The ever growing momentum behind feminist movements has encouraged women to speak up and demand for equal rights. This progress should not go unrecognised, as women are beginning to receive more opportunities, respect, protection and empowerment. However, one ongoing oppressive tendency includes the silencing of women.
I believe that the endless silencing of women can be explained by assessing the structure of society. The capitalist and patriarchal society, which can be found all around the globe, depends on women remaining silent in order for its existence. When women remain silent, society can be complicit and oppression can continue.
Here are the three main ways in which women are silenced in society:
Women’s Absence in Decision making, Leadership and Politics
Representation is one of the key ingredients to having a fair leadership that reflects a democratic state. Yet statistics still show that women are highly underrepresented globally. As a result of this, decision-making often falls into the hands of men.
‘Only 24.3 per cent of all national parliamentarians were women as of February 2019’
It is an absolute necessity for women to be involved in decision making. Women around the world, who are often in vulnerable situations, depend on someone representing their experiences so that policies can be created with the purpose to protect. Men cannot be the only ones who speak for women in terms of systemic gender inequality, because they have simply just not experienced it.
When women are in leadership, it is not unusual for women to be undermined by their male counterparts from interruption, over-speaking, and dismissing points. In addition to this, women are often exposed to misogynistic hate speech in politics, this can take form online or in person.
There has also been a consistent narrative in the media and politics, in which powerful women are portrayed as ‘angry’, ‘erratic’ or ‘shouty’.
“Greta must work on her anger management problem, then go to a good old-fashioned movie with a friend! Chill Greta, Chill!”
This statement from Donald Trump towards climate activist Greta Thunberg, is deeply rooted in misogyny and is an example as to how men can belittle and speak over women. The dismissal of the female voice in leadership can be reflected into wider parts of society as well as discouraging women’s participation in politics.
‘Women make up more than half the world’s population and potential, so it is neither just nor practical for their voices to go unheard at the highest levels of decision-making’ -Meghan Markle
If women are unable to speak in high positions, an oppressive system continues to violate women’s rights. The silencing of women maintains the status quo of a patriarchal society in which oppression is rampant. A fair representative panel of men and women allows for an excellent example for other sectors to strive for equality.
Women are Silenced By the Rape Culture
It is estimated that around 15 million girls from the age of 15-19 years have experienced rape (UNICEF). This is not to say that men have not been victims themselves, but women have been disproportionately affected. The statistics for sexual violence around the world are challenging to understand due to the fact that it is the most under reported crime. The reasons as to why it is one of the most under reported crimes can vary. However, one of the many reasons includes rape culture and the way in which it can invalidate and silence women’s experiences. Rape culture is defined by UN women as:
‘The social environment that allows sexual violence to be normalized and justified, fuelled by the persistent gender inequalities and attitudes about gender and sexuality’
There have been many positive campaigns that have driven victims to speak up and hold perpetrators accountable such as the #metoo movement. However, unfortunately there is still an enormous amount of hateful abuse in which survivors are subjected to online and in person.
Victim blaming is one of the many aspects of rape culture, it is the way in which the perpetrator’s accountability is passed on to the victim. This is often done by people questioning the context of the assault such as the influence of alcohol, clothing, time, and location. This is extremely unhelpful and deeply situated in an oppressive system of patriarchy. It allows the abuser an easy way out as well as discouraging the victim from opening up or finding support.
The silencing does not just stop here, as women are also silenced due to the lack of trust in the criminal justice system. Reporting sexual violence can often be traumatic for victims who have to re-live what they went through out loud. The use of rape kits as a means of collecting evidence to prove their trauma also remains a dehumanising experience for victims. Yet, access to rape kits is not always possible and having a successful trial is unfortunately very unlikely for most victims.
For example, in Pakistan, it is not unusual for four Muslim men to testify for the rape victim. Without these witnesses, the victim may face prosecution herself for adultery. The way in which sexual violence is dealt with in the justice system is so deeply rooted in patriarchal values and discourages women from reporting.
In the UK only 5.7% of reported cases of rape end up with prosecution of the perpetrators (Rape Crisis)
Rebuilding trust in the criminal justice system is an important step to holding abusers accountable. Yet while the persistent silencing of women’s experiences is still prevalent through rape culture, sexual violence will continue to disproportionately affect women around the world.
Unrealistic Beauty Standards to Silence Women
There is a constant bombardment of the western beauty standard: white, slim, non-disabled and young. It is promoted heavily in mainstream media such as films, adverts, magazines, social media and more. This unrealistic beauty standard is racist, fatphobic, disablist and ageist. However, inevitably, these messages are internalised, and many women and young girls feel a certain amount of pressure to live up to this standard.
This standard is suggested by the media to be achievable through the consumption of beauty products or undergoing corrective procedures. However, we know this is not necessarily true and the only people that benefit are those at the top of these big companies.
It is not to say that some women may reject these ideas. However, due to the nature of a patriarchal society, women who do not live up to this idea of femininity and beauty may face further hardship. This links to the term ‘pretty privilege’ which has recently entered the feminsit vocabulary. Pretty privilege refers to the unearned benefits you will naturally receive just by meeting this western beauty standard. Some feminists have argued that if you have pretty privilege, you are often listened to more by your male counterparts or taken more seriously. This is obviously extremely problematic. Women should not have to strive for an unrealistic beauty standard just to be heard and listened to.
The above effects on women show how both patriarchy and capitalism have directly benefited from this unfair pressure on women. It is arguable that patriarchy benefits by insisting on this highly sexualised image of women, while capitalism benefits by profiting from women as consumers. This tremendous amount of pressure, which especially affects young girls who use social media, can be detrimental to mental health. Dismantling this unrealistic beauty standard is crucial to reaching a society in which women are not consistently overwhelmed by beauty standards.
Taking steps to amplify women’s voices:
We must continue to implement change for women around the world and prevent this silencing.
Educational programes that encourage female participation in leadership.
Dismantling the dominant western beauty standard. Emphasising the importance of inclusivity to fashion and beauty brands.
Strengthening mental health services across the globe.
Taking a survivor-centred approach to sexual violence. This means amplifying the voices of victims and recognising their agency. Furthermore, thinking critically about the justice systems and implementing change for survivors.
Some other resources around this topic:
More on pretty privilege, click here
To understand more as to what rape culture is click here
For more information on a survivor-centred approach click here
More on the way in which rape is dealt with in Pakistan.