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Smash the Patriarchy

Eliminating Violence Against Women

by BEN NORTON

Yesterday was International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. You might have seen it on Google. If so, that’d probably be the end of the coverage you saw.

Didn’t hear about it? You’re certainly not alone. Unsurprisingly, the U.S. corporate media was virtually completely silent. We’re talking a remarkably unvariegated silence. I scoured the homepage of every prominent Western corporate news source. There wasn’t a single story about the day. I searched “International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women” on their websites. Nothing.

If one really digs, one can find a few buried stories scattered here and there. Some are from years ago. It appears that, in the eyes of the U.S. corporate media, violence against women is a thing of the past. A few local stations ran a syndicated story from PRNewswire, “Women and Girls Suffer Alcohol-Related Violence,” mentioning the day only in terms of alcohol–implying that the problem is not structural patriarchy but individual use of alcohol. National reports were kept to a bare minimum (i.e., zero). NBC’s station WAGT, in Augusta, Georgia, ran a Canadian press release titled “Minister Leitch Encourages Canadians to Participate in 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence.” Gender violence in the U.S. was not mentioned. Apparently violence against women is only a problem in Canada.

A few corporate media sources in other countries are reporting the holiday–this interest, however, although finite, is not much greater than zero. CNN iReport boasts approximately three stories about the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. In the U.S., the corporate media stays true to its preferred tried-and-true strategy: simply pretending as though the issue doesn’t exist (see: its coverage of anthropogenic climate change, economic inequality, drone strikes, homelessness, etc.).

CNN iReport ran a story, from India, titled “DAY FOR – ELIMINATING VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN,” yet it is ridden with typos, almost to the point of being incomprehensible in parts. When I first accessed it, the article read “Posted 2 hours ago,” had five views, zero comments, and zero shares. When it read “Posted 9 hours ago,” it had 11 views, zero comments, and zero shares. This is as good as it gets for CNN, and it’s obviously a high priority on CNN’s list.

The most recent CNN iReport story after that was from 25 November 2012. This report came from Tennessee, yet it is simply a transcript of a six-sentence statement Vice President Biden made last year. Per expectations, Biden spoke of the millions of “women and girls around the globe,” and the need of “the concerted effort of theinternational community” (all emphases mine), while maintaining that the U.S. has “made progress in addressing this violence, and our Administration has taken unprecedented steps to advance the status of women and girls worldwide.” These “unprecedented” steps go without name, naturally, and are unbeknownst to me. Perhapsdrone striking civilians in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen, Mali, and more; deporting more immigrants than any previous president; and bombing Libya “back to the Stone Age” are the kind of steps that “advance the status of women and girls worldwide” in the eyes of our almost-head of state.

In 2011, we can find what is perhaps the final CNN iReport story on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, from Croatia. It is a five-sentence summary of the holiday.

So we have a total of three stories, written presumably voluntarily by citizen journalists, that CNN has agreed to publish. That’s all folks!

It might seem unbelievable that an issue featured on Google’s homepage was completely obscured by a media blackout, but this is indeed the case. (This isn’t as surprising when we keep in mind that six corporations control 90% of the media.)

One example, a single example, stands out. Voice of America ran a story about the day. Not officially corporate, but it’s broadcasted by the U.S. government, so that essentially makes it at least half corporate. Like its country’s vice president, Voice of America treats violence against women as a problem of other cultures and traditions, while failing to mention that misogyny has been historically as American as apple pie. In a moment of outstanding journalism, Voice of America is clear to establish that the struggle against violence against women “is not a feminist battle,” just before setting up, in opposition, its conclusion “We should be fighting for social justice for a better society. And gender equality is paramount for a better society.” Cuz all those scary “men-hating” feminists are obviously opposed to “fighting for social justice for a better society” and to achieving “gender equality.” It’s not like those are the two principal goals of the feminist movement. Nah.

So a brief, citizen-submitted CNN iReport, from Croatia, a press release from Canada, and a cursory syndicated column about alcohol-related violence is the closest thing we have to U.S. corporate media coverage of this day. This is most telling. It demonstrates that violence against women is seen as an “international” issue. It is an international issue, of course; this, however, is not the definition of international that, you know, actual people use; it is a special definition of “international,” that employed by U.S. politicians when they talk about international law. This is the definition of “international” that means “everyone except the U.S.”–as in, Syria/Libya/Pakistan/Palestine/etc. should respect “international” law, while we ourselves reserve the right to unilaterally use chemical weaponscrush nonviolent protestsengage in racial profilingbombterrorizeimpose sanctions, the list goes on. Violence against women is their problem, not ours. When some Americans get drunk, yeah, they might get a tad violent, but that’s alcohol’s fault, not patriarchy’s.

The U.S. corporate media cannot possibly imagine that violence against women exists here in the Land of the Free. We live in a “post-sexist” society, see! Sexism is a thing of the past. Everyone’s equal in the good ol’ United States. Gender, sexual, domestic violence are the problems of all those “backward” third world countries. Not only have we “made progress in addressing this violence,” as our second-in-command assures us, not only have we freed our women from their oppressors (remember, in this top-down narrative, it is always politicians, nation-states, and economies that free oppressed groups, not the oppressed groups themselves, through action, agitation, and organizing), “our Administration has taken unprecedented steps to advance the status of women and girls worldwide.” How can violence against women possibly exist in the U.S.?! We are the ones who free women worldwide! It’s Uncle Sam’s White Man’s Burden to do so!

Gayatri Spivak, in her 1988 canonical article “Can The Subaltern Speak?“, explained that colonialist powers justify their draconian, parasitic rule with the belief that their “White men are saving brown women from brown men.” In her well-known 2002 essay “Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving?,” Lila Abu-Lughod situates Spivak’s thesis in a contemporary setting, explaining how the U.S.’ imperialist invasion and occupation of Afghanistan was justified with the exact same argument–Bush and his administration (white men), far-right leaders who had consistently worked against women’s rights in their own country, now desperate to save Afghan (brown) women from Afghan (brown) men.

Last July, journalist Assed Baig published a great column in the Huff Post: “Malala Yousafzai and the White Saviour Complex,” exploring how this racist phenomenon is still alive and well. He later published a revised version, at Media Diversity UK. In it, he describes the repugnant ways in which the West, continuing in this paternalist, colonialist “white man’s burden” tradition, has exploited Malala Yousafzai’s amazing strength and bravery to support its interests.

The U.S. corporate media’s failure to even acknowledge the existence of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women is a firm testament to, and continuation of, this racist, misogynist, neo-colonial (and yet age-old-colonial) tradition.

But, hey, let’s give them the benefit of the doubt. (That’s part of being a feel-good liberal after all, right?) The corporate media couldn’t possibly be ignoring violence against women because it makes boat loads of ca$h off of violence and misogyny. And it definitely couldn’t be because the corporate media simply doesn’t care about violence against women. There are just too many important stories out there to cover! The corporate media isn’t perfect. I mean, how else are we supposed to learn about the rest of today’s crucial headlines? You know, like Fox’s coverage of the “Biggest winners, losers from the 2013 American Music Awards,” “‘Family Guy’ kills off a main character, viewers mourn cartoon loss,” “Francesca Eastwood wants annulment from Jonah Hill’s brother, report says,” “Bulls guard Derrick Rose undergoes surgery, will miss remainder of season,” “Husband broadcasts wife naked on PS4 live stream,” “Katie Couric joins Yahoo as global anchor, to host interview series,” and “how we’re defiling “sacred” Thanksgiving, or CNN’s coverage of “Prankster’s stunt backfires in big way,” “Eric Stonestreet tweets derriere pics,” “Fart-filtering underwear,” “How cool is the airplane of the future?,” and how to “Shop yourself within a few degrees of Kevin Bacon.”

Ah, how I love the corporate media.

In my admittedly feeble attempt to fill voluminous void left by my country’s corporate media, I will ergo herein devote a moment to address the salient issues, to, if only briefly, discuss why this day is so important.

The International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women is celebrated every 25 November. It was chosen because it was on this day, in 1960, that far-right Dominican dictator Trujillo (previously backed by the U.S. government, I might add) murdered the three Mirabal sisters, Dominican feminist activists. Activists began celebrating the day in 1981. The U.N. officially recognized it in 1999, with resolution 54/134, and it is now celebrated annually. Violence against women was defined in 1993 with the U.N.’s resolution 48/104, adopting the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women. The goal of the day is to raise awareness as to the prevalence of gender and sexual violence, to address these often unaddressed issues and to inspire social and political change around these issues.

In U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s 2013 message (you can read those of the previous Secretary Generals here), he notes

Traditionally, this Day marks the start of 16 days of activism. From November 25th until December 10th – Human Rights Day – we make a special effort to organize and combat violence against women, an egregious human rights violation. This year, we are raising awareness by wearing the colour orange to symbolize our commitment to this cause.

The U.N. has created a fantastic fact sheet and brochure detailing the exact issues we are talking about here. Let’s reach for a few of the facts:

• “Up to 70% of women experience violence in their lifetime.”

• “The most common form of violence experienced by women globally is physical violence inflicted by an intimate partner, with women beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused.”

• “Several global surveys suggest that half of all women who die from homicide are killed by their current or former husbands or partners.”

• “In Australia, Canada, Israel, South Africa and the United States, 40-70% of female murder victims were killed by their partners.”

• “It is estimated that, worldwide, 1 in 5 women will become a victim of rape or attempted rape in her lifetime.”

For stats a bit closer to home, keep in mind:

• “In the United States, a woman is beaten every 18 minutes. Indeed, domestic violence is the leading cause of injury among women of reproductive age in the United States. Between 22-35% of women who visit emergency rooms are there for that reason.” (Source: the U.N.)

• “In the United States, national statistics indicate that a women is raped every 6 minutes.” (Source: the U.N.)

• 44% of rape survivors are under age 18. 80% are under age 30. (Source: Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network)

• “Every 2 minutes, someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted.” (Source: Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network)

• “60% of sexual assaults are not reported to the police. 97% of rapists will never spend a day in jail.” (Source: Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network)

• “Approximately 2/3 of assaults are committed by someone known to the victim. 38% of rapists are a friend or acquaintance.” (Source: Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network)

The stats abound. If you want some more, Soraya Chemaly has “50 Actual Facts about Rape“; the National Organization for Women has an extensive collection; the World Health Organization has numerous studies, reports, and resources; Violence Against Women Online Resources, a cooperative project of the U.S. Department of “Justice” Office on Violence Against Women and the Minnesota Center Against Violence & Abuse at the University of Minnesota, was the go-to place, but it was forced to close earlier this year, given funding cuts. (Violence against women isn’t high on the priority list of U.S. politicians–Congress’ refusal to pass the International Violence Against Women Act stands as only one example among myriad.)

In closing, I hope for this article to serve as a(n un)friendly reminder that patriarchy is an international phenomenon, and that the U.S., believe it or not, very much falls under the category of “international.” Violence against women–violence against anyone who diverges even the slightest bit from testosterone-imbibing, macho heterosexual, cisgender masculinity–is a global problem.

Blaming other peoples for their cultural misogyny while refusing to recognize your own is racist. Period. Gender violence is happening right now in your home town. Your family, friends, neighbors might very well be participating in it. You might very well be participating in it. Recognize it. Stop it.

Celebrate the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women belatedly. Celebrate it today. Celebrate it every day. There’s much work to do, SO much work to do. And there’s no excuse not to be involved. Women, and people of all genders, are out there organizing right now. They’re in your community, your city, your state, your country. Join them. Stop the violence. Smash the patriarchy.

Ben Norton is an artist and activist. His website can be found at http://bennorton.com/.