In societies like ours, violence against women is perhaps only recognised, if at all, when it leaves a visible mark: Nothing short of maimed limbs, disfigured faces and decapitated bodies, warrants introspection and soul-searching.
But violence need not necessarily come as a physical blow. According to the World Health Organisation “the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, which either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment, or deprivation” constitutes violence.
Violence against women is entrenched so firmly in our social structures that perhaps we need for it to be graphic to point it out. As a dark undercurrent in our social interactions — helping reinforce the power of the status quo or the idea of male dominance — it always hangs in the air as a threat to the safety and mobility of women.
The nature of physical violence is such that it compels us to call it out — Qandeel Baloch’s horrific murder forced many to speak out against the use of physical violence. We failed to recognise that the profanities hurled at her and the threats given to her on social media were precursors to the murder. We failed to understand that this, too, was violence. Qandeel’s case is just an example but the point is to understand all that the definition of violence includes.
When as a woman one cannot roam the streets freely without fearing for one’s life; when, as a woman, one is expected to carry the burden of the honour of one’s ancestors on one’s shoulders; when one is held responsible for a man’s misconduct; when one’s gender is not an issue of anatomy but carves out a destiny — it is all violent. It is reflected in the hurried steps women tend to take and the body language that they adopt as they grow older — one for the private and another for the public space.
The seemingly innocuous realities that as a woman one has to deal with are all pegs in the giant toxic structure that defines the social relations of power between men and women. Patriarchal values are brushed up and repackaged and sold to us on popular television soaps — women are the life-force, women must suffer and endure and they will be rewarded eventually.
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To add to this, the society we live in even has a tendency to make light of violence against women. It is disguised as humour, artistic expression and innuendo some times and, at other times, it is masked as moral obligation, duty and love. Violence may begin long before we can register it.
In the current capitalist system, it is not solely women that fall victim but men, too. The shade of masculinity that our society is rooted in is highly influenced by capitalist ideologies which gain momentum from cycles of dominance, competition, and violence — destructive for human development.
Women are taught to replicate their own subjugation and accept it as normal. They are taught to actively take part in the cultivation of a culture that draws much of its strength from perpetuating the fear of shame and the value of secrecy in all social relations. This starts at home and is propagated by external influences like advertisements and tv soaps that glorify women fighting violent attacks at home with silence and a remarkable display of patience.
It eventually spills into public sphere when women become self-critics and begin to police other women. Misogyny is internalised to the extent that women may be unable to stand up for themselves and proud of it. There are women who still shudder at the ‘feminist’ label and ones whose understanding of reality has been so distorted by internalising a toxic misogynistic narrative that they begin doubting their own perception of reality as it is — what is popularly known as gaslighting. And for this, they have no scars to show.
The bottom line is that gender-based violence remains just as dangerous no matter what shape or form it may take. For society to have a certain threshold level and only be concerned when it surpasses that makes the outrage that follows a mockery of all the values it supposedly holds dear.
If violence is evil and must be opposed, it should be opposed no matter what shape it takes.