Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Historical Perspectives on Violence against Women

Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Historical Perspectives on Violence against Women

Article excerpt

Abstract

Three great bodies of thought have influenced western society's views and treatment of women: Judeo-Christian religious ideas, Greek philosophy and the Common Law legal code. All three traditions have, by and large, assumed patriarchy as natural--that is male domination stemming from the view of male superiority. As part of the culture perpetuated by these ideologies, violence towards women was seen as a natural expression of male dominance. This paper contains three maim themes. The first establishes patriarchy as an early pattern of military societies and the subsequent emergence of the Judeo-Christian, Greek and legal cultural paradigm as ideological justification. The second provides evidence as to how the above attitudes were interwoven in European and American values. The third theme analyzes the new 18th century cultural paradigm of liberalism which rejected male dominance, lessened the manifestation of patriarchy, without removing its cultural memory, thereby, allowing violence towards women to remain.

Key Words: History of violence against women; Patriarchy; Western ideology

Introduction

Three great bodies of thought have influenced western society's views and treatment of women: Judeo-Christian cultural beliefs (1), Greek philosophy and the western legal code. All three traditions have assumed patriarchy as natural; that is, male domination stemming from the view of male superiority--with some exceptions, as in Plato's Republic (2). As part of the culture perpetuated by these ideologies, violence towards women was seen as a natural expression of male dominance.

The definition of violence in this paper is taken from the U.N. Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women to include,

   Any act ... that results in ... physical, sexual or psychological
   harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion
   or arbitrary deprivation of liberty whether occurring in public or
   in private life. (3)

This paper examines from an historic perspective, two types of violent acts towards women mentioned in the U.N. Declaration and it contends that both contributed to the psychological harm of women. The first, known as husbandly or marital chastisement involves the infliction of physical or verbal pain, or both, by the husband on his wife. It has as its intention the assertion of a husband's right to reprimand and therefore to control the behavior of his wife if he believes she has misbehaved. The second violent act I will discuss is rape, specifically marital rape. Here, too, I use a U.N. definition, that of The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court which defines rape as,

   [The invasion of] the body of a person by conduct resulting in
   penetration, however slight, of any part of the body of the
   victim or of the perpetrator with a sexual organ [when] ... The
   invasion was committed by force, or by threat of force
   or coercion ... or abuse of power ... (4)

My general approach is to construct an argument, which demonstrates the relationship between the three belief systems mentioned above, and violence towards women. I do this by deconstructing the ideas that reveal attitudes towards women, which place them in inferior positions to men. I further maintain that in their explanation of difference-as-inferior, and in their long-standing cultural acceptance, they have imprinted a psychic cultural memory that lingers and continues to motivate belief and behavior, despite historic change. Thus, reinforced by ideology and by long-held patriarchal cultural practices, the cultural psyche retains the long-held beliefs even when circumstances alter.

This paper contains three main themes. The first theme establishes patriarchy as a pattern of military societies re-enforced by the emergence of the Judeo-Christian, Greek and western legal values, which provided ideological justification of its practice. …

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