Gender Neutrality, the 'Violence Against Women' Frame, and Transformative Reform
44 Pages Posted: 3 Aug 2013 Last revised: 14 Aug 2014
Date Written: August 1, 2013
The challenge of sustaining a progressive framework that continues to resonate in the complex aftermath of a generation of reforms lies at the heart of many current debates about gender violence legal and policy reform. This Article addresses one longstanding issue: the way gender violence is framed in law, policy, and popular rhetoric. Many initiatives continue to use the gender-specific “violence against women” frame as a default description. That “woman-specific” frame, developed in service of feminist goals such as foregrounding and challenging gender bias and fostering more inclusive delivery of social and other services, now raises empirical, theoretical, political and practical critiques. It implies that men are not also victims of abuse and reinforces a binary view of gender that is inconsistent with queer, feminist and other critical theory. The “woman-specific” frame serves to erase the particular experiences of lesbians, women of color, and survivors from other marginalized groups. It fuels arguments by those who contest the connection between intimate partner and sexual violence and gender stereotypes. It produces awkward practical contradictions; for example, it results in programs heralding services addressing “violence against women,” while reassuring that those programs are available to men. This Article builds on the work of others who advocate incorporation of intersectionality theory into work to end intimate partner and sexual violence. It unpacks the critiques and draws on frame theory to argue that the “woman-specific” frame no longer does the political work its proponents hoped it would do. It endorses a self-conscious use of frame that will vary based on context. Gender-neutral approaches that highlight historic biases and structural inequalities can support both resources for robust and comprehensive services and reinvigorated political discourse that can lead to transformational change.
Keywords: gender, gender equality, gender violence, violence against women
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