The Argument for Sexism As Cultural Violence

When faced with the reality that, at the current rate, the global gender gap will be closed in no less than 99.5 years, one can’t help but wonder the source of the lack of global urgency around achieving gender parity. Then, one wonders, not just what it would take for us to get there but also what is impeding our progress as we move in that direction.

To me, the most poignant social movements’ messages have successfully conveyed a clear appeal to morality, shaping those who once felt removed from that movement into people who personally identify with the change for which it calls. Here, if you bear with me, I would like to shift the lens through which we understand the appeal to morality in the fight for gender equality.

For a long time now, gender equality has stalled as one of the biggest unfinished businesses of our time. Many have dismissed its mission under the claim of an already existing social equality between men and women. Yet, political empowerment remains the largest area of disparity as only 8% of the world’s cabinet members are women; economic participation isn’t far off with an average of only 55% of adult women in the labor market; 1 in 3 women around the world are likely to be victims of gender-based violence, and, even when attaining an adequate level of education, women are underrepresented in 6 of the 8 micro-clusters with the highest employment growth rate. In a dreamy world, feminism is about equality and opportunity, but under that premise, we might just find what the movement is really fighting: enduring cultural violence.

Then, could it be possible that the very place where we shall go harness urgency around a global feminist movement does not so much rest upon what the movement stands for, but rather what it stands against?

We may frame cultural violence as any aspect of a culture used to legitimize violence in its direct or structural form. This is to say that the conscious gender power imbalance with which our society operates enables us to look past the wrong we inflict upon women. In its most ardent form, cultural violence against women takes the shape of blaming rape victims for the harm that has been inflicted upon them rather than uprooting the perpetrator, it builds onto that by embodying pervasive gender roles that restrict women’s ability to freely move through society, and, we enable it to wrap around itself when women themselves stop seeing the shackles around their ankles. Collectively, we built the woman on a pedestal just high enough so we could reach to strip her of any semblance of dignity and we continue to chip away at her so much so that we have long lost sight of the fact she was worthy of it to begin with. At the end of the tunnel, we may just find ourselves at fault for acts we never knew we were capable of committing.

Then, yes, if we shift your angle, the appeal to morality upon which the feminist movement rests is not a crumbling appeal to an equality we struggle to envision but a moral appeal against widespread psychological violence, which some may daringly refer to as slow and steady genocide.


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