A culture of violence against women
If you think females have achieved equality in the United States, just scan the headlines sometime. Misogyny is alive and well. Consider the marine who raped his female comrade, then killed her and buried her in his back yard to avoid a paternity test.
Consider also the husband who stabbed his wife and then burned his own house, killing her along with their four children. In Florida, police say a man beat his four-month-old daughter Ariana to death on Christmas day. His motive? He wanted a son, not a daughter.
Another man tossed four babies from a bridge after arguing with his wife. On national news, the mother sobbed, “Why didn’t he kill me instead of the children? It’s too much hurting.” She recognized that she was the true target of his heinous actions.
Other hateful men strike more directly, killing women they know and profess to love, or even strangers. As women’s bodies turn up in parks, ponds and parked cars across the southeast, new questions are being raised about old missing persons files.
Whenever the topic of domestic violence comes up, some ill-informed person will inevitably drone, “If the women don’t like it, why do they stay?”
The answer is easy: They don’t stay. The majority of battered women try to escape their abusers as the violence escalates. Most are successful in time. Some women end up in body bags, and others are made to disappear forever.
Part of the problem is that we, as a society, are always asking the wrong question. We should not ask why victims are abused; we should ask why abusers do what they do.
Why do some men feel it is their privilege to exercise control over the woman they profess to love? Why do some men rape and kill women? For that matter, why do some men feel they have the right to forward sexist emails, harass their female co-workers, or try to intimidate female columnists?
Abuse thrives on power inequities. That’s why female-on-male violence and child-on-parent violence are not nearly as common as wife battering and child abuse. We live in a society where most women experience lifelong power inequities.
Economically, men’s earnings still overshadow women’s. Many women are dependent on their husband’s incomes, particularly when women bear the brunt of childcare. Economic inequity places abused women at a disadvantage, as they find themselves weighing safety against homelessness. For the children’s sake, many women stay in relationships that make them prisoners in their own homes.
Biology determines that most marriages involve physical inequity. Men are, on average, taller and stronger and possess a greater percentage of muscle mass than their wives. In a healthy marriage, the physical difference leads to feelings of protectiveness. In an abusive marriage, the weaknesses of the smaller partner are exploited to incite fear and maintain control.
Violence against women is a crime. The law books say so, but society is slow to let go of a paradigm so ingrained in the culture. For women to be safe and equal in America, changes must occur in every facet of society.
Law enforcement must change. Authorities must arrest – and charge and sentence – men who hit, punch, choke, trap, kick, or yank women about the hair. These actions are not privileges included with the marriage license. These actions are crimes, and should be prosecuted every time. The prosecution initiative should not be on the shoulders of the victim, who often caves in to the abuser out of fear.
Policemen who attack or threaten women should be subject to stronger sentences. If a man does not protect women from violence (including his own), then society must not trust him with a badge and a gun. The abusive cop’s crime is double, because he violates his oath of office and his vow of marriage simultaneously. The woman’s fear is also doubled, knowing that such men have resources and training to track her down if she tries to escape, and the opportunity to destroy evidence and cover their own tracks.
Parents must change. We must teach our children that the secret to a successful marriage is in applying the Golden Rule: Treat others like you want to be treated. Parents must teach it, and more importantly, model it every day. Let children see that marriage problems are resolved through consensus, not one-upmanship. Romance is created by putting your beloved on a pedestal, not establishing power inequities where “might makes right.”
Parenting itself must change. Children who are subjected to violence in the home frequently grow up to participate in violence dramas of their own. Parents must learn gentle parenting techniques to guide children without inadvertently teaching them violent tactics or damaging their self-esteem.
Hollywood must change. Violence against women is glorified nightly in every cinema and most every home in America. Shows like Criminal Minds and Killer Instinct almost invariably focus on the glamorized murder of a woman. Another generation of young people is being raised to believe that violence against women is titillating entertainment. Until TV changes, just turn it off.
Churches must change. Many pastors teach that the man has “final say” and that wives should obey husbands. Such sermons typically close with a word about husbands being kind, but the connection cannot be missed: Spiritualizing manhood sets women up for abuse by establishing an eternal and church-ordained power inequity.
The president of Southwest Baptist Theological Seminary stands as a not-so-shining example of such white-washed misogyny. Ten years ago, when the Atlanta Journal Constitution asked Paige Patterson about women, he replied, “Everyone should own at least one.”
Perhaps he wasn’t joking. Patterson became the architect of the conservative resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention at the turn of the millennium. Under Patterson’s leadership, the conservatives succeeded in stripping ordained female chaplains of their endorsement. They sought to replace the “priesthood of the believer” doctrine with husbands being priests of their wives. They forced missionaries to agree to male-over-female marriages or else give up their funding.
After Paige Patterson became president of the Southwest Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS), he fired a theology professor just for being female. Dr. Sheri Klouda, PhD, earned her degree at SWBTS and taught Hebrew there prior to Patterson’s gender discrimination. Patterson claims he has a right to discriminate against women, since SWBTS is a religious institution. Klouda responded by filing suit in federal court.
What does this have to do with domestic violence? Everything. Those who strip women of their status and financial means are also happy to subject them to other forms of abuse. Patterson himself was caught on tape telling other pastors that he never condones divorce – and rarely even separation or seeking of help -- for victims of marital violence.
In that transcript, Patterson shares an example in which he advised a battered wife to stay with her husband. He told her to submit to the man, to pray for him, and to get ready for the violence to increase. Patterson said he was “happy” when the woman came back to his church with two black eyes, because her husband also came.
All of these attitudes contribute to a culture of violence against women. We cannot expect abused women to solve the problem any more than we would expect children to solve the problem of child abuse, or pets to solve the problem of animal cruelty. Those of us who are free and strong must intervene to help victims.
To receive help for domestic abuse, call 1-800-799-SAFE or TTY 1-800-787-3224.
Jeannie Babb Taylor