As we near the end of a long presidential race in the United States, there are still many policy issues to discuss. Those working on the many aspects of sexual reproductive health and rights (SRHR) are following the campaign carefully and discussing positions passionately.
This post is not about who to vote for in the presidential race or to weigh in on candidates’ policy positions related to SRHR – it is to comment on an aspect of the race that is central to our work that I think has been lost in the dialogue. I am commenting on this based on more than 20 years working on and writing about gender issues related to SRHR.
Gender-based violence (GBV) is one of the most insidious outcomes of gender inequity and while men and boys can be subject to GBV, by and large it is perpetuated on women and girls. The roots of gender-based violence include gender norms that can result in women being valued less in society than men and turn them into sexual objects to be controlled by men. When we think of GBV, physical violence first comes to mind, particularly violence inflicted by intimate partners. A multi-country study by the World Health Organization (WHO) found that about one in three women experience some form of violence in their lifetime.
Physical violence is not the only form of gender-based violence,
though, and that is where I think the U.S. presidential election comes
in. According to the UN General Assembly in 1993,
gender-based violence is “any act of violence that results in, or is
likely to result in, physical, sexual, or psychological harm or
suffering for women, including threats of such acts, coercion, or
arbitrary deprivations of liberty, whether occurring in public or
private life.” From my perspective, while they have not, thank
goodness, been subject to physical sexual assault, the female
candidates in the race from both the Democratic and Republican parties
have been subject to gender-based psychological abuse.
Let me give some examples. Recall the nut cracker dolls, used to make
fun of Hillary Clinton as a strong woman? I see that as linked to
gender norms suggesting that men are strong and women are supposed to
be weak. And that rap song about Hillary the Ho’? A demeaning song
to “put that b*tch in her place.”
Sarah Palin has also been subject to gender-based psychological abuse,
in my opinion and based on my professional experience working on gender
issues. There are pictures on the internet of young women and men
wearing “Sarah is a C*nt” t-shirts. Some find it amusing that porno
movies are being made with Palin’s face superimposed on another woman’s
body. The comedian Sandra Bernhard, in an act at a local venue in
September, said that if Sarah Palin came to Manhattan, she should be
gang raped by a group of black men. You can catch that class act that
manages to be both sexist and racist on YouTube. Remember that line
about why women “deserve” to be raped? So, too, some people are saying
that the way Palin dresses and winks somehow justifies the
psychological attacks. These examples, to me, fit the internationally
agreed upon definition of gender-based violence listed above.
Yes, I know, all’s supposed to be fair in politics, but, to me, the
tone of the discourse around gender this political season has been
destructive and damaging to society as a whole. And to see women
heaping abuse on other women makes it all the more poignant to me. So,
my plea to others working on SRHR, is that no matter what you think of
their policies and positions on issues, please don’t condone
gender-based assaults on candidates. They don’t deserve it any more
than you, your sister, your daughter or your mother would.