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Violence against women > Myths

Myths regarding violence against women

There is an inbuilt mechanism based on widely shared myths that lends ethical and moral support to the continuation of violence against women. The myths work on multiple levels, some are part of social memory that perpetuates silence, condone such acts and create barriers to understanding the issue. In fact, both men and women perceive the phenomenon through the prism of popular myths. It is the feminist movement which undertook evidence-based studies and brought the myths under public scrutiny that helped to dispel some of them.

You must have heard these common reasons put forward for violence against women. Lets explore some of these in depth:

Myth: It is rare
Fact: This is one of them most widely believed myths. In fact, VAW is not rate; taking about it is. As mentioned previously in this chapter the annual increasing statistics of violence against women prove that this is a falsely believed myth. Furthermore more the fact that most crimes go unreported indicates that the problem is more severe than statistics indicate.

Myth: It is an isolated incident
Fact: When women first began talking about violence done to them in their homes, it emerged that they had been suffering over periods ranging from two months to 20 years. Thus evidence shows that it is violence against women is rarely a one-time occurrence and tends to escalate in severity over time when there are no direct interventions.

Myth: Perpetrators are mentally ill
Fact: The problem of mental illness may in some cases play a part but it is not the cause of violent behaviour. Survivors stories indicate that the men who inflict violence are not affected by any mental illness; in fact, they function normally in other areas  jobs, social circles etc. Labelling perpetrators as mentally ill prevents us from examining the process of how the power imbalance in society is maintained and how it is specifically reflected in the controls exercised in the family and in marriage.

Myth: Men cant control their anger
Fact: Most perpetrators are able to control their reactions in social situations, and are abusive only in the home. Most people who are violent in the home cannot be distinguished from other normal members of society. We live in a culture that teaches boys courage and responsibility in working life but not in close relationships. While one can understand the frustrations that men often experience in the fender roles imposed on them, for instance, as providers, one needs to ask: In the struggle for survival, women too are exposed to severe frustrations, but they dont usually beat the men in their lives. Why?

Why is it also that men do not routinely beat up their co-workers, relatives or neighbours when frustrated? The answer is that they know they can beat their wives and get away with it.

Myth: Its a lower class problem
Fact: On the contrary domestic violence is not confined to any specific caste, class community, religion, region, ethnic group and nation. More middle-class educated women cover up the crime against them because they fear social stigma.

Myth: Its a private affair
Fact:  Domestic violence is considered normal by most societies and so no one interferes when a husband beats or kicks his wife. People also believe that what happens inside the house is no one else's business. This is not true. Pople have human rights both inside the house and outside the house. In no place should these rights be violated by anyone. Violence against women will rarely stop unless there is an intervention from a third party to stop it.

Myth: Alcohol causes a man to beat his wife
Fact: Alcohol is not the cause of violence. It is a cover for violence. It facilitates the use of violence by allowing the offender to abdicate responsibility for his behaviour. Even under the influence of alcohol, the man is less likely to be violent towards his boss, co-worker or neighbour. He only loses his senses when it comes to abusing his wife. So even under the influence of alcohol a man is fully conscious of whom he can exert his power over. Men who are violent towards their wives or other female members of their family do so even when they are not drunk.

Myth: The real problem is womens liberation
Fact: When the power imbalance in a family and marriage is challenged, many people feel insecure and threatened. They fear womens freedom. They believe that the institution of family and marriage will disintegrate. The material privileges and dominance of men will be undermined.

Myth: Womens education and employment is the real cause
Fact: When a woman is educated and employed, her capacity to negotiate non-violence can increase if she overcomes the cultural norms to some extent. The consequences of violence decrease in severity when the woman is educated and employed compared to the woman who is uneducated and unemployed. Yet, however, violence among middle class women is severely under reported because of the stigma attached. Thus even though education and employment is an empowering factor for women, class at times becomes a hinderance and thus violence is tolerated even among educated and employed women.

Myth: The woman is responsible
Fact: This myth has many interconnecting dimensions. For example, it is easy to blame the victim and say that if the woman wanted to she could get out of the violent situation. There is also a presumption that the violence couldnt not be that bad otherwise she would have left. Victims of domestic or intimate partner violence, do no leave their abusers for a variety of reasons. These include fear and the lack of a range of services: affordable housing, reliable childcare, employment opportunities, and effective legal protection from the abuser. Religious and cultural beliefs, family pressures and the desire to keep a family together also make leaving an abusive relationship difficult.

Myth: Women are womens worst enemies
Fact: One is often told that women are women's worst enemies and that it is the mother-in-law who harasses her daughter-in-law the most. As mentioned earlier, violence is an act of silencing someone who is powerless. In the case of the mother-in-law, she is more powerful than the daughter-in-law. Why? Because she is the mother of a married son. Is it possible for the mother of a daughter to beat, insult, or kill her son-in-law as easily? Therefore, what matters is whether you are the mother of a married son or a married daughter. Your status increases in the first case and decreases in the second. Women rarely get power on their own - it is only through men that they gain or lose power. If a woman is not married, has no children or has no son, or does not live with her husband, she loses power in society. If her husband is the earning member in a joint family, she has more power in the joint family, whereas if he is unemployed, her status falls. Because women have no power on their own, they stick to the men in their lives, sometimes at the cost of sacrificing their other rights, their health and their life. One needs to teach them to stand up for their rights too. 

Myth: Only some women
Fact:  We may assume that women from lower class/castes are victims of beating more so that middle class women. Or we might believe that those women who dress provocatively tend to be harassed or raped. It's important to separate fact from myth, when understanding what kinds of women are victims of gender-violence. Unfortunately, all women and not some women are or can be victims of violence. Which one of us is without fear of being molested or harassed when we walk down an isolated and dark alley? Without thinking we walk in groups or avoid going out after dark. Violence and abuse affect all kinds of women every day.

It doesn't matter what race or culture you come from, how much money you have, how old you are, or if you have a disability. Violence does not discriminate. It is not true that violence occurs only among the poor or among certain communities. It occurs all over the world among all classes, races, and religions. It is easier to identify the violence in poor homes because they do not have the private space to hide it from others. In rich homes, women are reluctant to talk about the violence in their lives because they feel that they would lose their social status. This does not mean that violence against them does not take place. One has to give up one's class, caste, and religious biases pertaining to violence against women.

Violence occurs, not only in 'their' homes, but in 'our' homes too. Thus, we can say that whilst it is true that not all women have experienced violence, it is also true that all women can be potential targets of violence.

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