“A Woman Has To Like It” And Other Myths of Machismo

A powerful personal blog on how we can all fight the social norms that enable violence against women.

‘Give me a blow job and I will play the Rihanna song.’

This is just one example of sexual harassment I have experienced over the last couple of months. It was much worse when I was younger, often escalating from verbal to physical sexual harassment.

When women confront their harasser – we are often met with verbal attacks and sometimes more extreme violence (just see the recent case of a woman who confronted her harasser  and he hits her, in broad daylight, on a street in Paris). We are meant to want the attention, welcome the compliment and weather any discomfort, because to not do so, is to provoke.

Whether in online spaces or on the bus ride to work, the experience or threat of harassment and abuse are very real and present in the everyday lives of women across the world.

As part of our Enough campaign to end violence against women, we wanted to unpack and better understand what drives abuse and passes it from one generation to another. We decided to zoom in on eight countries across Latin America and the Caribbean, a region with one of the highest rates of violence against women.

Eliminate violence against women

What did we find?

One of our key findings is that young people believe that men cannot control their sexual desires, and that women must comply with men’s sexual desires even if they do not want to.

We confirmed the informal “rules” that are taught to every generation of young girls, about what it means to be a woman:

  • Do not go out late
  • Do not get drunk
  • Do not wear that short skirt
  • Do not be out alone.

These “rules” are built on the premise that men cannot help themselves and that women must comply in order to be safe from sexual violence, and they are being reproduced and replicated by the younger generation.

If a woman does not play by these “rules,” she’s asking for it. And any sexual violence she experiences is her fault.

For example, 7 out of 10 young men aged 15–19 believe that a decent woman should not dress provocatively, nor be out on the streets late at night; and 6 out of 10 women of similar age share this belief.

Another belief used to justify sexual violence – is that when women say NO, they really mean YES. A staggering 65% of young men (15-19) believe this.

Eliminate violence against women

Street harassment - ‘A woman has to like it.’

Our research confirmed that street harassment is normalized with 75% of young people across Latin America and the Caribbean accepting street harassment as normal.

In the Dominican Republic, we found 84% of young men (15-19) say their male friends believe they have the right to shout call out ‘compliments’ to women.

One young man in the Dominican Republic told us ‘A compliment is like poetry; a woman has to like it.’

Women fighting back

Despite the findings, there is a rising tide for change building on the success of the women’s movement which has successfully fought for legal protections. To date, 16 Latin American and Caribbean countries have laws in place punishing violence against women and 15 have incorporated femicide as a specific crime.

The momentum for changing sexist beliefs and gender norms is reflected in the millions who took to the streets to march against violence. It is in the women finding the courage to share their stories of abuse and harassment online, using the hashtags #MiPrimerAcoso (My First Harassment,) and #NoTeCalles (Don’t Stay Silent), supporting other women to break their silence.

Innovative voices for change have also come from the artists and musicians who are using their craft as a way to shift the cultural narrative on machismo. Oxfam Bolivia has had tremendous success raising awareness on harmful gendered social norms though social experiments and musical collaborations, which convey the message that jealousy and control are not love.

To counter the forces moulding violence into the everyday, we must influence the dominant narrative with new ideas, new ways of being, highlight not machismo but alternative models of masculinity, give visibility to families and individuals who are challenging existing belief systems and gender norms.

As individuals, we can be a part of that change by recognising how the jokes, gestures, conversations and images we share can shape the beliefs and actions of those around us.

This entry posted by Bethan Cansfield, Oxfam's Head of Enough/BASTA! Campaign to End Violence Against Women and Girls, on 8 August 2018.

Read the report: Breaking the mould: Changing belief systems and gender norms to eliminate violence against women

Eliminate violence against women

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