During a recent conversation a male friend asked me why violence against men and women is not viewed and treated the same way by feminists. He asked, How is a woman who has been violated by a man different from a woman who has been violated by another woman? He assumed that the feminist movement only cared about women who are victims of male violence and thought that this only promoted hatred towards the male gender. In his opinion, we should all work together to fight violence in general instead of categorizing violence under different labels.
I think it is important that we define the most common types of violence that involve both the male and the female gender before we explore how feminism plays a role in fighting violence. The two types of violence that are often confused are domestic violence and gender-based violence. Domestic violence does not always involve gender-based violence, and gender-based violence can occur outside of a domestic environment. Some cases can involve both.
Domestic violence refers to a series of incidents of abuse that frequently occur between partners, but can also happen among family members. This type of violence can also come from caretakers. Domestic abuse may include sexual, physical and psychological violence. On the other end, gender-based violence is any type of violence that is perpetrated against a person because of their gender. This may also include sexual, physical and psychological abuse. By definition, gender-based violence can affect both women and men.
Because of the historical imbalance of power that is usually present in interactions between women and men, women are more likely to be victims of gender-based violence. In general, women are more exposed to violence because they are women. Women’s position of disadvantage also often make them the main victims of domestic violence, and so, these cases are also linked to gender-based violence. It is true that men can be victims of gender-based violence, but in reality, men are more likely to be victims of domestic violence. Men can also be victims of violence coming from strangers, but these acts are usually perpetrated by other men. In a similar way, women can be victims of violence coming from other women, but it will hardly be gender-based violence.
No type of violence is worse than the other, but acts of violence can mean different things depending on the context and the person who is being violated. In order to better assess a case of violence and take adequate measures to make sure it doesn’t occur again, we need to know why this person is being a victim of violence. Every single person who violates someone, regardless of the perpetrator’s and the victim’s gender, should be held accountable and take responsibility for their actions, but this doesn’t mean all victims of violence should receive the same kind of assistance.
Feminism is not blind to acts of violence that are committed by women or suffered by men. Feminism is not a movement that was created to hate on men or promote violence against men. Feminism doesn’t protect women who are aggressors. Feminism’s goal is not to reverse the roles and support everything women do. Feminism is the “theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes” and in order to achieve real equality we need to call out the people who are doing most harm and invite them to change, and right now, these people are men. A lot of similar patterns of violent behaviors are reproduced across the globe and in all the scenarios two things are always the same: a woman is the victim, a man is the aggressor.
As a feminist, a human rights advocate and just a human being, I could never support violence against any group of people. However, as long as certain specific groups are in disadvantage, they will need special protection. Because gender-based violence usually happens to women and because women have historically been in a position of the disadvantage in their interactions with men, feminism points out and fights behaviors, situations and structures of power that affect women and girls in particular, which doesn’t mean it is a movement that promotes violence against men or any other group. So yes, we must condemn all kinds of violence, but we must also remember to not homogenize violence in order to avoid making the most vulnerable groups’ struggles invisible.