Violence by men against women does not occur in isolation; it is strongly linked to that against their fellow men, as well as to the internalization of violence. Male-dominated societies are not only based on ‘superiority’ of men over women but some men are also rendered to the subordinate position. Violence – or threat of violence – in men is a mechanism used from childhood to establish that order. This culminates into internalization of violence by men. Or, perhaps the demands of patriarchal society hit the biological instinct that otherwise would be relatively dormant or benign. Resultantly, boys and men learn to selectively use violence. This also re-directs range of emotions into rage which often takes the form of self-directed violence. This is dubbed as triad of men’s violence. Triad of men’s violence means that each form of violence helps create the other. Shockingly, all this happens within a nurturing environment of violence thereby perpetuating patriarchy, and violence against women becomes a permanent feature. Following are the causes of violence perpetrated by men against women and also other men.
Firstly, violence has become a way of life in the de-facto standard of human relations in most of the male-dominated societies, simply because it has been articulated into ideologies and societal structures. Human beings create self-perpetuating form of social organizations and ideologies that explain and justify these constructed realities. Violence is also built on these lines and structures because it brings benefits to a particular group. Seen in this context, violence or its threat becomes a means to ensure the continued reaping of privileges and exercise of powers.
Secondly, the driving force behind the individual experience of a man may not resolve around his desire to maintain power. Feminist analysis has repeatedly pointed out that violence is often the outcome of a sense of entitlement to certain privileges. For example, if a man beats his wife for not having prepared dinner well in time, he is not trying to make sure that it does not happen again; rather this is an indication of his sense of entitlement to be waited on. Similarly, if a man sexually assaults a woman, it is about his sense of entitlement to seek physical pleasure even if that pleasure is one-sided. It is, therefore, not only the inequalities of power that lead to violence but also a conscious, or often unconscious, sense of entitlement to privilege.
Thirdly, the causes of violence against women are very complex in nature. However, it would not continue if there is no tacit approval in societal customs, legal codes, law-enforcement and religious teachings. For example, laws against domestic violence in many countries are non-existent and even if there are some, they are rarely enforced. In most countries, people dub domestic violence as a private affair thereby leaving no space for the victims to raise their voice or seek justice.
Fourthly, men commit violence due to a character structure that is typically based on emotional distance from others. The psychic structures of manhood are created in early childhood when masculinity is codified as rejection of mothers and femininity. In other words, this is the rejection of the qualities associated with care-giving and nurturance. This creates ego barriers among men in the long run. Men as a result develop behaviours that are devoid of empathy. They also show indifference to other people’s needs and feelings. Acts of violence against other persons are, therefore, possible and likely.
Fifthly, a large part of our dominant form of masculinity hinges on the internalization of a range of emotions and their redirection into anger. It is typical for the boys to learn from an early age to repress feelings of fear and pain. On the sports field, the boys are taught not to feel pain. At homes, they are taught not to cry, and act like men. It is quite natural that as human beings we experience events that cause an emotional response. As men have developed the habit of repressing their feelings and emotions, the range of emotions has channelled into anger. This is particularly true where the feeling produced is one of not having power. Such a feeling only heightens masculine insecurities. Violence thus becomes a means to prove yourself that you are powerful.
Sixthly, majority of the boys grow up in the households where their mothers are beaten by their fathers. They grow up seeing violent behaviour toward women as a norm. For some men, it results in revulsion towards violence, while in others, it produces a learned response. Learned response means that boys who grow up witnessing violence are more likely to be violent themselves.
Violence against women can be brought to an end by challenging and dismantling the structures that give men power and privilege, and by ending the cultural and social approvals – tacit or stated – for acts of violence. There is also a dire need to redefine the term ‘masculinity’. The violence can be minimized if men work in cooperation with women to reshape the gender organization of society, especially in the social institutions through which we raise and educate our children. This cannot be done without active support of the government, the civil society and the media. The sooner we start putting our house in order, the better it is for our future and that of our next generations.