A video titled “#DearDaddy” has recently gone viral, and it’s not hard to see why. (Warning: This video may be triggering for some readers.)
Throughout history and to this day, across continents and cultures, violence against women has been a problem. It takes many forms: domestic abuse, rape, sexual assault, gendercide and female genital mutilation, to name a few. Discussion about how to eradicate these injustices is complicated, intersecting issues such as racism, socioeconomic inequality and public policy.
“#DearDaddy” is noteworthy because it powerfully and poignantly distills some of the often overlooked roots of violence against women: everyday sexism and misogyny. The average person does not wake up and spontaneously think, “Today I’ve decided it’s fine to batter women.” Instead, reaching that point is most commonly a slow, subconscious process—the gradual devaluation and objectification of women until they are no longer viewed as equals, but instead are considered less than human and therefore undeserving of the most basic level of dignity and respect.
Obviously other factors contribute to violence against women. But in short, if one’s perceptions of women are characterized by inequality and contempt, that is fertile soil for oppression, violence and other forms of mistreatment.
No single person, organization or movement is going to end to violence against women. But there are steps we can all take every day to fight sexism and misogyny, and perhaps, as “#DearDaddy” intimates, these simple measures can help prevent violence against women in the future.
1. Practice self-awareness with regard to your language.
Our lexicon is a powerful tool. The words we choose to describe the world both reflect and reinforce ideas, including our perceptions of women. I challenge you to closely examine whether your words, even if spoken with no ill intentions, contribute to sexism and misogyny, and to question why you choose those words.
For instance, “#DearDaddy” highlights how the casual use of names like “whore” and “bitch” to refer to women is degrading and damaging. If you consider it acceptable to address women this way, ask yourself why. Similarly, query whether even lighthearted sexist jokes are edifying to women and why you find them funny. Another common example is the use of “like a girl” as a put-down to describe behavior that is poorly done or in some way insufficient. By equating girlhood and inadequacy, this insult debases girls and women categorically, not just the individual to whom it is directed.
There are many more examples that could be cited—sadly, I’m sure you could ask any woman you know about this, and she would have stories to tell—but you get the point. It can be a good exercise to carefully consider what your vocabulary reveals about the way you view women and what ideas it may be perpetuating, and to make adjustments accordingly.
2. Critically examine the media you consume.
In this increasingly technological world, media have a strong influence over our lives, for better or for worse. Many of the TV shows, movies, music selections, video games and advertisements that we consume today portray women as mere objects, or even glorify physical and sexual violence, usually to the detriment of women.
Perhaps you think that as an adult, you are immune to the influence of such media, especially if it is fictional. I’m not here to debate that point on a personal level with you. But I will say that studies have shown that the media’s influence is largely subconscious—meaning that it’s very possible your views of women have been affected and you’re not aware of it.
Even supposing you are completely immune, I encourage you to ask yourself these questions: When you partake of songs with lyrics that demean women, or shows that depict brutality against women, what is it about them that’s entertaining to you? Does it bother you? What if those words were about your mother or sister? What if, instead of that actress, it was your girlfriend or wife taking that beating? Would you still listen or watch?
I’m not calling for abstinence from all media for the rest of your life. I’m simply saying that rather than being passive consumers, we would all be better off if we grew in our media literacy—and specifically, if we thought critically about how media plays a role in creating a culture that normalizes or exalts violence against women.
3. Speak out.
In addition to analyzing your own words and media consumption, encourage others to do so as well. As you examine your life to understand where and how you may have picked up false and derogatory views of women, ask your family and friends to do the same—to consider how even seemingly mundane, everyday conversations and habits play a role in either permitting or preventing violence against women.
Sometimes these conversations will be difficult because of how deep-seated such beliefs may be, and because people are not used to being called out on sexist or misogynistic comments. Nobody likes to be told that they are disrespecting or objectifying women, especially if they are not necessarily aware of it. It is an art to dialogue about the subject assertively and graciously at the same time, and I’m not professing to be adept at it myself.
But if nobody is willing to go to that uncomfortable place of demanding critical examination and acknowledgement of incorrect and harmful perceptions, nothing will ever change. If we are unwilling to challenge the status quo, we guarantee ourselves and future generations a world in which having two X chromosomes is disadvantageous at best, and perhaps dangerous at worst.
Let us hope and pray and work toward ending violence against women, so that our daughters and their daughters have no need to write similar letters.