Tip of the Iceberg: Why We Need to Focus On All Types of Violence Against Women

In recent weeks, the media have followed reports of harassment and abuse in the entertainment industry. At the forefront of these reports have been Hollywood movie mogul Harvey Weinstein and Australia’s gardening guru Don Burke, amongst other entertainment icons. After media reports shone a spotlight on Weinstein’s systematic abuse of women, #metoo has become a tool for women to share their experiences of victimisation alongside other hashtags.

Despite this attention to women’s experiences, popular media have principally focused on incidents of serious physical harm. Reports of harm and violence are serious, and important to investigate. But these incidents are only the tip of the iceberg. Not all perpetrators of violence are entertainment icons, and not all perpetrators of violence physically harm their partners.

To better understand all types violence against women, we must investigate the everyday encounters of harassment and abuse that take place “within a broader social context marked by male dominance” (Easteal, Holland and Judd 2015, 106). As we know, an icebergs tip is just what we see on the surface. Much more of the iceberg, which can also do serious damage, is hidden below. But less serious attention is paid to everyday forms of abuse. Sexist jokes and “slaps on the butt” are commonly excused as misguided humour or compliments. This culture of abuse is precisely what allows ‘more serious’ forms of violence to thrive.

Since my last post, I have recruited Brisbane women aged 18–30 years who have experienced unwanted interactions on the dating app Tinder to share their experiences with me in an interview. Since posting my research flyer on Facebook, I have met with 17 women who generously gave up an hour of their time to speak with me.

What I found.

I received invaluable responses from my interview participants. However, during the recruitment process I was interested by the comments and concerns I received. After sharing my research flyer on many Facebook groups, I was met with a range of responses. The ‘not all men’ argument (a response indicating not all men engage in violence against women) made an appearance in the comments sections. To which I reply,

"Listen. If you really feel like it’s not about you, stop making it about you." - Clementine Ford

In another defensive attempt to disengage with men’s violence, others questioned the legitimacy of the research, and debated its relevance to criminal justice. Make no mistake, overall, the response has been overwhelmingly positive, with many noting the importance of studying women’s experiences of unwanted interactions on Tinder.

Of the women I interviewed, and despite self-selecting to participate in the research, many expressed concern that their experiences were not serious enough to be valuable for my research. I reassured the participants I was interested in learning about a range of experiences that made them feel uncomfortable, uneasy or unsafe. These concerns piqued my interest because while the women recognised men’s inappropriate behaviour, and expressed their discomfort when confronted with it, they showed a reluctance to consider their experiences worthy of attention.

As unsettling as this may be, given we live in a culture where women’s experiences of unwanted interactions are met with trivialisation and outright dismissal of men’s ‘normal’ behaviour, coupled with media reports largely focused on serious physical violence, it is unsurprising that my participants cautiously foregrounded their perceived unworthiness of their experiences.

A divide that positions online experiences as less serious to those which happen in physical spaces may also influence how we understand violent online behaviour. Physical violence is important to investigate; however, the ability to stay connected through technology means that physical distance is not a barrier to men’s inappropriate behaviour. As such, dating apps provide more avenues for previously existing and new forms of abuse to manifest.

Despite these new avenues, we must recognise that this behaviour is reflective of a culture that supports violence against women. In other words,

Imputing new technologies as the cause of such violence only serves to further distort the issue and divert attention from structural cause (Easteal, Holland and Judd 2015, 110.)).

So what now?

Well, one conclusion that I’ve drawn from the recruitment process is that we need to rethink our focus on seemingly more serious violence against women. Focusing on extreme forms of harm may normalise less overt violence. Some scholars have long recognised the importance of this, as Vera-Gray argues,

In a climate where women are coping with threats to their safety posed by known men and unknown men, where rape and/or intimate partner violence form the plots of Hollywood movies and best seller novels, and media representations focus on the exceptional and sensational instances of violence, there is a risk that ordinary encounters are lost.

This is particularly concerning given all forms of sexual violence are linked by social attitudes that minimise and excuse violence against women. We need to understand these attitudes in order to decrease violence and abuse.

After all, the submerged part of the iceberg is what keeps the tip afloat.

Rosalie Gillett

About Rosalie Gillett

Rosalie Gillett is a PhD Candidate and Sessional Academic at the Queensland University of Technology, Australia. Her research investigates women’s experiences of harassment and abuse on Tinder.

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