November 14th, 2006
“Freedom” has very different meanings for women than men in most parts of the world.
For women, freedom constitutes a reprieve (always temporary) from being a target of male violence. Whether directly or indirectly, anti woman violence affects all women. In Elizabeth Stanko’s words, “To walk the streets warily at night is how we actually feel our femininity.” Violence occupies, possesses our bodies, minds and souls.
Violence at the hands of a man or men can enter a woman’s life at any age, from infancy to elderhood. Frequently, a woman will know her abuser, with the circle of familiarity radiating out from the most intimate (father, brother, husband) through formal relationships (teacher, priest, employer) to informal contacts (neighbour, date, family friend) ending with strangers.
Sexism can interact with other systems of oppression, such as racism, to create an exponential of violence as a complex fusion in which the two elements cannot be separated. One example of this is sexual violence as a tactic of armed conflict —up to and including genocide —in which women are violated not just because they are women and not just because they are, say, Tutsi, but specifically because they are Tutsi women.
I view men’s violence against women as foundational to all other forms of violence.
In the history of humanity and in the history of individuals —women and men —it is the “first cause” and first experience. It stands to reason, then, that we will not rid the world of racial, ethnic, class, religious or national violence until we attend to men’s violence against women. We —perpetrators, collaborators, victims, and bystanders —are all bound by sexist violence.
If we seek freedom we must break those bonds.
Crucially, it is men who must speak and act against the violence of their fellows. We need men to stop their active collusion and silent acquiescence in anti woman violence. We need men to teach boys about ways of being a man which counter hegemonic masculinity and which eschew violence, beginning (but only beginning) with violence against women.
Only then will both women and men be able to claim their full humanity. Summarized in the Zulu expression umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu (a person is a person through other persons), it is only through the liberation of all that each will know freedom. And until all the world’s women can walk free of the fear of violence, then the meaning of freedom will remain partial and hence unrealized.
by Lisa S. Price
Gibsons, BC Canada
Author of Feminist Frameworks: Building Theory on Violence Against Women
(Fernwood Books, 2005)