witness concerning behaviours on or off campus, including gender-based violence. Find out more.
Wellbeing at Swinburne
Offers students medical appointments as well as counselling services that can help if you’re struggling with a personal, emotional or mental health difficulty. Find out more.
Swinburne Out-of-hours Crisis Line
Available to help students on weekdays before 9am and after 5pm, and on weekends and public holidays. Call 1300 854 144 or text 0488 884 145.
Support outside Swinburne
1800RESPECT – National Sexual Assault and Domestic Family Violence Counselling Service
Provides confidential phone and online counselling service to support people impacted by sexual assault, domestic and family violence, and abuse. Find out more.
Eastern Domestic Violence Outreach Service (EDVOS)
Provides integrated services to support women, children and their pets who are responding to family violence in Melbourne’s eastern metropolitan region. Find out more.
No to Violence Men's Referral Service
Provides advice and support for men concerned about their anger or violence towards their family. Find out more.