Gendered violence, will it ever end?

In this fifth edition in my series of articles of criminological concepts in a socialist context I am going to discuss gendered violence. The question in the title suggests two different contexts; will it ever end in society and will it ever end for the person on the receiving end of it. Because when you are in a violent relationship it can feel like it can only end one way, with death. And actually, even a survivor of gendered violence outside of the violent relationship can feel like it will never end, as every next relationship seems doomed to go the same way. And off course, also outside of the home gendered violence exist, even just being yourself as a trans or gay person can be enough to encounter violence on the street or in public spaces by complete strangers or the police.

‘It doesn’t have to be like this women and the struggle for socialism’ paperback from Leftbooks

What is gendered violence?

Gendered violence or gender-based violence is abuse that reproduces the dominant social order with regards to gender. In Western societies a binary form of gender is the norm in which 2 ‘natural’ sexes are fixed from birth and are physically identifiable. These are off course male and female with distinct behavioural and physical features like being quiet, caring and pretty for girls, and being strong, loud and independent for boys. Displaying these features for respective girls or boys is rewarded by society with acceptance as being female or male (Downes et. al., 2019a, p. 103). Social scientists West and Zimmerman (1987) argued that gender is something that is actively ‘done’ in every day life, rather than something that is fixed. This then begs the question does gender actually exist? But going back the the question, gendered violence is violence towards people that behave or dress outside of the norm of these two gender identities. Gender violence is disproportionately experienced by women and girls and is a key obstacle to global equality, development and peace (United Nations, 1993, 2017; Council of Europe, 2011). I would add to that people from the LGBT+ community and especially trans gender people. Feminists have argued that this violence is rooted in male entitlement, privilege and the assertion of male control and power over women and girls (Hanmer and Saunders, 1984; Kelly, 1988; Stark, 2007; Romito, 2008; Westmarland, 2015). This leads to the understanding that gendered violence is both the cause and consequence of gender inequality (Downes et al., 2019a, p. 104). However, class, race, disability, immigration status and sexuality also have influence on shaping these responses and experiences.

Domestic Abuse

Since the 1960’s and 70’s some forms of gendered violence have not been taken seriously by the state and police. Only after decades of protest and campaigning gendered violence has been recognised and now includes domestic abuse, rape, violence against family members, honour-based violence, forced marriage, female genital mutilation and violence in same-sex relationships. The term domestic abuse is now widely used instead of domestic violence to include coercive control, emotional, verbal and financial abuse. Coercive control is a way violent partners control their spouses and children by regulating and manipulating their every day lives. All these little control measures add up to a pattern of violence and abuse which on their own wouldn’t be regarded as abusive behaviour. It can include controlling when and what a person eats, drinks, watches on TV, wears, when and where to sleep, have sex, see their friends and family etc. Only in December 2015 this was recognised in law as a criminal offence. And still, the definition of what is abuse and violence changes. However, criminalisation of gendered violence is contested because it can improve access to justice for some, but can keep justice out of reach for others and create unintended consequences (Downes, et al., 2019a, p. 105-108).

The socialist context

So what would happen to these horrific crimes placed in a socialist context? I think it might take generations to collectively recover from centuries of patriarchy and off course these crimes would not disappear overnight. We would need to develop a programme of education and built collective kitchens, cleaning regimes and childcare facilities to relief women from the drudgery of housework and make bringing up children a community responsibility. We would need a collective recovery programme, and discuss the power inequalities, and try to find ways to prevent these behaviours to take hold in our communities. I think the whole make up of society would be reconsidered, as well as the role of the traditional family, and notions of traditional gender identities. In western societies the traditional family is already changing a lot, with single households increasing dramatically which to me indicates that the divisive character of the capitalist system has penetrated deep into our family lives. In a socialist society this would probably be reversed, with many people developing communal types of living, with a generational make-up, to support our elderly and children, as well as enriching our lives through the inclusive diversity characteristics of socialism.

So when you then as a society go through a revolution and establish a democratic worker’s state, in which each citizen has direct power to influence the way society is run, I believe that slowly, as it progresses, violence will be taken out of the equation purely because people will have real power to live their lives exactly the way they want to. Equality is the bedrock of socialism and as the drive to profit through exploitation is taken away, the way capitalism pitches people against each other, creating competition and individualism and uses division to maintain control, for a socialist society this would not exist. Inclusion, collectivism, equality and diversity are the key words on which society would be run. But to get there, we need a collective discussion on all the problems that exist today, and how we should best deal and recover from them, and most of all we need to work towards a socialist world.

References

Downes, J. (2019) ‘Contesting responses to gendered violence’, in Downes, J., Kent, G., Mooney, G., Nightingale, A. and Scott, D. (eds) Introduction to Criminology 2, Milton Keynes, The Open University, pp. 101–27.

Hanmer, J. and Saunders, S. (1984) Well-founded Fear: A Community Study of Violence to Women, London, Hutchinson.

Kelly, L. (1988) Surviving Sexual Violence, Cambridge, Policy Press.

Romito, P. (2008) A Deafening Silence: Hidden Violence Against Women and Children, Bristol, Policy Press.

Stark, E. (2007) Coercive Control: How Men Entrap Women in Personal Life, New York, Oxford University Press.

United Nations (1993) Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women, General Assembly, 20 December, A/RES/48/104.

West, C. and Zimmerman, D. H. (1987) ‘Doing gender’, Gender and Society, vol. 1, no. 2, pp. 125-51.

Westmarland, N. (2015) Violence Against Women: Criminological Perspectives on Men’s Violences, Abingdon, Routledge.

A Socialist Police Force

In this second edition in my series of articles about Criminology concepts in a Socialist context I will discuss the concept of a Socialist Police Force. What would that look like? What would the main aim be? How can trust between the community and the police be guaranteed? Would racism, sexism and trans/homophobia within the police be a thing from the past? To answer these questions I will first unpick the concepts mentioned in this title.

By Socialism I mean socialism as a system in society in which the working class is in control of the means of production, the economy is planned democratically to the need of the people instead of profit, and overall a Marxist approach is applied. In this sense the term ‘police force‘ means a democratically accountable organisation which defends and safeguards the interests of the working class within a socialist society.

To move from the situation now towards a socialist police force we in the Socialist Party would argue for a transitional programme which would only come to the fore when the working class take steps towards that direction. Conditions for that to happen have to emerge through struggle, in which working class people will develop consciousness and confidence that through collective action and organisation victories can be won. But those victories can only be permanent through a socialist transformation of society. To quote the article in the last link above:

“If the working class is to preserve the economic gains and the democratic rights that it has wrested from the capitalists in the past, it must carry through the socialist transformation of society. Past gains cannot be preserved indefinitely within the rotten framework of a crisis-ridden capitalism. In transforming society, it is utopian to think that the existing apparatus of the capitalist state can be taken over and adapted by the working class. In a fundamental change of society, all the existing institutions of the state will be shattered and replaced by new organs of power under the democratic control of the working class. While basing itself on the perspective of the socialist transformation of society, however, the labour movement must advance a programme which includes policies which come to grips with the immediate problems posed by the role of the police” (The State.., 1983, pp53-54) as cited in Marxism and the State: an exchange (2006).

Black Lives Matter protester, June 2020

So, what would such a police force look like? Well, it would be acting in the interests of the working class, and be accountable to the working class. Officers would be subject to immediate recall and accountable to a democratically formed workers committee with its base firmly in the trade union movement. But as the conditions of most people will have dramatically changed for the better in a socialist society, over time crime will dramatically change and possibly even disappear. A lot of crime happens as a result of poverty, desperation, unemployment, and inequalities in society. Over generations this can improve dramatically when society turns its attention to the problems causing it. Also the legislation will change as we start to evaluate our values and start to focus on the improvement of health and wellbeing of everyone, as opposed to the all consuming pressure of chasing profit for the few.

I think the police will be tasked with the protection and defence of those values and the working class as a whole from counter attacks by people clinging on to capitalism, and other threats to the socialist state. Trust from the community in the police can only be guaranteed when the police is directly accountable to the community and subject to immediate recall. The community has to guide and lead by debating and making decisions regarding the police’s actions through a dedicated democratically elected committee. Every workplace, so also the police force, will be organised by the workers, so in this case police officers will be in a officers committee who are then accountable to a community committee. But the officers committee would have to defend their rights at work, and make decisions about the work they do and will be part of a national trade union, like every other trade or profession will be.

Within the police force debates will take place about problems and crime and how best to deal with them. I would think this has to happen in cooperation with many other organisations like mental health care, social care, schools, neighbourhood committees etc. and as a lot of legislation will have to change, a larger debate in the whole of society needs to take place. Questions will arise like ‘what is crime’, and how to deal with ‘criminals’. Criminologists will play an important role in this debate and I think society should ask itself, is the penal system as it is today effective and leading to positive outcomes for society?

I think the answer is that it is not effective. There is a whole array of evidence to prove that. I would go as far as to say that a lot of crime happens because of the capitalist system, and that even the penal system is used to make profit (A big part of the US penal system is privatised). I think the whole penal system has to be scrapped and a debate has to take place on how and with what to replace it. The answer is probably a whole cocktail of different approaches, and a lot of additional research needs to be done. Obviously it is not a good idea to just release all prisoners and demolish all prisons. So here also the Transitional Programme will have to play an important role.

But going back to the police force, how do we create a force that is not riddled with racism, sexism and trans/homophobia? In a socialist society any form of discrimination will be fought and the rights of minority groups of any kind will be protected. Malcolm X said : “You can’t have capitalism without racism”. That is because capitalism is build on divisions and individualism. Socialism is build on collectives, sharing and communities. So the very essence of socialism will counter racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination.

Malcolm X banner ‘You can’t have capitalism without racism’

I personally think that socialism is build on the idea that we are as strong as the weakest link, so it’s very important to look after the most vulnerable in society because the stronger they are, the stronger we are as a whole. Another great slogan I love is ‘One for all, all for one’, which points to a similar idea. Maybe serving in the police in a socialist society should be rotated, so the majority of people have a turn to work in it and help shape it, or maybe alongside a permanent core.

In conclusion I think the society would look very different under a socialism and the police would change with it. Undoubtedly a lot of actions and crimes today would not exist in that case and racism, sexism and other forms of oppression will not be tolerated, and in time hopefully disappear. As under socialism the police would be run by and for the working class, and be accountable to it, it would transform to an organisation working towards a very positive and supporting role. I think it would strengthen the foundations of society and protect it from capitalist and other ideological threats, making it a much safer place to live in than the world is today.