Is Women’s Increasing Power Helping Reduce Violence?

Posted on May 12th, 2014 by - 1 comment

That question was asked, almost as an aside, by a BBC journalist of a senior policeman in an item on the reduction of violent crime (a 12% fall had been recorded, an ongoing trend):

Do you think“, he asked, “that the increasing power of women is a factor in the violent crime figures going down?

The policeman gave some sort of answer but it clearly wasn’t something he’d thought about before. He was more focused on the fact that the price of alcohol had been increased, leading to less drinking and consequently less violent crime.

It was an intriguing question, though, leaving aside the issue of have women actually increased their power? Certainly we’re making a lot of noise of late, but I am not entirely signed up to the idea that we genuinely have more power in actual reality. Just look at the lack of women in Government. I asked some of the very interesting women I know for their thoughts on this question and the responses are below.

Bridget Harris, CEO of a technology start up, SoftlySoftware, ex advisor to deputy PM:
“I think it’s less about feminism and more about equality – keeping people back from the gates of power – which includes women of course, but also includes many excluded and disadvantaged groups – class and education being big factors here.

My concern about gender is more what is happening in the opposite direction – the ‘barbiefication’ of little girls, the promotion of pink ‘caring’ toys, which are then reinforced by girls themselves keen to fit in to their instinctive gender stereotypes. So I think gender and class are the key issues.”

Dr Mariann Hardey co-director of iARC (institute for Advanced Research in Computing) at the university of Durham:
“One of my earliest realisations of the significance of power and dynamic of gender is from the David Bowie mighty-tighty-trouser-led 1980s film Labyrinth. The main protagonist – babysitter Sarah (Jennifer Connelly no less) and sister to kidnapped baby Toby, arrives at the end of the film having fought through dangers untold and hardships unnumbered, and found her way to the castle beyond the Goblin City to take back the child (her brother) that the Goblin King has stolen. She asserts in the final scene to Bowie (who is the Goblin King), ‘You have no power over me’. ”

This has always stuck with me. More so than Bowie’s trousers, which considering their own performance in the film is rather telling. Labyrinth’s 1986 (I was five years young) release was one of my earliest moments of realisation that equality, true equality and equal opportunity comes from the resources available as much as their execution and competency, integrity if you will, of the individuals involved.

Women and men together, not one or other vying for attention, influence or endowment.

Recent crime statistics reveal that anti-social behaviour and incidence of violence have dropped and there was a 12% fall in injuries from violent incidents in 2013, according to data from almost a third of emergency departments examined by Cardiff University. Reflecting on power, we might cautiously note that physical violence has traditionally shared a strong relationship force and domination, and that reports shows that the experience of this type of crime has fallen might be an indication of more tolerable society, even one that is more equal, and that in this setting women have more power, and that we (women and men) are more equal?!!!…

I would like to believe, yes. However, the containment of power is contentious. For those who know my research – that is about social media, digital content and communication theory – you will not be surprised that I look to mediated spaces and the use of social platforms as leverage for sources of manipulation, containment of thought, and power. Social media places the individual in a tempting position of ascendancy – upwards, towards the equal sharing of ideas, content, resources and more. And yet manipulation continues, limitations are imposed (or at least attempted, if we look to Turkey’s latest (albeit failed) action to restrict and ban Twitter for example. Women are the most prevalent users of social media, dominating on Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter and more. In doing so, the visibility of women ‘out there’ takes on new meaning and can be fit in around other what were once restrictive dimensions e.g. family and work/life balance.

Searching for baby Toby, in Labyrinth Sarah falls down a deep hole. As she falls, to begin with, Helping Hands (literally characters that are hands) come to her aid and steady her fall. Asked where she wants to go, Sarah makes the mistake of pointing down, the Helping Hands let go and she falls.

For true equality, for equal distribution of power for all this needs to come from both sides at the same time, and to connect the dots between exclusion, persecution, violence and abuse as barriers to any equitable relationship. Or like Sarah, we will fall without any Helping Hands.”

Ingela Berger (Swedish songwriter):
“Yes, we do have more power today, in the UK and in Sweden, but not in many other countries around the world. Sweden is one of the most gender equal countries, and yet there is so much work to be done.

Women’s power is the responsibility of all, men and women. When we have equal power this will empower all people, not just women. In this sense, feminism will become a force for the good of all. But we both need to take responsibility for our own behaviour. Violent acts are not only committed by men.

The fall of violence that we see today is interesting, but at the same time, we have to face a new kind of violence, mainly among young people – the internet abuse. And depression among the young is increasing. Why couldn’t women’s power resist that?”

Suzy Greaves editor psychologies magazine:
“I’m fascinated by the idea of power and how it is wielded in the world – and I believe a ‘new’ type of power is emerging – which is more about collaboration versus competition, holistic thinking versus a focus on the self. People say it’s about a rise in the feminine energy – the third wave of feminism but I believe it’s more a re-balancing of what has been seen as two opposing energies – the yin and yang as it were.

However, traditionally this Yin/Yang Chinese philosophy is seen as a complementary (instead of opposing) forces interacting to form a dynamic system in which the whole is greater than the parts. To me, it’s felt like we’ve been out of balance and masculine and feminine not working together all that well which has resulted in weird power dynamics. However, I now believe that a new era is in sight where both masculine and feminine energies are working together to create a new dynamic power base – which is about receiving and giving as well as taking, about being as well as doing, creating as well as consuming.”

Bea Campbell, writer, broadcaster, playwright:
“A general fall in machismo? Really! Where? The House of Commons? Newsnight? The City? The streets? The web? Sorry, I hadn’t noticed. Must have missed it”

Joan Smith, author, human rights activist, jounalist:
“I think feminism is a force for good generally, not just for women, and in the process of creating a nicer society. Just having more women in positions of power changes the atmosphere, and (sometimes) the questions that get asked.

Violence is a complex subject and something is being missed in this discussion. Violent crime is decreasing with one big exception – domestic violence and sexual violence. Those figures are going up, and it’s hard to know whether the incidence is increasing as well as reporting. But it speaks volumes about the media that such an important caveat has been almost entirely overlooked.”

Re Joan’s comment on violence against women- In the latest figures from 2012 to 2013 published by the ONS it is estimated that around 1.2 million women suffered domestic abuse and over 330,000 women were sexually assaulted. Domestic and sexual violence is often hidden away behind closed doors, with the victim suffering in silence. I.E. a lot of it goes unreported so hard to compare.

And what do I think? I think (or is that hope?) we’re on the cusp of change in the UK, but I’d be surprised if that had fed down already to alter crime statistics. I think the various sexual abuse cases that have had the light thrust upon them, whether they are successful in getting a prosecution or not, is sending a very powerful message to everyone about what is acceptable behaviour. Women of my age suffered a lot of casual, overt sexism at work early in their careers and that generation supplied many of the men currently in power. But they are on the wane and a new generation is coming through; I am hopeful that will bring about a positive change. I’ve talked to many younger people who are quite horrified at how society conducted itself just a couple of decades ago.

I remain to be convinced on this actual point, although I need no convincing that the world would be a hugely better place if power and respect were equally distributed (and I take on board Bridget’s comments about class, too). I do think society would be much better as a whole if there were also a strong, respected feminine influence alongside and equal with the men. As a schoolgirl I remember a policeman coming to my all girls’ school to urge us to stop boys driving so fast and having accidents. ‘You are a really important influence on their behaviour’ he entreated. I was incensed as, at that time, policewomen were not allowed to do any active policing, only admin and childcare work. How dare he make us responsible for the boys’ behaviour? (Also in the 70s police did not routinely investigate domestic violence cases and violence from the police themselves was considered routine. I wonder if women having more power and presence in the police has contributed to that decline?) In a bizarre way our visiting police officer was almost right though. More women ‘allowed’ to behave as women and not merely getting to the top by aping and adopting male behaviour (think Maggie Thatcher) will lead to a much better society and less violence. Not as a check on excessive machismo behaviour and forever being referenced against male norms and needs, but in our own right.

Many thanks to Joan, Suzy, Ingela, Bea, Mariann and Bridget for taking the time to share their thoughts with me.

P.S. By the way, if you’ve been thinking of joining us in the RenewYou Licensing group in London, I just want to let you know that my only London course this year is almost 80% booked up. More information here.

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