Sometimes, addressing violence against women begins with challenging cultural norms. It’s often the case that cultural and social norms normalize behavior that leads to or supports violence.
We may not realize how certain cultural norms beget violence. Nonetheless, it is our duty to educate ourselves and challenge what’s been normalized. The majority of us, after all, would disagree that women should be subservient to men. The majority of us denounce violence against women. Yet we often say nothing about the cultural norms that perpetuate the violence.
Take, for example, sex and sexuality. For many, these are taboo subjects. By extension, sexual violence and intimate partner violence are also taboo. Domestic violence often goes unreported for fear of bringing shame to the victim, or retaliation by the perpetrator. We condemn the violence, yet do not challenge the norms that enable the violence.
But those norms that enable violence are not confined to that single example. Different norms support different violence. Violence against women and children, those with mental illness, those who are different.
Ideas that Perpetuate Violence
Many such ideas and practices in our culture are accepted as normal. Norms are difficult to challenge as to do so is to be countercultural. Not everyone is in a place where they want to stick out. Furthermore, for many, challenging norms can bring real consequences. One might feel shame or guilt, face social disapproval, or even face violence themselves.
Nonetheless, it is important that we support each other in challenging cultural norms. It’s hard to be countercultural alone. When we see that we are not alone, we can more easily find the courage to take a stand. It is when we stand together that we can effect change.
The important first step is acknowledging these norms that perpetuate violence. In acknowledging, we realize that even seemingly innocuous norms play a role in upholding a culture of violence. Furthermore, by sharing what we want to see changed, we can see that we are not alone in our stances. That is why we asked our community to (anonymously) submit to us cultural changes they want to see.
What Changes Can We Make to Address Violence-Enabling Norms?
We reached out to the community for their anonymous suggestions. These are quotes submitted to us by community members. Each challenges harmful ideas that our culture perpetuates. These ideas are harmful to both men and women, and continue the cycle of violence.
“I’d like to be blessed by a female priest at the temple.”
“Parents should teach kids about sex and healthy relationships.”
“Boys & girls, women & men can sit and eat together; women & girls should not be expected to serve the boys & men.”
“Men more involved in housework and taking care of kids.”
“Equality being emphasized in wedding traditions instead of the traditional hierarchy.”
“Stop the attitude that boys don’t cry.”
“Women allowed to go to cremation grounds and participate in the rituals of cremation.”
“Married couples living separately from parents and not by default following the men’s side traditions, rules, religion.”
“Normalization of getting therapy.”
“Dowry should be paid to the women’s side, so women can be perceived as valuable vs. a burden.”
We gathered these suggestions over a 24-hour period. Toxic masculinity, gender separation, taboos on sex and sexuality, stigmas around mental health, unequal roles in parenting, and women being less valued than men. It took 24 hours for so many norms to be called out for their perpetuation of unequal treatment.
Though the culture is beginning to progress, we must continue to push against old cultural norms that persist. These changes given to us by our community came from asking what changes we can make in our households. That’s really what it takes — small changes and challenges in our community that together form a movement.
When we support victims, hold perpetrators accountable, and challenge cultural norms that enable violence, we move forwards. Disclosing sexual violence should never reflect badly on the survivor. We can fight violence together. By challenging the norms we each face day to day, we continue to change the culture for the better.
Let us close with a question: What cultural norms do you want to see changed? How can you challenge these norms in daily life?
For resources on domestic violence, visit our Women’s Programs.