Rural Womyn ZoneViolence Against Rural Women > Definitions

Why Language Matters
Feminism | Gender | Paternalism | Patriarchy
Sex  | Sex-Gender System  |  Sexism
Women's Emancipation
Women's Rights Movement
Patriarchal Attitudes | Sexism and Racism
"Battered Woman Syndrome"

Why language matters

Terms like domestic violence strongly imply that there is a gendered symmetry to interpersonal violence in families.  Such notions of symmetry, be they express or implied, fly in the face of the studies.....Kathleen Ferraro notes the way in which legislative intervention against interpersonal violence against women has been accompanied by a shift in the language used to describe that violence.  Legislative language employs terms like domestic violence, family violence, or spouse abuse, which fail to disclose the fact that it is largely men who abuse women.  The language of the law therefore poses as an objective and neutral code that ends up obscuring the systemic use of violence by men against women.  source

Feminism is a term commonly and quite indiscriminately used.  Some of the currently used definitions are:  (a) a doctrine advocating social and political rights for women equal to those of men;  (b) an organized movement for the attainment of these rights; (c) the assertion of the claims of women as a group and the body of theory women have created; (d) belief in the necessity of large-scale social change in order to increase the power of of women.  source

Gender is the cultural definition of behavior defined as appropriate to the sexes in a given society at a given time.  Gender is a set of cultural roles.  It is a costume, a mask, a straitjacket in which men and women dance their unequal dance.  Unfortunately, the term is used both in academic discourse and in the media as interchangeable with "sex."  In fact, its widespread public use probably is due to it sounding a bit more "refined" than the plain word "sex" .....Such usage is unfortunate, because it hides and mystifies the difference between the biological given - sex - and the culturally created - gender.  Feminists above all others should want to point up that difference and should therefore be careful to use the appropriate words.  source

Paternalism, or more accurately Paternalistic Dominance, describes the relationship of a dominant group, considered superior, to a subordinate group, considered inferior, in which the dominance is mitigated by mutual obligations and reciprocal rights.  The dominated exchange submission for protection, unpaid labor for maintenance.  ....As applied to familial relations, it should be noted that responsibilities and obligations are not equally distributed among those to be protected:  the male children's subordination to the father's dominance is temporary; it lasts until they themselves become heads of household.  The subordination of female children and of wives is lifelong.  Daughters can escape it only if they place themselves as wives under the dominance/protection of another man. source

Patriarchy.  In its narrow meaning, patriarchy refers to the system, historically derived from Greek and Roman law, in which the male head of the household had absolute legal and economic power over his dependent female and male family members.  .....Patriarchy in its wider definition means the manifestation and institutionalization of male dominance over women and children in the family and the extension of male dominance over women in society in general.  It implies that men hold power in all the important institutions of society and that women are deprived of access to such power.  It does not imply that women are either totally powerless or totally deprived of rights, influence, and resources.  source

Sex.  Women are a Sex.  Women are a separate group due to their biological distinctiveness.  The merit of using the term is that it clearly defines women, not as a subgroup or a minority group, but as half of the whole.  Men are the only other sex.  Obviously, we are here not referring to sexual activity, but to a biological given.  source

Sex-gender system is a very useful term. . . .It refers to the institutionalized system which allots resources, property and privileges to persons accordant to culturally defined gender roles.  Thus, it is sex which determines that women should be child bearers, it is the sex-gender system which assures that they should be child-rearers.  source

Sexism defines the ideology of male supremacy, of male superiority and of beliefs that support and sustain it.  Sexism and patriarchy mutually reinforce one another.  source

Women's Emancipation means:  freedom from oppressive restrictions imposed by sex; self-determination; and autonomy.  source

Woman's rights movement means a movement concerned with winning for women equality with men in all aspects of society and giving them access to all rights and opportunities enjoyed by men in the institutions of that society.  Thus, the women's rights movement is akin to the civil rights movement in wanting equal participation for women in the status quo.... source

Source:  Gerda Lerner, The Creation of Patriarchy

Patriarchal attitudes.  I refer to that cluster of collective values, beliefs, and ideas that deem rural women to be subordinate to rural men.  It is not my argument that these patriarchal beliefs are absent in urban communities.  Rather, I speculate that the forms these beliefs take may be more extreme and less tempered with an exposure to issues of women's rights.  Patriarchal attitudes are best seen as a continuum of ideological sentiments that prescribe the social locus of women, often tying them closely to their biology as reproductive receptacles and nurturers.  ....source

....Among a significant number of local rural police officers this constellation of patriarchal attitudes includes certain ways of understanding the social circumstances of rural battered women in astructural ways.  In particular, we find some officers blaming women for their own plight and failing to understand the immense amount of courage, resistance, and artistry exhibited by those so brutally victimized in their own homes.  I include among these attitudes a failure to treat domestics seriously, especially when there may be a threat of lethal violence.

...For sheriffs and small town police to enforce the letter and spirit of [domestic abuse laws] in many  cases requires them to confront local patriarchal norms.

...My ethnography clearly implicated rural patriarchy at the center of family violence.  This means that strategies that fail to recognize the gendered nature of violence within families will end up reproducing ideologies that depict male and female intrafamilial violence to be essentially the same in character, although (perhaps) different in degree and consequences.  Such ideologies are likely to recommend "conflict management" approaches...and psychological interventions.  ....[These] will always be of limited use to rural battered women. . . . Without concrete economic supports to put food, transportation, medical care, safe housing, and more rigorous legal/criminal justice protections in place for women and families, it is nothing short of insulting to keep asking battered women why they do not leave violent homes.  source

Sexism and racism ...rural black women are doubly isolated.  Not only do they experience the typical geographical and sociocultural isolation endemic to rural communities, they also are marginalized as members of a small minority.  source

Jeffersonianism   Notions that people are self-sufficient and survive and thrive because of their own choices and energy are important in rural regions.  The lingering effects of Jeffersonian self-sufficiency. . .still underscore aspects of the rural collective conscience.  The rural prescription as applied to women is that they, too, albeit in different ways, can pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.  This may include battered women being able to "choose to" extricate themselves from violent relationships. source

The term battered woman syndrome contributes in a subtle way to an image of maladjustment or pathology.

....the psychiatric/counseling discourse on battering [identifies] it as part of the wider tendency in American culture to psychologize what are in reality social problems.  Concepts such as battered woman syndrome and learned helplessness fail to acknowledge both the human agency of battered women and the constraints of patriarchal structure upon those human choices. ... the psychological discourse overemphasizes the passivity and dependency of battered women at the expense of acknowledging the acute obstacles they have to overcome and the tremendous resistance and coping skills they display.  source

Source:  Neil Websdale, Rural Woman Battering and the Justice System

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