Gendered violence is a violent act against a victim based on the victim’s level of adherence to the gender structure as constructed by a certain society. In other words, the basis for abuse is the victim’s conforming/nonconforming to the gender expectations as outlined by the gender binary and heteronormativity. Gendered violence can be physical or verbal and includes assault, rape, sexual abuse, pedophilia, domestic violence, bullying, threatening, blackmail, and vandalism.
In Herland, Terry expects that by marrying Alima, he gains not only a wife but a sex partner. By refusing to have sex with Terry, Alima is defying the gender norm in Terry’s society; Terry attempts to rape Alima because he believes he has a right to access his wife in this gender normative role (Gilman 112-113).
The entire novel leads up to this act of sexual violence. The entrance of males into the desexualized society immediately reintroduces sexuality, and Terry’s aggression and growing anger and Jeff’s amiable but threat-acknowledging chivalry indicate that the sheer presence of sexuality presents the possibility of violence. With sex comes power dynamics and vulnerability, the possibility of harassment, coercion, or emotional abuse. In Gilman’s view, sex and sexuality present the distinct risk of gendered violence. A society without sex or sexuality, then, eliminates this risk and allows the society to progress as a whole.
During adolescence, people experience constant and sometimes violent reinforcing of the gender binary and heterosexuality in communities of their peers, such as high school (Foss, Domenico, and Foss 69). This reinforcement can be as simple as observing the ways one’s peers dress, or as difficult as being pressured or harassed into following the gender norms. Young men may tell each other to “Man up!” while young women urge each other to shop for yoga pants at Victoria’s Secret.
In more serious situations, young people may physically or verbally harass individuals who appear to deviate from the gender binary and heteronormativity, causing the victim considerable psychological damage in addition to any physical injuries the victim may sustain.
For example, a young woman’s peers might torment her at school or bully her online because they consider her masculine based on her interests and outward appearance. The young woman may experience depression or lower self-worth; she may feel at fault for the harassment and begin to harshly critique her gender expression because its perceived divergence spurred the verbal violence.
Some acts of gendered violence are classified as hate crimes, crimes that attempt to harm a person because of a group they are affiliated with. Crimes committed because of a victim’s perceived gender identity or sexual orientation can be psychologically and emotionally damaging to any members of the targeted LGBT community (Noelle 28). For example, the assault of a gay man might cause LGBT persons living in other areas to feel that their safety is threatened because they openly affiliate themselves with the LGBT community.
Only recently has the government formally recognized crimes committed based on the victim’s LGBT or perceived LGBT identification as hate crimes. In 2009, the House voted for the official inclusion of violent crimes based on the gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation in the definition of a hate crime, allowing for harsher prosecution of perpetrators of these crimes (Hulse).
Foss, Sonja K., Mary E. Domenico, and Karen A. Foss. Gender Stories. Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press, Inc., 2013. Print.
Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. Herland. Mineola, New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1998. Print.
Hulse, Carl. “House Votes to Expand Hate Crimes Definition.” The New York Times. The New York Times Company, 8 Oct. 2009. Web. 9 Jan. 2013.
Noelle, Monique. “The Ripple Effect of the Matthew Shepard Murder: Impact on the Assumptive Worlds of Members of the Targeted Group.” American Behavioral Scientist 46.27 (2002): 27-36. Web. 9 Jan. 2013.