By Sarah Dugan
YWCA Bergen’s healingSPACE
Violence begins with oppression, and oppression is motivated by power. In society, there is one specific group that holds power: white men. This is not to say that all white men purposefully maintain positions of power over other groups of people; rather, this power is a privilege that was rewarded them at birth, simply for being born a white male.
White men cannot know the struggles of women; they can sympathize, but they will never personally experience the overwhelming fear that so many women experience simply walking to their cars at night. They will never know the shame of being a woman of color who is treated as an “exotic toy” by flirtatious men who believe they are being flattering. They will never feel the distress of being a lesbian whose romantic and sexual orientation is dismissed as “too ugly to get a man.” They will never know the level of paranoia that seeps into different aspects of women’s lives, simply because they are a woman, and they have been raised to know that society sees men as stronger and smarter than them. They have been raised to believe that a man can overpower them when he so desires, and he will likely get away with it – because he is a man. White men cannot ever personally know this overwhelmingly pervasive emotion that consumes every woman’s life at one point or another, because, like it or not, they are the ones who benefit from this privilege.
It is a problem when the people with all the privilege in society are the ones who make most of the decisions. They already have inherent power over these individuals, and they are further expressing that power when they decide what is best for others. Violence against women and girls is a huge issue in this country, and violence and power are intrinsically linked; perpetrators act out against women, not because of uncontrollable lust or rage, but because they want to exert power over them. So how can we successfully put an end to violence against women and girls when the people making decisions for them also have power over them?
We have people in Congress debating everyday over which anti-hate crimes should be passed, over whether women deserve free or even any birth control, whether prostitution should be legal and how badly prostitutes should be punished when caught, what rights a woman has against her abuser and what protection she has against him, and even whether a woman has the right to get an abortion, even when she never willingly consented to being impregnated or even having sex. Congress debates over all these different topics all the time – but Congress is made up of almost exclusively men. Women have little say over these issues, despite the fact that the issues affect them, and not the men debating over them. This starts the cycle all over again. A man exerts the power given him by birth over a woman and oppresses her through his unqualified vote; in turn, another man exerts his power over a woman, oppressing her through physical or emotional violence. This is not to say that it is only men who hurt women; women also abuse other women, and women also abuse men. But statistics show that the majority of the time, it is a man abusing a woman – and it needs to stop.
In order to truly put an end to violence against women and girls, we need to break the cycle of power and oppression. And we can only do so by giving women a voice. They need to be the ones debating issues that affect them; they need to be given some power in a world that favors white men over them. Only when this has happened can we truly put an end to the violence against women and girls that is disturbingly widespread in American society.
Sarah Dugan is a first year MSW student at Rutgers University. She is also an intern at the YWCA’s healingSPACE, an agency dedicated to empowering survivors of sexual assault and preventing sexual violence through raising awareness.
This post is part of the YWCA Week Without Violence™ 2013 Blog Carnival. We invite you to join the dialogue! Post your comment below, share your story and follow the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #ywcaWWV.