Violence against women a class issue

Submitted by Matthew on 24 November, 2011 - 5:13

25 November is International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Many women’s organisations will mark the date with events and meetings.

In the UK one woman in four experiences domestic violence at some point in their life, and one in four experiences rape or attempted rape.

Yet in the face of this refuges, rape crisis centres, counselling and advocacy services, which were already stretched, are being cut further. Other attacks, such as the cap on housing benefit, will make it harder for women to leave violent relationships as they are priced out of housing.

Stigma around the issue of violence against women means that much of it goes unrecognised. Reactionary, victim-blaming attitudes are still widespread, including in the very statutory services that are meant to help.

There is also widespread misunderstanding about the nature and causes of violence against women.

An oft-cited statistic is that domestic violence increases in times of recession — but economic deprivation doesn’t turn men into abusers.

Violence against women isn’t caused by stress and it isn’t a problem of anger management.

It is a pattern of controlling behaviour and assertion of power that usually starts a long time before the first physical blow is landed.

Domestic violence reporting can go up in times of hardship, and, for sure, domestic violence is created by the society in which we live, but the dynamic is complex.

On the other side of the coin is the explanation which guides the action of the women organised around the London Feminist Network and Reclaim the Night (RTN).

RTN is an annual march held on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. It attracts a reasonably large number of women from various political backgrounds and on the face of it appears to be a good action to bring attention to violence against women.

However, there are fundamental problems with the thinking behind RTN.

For example, the title, which suggests that the danger of violence women face is mainly from strangers when they venture out at night. In fact they are in more danger if they stay at home.

The vast majority of rape and abuse is committed by someone a woman knows, usually by a family member or someone she is or has been in an intimate relationship with.

A large percentage of women say that they feel unsafe when walking the streets at night, but this fear is very much a result of the media hyping “stranger danger”, while violence in the home remains an often shameful secret. Single young men are much more likely to face violence on the street than women.

Violence is also identified by feminists around RTN as something intrinsic to the male identity — men are the problem and patriarchal society is the root of violence.

For many feminists patriarchy is the defining feature of our society; a way of organising society that entrenches male privilege and involves deliberate actions by men to maintain women’s oppression.

I don’t accept the existence of patriarchy as a system.

The history of human society is not based on the oppression of all women by all men. Although the sexual division of labour emerged very early on in human development, it did so as a result of the struggle to control wealth and the division of society into varying forms of class.

Class society under capitalism is a brutal system which warps gender identities, both male and female. Powerlessness, alienation, and a world steeped in violence shapes minds, while sexist representations of women, entrenched sexual divisions beneficial to capitalism, and the structuring of society around a private domestic sphere create the perfect seed bed for violence against women to grow.

Economic deprivation doesn’t create abuse, but class society creates abusers.

This is by no means a full enough explanation.

But unless we place campaigning in the context of a wider critique of class society, and unless we link campaigning to the broader political struggle of women and men to change the world, then we will not build a movement capable of really challenging the violence which continues to destroy lives.

• More on RTN:

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