Is gender-based violence implicit, and built-into, our current "civilization"?

My point is not that gender-based violence is unacceptable: of course it is. The real question is, how to eradicate? Repressive measures are necessary, and should also be applied. My question is: are they sufficient?

                • *

It was something alike 36 years ago. I attended my secondary school in the western outskirts of Milan, in the working class district of Baggio.

On a day, during playtime, two of my schoolmates isolated a girl, locked in a room, and stripped her.

They did not arrived to a full rape, as the children involved were 12 years old.

The final effect was right the same. Even children can perform sexual abuse.

Her desperate cries attracted attention, the two were discovered, and were suspended from school for two days.

Of course, they were surprised of the punishment. They imagined their behavior was "normal", and acceptable.

                • *

I've seen the same pattern repeating from then on.

Sometimes, it takes so a blatant form to finish on the press with some people convicted, and some others wounded, crying in the dark, or dead.

In most cases, however, an evil have been made, but subtler. It may stay covered, but you notice it nonetheless. I find the statistics claiming something like "40% of women has experienced some form of abuse t least once in their life" really surprising. Guess the correct number is closer to 100%, including men too.

What made me upset, of what happened to that girl, was the totally gratuitous, almost "leisurely", nature of the aggression. They chosen their prey at random, and disposed of her as with a thing, totally neglecting her.

It was a deliberate show of power. An act of an "us" against a "them", totally void of empathy, as if these "others" are not really human, but objects which can be used, forced, contrived. Killed, possibly?

After that event, our teachers reacted sensibly, skillfully and sensitively. I remember how our Italian teacher, especially, cared to educate all of us, both perpetrators and would-be victims. And how well she was able to establish herself as a positive, strong role model.

Her help was important, to educate and heal.

But, what of her? Has someone helped her? Healed her wound? Her name has remained secret, so I can't say for sure. My impression was, she had received little attention, if any at all. Hope no, but can't say.

                • *

Maybe the term "gender-based violence" is more accurate than "sex-based violence". Sex may have a role, but I feel it's not, strictly speaking, essential.

"I do not care of you."

This, the message.

"Your problem, not mine."

"I am stronger, and glad of your fear, unease, suffering."

Human resources?

"I will kill you."

"We will kill competitors."

I'd say our society is deeply misogynistic, would this term be sufficiently accurate. As I see, hatred is not confined to women, but rather to the whole human nature.

On "women", this disdain is more blatant. As "women" are imagined by "men" as representing nature?

The formation of a "man", in this society, is a sort of revolt against nature. All played around being different. "Non-female?" Apparently that, as my schoolmates so keenly said.

This is not too surprising in a species characterized by a lower-than-average sexual dimorphism than our closest evolutionary relatives, and tending towards a neoteny whose main effect is of strongly "feminizing" the appearance of humans, women and men alike, compared to, e.g., gorillas.

Predictable, but not fully "understandable". The standard male socialization may be conceived as a sort of self-domestication, helped by strong social pressures. Exerted by men, and women too.

Is the seed of gender violence right there?

Would like to know what you think about. Before to act, I feel we should "know" - and here I feel a large knowledge hole exists.



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I feel that we blame people for their sexual acts when they are adults, turning a blind eye to people younger than 15. I had a friend once where her brother and his friend had sex with her. She was in fifth grade, so probably around 10 years old, and they were around 13. She told me this when she was 20, and I was the first person she had ever spoken to about this. She, like many people in society, denied it stating that they are children. Though til this day she is crippled from this experience and has severe depression. I can only think this was a big part of her becoming depressed. How do you think we should handle the youth when it comes to GBV?

Dear, thank for ou comment!

I agree with you that one big problem is we don't "educate" young people. As a society, we spend resources "instructing" them, and teaching a lot of skills.

In the past, it was quite common to "educate feelings" - a concept which included sexual education (in the broadest sense), but also transcended it. It was more general, in fact, involving important issues as self-control, developing a language to deal with emotions, learning to relate to others.

In part this education had a "repressive" / preventive final purpose, of shaping people able to remain (possibly for an entire lifetime) within the frame of a single social class.

My opinion is, part of that idea was important, and with some correction even viable.

The biggest obstacle I foresee to date, is "lack of resources".

Time, first of all. A part of this education, maybe the most enduring, comes from families. And now, in Italy at least, we see families smaller and smaller, without the support of grandparents and relatives so common just a few years ago. And in most cases, parents work. They feel having little time (which in large part is true - many work demand an exclusive dedication, 24/7).

Another important factor is school. Or, it "was". The episode I mentioned occurred in a school in which teachers were perceived as authoritative. To a part of the people involved, this was important. The teacher I mentioned was known by us as "professor Weisz" - that to say, I remember well there was even complicity with her, but also distance, and clarity of roles: she was the "professor", not our "sister". This kind of relation made her possible to not only teach us Italian, but also - more important - to educate. Prevent, when possible. Allow to realize, when circumstances demanded.

Now, financial cuts and a lot of concurring events are cooperating to undermine the perceive authority of teachers, and the cooperation between families and school is breaking. With dreadful consequences - I'm very worry of this, as an entrepreneur, when I see the "final products" of this process: many (fortunately not all) youngsters are literally unprepared to "responsibility".

With specific respect to GBV, I'm afraid not having a magic receipt.

Yet I'm intimately aware that doing something is possible.

As African say, "it takes a village to raise a child". The village, today, is global. And has a huge potential of producing positive messages. Of, say, shaping an atmosphere in which a better evolution of people is possible.

A first message, I feel strongly, would be to consider, and celebrate, our humanity.

This, I know, would be quite a revolutionary act, turning on a direction quite orthogonal from what we have followed for some 10 thousand years. We are accustomed to imagine anyone has a "role", in this specific case as male or female. A "role", based on a stable set of characteristics and "values".

THIS IS (largely) FALSE. Just a preconcept.

We humans are very plastic creatures. We may have, individually, more or less pronounced propensities to, say, a give cognitive style or pattern of interaction with others. But these propensities do not mean "enablings and locks". At most, they may act in our "automatic" direction a bit easier than in others.

An interesting research was conduced in the last century by Irenaus Eibl-Eibesfeldt, the founder of human ethology, and his team. You may see yourself in the book resuming all results,

Basically, to try summarize the findings on my own, apart the "obvious" differences between males and females, all humans are:

  • Able to interact with toddlers and children, sooth them, nurture, ... The pattern of this interaction is universal, and culture-independent. Some cultures however (ours most notably) restrict these interaction to mothers. This restriction may have been functional in some past forgotten era in the Neolithic. Then a became a habit.

  • Use empathy. We humans are social, and the basis of society is the natural bond of basic understanding any two of us use. We exchange so many signals, and can consciously enumerate only a few. But our brains see "all" of them, and use consistently. Recently, this characteristic has been discovered in other primates and mammals, and has been tracked to specific neural circuits. In a sense, we are naturally programmed for connection. Some cultures, "ours most notably", impose restrictions on the level of expressed empathy to some groups (males, specifically).

I might go on with some more points. Exploring the subject (in the very-ignorant-crude-stupid way I was able to), I found a thing all these facts have in common: broadly speaking, in our culture they "feel feminine". That is, they have been made into something socially acceptable for women only. The standard path of men has been of suppressing these characteristics, to save time and resources for "something else".

A something else which, in a sense, was "counter-nature" (without any judgement from my side - just "far from the path our evolution has shaped / is shaping for our species). I'm not too surprised to see these "unnatural" characteristics have received a premium value in our culture: it's a compensation!? It requires effort to be unnatural, and pain. People do, only if the reward is high enough to pay for it.

So a first point, an important one, would be to abandon our self-imposed cages, and get the freedom to be "just human". To reshape the concept of "masculine" and "feminine".

A very long-term subject?

On a shorter term, I think we can do a simple thing: increase the perceived value of the "feminine".

Possibly while presenting it as something not necessarily "for women only". Apart from obvious things, like a monthly cycle, these things are common to all individuals. Peple should be presented with the personal choice of repressing, or developing them. In freedom.

In practice, some measures could be undertaken:

  • Promote the image of a new kind of "strength", more thoughtful, less single-minded, more aware. In movies / fiction / press / ...

  • Present a wide range of positive female, and male, role models.

  • Represent authority ("authoritativeness") as something worth, not coming from just an investiture, but rooted in participation, effort, study, application, love, ...

  • Cut all representation of people (women specifically) as objects.

  • Encourage freedom of evolution.

  • Educate boys especially to empathy. This should be a central point, and should begin as soon as possible. A lot of popular gender science tries to convince all of us this is not worth the effort, boys being naturally wired for acting unempathetically. But this kind of journalistic presentations do not say exactly the same thing the original papers tell. Reality is much more complex, with some facts popular science literature systematically underemphasizes:

A) The within-group variation of any known "sexual difference" is enormously larger than the difference between group averages. That is, there are nearly the 50% of women (resp. men) which are more masculine (resp. feminine) that something like the 49% of the supposedly "opposite" sex. That is, most difference are not due to the fact of being a woman or a man, but that individuals are just that: individuals.

B) "To speak is never neutral", and in popular science books on gender differences this statement is especially true. They are designed to prove, using "scientific facts", some pre-defined arbitrary statement (I've seen a wide spectrum, from the extreme pro-male to the extreme pro-female - all of them just undecidable assumptions).

C) Popular books are worth the rotatives if they sell a lot of copies. To do that, they have to spectacularize.

So, in my very modest opinion: let's put all these hypotheses apart for some time, and go straight to the point: allow boys to develop empathy. The more they will do, the less chance they will have to become rapers or killers.

(Sadly, I realize my recommendations are not too different from the ones I've heard from a friend, an old-guard feminist teacher, in the late Seventies of the previous century. Evidently, they are not so simple to apply. Our Prime Minister's carefully cultivated poses of old style male-chauvinist-pig, and the approval they get, further indicate things will not be simple to change. For so many, "Better to be a well nourished slave, than free-but-with-a-lot-of-hunger".)

Last, maybe most important, "just do". Act. "Adopt" some young people. Speak with them, be helpful, and lead. One by one. Person-to-person. Made them develop their identities in positive directions.

Just "be in the village".

I appreciate a lot the Pulsewire, because it "is" part of the village already.

Dear, forgive me for my very heavy presentation! ;-) To my justification (I know, only partial) I can say: - My family is of a very mixed Italian/Swiss/German origin, but I'm terribly afraid the German element has prevailed in me. - Yesterday evening a friend of mine prepared a vegetarian dinner I've never experienced - decidedly an exciting discover. During that, I've drank a glass of wine. It might explain...

A hug