Domestic and family violence doesn’t just appear. It has origins in gender inequality, attitudes and norms as well as value place on being male/female.
Violence-supporting attitudes are also more common among males who exhibit low levels of support for gender equality. It is quite normal for women going out on dates with someone they have never been out with, to let their friends know where they are going. They might do this because they are excited to share this with their friends; they are also likely to share this information for their own safety. As one member of the Common Grace team shared:
“When I go out on a date with someone that I met online or don’t know very well, I always make sure that I let a friend know where I will be and what time. We make jokes about the date’s axe murderer potential, but the reality is, I keep my friends informed in case the joke is a little closer to reality than any of us would ever consider possible.”
We hear a lot in the media about how women can protect themselves from sexual assault or from violent partners, we hear a lot less about how men can choose not to rape someone or to control their aggressiveness.
Gender inequality may not seem like such a big deal in relationships. It most certainly may not seem like such a big deal in a progressive country like Australia. However, our social norms around ‘being a man’ and ‘acting like a good girl’ play out in very different ways.
As modern as we are, aggression is still praised in men as a sign of masculinity, and demureness and submission are still the signs of being a good woman. these are our cultural norms, and they are our church norms – though the aggressiveness is tamped down a little more into the appearance more of being ‘protective’.
To get real about domestic and family violence, we need to get real about gender equality by stamping out unhelpful cultural norms about who should and shouldn’t be doing what.
Men are more likely be violent towards women if they have a negative attitude towards women or believe in traditional gender roles that see violence as a method of resolving conflict. Similarly, women who believe in traditional gender roles are less likely to report violence.
The risk of violence varies across different communities. There is a greater risk of violence against women in communities where the following attitudes or norms exist:
- traditional 'macho' constructions of masculinity;
- notions that men are primary wage earners and the heads of the household whereas a woman's place is in the home;
- standards encouraging excessive consumption of alcohol; and
- standards that facilitate peer pressure to conform to these notions of masculinity
Negative attitudes towards women are influenced by culture-specific norm. However they are:
- more commonly expressed among younger than older males
- stronger in particular ‘manly’ contexts, such as sport events and cultures
- influenced by exposure to pornography as well as television, music and film; and
- more likely among children who witness or are subjected to violence
For more on attitudes and how they can act as a trigger for violence, read Key Issues in Domestic Violence by Morgan and Chadwick, which can be downloaded from www.aic.gov.au/publications/current%20series/rip/1-10/07.html
Value of Women/Men
In a church context, there are often roles that men play and roles that women play. These are defined under the guise of masculine/feminine ‘biblical roles’. Largely, we see men upfront as preachers and leaders while women work behind the scenes to administrate and serve. It is largely those who are upfront who create and shape our culture; if women are never seen, nor heard, it is more difficult for them to affect change.
Our language and our behavior towards single or dating young (or older) people often reflects who we value more. Men are instructed about sex, forgiveness and masculinity; women about patience, service and chastity. Single men in the church who are open about their desire for a partner as seen as a prize who can date freely, while single women who share the same feelings are labeled as needy and told to serve God and be patient.
If men and women are equal in God’s eyes, how can this play out in our church cultures?