Male Violence in a Patriarchy: Notes from the Field


When news broke of the release of a video showing Ray Rice beating Janay Palmer unconscious, I was in the middle of writing a topic for a book about sexism. The topic was “How is Sexism Related to Masculinity?”, and it discusses, among other things, the role of male violence against women in a patriarchy.

We live in a world in which male violence is so normalized that we don’t question it, and many of us don’t engage with the worst of it.  In the last few years, I’ve read song lyrics and heard about video games and movies I never would have encountered before.  I’ve also read the details of particular women’s lives, the way that male violence has left them unconscious or bleeding or even dead.  Over and over again, I’ve read these stories, and the stories of the ways in which we condone their pain and death, legally and culturally.  Reading these things shocked me, made me sick and angry, and helped me understand our culture. We all need this understanding—desperately.

We need to be immersed, not just in the questions, but the answers that people who study gender can give. This is the way forward—to know, to understand, to find the impetus for change. And then to act.

To that end, I’ve collected some quotes about the forms male violence takes in our culture.  Some of the quotes directly relate to Ray Rice and Janay Palmer Rice—others do not, and I am not suggesting a direct connection between Ray Rice and the music or movies I reference.  But direct knowledge of particular connections isn’t how this works—we must look at our cultural saturation in male violence toward women, and read any particular incident within the context of that saturation.

Here is the culture we live in—and some thoughts on change:

Jackson Katz, The Macho Paradox

“Men’s violence against women is a pervasive social phenomenon with deep roots in existing personal, social, and institutional arrangements. In order for people to understand and ultimately work together to prevent it, it is first necessary for them to engage in a great deal of personal and collective introspection.”

Khadijah Costley White, “Stop Acting Shocked About Ray Rice

“The question is not why men like Rice hurt their partners, but what we’re doing to stop it. Rice graduated from the school where I teach. I will carry this knowledge into the classroom I enter today. Everything in our society has to be rethought when it comes to stopping violence against women and girls. There are plenty of ways to make it happen. But the first step has to be that we all stop pretending to be shocked, and start admitting that we’re all a part of the reason this keeps happening.”

Jean Kilbourne, Ed.D., Filmmaker, Killing Us Softly, discussing images of women in media:

“These images are part of a cultural climate in which women are seen as things, as objects.  And turning a human being into an object is almost always the first step toward justifying violence against that person.”

Jessica Valenti, “Domestic Violence Survivors Stay for a Million Reasons. Janay Rice’s is Her Own.”

Melissa A Fabello, an editor of Everyday Feminism and a community educator at a Philadelphia domestic violence agency, says that sometimes people stay in abusive relationships because of concrete reasons like children or money, but ‘sometimes they’re more abstract, including strong emotions like love, hope, guilt, and fear.’”

“Fabello also points out that most women who are killed by their partners are in the process of leaving or have already left. ‘Sometimes staying in an abusive relationship is actually the safest option, and we need to do better by survivors by understanding that no one knows their abuser better,’ she tells me.”

Linda Lovelace, in an interview about her book Ordeal, which describes the brutal sexual abuse she experienced during the filming of Deep Throat:

“Next, they’re going to be selling women’s skins by the side of the road.”

Gloria Steinem, “Erotica vs. Pornography,” published 1977, 1978, and 1993:

“Though ‘snuff’ movies, in which real women are eviscerated and finally killed, have been driven underground (in part because the graves of many murdered women were discovered around the shack of just one filmmaker in California), movies that simulate these torture-murders of women are still going strong. Snuff is the porn term for killing a woman for sexual pleasure.”

Jean Kilbourne, Ed.D., and Diane E. Levin, Ph.D., So Sexy So Soon:

“Boys who are socialized to repress their feelings, treat themselves and others as objects and rely only on themselves often grow into men who experience a range of psychological and physiological problems. Boys who are taught to equate masculinity with violence cause a lot of problems for others but also do harm to themselves.”

Eminem, in the song “Kim,” which he presents to us as art:

Don’t you get it bitch, no one can hear you?/Now shut the fuck up and get what’s coming to you/You were supposed to love me/(Kim choking)/NOW BLEED! BITCH BLEED!

Brian Kilmeade, Fox and Friends, in a discussion about the Ray Rice video:

“I think the message is, take the stairs.”

Coach for America, Coaching to End Gender Violence

“Coaches should self-reflect—‘how might your own attitudes, actions and silence inadvertently perpetuate dating abuse and gender violence?”

“Coach players how to be men in ways that don’t involve degrading or abusing girls and women.”


One thought on “Male Violence in a Patriarchy: Notes from the Field

  1. Parth Upadhye says:

    Understanding the root of the violence gives a valuable perspective. Today we accept that certain mental disorders can suddenly appear and cause a peraon to act violently towards others.
    My current artwork explores the Chador or Niqab or Hijab to expose the underlying patriarchy and gender power struggles.


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