Claire Martens

Coping with violence in a patriarchal world

Claire Martens
Claire Martens

By Claire Martens

I long for a time when the world will be a safe place for women. But with the way things are, it will never be in my lifetime. The stories just keep on coming. If it’s not 300 young girls kidnapped in Nigeria, it’s a 22-year-old American man seeking “retribution” for being rejected by women and killing 6 people in the process. The international response to both incidents has been different and, in many ways, unrelated, but that is a topic for another blog. Right now I want to speak about one outcome to the Elliot Rodger event which tells us something about the Nigerian kidnapping, almost as much as it does about the killing spree.

The media is inundated with articles about the motivations of Rodger, but for me the most interesting part was the start of the #yesallwomen campaign. While the two incidents, due to their horrific nature and violence, demonstrate the harshest terms of women’s enslavement under the worst conditions, the hashtag #yesallwomen demonstrates the prolific and invasive nature of patriarchy and its evil cousin, misogyny. While I think it may be a little tenuous to believe that misogyny leads to murder, there is a certain level of violence inherent in patriarchy that we cannot ignore.

What the kidnappings and killings tell us is that some men believe that they deserve a woman’s attentions, they have an entitlement to a wife and to sex and whatever else women are expected to give them. Some men may believe that women are expendable, that their lives carry no value. Always, women are only people in relation to men. What #yesallwomen shows is that an undercurrent of violence, fear and intimidation exists in many women’s lives, no matter where they live and what they look like.

#yesallwomen started soon after the Elliot Rodger event. Through it, women are attempting to expose the pervasive nature of patriarchy and misogyny. Their tweets demonstrate the trends in the fear they carry on their shoulders, in the harassment they face every day at the hands of men, in the names they are called and the abuse they endure.

The #yesallwomen campaign is a continuation of many similar protests and campaigns, such as #everydaysexism, so it is not necessarily unique in its approach, but it also came at an odd time for me. I was visiting my doctor recently with a complaint of stomach aches. She asked about my anxiety levels, explaining that many women who visit her are suffering from a kind of general and prolonged stress which they find difficult to deal with. She asked me about my history, my friends and my family. She asked if something had happened to me to make me feel anxious.

Well, no, and also yes. I too live in South Africa, in a state of fear, and even if nothing as horrific as rape has happened to me, it does not mean that I cannot acknowledge the pain it causes. It doesn’t mean that my experiences as a women are insignificant and that I am not affected by the environment I live in. In fact, it was in becoming a feminist that my world was opened to the reality of the situation of women and of myself – an awakening that was both crippling and liberating.

I know enough about the lives that women lead, the statistics on rape and sexual abuse, the incidences of domestic abuse, and the children who are raped, to know that we live in a sick society. I also think that even though I am merely experiencing it second-hand, doesn’t mean that I don’t feel a general low level of anxiety, all day, every day. It’s always there, this fear, and it’s not baseless or silly, but derived from our everyday experiences, the thoughts we have, the stories we hear, the people who are affected.

I was shocked to read about Post-traumatic Stress Disorder in women in South Africa, that our levels are so high that they are practically at the level of warzones. What kind of world do we live in where a vast percentage of women show symptoms of PTSD, even though the country itself is at peace?

What is unbearable for me is the knowledge that this is not one, or ten, or even one hundred men who are raping or abusing women, but thousands. That is the nature of patriarchy. Men do not have to be evil or stupid or crazy to be part of it, as long as the culture permits them to practice patriarchy. In a blog posted on the Guardian website, Jessica Valenti writes the following:

The truth is that there is no such thing as a lone misogynist – they are created by our culture, and by communities that tells them that their hatred is both commonplace and justified. So when we say that these things are unstoppable, what we are really saying is that we’re unwilling to do the work to stop them. Violence against women does not have to be inevitable, but it is almost always foreseeable: what matters is what we do about it.

So how can we cope with the violent nature of our society; not just to overcome the abuse of women and children, but to stop all forms of violence directed at all citizens of this country? My doctor said something interesting which I want to share with you in the same form of analogy she used.

She described how, when she first started working at her new practice, she found her colleagues disrespectful. She wasn’t sure what to do about it but she decided to work really hard, stay long hours, and be really good at her job in order to earn their respect through her actions. But after months of doing so, she wasn’t any closer to getting their respect. That was when she realised that she permitted the disrespect in the first place.

How people treat us is not really about who we are, but who they are and the kind of society they function in. If we want to stop violence and abuse, we should not allow it to be permitted. I am not sure how to do this, how to make our worlds safer, but I think we may start with the little things like rape jokes, belittlement, catcalling and the rest. No one should ever feel powerless. Men should never feel entitled, or that we are ornaments for their own lives.

There are violent individuals who commit horrendous crimes, and we may feel unable to do anything about them, but we can try to change the manifestations of patriarchy, and not necessarily ourselves, so that society can stop breeding the types of people who commit crimes against women. We cannot compromise, the results are fatal.

If you want to read some various takes on the #yesallwomen campaign, the following are a few links I found interesting:


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